List servs work, and work well. That's there major drawback. It is hard to move academics off of a tool that has functioned long before the Web.
Yes it comes with the baggage of bad email practices we suffer through at work: Unecessary reply-alls, threads being hijacked, threads getting too long and complex, people replying to older threads with totally new topics, and different formatting.
This is all before we consider the complexity of different levels of learners steeped within varying discourses and even languages.
Even with these major drawbacks learning gets done.
List servs work because distribution discourse works better than destination discourse.
Instead of trying to get people to come to your site or join your network the content just comes to you. You decide to reply. As Gina Tripani notes email is truly one of the original federated systems.
I want to help move folks off of list servs and on to other more open distribution channels. While it is hard to move people off of tools that work I would like to see groups try new methods.
As e-editor of the Literacy Research Association we are trying to encourage people to publsih their own content and push through our new websites. Mainly by using the forums. These can be set up just like list servs, your inbox can be flooded as much as you want. So could your RSS feed.
The Extended Mind Culture and Activity theory was a MOOC long before that was even a thing. There have been people arguing and seeking consensus over Russian and German translations of words for over a decade. It is the home of Open scholarship on Cultural Historical Activity Theory, Vygotsky, Hegel, Marx and a wonderful group of scholars.
It is ripe for a tool like Discourse or Known.
I fall in and out of XMCA. It is a list serv that works too well. So I have to hide it in my email client if inbox zero were ever to be reached. I recently bundled XMCA in Google's new inbox tool which means I can see the messages and quickly dismiss them.
Its when I need to find an idea again that XMCA gets difficult.
It also reads like a Novel. The brilliant thought, often outside of my wheelhouse, makes casual reading impossible. The problem of course is it is email. Searching through email for threads of logic gets hard quick.
I have been playing a bit in discourse with #ccourses and with Mozilla's webmaker (now Mozilla Learning...I think). At first I was hesitant. Not a fan of stackable forums. I like threaded discussions. Showing my age here.
But the social, the tagging, and the categories make it ideal for a complex learning space like XMCA. This would be a little more of a closed off space but would resemble the list serv without all of the baggage (until we discover the new luggage that folks travel with in new spaces).
I threw together a quick example (using recent emails as an example) on my own site (not sure if log-in required).
XMCA is already installed on a university server. Discourse would be no different. Except better.
I am just starting to play with Known but I could easily see it be used for distributed discourse. You can quickly push it out to everywhere.
If Wordpress is chess, than Known is Othello. Both allow for endless learning but one can begin playing Othello almsot immediatley.
Basically as community of academics, in places like XMCA and Listserv, we should encourage people to publish on their own sites and syndicate everything to a common hub or space.
Known would be just one example. This can be done with any blogging plaform. The goal should be to own you own content in a federated web.