14 thoughts on “More on Groups versus Networks and Collectives

  1. This distinction oversimplifies too much for me.

    Here’s one example. We can call all the residents in the state of New Jersey a group, yet they are very diverse in their demographics, especially considering the large numbers of immigrants here.

    I also have two books on my desk. One is titled “Small groups as complex systems” by Arrow, McGrath, and Berdahl. In the other, “Theories of Small Groups” by Poole and Hollingshead, there are two chapters titled “The network perspective on small groups: Theory and research” and “Traces, trajectories, and timing: The temporal perspective on groups.”

    In the former, if a small group is a complex system, then knowledge is emergent in it. In the latter, the small group is studied as a network.

  2. Thanks for the references above Charles. I don’t really consider myself an expert on small groups- mostly just an educator, but having said that I’m not sure of the charge of oversimplification or if there is an implication that these references show i have missed the point all together.

    I never argued that groups can not be complex and thus the possibility of emergent knowledge. The control exercised by group leaders often serves to reduce complexity and they rarely operate “on the edge of chaos” but I think it is possible.

    Groups may also be studied using network analysis tools as I suggest is happening in your second reference. As you know these provide visual maps of connectivity, leadership etc. I would expect that in most groups leadership causes much more formal and regularly structured traces than one would find in networks. This may be interesting, but I don’t think it is as compelling or enlightening as using network analysis tools on networks, but certainly it can be done.

  3. Hi Terry,

    Great post. I like to see these ideas discussed. I have a follow-up question on the definition of networks, groups, and collectives that I hope you can answer for me.

    I’ve always though of groups and collectives as parts of a network. I’ve considered group interactions to be networked interactions, with members as nodes in our network. I favor Lave & Wenger’s concept of legitimate peripheral participation to explain the influence of all members on the collective knowledge of the group.

    My question is, how do you distinguish networks, groups, and collectives from one another? Are they independent categories? Overlapping? Hierarchical?


  4. I should have been clearer. I was responding to Stephen’s points more than to yours. He makes too sharp a distinction between networks and groups.

    If you look at any complex system (i.e., group), it has a network infrastructure, and so rather than contrast networks and groups, it might be more productive to analyze networks along a continuum that includes factors such as intensity of connections, direction of connections, and so on, with the result being that some groups are special types of networks, or perhaps some networks are special types of groups.

  5. Responding to Dan’s question (comment #3 above), I tend to think of the 3 has having distinct qualities, but there are hybrid associations of the many, and associated tools that can operate at more than one or morph between group and network functioning. Jon Dron and I tried to develop the qualities and characteristics in a 2007 paper. Collectives, Networks and Groups in Social Software for E-Learning at http://www.editlib.org/index.cfm/files/paper_26726.pdf?fuseaction=Reader
    That might help disambiguate the three.
    Thanks for your interest.

  6. Terry,
    thank you for this post. I am currently doing a course in Knowledge Building theory at Uni of Toronto, where the unit of reference is always the “class” – partly, no doubt, because much of the research has been done in primary and secondary school settings. I myself mostly function in “network mode”, in the open edu and edutech blogosphere, etc, however for example David Wiley’s class in ’07 was a powerful learning experience as a “cohort” moving together a set amount of material together. So currently I am struggling to reconcile connectivism (which I don’t know much about, just what I’ve gleaned from Stephen’s, Siemens’ and others blog posts – I keep meaning to sit down and “read through” a lot of CK08 material), with Knowledge Building.

    This is doubly relevant since I am currently involved in launching http://peer2peeruniversity.org, which is based on a course/learning group structure (although all material would be open to all), and this has been criticized by for example George Siemens, who I assume want more of a network approach.

    Anyway I appreciated your thoughts, they were helpful.

  7. […] “Esta questão dos grupos, das redes e dos colectivos (estes últimos renomeados por Anderson e Dron para “sets”, que se referem, basicamente, à “wisdom of crowds) tem sido muito discutida no âmbito do conectivismo, da aprendizagem online e da aprendizagem em rede, em geral. O Stephen Downes tem um excelente texto (keynote) intitulado “Groups versus Networks: the Class Struggle Continues” – http://www.downes.ca/presentation/53 (podem ver um resumo numa apresentação no Slideshare – http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/groups-vs-networks-the-class-struggle-continues) e o Terry Anderson também reflectiu sobre estas questões, em diálogo com o Downes – http://terrya.edublogs.org/2008/10/20/more-on-groups-versus-networks-and-collectives/. […]

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