Researchers from the University of British Columbia did an experiment that measured performance of groups of learners over generations (in the experiment: subsequent groups of students) with either one or more experts available.
Here, we test the relationship between sociality and cumulative cultural evolution in two laboratory experiments, where sociality is operationalized in terms of a participant’s ability to access and learn from multiple experienced individuals (‘models’ or ‘cultural parents’).
It builds on archaeological and ethnohistorical research that suggests a link between a population’s size and structure, and the diversity or sophistication of its toolkits or technologies. The results are not that surprising, but confirm the importance of sociality and the diversity of a population, and the advancement of knowledge (or innovation).
I think the core issue here might not be sociality but diversity, do you agree? If the models would be exactly the same, the different groups would have more or less the same results (I guess). More teachers means more diversity means more diverse input for solving (complex) problems, resulting in a more diverse set of strategies that can be passed on to the next generation? Also, there were hardly time-constraints, it really was an experimental setting. Many factors have been omitted (obviously), which in ‘real life’ would also impact learning and innovation across generations. Maybe cognitive load theory would be an interesting theme to consider: more experts might also mean an increased cognitive load…
Michael Muthukrishna et al., Sociality influences cultural complexity, Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences, 2013, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2511
Reflecting on this, and what it might mean in designing (online) learning environments… We have to learn how to learn from each other and from mentors, promote passing on knowledge within and between generations, and learn how to find and build knowledge in complex socio-technical networks. We also have to focus on the quality and diversity of learning networks. In other words: duplication of knowledge in the way xMOOCs promote, even in a pedagogically sound way, is not sufficient. The Internet does allow networked learning and making useful connections, so it would be a pity if only the ‘duplication’ MOOC versions rise to the surface, while the evenly valuable (because focused on sociality) connectivist courses remain marginalized.