Open Source

Networked groups

It’s been a busy month. First there was the trip around New Zealand with bunch of nice people with a lot of new thoughts and ideas about learning, teaching and education. After this I made a short visit to Manila and had several very good meetings in there. It looks promising that we will do something interesting in Philippines with the MobilED. I also got a chance to experience the typhoon and got a little touch of Philippines SMS-culture. When waiting for the winds to calm down I got this message from a Philippines colleague of mine: “Unfortunately m stil at home w8ng 4 electrcty nd water 2 come bak. Do u hav ur new flyt sked”. My presentation slides (PDF, 45 MB) from the Manila meetings are online.

Pretty soon after getting back to Helsinki I took part in a conference on a boat to Stockholm and finally the same week to another conference in Turku. The presentation slides are in LeMill, here and here (all in Finnish).

I love when the right things happens without my involvement. This was the case during the trip in New Zealand. Everything was well designed and worked out so smoothly. Thank you Leigh one more time. The latest release of LeMill was another great experience of right things happening without me. I just wrote about the LeMill release in here. I am very proud of us! Thank you Tarmo, Hans and the whole LeMill team. You, … ups sorry. We make a great “networked group”.

The last weeks has challenged me to think a bit more what makes a community, a group, a network and on the other hand what is co-operation, collaboration and co-construction. Some time ago I wrote about the later topics in here. I concluded that we need co-construction to achieve higer levels of learning.

I am naturally not alone with the issue. If I’ll make it very simple Stephen Downes’ claimed that “groups” are bad and “networks” are good.

In the last four weeks in several formal and informal conferences and gatherings, in dinner tables and in the mailing lists I have claimed that beyond groups and networks we can have “networked groups” (in Finnish: verkottuneet ryhmät).

So what are the networked groups?

Networked groups are one kind of collections of people who get together to build something; from better understanding (learning), to build a house, science, software, or simply to improve their living conditions. The point is that there is a common goal.

Networked groups, like all groups, form norms and agree on roles. Still, a networked group keeps the norms and roles open for improvements and changes. They are also open for anyone to join and leave at any point. This way they remind a lot of networks.

Actually we may see that the networked groups are groups with network properties(*. These properties are for instance: there is no hierarchy and they are self-organized.

So, what still makes networked group then a group and not just a network. The difference is the goals, the norms and the roles. In an open network there are no goals or norms, nor roles. In an open network of human nodes you should not bind yourself to anything.

The “freedom” of networks is especially problematic in learning. If there is no goal – such as “lets try to understand this phenomena together“ – very little useful learning will take place. If there are no norms and agreement how the goal will be achieved we most likely will never get there. Finally, we need roles that are defining that these people are committed to help each other in different tasks. When working well this lead to the situation where someone is really interested in and committed to help you over the obstacles you may have in your learning process. Psss.. in English these people are called “teachers”.

So, where are there networked groups? Many in Sweden. Some in Finland. There are also reports that at least one teacher in Canada and another one in Brazil are building their whole classrooms as networked groups. 🙂

*) Actually this was a definition made by Stephen Downes’ in a mailing list discussion.

3 replies on “Networked groups”

I think you can't really say that there are no goals, norms and roles in an open network. Sure, there are none written down and agreed upon by a group of people, but the goals, norms and roles are shifting emergent behaviour in the network itself as it seeks balance between nodes in the network. Each node has goals, norms and a supposed role, either intentionally or subconsciously, but such things are also shared at the same time. My dualistic point of view is that a group or an individual can be one node in a network, depending of how well they share such roles together. As you make your reflection open you make it possible for other people to agree or co-live your goals and norms. They will effectively reflect your existence on the network in their own action."Talkootyöt kunniaan".


One could also argue that there are no such thing as common goals in groups. It's kind of old way to think that an organization or a group is a set of arrows pointing at the same direction. In reality, each individual has their own goal for belonging to a group. They might openly agree for a certain goal, but in fact they interpret and execute the goal based on their own biases. Sarv Singh Soin has written something about this.Guy Kawasaki has also written about the fallacy of shared visions and missions.


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