The Echo Chamber Effect

Mariana F., a friend from DS106 and beyond, posted a very powerful piece called “A Human OER” that is worth your time and careful attention. In her post, she examines the idea of open education and tries to pierce through the facade of the idea of creating a perfect learning environment. It’s more than that, but this thread of her blog post is what I was thinking about.

Her hope is that we find more humanity in the connections even as we acknowledge the ways that spaces like MOOCs and others often fall short of those ideals. Real world problems come into those spaces. And if we close the doors to those ideas and people with those views — those who would disrupt the world and cause harm to others, through words or actions — then we are not really creating a true educational space.

Her post is not negative, per se. In fact, she makes it clear that she is always hopeful for the best.

MarianaquoteGardner Campbell did a nice response, shifting into the direction of leadership and ownership, and collaboration, and therefore, responsibility, of those working and learning inside online spaces to become what they want their learning environment to be, even if they don’t quite know or believe they are ready for it yet.

GardnerBoth Mariana and Gardner got me thinking. I have participated in a fair number of online spaces, and helped facilitate a few, and one of the things I see connected with the trend of “large numbers starting/small numbers finishing” is the closing of the circle. As the crowd of people interacting gets fewer, the shared ethos of that tribe becomes clearer, and as a result, the echo chamber effect can take hold. We all end up validating our own ideas. We all agree with each other. We love hanging out with those whose values are close to ours. This is natural. But it impacts online learning spaces, right?

Echo Chamber #ccoursesI don’t have any magic solutions here. If we want rich discussions, we have to be open to people who disagree with us, or push us to think different about what we believe. The promise of open educational spaces remains great and powerful, and well worth the many experimentations that are going on across the board. Learning can be approached from many different angles, and access and diversity and multiple entry points are one of the keys to allowing everyone to feel as if they are both the leaders and the participants, and that the rich possibilities are always within reach on the horizon.

or, you know, something like that …

One of the things I have liked about the Daily Connect with the Connected Courses is that one can bring more people into the conversations with only the smallest connection to Connected Courses. You can reach out beyond that circle. I see Daily Connect on a good day being that very web metaphor we use for the Web, with strands of connected silk pushing out beyond our peripheral vision.

Peace (in the think),


  1. There is another long and rich discussion of this on a recent post of mind. It must be in the collective unconscious right now. There is also a darker current in the wind with the tech terrorism of women online. This is going beyond bullying into threatening action and show us that we all have skin in the game whether we feel up to it or not.

    Pushing back and pushing out are difficult to do, but if we don’t push the gadfly button every once in awhile then we just might drown in the pool of our own ideas. I run under the flag of the pirate who knows that eventually every idea he has ever known is quite likely wrong in part or more likely in whole. I find the only idea I end up trusting is the ship itself sailing into the wind with a few of me hearties on board…and a keg of grog. Grog is one idea that only goes bad if you let it sit unattended.

    Also, in the spirit of reporting on the weird and comforting captchas for your site, this morning I had to type in “im vermin” Chaming ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I was just discussing the “Echo Chamber” with a friend who is looking for a college for her son. I told her that my daughter was finding it very rewarding to attend a college where she meets people with alternative points-of-view. The idea is to realize you can like and respect and even learn from people unlike yourself. When people only seek out similar versions of their own pov, they can be surprised, dismayed, and even annoyed to hear that any others exist.

  3. “If we want rich discussions, we have to be open to people who disagree with us, or push us to think different about what we believe.”

    I do believe you have hit the nail on the head there.

    The issue is of course that we tell ourselves we are open to disagreement and, online in particular, we can just move away from those who we disagree with. Or attack them in the way we saw in the news of late.

    Fight or flight our instinctive response in any interaction that is threatening in some way.

    The question for me is how do we learn to walk sideways into the light and have a different conversation that takes us beyond: which side are your on? Like you I have no answers.

    I consider it important to pose the questions though. I am mindful of something Jon Udel (I think) said yesterday: I don’t have to be the chief architect just add a little brick to the wall. My decision to ‘just’ be a human OER online is one of my little bricks.

    Another I started today which I hope will support the learning of a different type of conversation is this:

    I have decided to spend more time with DS106 art and learn how to do a proper art critique of what I study. The type of art critique that goes beyond ‘interesting’ and ‘awesome’ and may be will teach me how to express myself a little more honestly in a non-judgmental way as I engage with art for now. It might transfer to other domains if I am lucky.

    It is easy to for me to say I am open to difference, it is quite another to foster and hold the space that allows difference to be in a group. Much skill and maturity is needed to do this offline, and I think it is even harder online.

  4. I am very interested in this discussion on a number of levels.

    There are two things which come to mind:

    1) The webยดs potential for multimodal serendipity.

    2) Conflict as a gift rather than as an attack. Aikido as an educative space.

    • Conflict as a gift .. that will need more explaining, my friend. I suspect you mean that when others push our thinking, and make us question our beliefs, that this can be a good thing, and something that we all need to do from time to time. In that, I agree.

  5. It seems we are coming to similar themes from very different approaches. You suggest Aikido as an educative space, it may be one option. There are many. The larger point in my view is that there is a need for an educative space – humans are not designed to act (no matter what they say) as if conflict was a gift. Look forward to Kevin joining the conversation here too.

  6. The quotes from Mariana and Gardner capture a context for learning that is broader than dedicated learning spaces (with facilitators in place). Being on the Open web involves many experiences – talking, making, having fun and learning. Any or all of these experiences can be disrupted for an individual by perceived and/ or intended knockbacks. I think that mistakes are inevitable and repair strategies are vital but when a space is moving towards becoming an echo chamber, mistakes are less likely to be noticed and repair strategies are missing. Those who challenge the knockbacks are likely to be denied, and leave, amplifying the Echo Chamber effect.
    Something that has been intriguing me recently is consciously diversifying my public networks. This has had mixed success but I am learning:)

  7. Revisiting this post now, and more haunted than ever by the questions it raises. I see more branding and look-at-me in our shared spaces than I did even three years ago. I imagine I am guilty, too, in ways I can’t see (nature of the beast, I think). Too many cliques, too many sets. Even critique can become a personal brand. I don’t feel very hopeful these days.

    • I suppose that is true, and the bandwidth is contracting around us more than expanding out to opportunities. The way I see it, we have to keep pushing the outer boundaries of our circles, maybe only one person at a time. One person can’t change the world. But one person might help me change myself. Or perhaps that is just more tech-psycho-babbling.

  8. Well, how wonderful that I have asked for emails to be sent when somebody comments here! I was surprised to find Kevin and Gardner in my inbox this morning.

    …’even critique can become a personal brand’ Gardner suggests.
    Yes, I notice this.I am much more interested in ‘the nature of the beast’ these days. I have gone back to my own field, psychology, and am exploring extensive research that shows us that ‘the nature of the beast’ is what determines our behaviour not our inner disposition or intent. This is challenging my thinking on agency.

    I am also reading extensively in the area of critical internet studies. Wonderfully represented recently by the conference #ttw17 – young people asking questions for the joy of asking rather than for gratification and popularity. Yesterday, I listened to Wendy Chun at another conference – where she speaks to how homophily is now embedded in software design as ‘truth’ and this was never the intent of the original thinkers. She asks:

    “Let’s start building models that take heterophily โ€“ the equally age-old truism as opposites attract โ€“ as the basis for connection. Even better, let’s build networks based on mutual indifference.”

    I have withdrawn from many spaces in the open online education world as I see what you both describe here, a world of ‘streaming egos’; yet, I still feel hopeful. I see young people in other spaces working with the web in ways that are more aligned to learning and inquiry than mere marketing. This gives me a little hope…today, at least.

    And what a joy to be able to have a conversation across time with you both!

    • Asking questions of “joy” sounds like a nice step forward, particularly if we are asking others. But how do we connect with those we don’t normally connect with? The impulse is to withdraw and leave it for another day. And then that day is yesterday …

  9. Thanks Gardner, Kevin and Mariana for commenting again now. I had ticked the box and so I am drawn back here too. I had forgotten that I commented in the first place, and it’s interesting to see what I and others said. Even then, I saw agency as shared between people and tech and now I am even more convinced. I think that the economic imperative of how social media are ‘monetised’, serving of ads and exploiting the informated data that platforms collect is shaping the behaviour of all who use social media. It’s great to see people investigating and resisting but they are the few. For me, it’s important to realise that even though we cannot completely control media (we never could), we can at least make a difference by resisting and by considering and changing our own behaviours.

    • The long fingers of the blog …
      It seems more and more evident that the original construct of the Internet was deeply flawed (not that many knew it at the time) on the concept of tracking users, for good or for ill, and that it was only matter of time before corporate interests figured that out, and leveraged it, and then along came the government ….
      I agree with you … we can’t control other media. Much. We can control our own, at least at the starting point. Maybe that’s where we continue to try to make a difference. Maybe that’s the point of resistance.

  10. I found this article as a result of following Kevin’s posts on Twitter, which is a result of my being accepted into the #clmooc community beginning in 2013. Which resulted from my earlier connections with some of the cMOOC founders in the late 2000s.

    There’s much to digest and reflect on in the original articles and the comments. It’s especially valuable since this conversation started in 2014 and we’re now updating it in 2017.

    In a comment above Kevin said “One person canโ€™t change the world.”

    I wonder if any of you watched the Pope’s recent TED talk, which can be seen at

    He emphasized the power of one, and how this can turn into many, and a movement.

    When I started using the Internet in 1997 I saw the potential of “little people” sharing ideas that could ripple out like a stone thrown in a lake, and reach growing networks of people, some of whom would become interested, and reach back to begin to form a relationship, or would cast their own stone in the water, to connect their own network to the idea.

    While I still hold on to that belief, what really seems to have happen is that there are a growing number of people throwing stones into the internet universe, and that just like their are billions of stars, each with their own gravity, in the real universe, and few connected to others beyond their own star system, the many who are bringing their ideas and agendas into online space are not doing so to build the “movement” the Pope envisions, but to profit and sell their own identity and ideas.

    The Internet universe is rapidly expanding, but without enough of the connectivity the Pope describes in his TED comments.

    One possible hope is that what we post on line in one year may be found in future years by others who are better able to apply the ideas, such as this article and its comment thread.

    Or that the relationships that grow among a few who persist in using this space, will become strong enough over time, to counter any of the negatives that come with venturing into this space.

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