Saturday, March 12, 2011

Networks are More Effective than Groups

Groups and Networks
Photo by Stephen Downes

We are all aware of groups. They require unity, possibly through a vision statement or common goal. They are coordinated and often closed, sometimes requiring membership or cut-off points based on numbers. Think of sports teams, church groups, AA, Weight Watchers, or even your book club. Knowledge is distributed; it comes from a leader - a chairperson or a coordinator.

Networks are a kind of group, but they are distinct in that they are defined by diversity. They are not coordinated as much as they are open and created by a set of connections between different entities.

The common metaphor used by our CCK11 facilitators to describe networks has been the mosaic. As Downes differentiates networks from groups, Canada becomes a “salad bowl” (network) where each entity is distinct and individuals are encouraged in their uniqueness (Downes, 2007). Similarly, Siemens describes connectives as the Canadian mosaic which doesn’t blend and conform and collectives as the American melting pot where individuality disappears as contributions to the whole are made.

This morning, as I read about the fundraising efforts of a Winnipeg-based Anglican church and the local Muslim community, I couldn’t help but think about connectivism. The diverse association of a local Anglican church, a community of Muslims, and fundraiser attendees was created by a set of connections to a need in Africa. Essentially, the need for a medical clinic in Uganda became the conduit along which the signal could run and, unified but different, the distinction between three groups dissolved in keeping with Downes’ assertion that “networks offer the ‘middle way’ between groups and the individual” (Downes, 2007). In other words, they lost the boundaries that originally separated them into the Anglican group, the Muslim group and the paying group and became a network of entities where their different religious backgrounds (which had originally separated them) had little bearing on the outcome. By getting out of their groups and creating a bridge to each other, they were able to have a conversation and connect about something of mutual value despite their diversity.

As educators, the goal should not be to create like-minded groups of learners but rather open, diverse, networked learners.

Downes, Stephen (2007). The Class Struggle Continues via

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