We come together for many reasons: to build things, to fight for things we believe in, to share things and to learn. The by product of coming together is that we form communities, be they collections of houses and post offices or online spaces where we join together with common purpose. But community is not inevitable. It’s not a matter of fact that people will always join together. There are plenty of dysfunctional groupings, be they in the real world or online, from poorly run businesses that exploit employees through to abusive and bullying spaces online.
Community is built around common purpose and in turn the purpose of community is to make us feel less alone. To be stronger in numbers, to be more capable than the capabilities of the individual. This requires us to put others in front of ourselves, to be selfless, at least to some extent. There has to be an element of enlightened self interest to draw us together, for there to be something in it for me and for you. The thing that we may get out of it may be tangible, like help building a house, or intangible, like a sense of belonging, of love, of support. Similarly, it may be that we are generous with our time or expertise, or with our assets and skills.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who lives in a community recently devastated by a fire. Her description of loss was based around how to support others who had lost more, not around how to retrieve what they had lost themselves. Generosity sits at the heart of community.
In learning environments, we rely on the generosity of others: to provide feedback, support, challenge and knowledge. Learning communities are built upon the same principles as other communities. It’s not just about creating the space, it’s about supporting the emergence of trust and community, which are different from pure architecture. It’s easy to have a space with no soul, with no community. You can put people together, but that that doesn’t create community. It takes time, shared effort, shared risk and shared reward.
Think about the communities that you are part of: at work, around schools, churches, neighbourhoods, online communities. What do you take out of them and what do you put into them. It will vary widely, but there may be common strands. It’s worth thinking about what we can take from this to learn and put into social learning spaces as we grow them. How will we support embryonic communities?