Saturday, October 11, 2008

Connectives and Collectives: Distinctions between networks and groups

Siemens (2008) says ‘Networks are the underlying structure of any type of situation’ and speaks in terms of ‘connectives’ (networked individuals) and ‘collectives’ (groups of individuals), and that we can not argue a case of groups vs networks.

He says that the desired outputs or outcomes will determine whether it is best to facilitate connectives or collectives.

Looking at the history of learning networks, I see ‘artists’ of the renaissance era representing ‘connective’ learning groups – where creation and innovation were desired, and ‘guilds and unions’ of the industrial age representing the ‘collective’ learning groups – where the conformity of skills and massive production were required.

Siemens acknowledges that the challenge for educators is:
- to determine whether the complexity of the learning requires self organisation or needs to be managed;
- how we preserve the unique values of both networked individuals and groups of individuals; and
- within collectives, how we support and maintain the individual ‘self’ within the group environment.

Downes, (
2006, 2006a, 2007) however, is able to distinguish between groups and networks.

He refers to groups as being closed, where there is a boundary separating members and non-members, and unity and co-ordination is required. Downes cites broadcast media and online service, such as television, radio, and books, podcasts, and technorati, which are controlled by a ‘leader’ and result in ‘power laws’, as examples of how ‘groups’ supports static content that is delivered to an individual. Other examples of online ‘groups’ include: intranets, portals, standards, LMS, and copyright laws.

He feels that groups create an unequal distribution of knowledge, and supports exclusivity and control, distinguishing the rich from the poor.

He sees, however, networks as being autonomous and open, with no walls or boundaries separating individuals, but rather creating ‘bridges’ based on the connections between the members. Technologies which support networks are more person to person and create more connective conversations, like telephones, personal emails and letters, personal home pages, blogs, social networks and personal learning systems such as e-portfolios, and systems like creative commons. Networks better represent the organic world/ecosystems, support diversity and self directed learning, and provide more of an equal say/power base, thereby preventing the rich from getting richer.

For me, there is a dilemma in Downes networks vs groups argument. I love that networks support more of a socialist system, whereby economic wealth is more evenly distributed, and individuals (autonomous agents) are encouraged to take responsibility for their own destinies. However, when you ask people in a workplace which feature do you value most in your colleagues their response is to “work well as a part of a team” (groups).

So how do we as educators:
- know when it is best to facilitate connective or collective learning? and
- how do we support networked individuals whilst encouraging a ‘team’ approach?

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