I came home tonight, and while I was sitting and relaxing, a thought occurred to me. One of the greatest examples of a collective learning environment, and one that has had a fair amount of impact, has been Role Plyaing Games and Fandom. If your not familiar with these two groups, you might want to look into them.
I first got into role-playing games when I was in elementary school, and my mom thought it was one of the best (and worst) things that happened to me. She use to tell people that when I got into Dungeons and Draagons, I started to read and study on my own. I devoured books on medival Europe, became fascinated with classical culture, in high school took Latin, in general, I became a learner. It didn't stop with me reading; I also talked to people, learned what they knew, got references from them. I made connections. Now, that was back in the 70's. If you look at RPGs now, the idea of collective knowledge has exploded. I have no idea how many sites exist for D&D alone, but just doing a quick search will find pages and pages of links. I'll limit myself though to one specific D&D example: The Forgotten Realms.
The Forgotten Realms is a setting designed for D&D that first appeared in 1987. Since then it has spawned well over 250 novels, anthologies and graphic novels, as well as at least ten computer games, and a gaming phenomena called living campaigns. Add to that the official game supplements published, which is well over 200 books, and you have an entire library about a fictional land. But that is not all, since the advent of the internet, people have been posting their own "rules", ideas, compelations, and other such remixes of ideas. The Forgotten Realms wiki, founded in 2005, has over 11,000 pages. The Forgotten Realms General forum, housed at the D&D publishing company, Wizards of the Coast, has 915 thread with a total of 41,288 posts. The Realms Lore Forum has 2,084 thread with 82,122 posts. These forums were started approximately 4 years ago. If you talk to people who play in the Forgotten Realms setting, they know extensive details of the fictional world, including geography, culture, and history. Strangely, many of these people have along the way picked up a lot about humanity's histories and cultures, as well as real world geographies.
Fandom, groups of people who are fans of a particular author, movie, comic book, or series, are just as knowledgeable of the details of their interest. Star Trek and Star Wars fans have been lampooned for years about the extensive knowledge that they hold regarding these two fictional worlds, but the point is, these people learned about these worlds. Fans of Star Trek created a functional Klingon language. You can even go to the Klingon Language Institute to learn Klingon!
While many may see these as anomolous, or fringe groups, even classify them with some form of psycological disorder even, the fact remains that people in these groups possess a collective knowledge, share that knowledge, experience collective learning, and even create new objects (even languages) from this collective expereince.
The question becomes, why would someone learn the history of the forgotten realms and not the history of Europe?
My main answer would be that you are expected to learn the history of Europe, it is mandated by your school, by your parents, and by your society. In essence, all the life has been sucked out of it. The forgotten realms on the other hand is exciting, new, something that you can explore. There is no expectation for you to learn what someone has decided is an important date or an important leader (even if the date or leader is important). The keywords for this is explore, imagine, create.
Now I need a period of reflection (and dinner). I'm going to come back to this idea of explore, imagine and create a little later.