I spent the weekend at a festival with a few musical friends: plenty of time to catch up with everyone in the first patch of sunshine for weeks. One of the nice things about going to festivals is that you get to know the regulars, the people that organise the stalls, the food, the musicians and the entertainers. They are all independent, but come together for each event: the landscape and weather change, the bars and beers change, but the community itself persists. A true virtual community, bought together by common interest, often in the creation and sharing of music. An oral (and aural) storytelling tradition in the oldest sense.
Social learning communities exist across both the online and physical world. They consist of various encounters where people come together to share knowledge, ideas and expertise, to ask questions and offer challenges. Some of the communication that takes place is sociable, some about specific problems and challenges. Both are important: the community is built around common interests and generosity of time and spirit, which requires a social bond and the expenditure of social capital. Indeed, the ability to ‘network’ in these environments is essential, and you can see it at work around you. Within the overall festival community that i was immersed in, there are assorted sub groups.
The traders form one, but even within that the food franchises are distinct. Musicians form a separate group, but within that the drummers come together, or the singers. Then there were other divisions and groupings: the women with children coming together for stories and support.
It’s interesting that we spend so much time building spaces for community to exist, be it meeting rooms and offices or dedicated virtual spaces, whilst in fact the bonds seem to be in the world of friendship and conversation.
Some of our social learning communities will never come together in person, existing instead only in the spaces and activities that we create for them, but many communities do crossover, sometimes activity focussed, at others just passing the time of day.
There’s something quite grounded in a festival site: people coming together from around the landscape to one spot, dedicated and consecrated for a few days for a communal purpose, then returned to nature for another year. It helped me visualise our learning communities in a more immediate way.