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  • 36 Int. J. Knowledge and Learning, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2008

    Peer-to-peer technology in collaborative learning networks: applications and research issues

    Robert P. Bostrom MIS Department University of Georgia Brooks 312, Athens, GA 30605, USA Fax: 706 583 0037 E-mail:

    Saurabh Gupta* Department of Management University of North Florida 1 UNF drive, Jacksonville, FL 32258, USA Fax: 9046202782 Email: *Corresponding author

    Janette R. Hill Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology University of Georgia 604 Aderhold, Athens, GA 30605, USA Fax: 7065424240 E-mail:

    Abstract: As organisations struggle with how to develop and use individual expertise, the importance of Collaborative Learning (CL) has grown in both academic and practitioner communities. Although organisations have a large amount of individual expertise, their ability to aggregate and share it has largely eluded them. A review of educational literature points out that academic organisations learning strategies are shifting towards a more active and group-oriented learning, referred to as cooperative or collaborative learning. Educational and business organisations are currently searching for best practices and technologies for implementing CL. This paper explores how Peer-to-Peer (P2P) computing fits in the collaborative learning paradigm. P2P has great appeal for CL because it allows people to work and learn in a more natural fashion. The paper explores the existing collaborative P2P applications, identifying those most relevant to CL. The paper also compares P2P tools with client/server tools for CL within various organisational learning networks. The paper identifies key research issues concerning the use of P2P applications for CL.

    Keywords: Peer-to-Peer; P2P; Collaborative Learning; CL; learning networks.

    Copyright 2008 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.

  • Peer-to-peer technology in collaborative learning networks 37

    Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Bostrom, R.P., Gupta, S. and Hill, J.R. (2008) Peer-to-peer technology in collaborative learning networks: applications and research issues, Int. J. Knowledge and Learning, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp.3657.

    Biographical notes: Bob Bostrom is the L. Edmund Rast Professor of Business at the University of Georgia, USA. He teaches in the area of Management Information Systems (MIS). He is also the President of Bostrom & Associates, a training and consulting company focusing on facilitation and the effective integration of people and technology. Bostrom holds a BA in Chemistry and an MBA from Michigan State University, an MS in Computer Science from SUNY at Albany, and a PhD in MIS from the University of Minnesota. Besides numerous publications in leading academic and practitioner journals, he has extensive consulting and training experience in the areas of MIS management and design, organisational development, leadership, facilitation, business process management and digital collaboration. His current research interests are focused on high-performing individuals, facilitation, business process management systems, digital collaboration, technology-supported learning and the effective design of organisations via integrating human and technological components.

    Saurabh Gupta is an Assistant Professor with the Coggin School of Business, University of North Florida, USA. He teaches in the area of Management Information Systems (MIS). He has work experience in the field of knowledge management, system design and enterprise resource planning implementation. Gupta holds a PhD from the University of Georgia, a BBA from Gujarat University, India, a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Nirma Institute of Management, India and an MBA from the University of Georgia. His current research interests are end-user training, technology-supported learning, knowledge management and the adoption of complex technology. His research has been published in numerous conference proceedings and the International Journal of Knowledge and Learning, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, Encyclopedia on E-collaboration and Business Education Forum.

    Janette R. Hill is a Professor in the College of Education at the University of Georgia, USA. Prior to coming to the University of Georgia, she held academic appointments at the University of Northern Colorado and Georgia State University. Her research interests include community building, resource-based learning and web-based learning environments. Dr. Hill holds a Masters degree in Library and Information Science and a doctoral degree in Instructional Systems Design, both from Florida State University. Her articles have appeared in research and professional publications including Educational Technology Research and Development and The Internet and Higher Education.

    1 Introduction

    From a technology perspective, the Client/Server (C/S) architecture has dominated the thinking in collaborative learning research and practice. Such focus on a single class of technology may be limiting, thus, creating missed opportunities. As an alternative technology, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology offers some interesting benefits and

  • 38 R.P. Bostrom, S. Gupta and J.R. Hill

    challenges. P2P technology is not only the fastest growing internet technology, but also a variety of good P2P applications already exists and others are emerging. P2P applications such as Seti@home and Napster aggregated literally millions of computers/peers together to create a resource that was undeniably unique in its power and capabilities. Can we create the same kind of applications in the learning area?

    In spite of this P2P growth, much of P2P research and literature has focused only on explaining the technology instead of focusing on software applications. This is true across sectors, including education (Fletcher, 2004; Kook, 2001), business (Gartner, 2004; Kini, 2002) and computer science (Fattah, 2002; Lytras et al., 2003a). When applications are discussed they tend to focus on a single application (Curran, 2002; Leighton and Mldner, 2005). We are interested in exploring the potential of P2P technology for learning, particularly for developing Collaborative Learning (CL) capabilities. The purpose of this paper is to present a framework for describing different levels of CL in organisations and discuss the most relevant P2P applications at each level. P2P applications will be compared to C/S counterparts highlighting how the two types of systems might work together in CL networks.

    The paper starts with a discussion of collaborative learning networks, presenting a model for collaboration within this social network. This model is then used to compare P2P and C/S approaches to CL. We then present a framework describing the different levels of CL in organisations and discuss the most relevant P2P applications within each level. Research results, sample applications and cases are used to illustrate key points. Key research issues are identified throughout the paper.

    2 Collaborative learning networks

    The education literature defines CL as instructional methods that encourage students/people to work together to accomplish shared learning outcomes, beneficial to all. It involves social (interpersonal) processes where participants help each other to understand as well as encourage each other to work hard to promote learning (Allee, 2000). CL procedures have been found to be more effective than traditional instructional methods in promoting student learning and academic achievement (Johnson et al., 1981; 1991; Slavin et al., 1985). In a comparison of CL vis--vis traditional classroom learning, researchers found that a collaborative approach increases student involvement with the course (Collier, 1980; Cooper et al., 1990) as well as with each other (Cooper et al., 1990), increases the level of critical and active thinking (Bligh, 1972; McKeackie, 1980), promotes problem-solving skills (Kulik and Kulik, 1979) and increases student satisfaction (Kulik and Kulik, 1979; Bligh, 1972). More recent analysis (Lou et al., 1996; Rohrbeck et al., 2003) also support these outcomes.

    Most of the research in the education literature has concentrated on face-to-face forms of collaboration in small teams, using minimal technology to support them. In business, we are seeing more use of CL in teams but primarily in virtual teams. There is also a tremendous growth in use of community of practices in businesses to promote learning. Similar trends are appearing in education with growth of distance learning and the use learning communities (see Moore and Anderson (2003), for an overview of distance education initiatives).

  • Peer-to-peer technology in collaborative learning networks 39

    Technology, especially computer networks, is enabling major new ways to implement

    CL. We have witnessed the evolution of the user of technology-mediated learning from a single person to an interacting dyad or group, from a group of people to a community with dynamic membership, from a community to an entire organisation, and from a signal organisation to multiple organisations (DeSanctis, 2006). Thus, we can no longer limit our frame of CL to traditional classrooms using small teams. We need focus on how learning takes place in different Collaborative Learning Networks (CLN): dyad, group, community of practice, organisation, and interorganisational.

    Learning networks assume two or more people linked together (i.e., network nodes) to promote learning by providing opportunities for seeking and providing information and knowledge, and forming relationships that support learning. Adding the word collaborative in front implies some form of shared learning outcomes. B