Groups, Networks, Collectives – Where and How you see it?

Groups, Networks, Collectives: Are they the same or different?

Both George and Stephen are right.  Here is the explanation.

You could be in a group, and/or a network, and/or collectives at the same or different times.  It depends on where you are and how you see all these.


So, if you are participating in the forum, diversity, autonomy, openness and emergent knowledge are all emphasised and would also be encourgaed and/or valued. 

Diversity – Views of participants are all “right” from the participant’s perspectives.  One could use different theories, experience, applications or observations to back up your view, but this is your view only, it could be logical from your perspective, but not necessarily from other’s perspectives.  That’s why some of our views are different and some are the same.

Autonomy – while you are in a network, you would be free to share, express your views and opinions freely.  It is not important even if your views are irrational or illogical, as perceived by others, though this would soon be pointed out by others.  You will also learn how to think and analyse before you share, and share and reflect what you have learnt.  Everyone has a view.  And in a network environment, some people are more than happy to share their views or knowledge because they find liberation of their views.  And so if you are in the forum, you will value this autonomy as it gives you a freedom of “speech or views”.  Provided that your speech or view is not dominating….and not condescending…

Openness – Being honest and open is important in a forum discussion, but you would also need to respect or value the others’ views, even if they are different from yours.  This would also mean that you could be open to comment, criticisms, judgment and control.  Is that a challenge to you in a forum?  For some people (learners included) who don’t find it comfortable to share or contribute in a forum, they would prefer to share or contribute their views in a blog instead.  Some others may however, find it easier to share in Facebook because that would be limited to their “group members” only, though the person is only trying to connect with others.  

Emergent knowledge – After sharing, reflecting and possibly research, and then again sharing in the debates… you may find emergent (new and developing) knowledge to learn.


Let’s see what happens when you are in a “group” and participating in a meeting or “a typical classroom discussion”, and are debating on a topic: 

Sameness – Though you could raise your views, at the end, your group members would be expecting you to come to some consensus, because your group needs a decision, or needs to achieve a goal.  So you may be expected to exhibit the same sort of behaviours of others: may be mutual respects, no finger pointing, following rules and regulations.  And you may also be expected to share similar or same values with other group members.  That’s why some people who are accustomed to network setting (social networks in particular) may find it pretty uncomfortable in a group setting. 

Order and control – Your facilitator and co-learners and you may all agree to some order and control in the discussion.  Such order and control is also important to avoid time wasting in endless or mere criticisms and debates without solutions or resolutions.  Effectiveness and efficiency may also be emphasised in group discussion and decision making.

Borders and membership – In a group discussion, the members of the group are expected to join in, and there are clear guidelines on what is and what is not acceptable behaviour in such a group.  Rules and regulations may be important.  Also, members may be criticised if they are not observing some of the rules.  Some discipline is therefore expected from the group members.

Additive, cumulative knowledge – in a classroom setting, learners are expected to acquire knowledge (additive and cumulative), both from facilitator’s and individual and group’s point of view.  The individual would also find that through the participation in a group, he or she would “acquire or share” such knowledge cumulatively.

So, in the case of classroom discussion, the learner will experience a feeling of being in a group, as there is an objective to achieve.

But, in the case of a forum setting, the learner will experience a feeling of being in a network, as sharing of views is more important.

If the learner is in a classroom group discussion, but then all learners are encouraged to share views but not to arrive a decision within that group meeting, then that learner may feel more like to be in a network at that moment.  But after a series of group meetings, the learner may gradually find that mere sharing, discussion and debates may not be productive, and thus lead to nowhere.  The learner would think that the group will need to arrive to a conclusion to achieve a goal.  So the learners would behave more like a group under a group setting.  

If the learner doesn’t like the group setting, either because of personal reasons such as shyness, uncomfortable with the criticisms, comments, judgment or control from others, the learner may like to continue his/her discussion with others via networks, by setting up one’s blog, participating in facebook, and wikis etc, where his/her views are valued and that he or she could also contribute freely.

The learner may later on find that he or she would also like to participate in a group as he develops his or her knowledge further, so as to contribute to a group or team’s goals, then he or she would join a group and the network to group cycle will keep on going

Collectives: Collectives aggregate, then filter, compare, contrast and recommend information.  They will use a variety of algorithm and searching technology to try to distill the information and compare them to that within communities, groups, networks and individuals.      

In summary, I think both George and Stephen are right, though their views are different.

It really depends on where you are and how you see the groups, networks, and collectives.

So, you could be in a group, a network and a collective all at the same or different times, even when you are just in a “network”.  How does this sound?

Below is the extract from the forum discussion:

 I think you are right, that George’s approach differs from my own. I see networks as being of a continuum of types of knowledge (and therefore, organization):

 quality ——— network ——— quantity

The types of organization are also on a continuum:
individual —— network ——— group
(atomism) (collectivism)

By contrast (and George is a better person to state this than I) George would depict all forms of knowledge, and all forms of organization, as types of networks.

 From Stephen

 ‘Emotions vs Reason’ is not the ‘dividing line’, as you describe it. It is simply a characteristic I observed.The actual distinction between groups and networks, as described at length in my various writings, is based on four dimensions:

 1. groups emphasize sameness, networks emphasize diversity
2. groups emphasize order and control, networks emphasize autonomy
3. groups emphasize borders and membership, networks emphasize openness
4. groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge, networks emphasize emergent knowledge

Now – given this characterization of the distinction between groups and networks, can you see the distinction?