Gerrit Visser has posted a comment on Smart Mobs titled Approximating the Community Structure of the Long Tail. The post points to an analysis by Akshay Java on ebiquity which is the source of the graph shown above. The discussion in both posts looks at communities. Java explains:
Social Networks and Web graphs exhibit certain typical properties. The classic work by Barabási–Albert showed how nodes in such network link preferentially — popular nodes often gain disproportionately larger share of the links. This is also known in other fields as the 80/20 rule or simply the “rich get richer phenomenon“. Another early work by Steve Borgatti studied social networks and found that they exhibit a core-periphery property. A small set of (popular) nodes form the core and the rest comprise of the peripheral nodes.
A HUGE KEY to the new education of our connected world is that networks express long tails of BOTH students AND what they are learning! The community long tail is what the chart copied here from the ebiquity post is supposed to illustrate. The same chart illustrates the learning subject content long tail with equal veracity.
The content side of network behavior is at least as exciting for education as the community side. Something almost magical happens when an open network becomes the structure into which cognitive stuff is imbedded: the ideas act just like the communities of the students who seek to learn them. The idea content goes into 20/80 formations and exhibits the long tail—yeah, like the students do.
Just as there are some 20% of the students who learn 80% of the ideas, 20% of the ideas are about all that 80% of the students learn about a subject. Most kids studying American history learn about Washington, Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin—but only a scattered number have access to Paine, Knox, Sam Adams and Greene.
Here is a dirty big secret we are just beginning to understand: Education has been institutionally cutting off the long tail of content for decades. Standards are satisfied when students score well on 20% of ideas in a subject; the other 80% are not even included in standards. Textbooks do not have room for more than about the 20% of the main subject material. As students move through grades, they get to learn a higher percentage of their subjects, but the tail just gets a little longer each year.
Because content for learning that is open online is imbedded into a network, the ideas that form the content can and do interconnect cognitively and in context. A student can follow the network from George Washington to his generals Knox and Greene. The long tail of learning content is not cut off.