Social Learning and Properties of Networks Part I

How could social learning be implemented successfully in an organisation or network?

Stephen Downes has identified four major dimensions distinguishing the role of the individual in collaboration from the role of the individual in cooperation in Collaboration and Cooperation .

These dimensions are – Autonomy, Diversity, Openness and Interactivity.

I like his analysis and would like to apply such concepts in social learning. 

Jane explains that:

for social learning to be successfully implemented in an organisation it is not just about adding in the new tools or platforms but also about acquiring a new mindset and new skillset for both learning professionals and individuals.

Jane Hart  shows in this Table; Social Learning = New Toolset + New Mindset + New Skillset

Harold argues the need for the New Mindset: Agility, New Skillset: Autonomy and Social Networking in his post on social learning.

I am wondering if a fifth “element” or property or ability would need to be added to networks – agility

Though it has only been considered in the business enterprise, I think it could equally be considered in the context of networks. With a few changes in words (replacing business by networks) as shown in wikipedia, I found it make sense. 

Here is an adapted version of agility

Network agility is the ability of a network to adapt rapidly and efficiently in response to changes in the network environment (ecology). Network agility can be maintained by maintaining and adapting information, knowledge, tools, and services to meet networker demands, adjusting to the changes in a network environment and taking advantage of human interaction, relationships and resources. Agility is a concept that incorporates the ideas of flexibility, balance, adaptability, and coordination under one umbrella. In a network context, agility typically refers to the ability of a network to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways. The agile network is an extension of this concept, referring to network that utilizes key principles of complex adaptive systems and complexity science to achieve success.

Here is another business agile enterprise, which further explains the importance of agility in business enterprises.

Another important concept that may be relevant to networks is the lean principle typical in organisation.

In essence, it relates to the elimination of wastes of all kinds. Currently, one of the major challenges is whether the network could act as filter of information, and whether it could lead to the creation of ’emergent knowledge’ based on interaction amongst the actors (or human agents). A lean network would then be an effective and efficient one that might likely be sustainable in social learning. It could be a useful property of network. See below an explanation on lean as a set of tools in wikipedia:

“For many, Lean is the set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste (muda). As waste is eliminated quality improves while production time and cost are reduced. Examples of such “tools” are Value Stream Mapping, Five S, Kanban (pull systems), and poka-yoke (error-proofing). There is a second approach to Lean Manufacturing, which is promoted by Toyota, in which the focus is upon improving the “flow” or smoothness of work, thereby steadily eliminating mura (“unevenness”) through the system and not upon ‘waste reduction’ per se. Techniques to improve flow include production leveling, “pull” production (by means of kanban) and the Heijunka box. This is a fundamentally different approach to most improvement methodologies which may partially account for its lack of popularity. The difference between these two approaches is not the goal itself, but rather the prime approach to achieving it. The implementation of smooth flow exposes quality problems that already existed, and thus waste reduction naturally happens as a consequence. The advantage claimed for this approach is that it naturally takes a system-wide perspective, whereas a waste focus sometimes wrongly assumes this perspective. Both Lean and TPS can be seen as a loosely connected set of potentially competing principles whose goal is cost reduction by the elimination of waste.[6] These principles include: Pull processing, Perfect first-time quality, Waste minimization, Continuous improvement, Flexibility, Building and maintaining a long term relationship with suppliers, automation, Load leveling and Production flow and Visual control. The disconnected nature of some of these principles perhaps springs from the fact that the TPS has grown pragmatically since 1948 as it responded to the problems it saw within its own production facilities. Thus what one sees today is the result of a ‘need’ driven learning to improve where each step has built on previous ideas and not something based upon a theoretical framework.”

Hence this 6th property or elementlean that I am proposing could be seen as the tool (social media, virtual reality, cloud computing) that Roy mentioned with Web 3.0 (under Semantic Web) also inherent in the network. It aims to eliminate waste (by filtering information and providing meaningful information, and facilitating the exchange of information flow etc).

This is also the basis of pull of information as described by John Seely Brown.

I have yet to look at the ecological and cross disciplinary approach that Roy mentioned. However, if I were to summarise, it could be IODAAL meaning:

I- Interactivity




A- Agility

L- Lean

in Networks.

Here, I am trying to apply the supply chain concepts in this networking phenomena. I have an interest in thinking about these in terms of co-makership and logistics partnership too in networking. This means the co-making or creating “knowledge, learning & its networks” and partnership and co-operation amongst the networkers.

Another important concept in networking is alignment – i.e. all networks need to be aligned towards the vision/mission say of the networks or community formed, in order to be valuable for an organisation, but this relates more to networking in the corporate world, and I have to think about how it could be used as bridges and a way to integrate all networks and communities.

In Japan, they have networks called keiretsu 

A keiretsu (系列?, lit. system, series, grouping of enterprises, order of succession) is a set of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. It is a type of business group.

There are three types of keiretsu:

  1. Kigyō shūdan (企業集団, “horizontally diversified business groups”?)
  2. Seisan keiretsu (生産系列, “vertical manufacturing networks”?)
  3. Ryūtsū keiretsu (流通系列, “vertical distribution networks”?)

As social networks are linked into organisations – business groups, manufacturing networks, and distribution networks, I am just wondering how such networks would be developed within institutional and business chains?

1. What do you think are essential in social learning?

2. How do you see the additional 2 properties of Networks – Agility and Lean?

More ideas forthcoming in Part 2.

Postscript: How could we validate those additional properties of networks?  By Safe-fail probes, and the running of experiments, especially in the case of Complex System or Complex Adaptive Systems, as discussed in this post by Dave Snowden