Turfcare industry – A learning community?

With so much happening in the world of politics, a bit of reflection on my own industry sub-sector in relation to what degree is it a learning community, or not.

I’m looking at this through the context of a learning lens, based on the topology of Dron & Anderson (2014), briefly seeing how relevant, I think, are the constructs of ‘Collective’, ‘Group’, ‘Network’ and ‘Set’, and also how these relate to a ‘Community’, which is often a term used to describe the wider turfcare sub-sector.

Learning community

A Learning community?

Due to the diversity of the industry there will be many instances of each term, which is emphasised by Dron & Anderson (2014), as having plenty of “overlap and blend”, so in practice plenty of leeway available from the start!

Abbreviated definitions:

Community: This consists of “networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging and social identity”. ? (Purcell, P. ‘Networked Neighbourhoods: The Purview’, in Purcell, P. (Ed.) (2006) ‘Networked Neighbourhoods: The Connected Community in Context’, p5).

There is certainly a lot of the above elements identified in the definition for community within the turfcare industry, however, I think the biggest issue is that of cohesiveness, or its opposite – fragmentation.

A community can consist of all the different entities given below.

What about the terms from Dron & Anderson then?

Group: Arguably one of the more formal, entities is that of a ‘Group’, which have defined boundaries, hierarchies of leadership and control, as well as formal or informal processes that define how they operate. A ‘Group’ may be inclusive or exclusive, and is readily represented by an organisation (a college or training organisation in particular), or on a smaller scale a class of students. Membership of a ‘Group’ is through an active action on the part of an individual, you have to join, you can’t accidentally join.

“The group is a safe structure where mistakes can be made, concepts can be explored, and where learners can work with others in ways that are defined and delimited by more or less formal rules of engagement, often determined by, enforced or moderated by a teacher.” Membership organisations might be classed as a ‘Group’, however, the degree of moderation and production of a ‘safe structure’ would need to exist to fully meet the definition.

So, within the turfcare industry there are certainly quite a few groups.

Set: The smallest entity might be a ‘Set’, which focuses on topics and interests (such as a twitter hashtag), having no formal requirements for joining and can encourage some individuals to offer opinions or comments under the cloak of invisibility. This is a fairly common approach on twitter, and which can lead to trolling and aggressive actions, including dissemination of the currently popular term, ‘fake news’.

There are quite a few ‘sets’, especially on social media, related to the turfcare industry, but this doesn’t mean to say this should be seen as a negative issue, but to be aware of the limitations if a positive community is to be fostered. News of interest, such as Glyphosate or 3G rubber infill issues, can lead to a ‘set’ popping up – essentially a thread of comments which often lasts a short period of time before dying, until resurfacing some time later again. How positive and constructive an approach such ‘sets’ are is open to debate, but personally I feel they generate little in the way of shared, constructive debate in the way they are practiced at the moment. However, they be seen as positive in that they can, potentially, act as a catalyst which could then develop into an open networked group.

Networks: These can exist within the formal structure of a group, but are not connected with the processes or controls of the group; there is no explicit membership requirement for belonging to a network.

One particular feature of a network is that it focuses on the connections between people. It also has “shifting and indistinct boundaries”.

There are many networks within the industry and whilst they would be considered mostly informal, there will be aspects of formality in some, whereby behaviours of individuals would be expected to meet what might be termed ‘reasonable behaviour’. Networks can be inclusive or exclusive, with barriers – perceived and real – presenting difficulties and challenges to entry and engagement.

The existing networks are quite diverse, often stand-alone and mostly lacking further connections to other networks.

Collective: “A collective is not a social form in itself but is a consequence of the aggregated behaviours of people in sets, nets or groups.” These entities may cluster together and in turn the clusters may aggregate to larger clusters. I see collectives as being less formal than a community, but potentially more revolutionary or challenging, but a mature building block development of the set, group and network. I see there being plenty of opportunities for collectives to evolve from current entities, although I also see fragmentation within the industry being a particular constraint in limiting the formation of such positive collectives.

It is often assumed that large collections of people, i.e. crowds, can create collective intelligence, however “… the crowd must have at least some knowledge: A totally ignorant crowd aggregated into a collective remains totally ignorant. Collectives can and do exist within closed groups and proprietary networks, but the fact that they gain value when generated by larger numbers of individuals means that they tend towards openness.” With the wide diversity of employees, volunteers, interested parties there certainly needs to be caution over just listening to the small collective of those ‘who shout loudest’.

The shared interests of all the above entities will vary significantly within the turfcare industry due to the diversity of the social make-up. Interests will vary and be influenced by criteria such as:

  • Age group
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Ability / Disability
  • Requirements for work performance
  • Career development
  • Transport links / mobility
  • Financial circumstances
  • Personal ethics and interests
  • ……

Summary

The turfcare industry is certainly a learning one, consisting of numerous communities all learning to develop into a more coherent and less fragmented networked community. The outlook is positive, although the challenge is how to move to a more open position, where ‘learners’ can share their experiences in an unthreatening way.

Regarding the terminology: A group is certainly a formal entity, of varying size, a network can be considered the connecting glue that joins individuals, sets or groups, sets are more a ‘talking shop’ being disorganized but potentially leading to a more formal entity such as a group or a network . A collective provides an entity of emerging maturity, but not with the depth of social ties often associated with a community.

The above only just scrathes the surface of what is meant by a learning community, but hopefully it may get others thinking, and blogging, about their thoughts and ideas on the subject.

References:

Dron, J. & Anderson, T., (2014). Agoraphobia and the modern learner. Journal of Interactive Media in Education. 2014(1), p.Art. 3. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/2014-03

Purcell, P. (Ed.) (2006) ‘Networked Neighbourhoods: The Connected Community in Context’,

Chris Gray, 20th May 2017