VCSE Guidebook/Creating regional (e-)learning networks/Characteristics of regional networks

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6.2. Characteristics of regional networks

As already stated above, networks can be a system of interrelationships with the objective of mutual knowledge and resource exchange between at least three partners. Generally, networks are analysed and classified according to several characteristics (Strebel, 2003):

  • Size
  • Spatial dimension
  • Degree of openness
  • Direction of cooperation (horizontal or vertical)
  • Form of organisation and control

With regards to learning and e-learning in networks, these dimensions have a strong relevance.

The size as well as the spatial dimension influence the decision to use more or less e-learning elements in communication and collaboration: the bigger a network and the farther the participants of a network are located, the more preference will be on e-learning elements as it is an advantage for communication. On the other hand, a closer location of participants in networks, in particular in smaller networks, will result in a domination of face-to-face learning with only very few online elements as informal and face-to-face communication predominate.

Another factor is the degree of openness in regional networks. Generally, there is a tendency towards openness in network relations in order to increase the mutual benefit of these relations.

The direction of cooperation can be central for regional (e-)learning networks, since it influences many other network characteristics and activities. Regional (e-)learning networks could be both horizontally and vertically oriented, horizontally meaning that networks go across various sectors, whereas vertical orientation includes partners from one sector only. As regards sustainable development, vertical or even diagonal networks are preferred as they integrate actors from various sectors and reduce professional myopia.

The form of organisation and control is an important issue in networks due to influences of power in the respective regions. A differentiation between self-organised and managed learning networks must be made here. Former are characterised by rather informal and structures and often smaller dimensions (e.g. spatial extend, number of participants). Learning may be described as an open process or a means to an end. Latter are mainly professionally managed, goal oriented and institutionalised networks, in which members have clear assignments of tasks and responsibilities.