Many behaviors spread through social contact. However, different behaviors seem to require different degrees of social reinforcement to spread within a network. Some behaviors spread via simple contagion, where a single contact with an "activated node" is sufficient for transmission, while others require complex contagion, with reinforcement from multiple nodes to adopt the behavior. But why do some behaviors require more social reinforcement to spread than others? Here we hypothesize that learning more difficult behaviors requires more social reinforcement. We test this hypothesis by analyzing the programming language adoption of hundreds of thousands of programmers on the social coding platform Github. We show that adopting more difficult programming languages requires more reinforcement from the collaboration network. This research sheds light on the role of collaboration networks in programming language acquisition.
Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, 2018.; Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.; Includes bibliographical references (pages 26-28).
Advisor: César Hidalgo.
I think there might be some interesting takeaways for people looking at collective learning and online pedagogies as well as for communities like the IndieWeb which are trying to not only build new technologies, but help to get them into others’ hands by teaching and disseminating some generally tough technical knowledge. (In this respect, the referenced Human Current podcast episode may be a worthwhile overview.)