The Collective: A New Culture of Learning pt. 2

In an earlier post, I introduced Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book  A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, asking how youth leaders actually get at the internal motivation that, married with access to an unlimited source of information, drives learning.

Here’s another key idea in the book: the collective.

“As the name implies, it is a collection of people, skills, and talent that produces a result greater than the sum of its parts. For our purposes . . . they are defined by an active engagement with the process of learning.

“A collective is very different from an ordinary community. Where communities can be passive . . . collectives cannot. In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation.

“[Collectives] are content neutral platforms, waiting to be filled with interactions among participants.”

What if youth ministry were viewed in a particular context as a constellation of collectives? What if, instead of The Youth Group, where one Youth Leader was trying to expose all participants to Scripture study, service, spiritual practice, worship, community building, etc., you instead had a collective of students who were participating in service and a collective that was focused on Scripture study, and any number of youth collectives engaging any number of things?

A student could choose to participate in whichever collective appealed to her. She could form a collective of her peers around forms of participation that don’t yet exist at the church.

In our congregation this year, a particular student has gathered a collective of her peers around her to engage issues of hunger. She recruited them to raise money for and participate in a walk. She got them to do the 30 Hour Famine. What that collective does next I don’t know. But I’m sure they’re not done.

I like what the collective suggests. What are the limitations, though? Does this appeal to you as much as it does to me?

9 thoughts on “The Collective: A New Culture of Learning pt. 2

  1. Very cool. I like the language and idea of the “collective” (other than in reference to the “Borg” where it means machine-like assimilation and lack of individual responsibility and creativity).

    The collective does seem a lot like what Chris Argyris and Donald Schoen were trying to describe in the early 70’s when they spoke of “double-loop learning”. (I think the book was titled Organizational Culture and Change.)

    Just sitting here, I’m identifying several “collectives” I’ve seen at work in the world. Very cool to have a term for it.

  2. I think this gets closer to your quest for discerning motivations. The key is that the youth themselves must generate the collectives, rather than us offering pre-determined options for them to choose from. If we take this latter approach, all we’re doing is using different terminology to describe what we’ve always done.

    For me, the bigger question is how we help youth discern and articulate their passions in such a way that a collective might form around them. Perhaps this is the more important work of “equipping the saints” that we are called to do.

    1. Some of our confirmation narratives start to get at those passions, but I need to craft more stuf to elicit that. Share whatever you want about ways you do that

      1. I don’t think I have much to share at this point. This hasn’t been something I/we’ve excelled at. Mostly, we just try to offer things we think will be interesting, with mixed results. But, I think this is exactly what we’re starting to talk about more directly.

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