VCSE Guidebook/Creating regional (e-)learning networks/Overview and classification of actor groups in networks

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6.3. Overview and classification of actor groups in networks

Establishing and enlarging regional networks means to respond to specific actor groups and to act according to their needs which can vary significantly depending on the field of action as well as on the professional or individual background.

Contrary to traditional learning, which is mainly based on individual learning theories, regional learning and learning in networks bring together different types of learning according to different levels (Scheff, 2001). Thus, regional learning networks focus on skills and knowledge exchange among different levels rather than on the impartation and acquisition of knowledge offering organisational and technological frameworks. Consequently, the individual’s learning is put into the background in favour of the learning of potential of groups, institutions and networks.

The networking aspect is of growing importance, in particular having the increasing degree of interconnectedness of regions in mind. Seen from a European perspective, the composition of actors and players is not homogenous. On the one hand, roles, norms, values and world views resulting from different cultural, political and historical background in the regions differ largely (Scheff, 2001). On the other hand, flexibility of time and place provided by e-learning as well as learning across borders and across spatial and social separation are gaining ground, overcoming obstacles and disparities. Thus, e-learning can be regarded as an important support tool to face-to-face contacts with respect to individual learning preferences and styles.

As mentioned above, regional learning networks are primarily based on specific actor groups which may also be described as key actors groups. Whereas most regional learning networks are focused on knowledge transfer between companies and enterprises, Scheff takes into consideration an enlarged view of regional actors who are involved in knowledge transfer (2001):

  • External know-how providers (e.g. education/training, research, consulting)
  • Companies and enterprises
  • Public administration (e.g. politics, administration, authorities, public institutions)

The fact that educational institutions are accorded higher relevance is particularly interesting when thinking of the VCSE’s role in regional (e-)learning networks. Thus, starting out from this view of regional actors, we have adopted the following classification of four main actor groups in regional (e-)learning networks:

1. Universities and research institutions

Traditionally, universities have been associated with creation as well as transmission of knowledge through research, teaching, further education and international cooperation (Delors, 1996). With the emergence of the concept of lifelong learning, working and learning together plays an ever more important role for universities as their action field for transmitting knowledge has dramatically grown. Universities have a pivotal role in regional (e-)learning networks as they may serve as providers of learning material, technology and methodology.

2. Schools

Schools’ first and foremost mission is to provide basic education. They have a long-term and widespread impact on society and form the basis of any further education. Therefore, this actor group, consisting of teachers and pupils/students, has a very high potential of regional diffusion. Any future-oriented network should therefore include this actor group in its cooperation.

3. Enterprises

According to the profit-maximising principle, enterprises are inherently goal-oriented. Therefore, participation should have advantages for their business or at least result in additional benefits, which can be reputation, public relations and growth in knowledge. As far as continuing education is concerned, bigger companies normally cooperate with professional education centres or universities. SMEs often have certain retentions to join a vertical learning network, which integrates various sectors.

4. Other Regional Actor Groups

This is obviously the most heterogeneous actor group, consisting, for instance, of decision makers, administration, NGOs, cultural associations, citizens in general. Not only do they have highly varied characteristics and demands; also their learning trigger is generally not purpose or goal-oriented, but rather an end in itself and of informal character. Convincing them to join a learning process proves already difficult; having them take part actively is an even bigger challenge. Consequently, a regional learning process should be preceded by an exhaustive identification of needs and the sophisticated attraction of this actor group. In some cases, regional actors can simultaneously be attributed to one of the other actor groups from institutional point of view. In this case, the stronger affiliation to one of these four actor groups and the tasks that he/she assumes is decisive for the role that he/she plays in this network.