Recent posts have gotten me thinking further about the “taxonomy of the many” groups/networks and collectives that Jon Dron and I have been interested in for the past year or so.

First there has been a small buzz about “Personal Learning Networks” I enjoyed Jim Lerman’s post Will Richardson adds some nice comments on Utube [kml_flashembed movie=”″ width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /] and Stephen Downe’s 2006 slideshow and George Siemens (early) thinking on the topic. A compelling feature of these arguments is the need to extend learning, via connections with others, beyond the small group of people in ‘class’ or work team or more generally a group.

In a more recent post George Siemens worries about his personal discomfort with the term Collective or collectivism and argues in Collective Intelligence? Nah. Connective Intelligence

"For reasons of motivation, self-confidence, and satisfaction, it is critical that we can retain ourselves and our ideas in our collaboration with others. Connective intelligences permits this. Collective intelligence results in an over-writing of individual identity.”

In the work by Jon Dron and myself, we have argued that it makes sense and helps use develop learning activities for ourselves and others to divide learning into four aggregations of the many (well, make that three of the Many plus one). These are:

  • Individual learning – Most of my learning takes places as I read, watch and listen with no desire or expectation for human interaction, connecting or networking.
  • Groups – the tightly formed aggregation typical of work place teams and educational classes (f2F or online), that are directed, managed, focused and often private collaborations.
  • Networks – free flowing interactions, loosely governed, often transitory membership, and span both loose and close ties among members (think Edubloggers, members of churches and hockey fans). This is the type of aggregated relationship that George defends in his post.
  • Collectives – These are non personal aggregations of the Many. They allow us to compare ourselves to the many, collectively predict and make decisions, ask questions of all, vote and visualize our aggregated opinions and ideas, match our interests and find networks, groups and individuals and in many other emerging ways help us understand and control our collective worlds. In collective learning activities we are not directly searching for human connections – only mining for information. Allison Littlejohn and her colleagues at Caledonian have nicely recounted some ‘collective’ educational history and explicated the idea further in a nice posting titled Collective learning

These categories are not totally exclusive and some applications (like Wikis for groups and networks) serve more than one aggregation. But I don’t think it adds value to prejudice one above the other, or to argue as George does, that we will lose something (ourselves? our ideas?) if we exploit the affordances of collective tools and applications.

Rather, one should use the best tool for the job. I have no intention of losing my identity nor having it “overwritten” when I click on Google and effect in a small way the page ranking systems, nor when I buy a book from Amazon and it effects their recommendations to me. These are examples of collectives working. But if I want a ‘connection’ then groups or networks (likely both) are my best choices.