Home from the FLNW tour and man! am I tired.

The picture on the left represents one of the most significant realisations for me.

A realisation to do with ideas of groups, class, networks, individualism, and connectedness.

Right from the start, Stephen Downes objected to being expected to participate in the group. It wasn’t the participation that was the issue, it was the expectation. That there is an important thing to point out, it is the seed of something significant in what a future for learning could be, if we manage to understand the notion of network.

Of course, it was easy to take offense at Stephen’s resistance to participate, it seemed out right rude not to join the group, but that’s because I wasn’t seeing what he was trying to say. By objecting to the expectation, I felt as though he was objecting to participate. That wasn’t so. Stephen was resisting the formation of a group, arguing that it is the group that prevents individual connectedness. Are you confused? I sure was, and so were many others. But I’ve come to realise that this is a very important point Stephen was trying to make. I think it is well illustrated by the photo. Because of the obligation to the group, individual connections can too easily be over looked.

The day after that photo was taken, we went to Auckland to meet people at the University of Technology. It was there, where I spread myself thinly across an even larger group, that Stephen moved to the side and drew this diagram. It was the first time that he had taken the time to represent his thoughts and actions on the issue, and the first time I took the time to properly consider it.


I helped Stephen to video record his explanation of this diagram. In it he attempts to clarify his objections by defining what he sees as the make up of a group, and how that differs importantly from a network. A group demands unity, where a network requires diversity. A group requires coordination, where a network is autonomous. A group is by its nature closed, where a network is open. The information in a group is distributed, where in a network it is in the connections…

It is a radical and troubling proposition, but one that rings true to me. Indeed, it was the same argument I attempted to make last year when I criticised EdNA groups. Troubling it is, that I have so easily contradicted myself, and even found it so hard to understand one year on. I did begin to smell something wrong with the set up of the conference when I posted Where we may be going wrong to the conference blog. But where I could only sense it, others were willing to debate it with Stephen in an at times emotional email exchange. By the end of the tour, and perhaps thanks to the group, Stephen had formulated a compelling and personally moving work, Groups vs networks – the class struggle continues.

But what do I get out of this?

I get a realisation that it is very difficult to properly understand networks, let alone achieve a true network in face to face settings. Even though an open space meeting brings us close, there are still so many aspects of the face to face meeting can too easily lead us into forming groups, at the expense of the individual connectedness we can experience online.

So it makes it even clearer now, how political the Internet is, and how challenging it can be to established power. I go back to my place of paid work now, a place with almost ancient power rules and very defined groups, with a clearer picture of what needs to occur. My next post will be the vision I have for my organisation, to make way for future learning AND a networked world.


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