The grassroots of learning

Here’s a common scenario: I “quickly” look up something on Wikipedia, and hours later I have 47 tabs open as I delve into tangential aspects of the topic.

That’s the beauty of hypertext. A link takes you somewhere else, which contains other links that take you somewhere else yet again. The Internet is thus the perfect vehicle for explaining the concept of rhizomatic learning.

Rhizomatic learning is something that I have been superficially aware of for a while. I had read a few blog posts by Dave Cormier (the godfather of the philosophy) and I follow the intrepid Soozie Bea (a card-carrying disciple), but unfortunately I missed Dave’s #rhizo14 mooc earlier in the year.

Since I’ve been blogging about the semantics of education lately, I thought it high time to dig a little deeper.

Bamboo with rhizome

It seems to me that rhizomatic learning is the pedagogical antithesis of direct instruction. Direct instruction has pre-defined learning outcomes with pre-defined content to match. The content is typically delivered in a highly structured format.

In contrast, rhizomatic learning has no pre-defined learning outcomes nor pre-defined content. The learner almost haphazardly follows his or her own line of inquiry from one aspect of the subject matter to the next, then the next, and so forth according to whatever piques his or her interest. Thus it can not be predicted ahead of time.

Given my scientific background, I was already familiar with the rhizome. So is everyone else, incidentally, perhaps without realising it. A rhizome is the creeping rootstalk of a plant that explores the soil around it, sending out new roots and shoots as it goes along. A common example is bamboo, whose rhizome enables it to spread like wildfire.

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari adopt the rhizome as a metaphor for the spread of culture throughout society. That’s a massive over-simplification, of course, and quite possibly wrong. The Outsider represents the extent of my French philosophy bookshelf!

Anyway, the point I’m bumbling towards is that Dave Cormier has picked up this philosophical metaphor and applied it to the wonderful world of learning. He explains in Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words:

“Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.”

I note that this explanation from 2012 is somewhat different from his paper in 2008, which of course reflects the evolution of the idea. In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave similarly mentioned the abundance of content on the Internet, and also the shrinking half-life of knowledge. He contrasted the context of traditional education – in which experts are the custodians of a canon of accepted thought, which is presumed to remain relatively stable – with today – in which knowledge changes so quickly as to make the traditional notion of education flawed.

Dave posited educational technology is a prime example. Indeed when I studied this discipline at university, much of the learning theory (for instance) enjoyed a broad canon of knowledge to which students such as myself could refer. It was even documented in textbooks. Other aspects of the subject (for instance, the rapid advances in technology, and the pedagogical shifts towards social and informal learning) could not be compared against any such canon. The development of this knowledge was so rapid that we students relied as much on each other’s recent experiences and on sharing our personal learning journeys than we did on anything the professor could supply.

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

From 2008 to 2012, I see a shift in Dave’s language from Rhizomatic Education to Rhizomatic Learning. This I think is a better fit for the metaphor, as while it may be argued that the members of the community are “teaching” one another, the driving force behind the learning process is the active learner who uses the community as a resource and makes his or her own decisions along the way.

I also note the change from “the community is the curriculum” to “participating in the community is the curriculum”. Another semantic shift that I think is closer to the mark, but perhaps still not quite there. I suggest that the content created by the members of community is the curriculum. In other words, the curriculum is the output that emerges from participating in the community. So “participating in the community produces the curriculum”.

As a philosophy for learning, then, rhizomatic learning is not so different from constructivism, connectivism, and more broadly, andragogy. The distinguishing feature is the botanical imagery.

However this is where my understanding clouds over…

Is it the abundance of content “out there” that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the construction of new knowledge that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the learning journey that is undertaken by the individual learner?

Perhaps such pedantic questions are inconsequential, but the scientist in me demands clarification. So I propose the following:

 

The knowledge that is constructed by the community is the rhizome.

The process of constructing the knowledge
by the members of the community is rhizomatic education.

The process of exploring, discovering and consuming the knowledge
by the individual learner is rhizomatic learning.

 

If we return to my Wikipedia scenario, we can use it as a microcosm of the World Wide Web and the universe more broadly:

The ever-expanding Wikipedia is the rhizome.

The Wikipedians are conducting rhizomatic education.

I, the Average Joe who looks it up and loses myself in it for hours on end,
is experiencing rhizomatic learning.

In the age of Web 2.0, Average Joe may also be a Wikipedian. Hence we can all be rhizomatic educators and rhizomatic learners.

Barnstar

I also detect a certain level of defensiveness from Dave in his early paper. He prefaces his work with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s An enemy of the People which rejoices in the evolution of “truth” in the face of conventional resistance [my interpretation], while later on he addresses the responses of the “purveyors of traditional educational knowledge” – primarily in the realms of academic publishing and intellectual property.

I think Dave was right to be defensive. Despite the pervasive learnification of education that would theoretically promote rhizomatic learning as its poster boy, anything new that threatens the status quo is typically met with outrage from those who stand to lose out.

A case in point is moocs. Dave refers to Alec Couros’s graduate course in educational technology, which was a precursor to his enormously popular #ETMOOC. While a cMOOC such as this one may be the epitome of the rhizomatic philosophy, I contend that it also applies to the xMOOC.

You see, while the xMOOC is [partly] delivered instructivistly, those darn participants still learn rhizomatically! And so the traditionalists delight in the low completion rates of moocs, while the rest of us appreciate that learning (as opposed to education) simply doesn’t work that way – especially in the digital age.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no anti-educationalist. Regular readers of my blog will not find it surprising when I point out that sometimes the rhizomatic model is not appropriate. For example, when the learner is a novice in a particular field, they don’t know what they don’t know. As I was alluding to via my tweet to Urbie in lrnchat, sometimes there is a central and stable canon of knowledge and the appointed expert is best placed to teach it to you.

I also realise that while an abundance of knowledge is indeed freely available on the Internet, not all of it is. It may be hidden in walled gardens, or not on the web at all. Soozie makes the point that information sources go beyond what the web and other technologies can channel. “Information that is filtered, classified or cleansed, consolidated or verified may also come from formal, non-formal or informal connections including teachers, friends, relatives, professional colleagues and recognized experts in the field.” But I take her point that all this is enhanced by technology.

Finally, the prominence of rhizomatic learning will inevitably increase as knowledge continues to digitise and our lens on learning continues to informalise. In this context, I think the role of the instructor needs much more consideration. While Dave maintains that the role is to provide an introduction to an existing learning community in which the student may participate, there is obviously more that we L&D pro’s must do to fulfil our purpose into the future.

On that note I’ll rest my rhizomatic deliberation on rhizomatic learning. If you want to find out more about this philosophy, I suggest you look it up on Wikipedia.

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30 Comments on “The grassroots of learning”


  1. Hello Ryan,

    I am not sure this is a very helpful analogy for formal education. I have a couple of problems with it.

    1. I think we should be vary wary of the word “content”. Content of my suitcase? Content of my speech? Content of my diary? It is a relative word and so, used in circumstances in which the nature of the context is not specified, meaningless.

    The problem this leads to in discussions about education is that content is often used as a synonym for information, when the objectives of formal education are much more to do with skills and attitudes. Information is just a stepping stone.

    Given this role for education, there are strong arguments for defining a tight core of information to be learned (surrounded by a penumbra of background reading. The core can be selected to support the conceptual ah ha! that objective-led learning is after, encourages discussion and the development of high-quality teaching resources.

    The rhizomatic analogy assumes that the stuff of learning (the water and minerals to be absorbed by the plant) are just sitting there in the soil, like the information you want to memorize is just sitting around on Wikipedia. Send your roots north, south, east or west, it is all good stuff ready to be sucked up.

    But our the objectives of our formal education system are not about information – they are about skills and attitudes. These aren’t just sitting around waiting to be sucked up – even perceiving what they are is hard, let alone mastering them. And in general they are the preserve of the few and not the many.

    Much of the information out there is plain wrong and many of the learnt behaviours are positively harmful. Many people left to themselves learn violent, addictive or at the very least harmfully self-indulgent behaviours. I need to know which direction to go in – and the nature of much formal education is that the uneducated person does not yet know the value of the things that they do not yet know.

    In short, I think the dichotomy you draw between content and community is unhelpful because of a lack of clarity over what this “content” is and how you might get your hands on it.

    2. Dynamic systems depend on some microcosmic mechanism. I don’t know what it is for roots, but I do know that, above the soil, plants bend towards the light through the process of phototropism, caused by the growth-stimulating chemical auxin which occurs on the shaded side of the plant. Presumably roots have similar processes that encourage bifurcation.

    The point I am trying to make is that when you look at the way learning takes place in groups, you need to look at the psychology which determines the individual’s participation in the group. In general, I believe the psycho-social dynamic of such group relationships is one that encourages (often enforces) conformity and intolerance of opinion which does not align with the norms of the group. This tendency (which can be widely evidenced in history) is, I believe, aggravated by the internet, which allows people to seek out interlocutors who share their opinions (even if these are extreme) and avoid those who don’t.

    But the dynamic that is required for learning and for what we might call the search for truth, is one in which you find independent thought and contested debate. It is the very opposite of the sort of dynamic you find in most communities. In “The Wisdom of the Crowd” James Surowiecki argues that crowds are only wise in circumstances in which they exhibit very un-crowd-like dynamics- i.e. when views are independently held and rigorously contested. That is why history is littered with orthodox views (like many religious doctrines, the four humours in medical history, alchemy, our model of the cosmos etc) which are complete nonsense but which nevertheless persist for centuries, only to be overturned by individuals or small groups who are prepared to stand out *against* the crowd/community.

    I do not say that group dynamics are not important in education – I just say that the bog standard dynamic to be found in everyday and internet communities is not conducive to academic learning and needs to be replaced by dynamics (quite possibly encoded into new social networking services) which encourage debate and disagreement.

    I have just been reading Angela MacFarlane’s Authentic Learning for the Digital Generation which, despite its dodgy title, has an excellent chapter on User Generated Content and social networking. This reports on a study into the use of BBC Blast in the UK by young people: 10% of participants comment, with most of these comments being completely banal; 1% contribute substantive UGC, with most of this “content” (different again to your “content”) being trivial; and there is an overwhelming sensitivity – almost paranoia – about avoiding disagreement at all costs. Ouch!

    As always, thanks for tolerating my divergent opinion and giving the opportunity to argue the case on your blog!

    Best, Crispin.

  2. cmcorley Says:

    Reblogged this on Caroline Corley and commented:
    I liked the concept of this.

  3. Nick Says:

    I don’t have anything very deep or detailed to say about this post, but I did love it. My first impression though (and I can’t get my head out of this) is that the earth/dirt is content/information and the rhizome is a person traveling through this mass spreading out further and further. Maybe an educator is somebody fertilizing and trying to organize the dirt or perhaps planting the plant/rhizome in a specific spot in order to find the best information.

    I say I couldn’t get that out of my head because I spent the entire summer tearing my backyard up to a bare patch of dirt and redoing it all. This led me through research of plants and the learning of what a rhizome even is (turns out I have a whole yard of rhizome shoots from weeds in my front). So, I still am reminded of this every day from my neighbors weeds sending shoots under the fence into my yard and constantly having to yank them out.

    Long story somewhat short. I love the analogy and story, really brought to life my summer pains and connected it to something positive :-)

    I am definitely going to have to read it again at another time and I’ll try to make a more intelligent comment.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks so much, Crispin. Far from merely tolerating your divergent opinion, I agree with almost every word!

    To me your comments highlight the difference between teaching and learning, and the obfuscation of that difference caused by the learnification of education.

    Perhaps the only point on which I disagree is where you say that the dichotomy I draw between content and community is unhelpful because of a lack of clarity over what this content is and how one might get one’s hands on it. I do agree that content is highly contextual, so it is only the community in question that could really answer that. In the case of Wikipedia, the “content” is the collection of articles that the Wikipedians publish (and by extension the associated links, I suppose). In the case of an executive development workshop, the stories and experiences shared by the participants would be an example of the content.

    I’m not sure if that squarely or fairly responds to your argument, but what I was arguing against in my post was that “the community” is the curriculum or “participating in the community” is the curriculum; in either case, the outcome of the learning experience would be that you are familiar with the fellow members of your community. That’s a very connectivist way of defining the curriculum – which I happen to be comfortable with as far as that philosophy goes – but I don’t think it’s quite what the rhizomatic philosophy is getting at. Regardless of the lack of clarity over what the content might be and how one might get one’s hands on it, I suggest it still constitutes the curriculum.

  5. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @cmcorley Cheers for the re-blog, Caroline.

    @Nick I’m glad I was able to transform your pain into something positive ;0)

    This is my first foray too into thinking about rhizomatic learning in any depth. I like how you’ve used the gardening analogy to extend the metaphor, and indeed that’s the kind of thing I was trying to clarify.

    The role of the educator continues to roll around in my mind. If (and this is a big “if”) the nature of learning is rhizomatic, what does that mean for our education institutions and the folks like you and me who are charged with improving business performance?

  6. Steve Says:

    I wonder if there is room for more than one approach.

    While I agree in spirit with Crispin’s comment above, particularly about education being about more than an exercise in content delivery. A couple of bits are giving me trouble.

    “objectives of formal education are much more to do with skills and attitudes”

    I suspect we likely mean the same thing in this case, but I see education (and any learning experience, really) as more than an opportunity to build skills and attitudes. It’s so much more than this. I think in education, also commonly misunderstood with many default frames for training, we’re missing something if we aim for knowledge (as information regurgitation), skills (as technique), and attitudes (as conformity). What of other capacities that when combined well, result in a capable and wise world citizen – ready to contribute to success and pursuit of purpose? Capacities such as grit, insight, empathy, confidence, connection, curiosity, and experience.

    Skills matter, no doubt. But skills, too often, are defined in shallow and fleeting terms. The impermanence of skill as technique limits capacity. Many classrooms go far beyond shallow skill preparation, supporting other capacities, many do not. Many students will carry themselves far beyond the designs of those classrooms that hang on shallow skill preparation and rote programming, many others won’t get beyond this no matter the type of classroom environment.

    This is what bugs me about the discussion of effectiveness around MOOCs and Rhizomatic experiences. It focuses almost exclusively on the delivery while ignoring how ineffective the formal classroom counterparts can be at anything beyond technique preparation and information scaffolds.

    “…reports on a study into the use of BBC Blast in the UK by young people: 10% of participants comment, with most of these comments being completely banal; 1% contribute substantive UGC, with most of this “content” (different again to your “content”) being trivial; and there is an overwhelming sensitivity – almost paranoia – about avoiding disagreement at all costs. Ouch!”

    The summary of this study bug me a bit. It feels like the study focuses on measurement of an activity and not a comparative outcome. In the live classroom used as a control, I wonder what percentage of participants contributed and how many of the comments from participants were “banal”? And was this the first round of UGC, or several rounds of UGC? Young people tend not to know how to frame creations. Part of this is a confidence distraction. More questions than answers:)

    I don’t know. Richness of experience comes from a variety of social contexts. Solo, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, many-to-many, team, associations, societies, and the world. The perfect formula varies. Lots of questions across this spectrum.

    This isn’t to pick on Crispin’s comment. I suspect we agree on more points than we disagree. I’m just not sure we’re asking the right questions to pass judgment on any mechanism of the learning experience. I don’t have the answers. Only a hunger for the right questions:)

  7. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Some interesting ideas and a neat analogy. One of the issues with this kind of learning is to me the veracity of the content that we encounter while learning rhizomatically. For people like you and I it is relatively for us to sort the wheat from the chaff and critically analyse the information that we find as we hyperlink our way across the universe of knowledge. However this ability to critically analyse what we find, make decisions about what we are going to utilise and what we are going to discard is a learnt skill and a learnt skill that I sometimes think is forgotten in a lot of these discussions about how and what we learn in non-formal and informal environments. If learning rhizomatically teaches things that are false or at the very least tenuous, then it am not sure of it’s use. We have to be careful of the content that is created by the community is accurate and this is of course one of the biggest issues with the internet as a tool for learning, while there is a massive amount of information out there, a lot of it is heavily agended or just plain wrong. I would suggest as an example someone wanting to try and learn more about climate change, or immunisation, it becomes very easy to chase the rabbit and find yourself reading things on sites that seem to be reputable and well informed where as in fact there may be significant agendas behind their views.

    On another note as a old Analytic Philosopher I applaud the lack of that continental philosophy rubbish on your bookshelf. :)


  8. It really is a strong and highly visual metaphor – thank you! My thoughts drifted to the idea of the organisation as the garden.We want a thriving garden all year round. In the organisational context, this is the role of learning (not the learning function, but learning).

    Although specific plants thrive in full sun and others might be dormant in winter, our garden has a diversity of plants that ensure we have a beautiful garden all year round. We grow, prune and replace plants (workers), whilst we fertilise and water the soil and remove weeds (maintaining the environment and developing the culture that will support growth).

    The role of the learning function is to guide and nurture the garden (organisation) and the individual plants (the teams and workers). Some plants we grow from seed or from a seedling. Like a novice in a formal learning environment, they are contained in a pot until they are ready for the garden (the workplace). The rhizomes however, do grow and start to build the network that will support further growth.

    Once in the garden, or when a more mature plant is transplanted, the rhizomes are free to explore and grow. In a poorly kept garden, some will survive, but many others will perish. Rather than leave it to chance, the good gardener will observe, water, prune and nurture the garden to help it be successful. The gardener doesn’t force the rhizomes down a set path, but creates a healthy environment for them to explore and thrive (to build the network). This is how it should be with workplace learning. People will learn from experience and through the network every day, but rather than leave it to chance or attempting to formalise it, the learning function’s role is to guide, support and enable it – to make workplace learning intentional.

    On a separate note, I’ve got a lemon tree in a pot and I’m wondering if anyone knows how I can…

  9. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Steve, Paul and Andrew, thanks for chiming in.

    @Steve I agree that the the most vociferous of the anti-edtech brigade sometimes forgets that the incumbent alternative is *ahem* sub-optimal.

    @pauldrasmussen You and I are kindred spirits in regards to the availability and quality of the information on the superhighway. It reminds me of your excellent blog post: Just in time learning, house renovation and the problem of general vs specific knowledge http://wp.me/p1Xojg-8v

    Notwithstanding our shared concerns about the potential consequences of rhizomatic learning, I suggest that the philosophy holds that this is the way people learn by default. And it may be true, meaning we education pro’s need to intervene.

    @Andrew Love your expansion of the botanical metaphor! I also like your distinction between formalising learning and making it intentional.

  10. jennymackness Says:

    Hi Ryan – I have finally got here and even now I’m not sure where to begin in response to your post. I think this is probably because first there is so much in it and second I am currently steeped in research into the Rhizo14 MOOC experience (collaboratively with Frances Bell and Mariana Funes). There is more detail about this on my blog, but particularly in this post – http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/rhizo-14-emerging-ambiguities-and-issues/
    So I’m in that ‘there’s too much in my head’ phase and none of it is very clear at the moment!

    I share some of Crispin’s concerns. We are still conducting our research and analysing findings, but we have found ambiguities and concerns (as voiced by survey and interview respondents) around issues of community (power and politics), curriculum and the role of the teacher/facilitator.

    The interesting thing is that Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor was intended as a metaphor for thinking (not teaching or learning), to help schizophrenic patients move away from the hierarchy of traditional thought to new ways of thinking. This is what is appealing to me. How should we/can we think differently about traditional formal education. Is there any value in underground, subversive non-hierarchical ways of working? Of course I can see the links between thinking and learning, but teaching and learning in the sense of ‘schooling’ were not Deleuze and Guattari’s concern.

    The enthusiasm from educators around the idea of rhizomatic learning (and there was lots of enthsusiasm in Rhizo14) seems to be because it offers possibilities for thinking about teaching and learning in non-hierarchical ways, but curriculum and community were scarcely featured in Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the rhizome. The word ‘curriculum’ does not appear once in the entire book and the word community only appears 15 times and never in relation to a learning community.

    In our research we are trying to come to some understanding of the place of curriculum and community in relation to the rhizome metaphor.

  11. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks so much for your comments, Jenny. I look forward to reading through your series of #rhizo14 related blog posts, and please keep me posted on your research findings.

  12. Peter Shukie Says:

    A very interesting and stimulating post, Ryan. I think the concern immediately apparent is that by seeking the curriculum, whether as the community, or the content created by the community, becomes part of the complexity of seeing in the rhizome an alternative to the traditional, or the formal or institutional, or in the Deleuze and Guattari discourse the arboreal.
    As Jenny points out the very notion of education and the rhizome comes after D & G’s idea of rhizomatic thinking and a very different set of parameters but ones which are based on resistance to a dominant and pervasive canon. What the rhizomatic then suggests is a means of becoming, not being, and becoming through a spreading ‘patch of oil’ growing into new spaces.
    I think it has to be consistent to consider the rhizome as either a space to explore or not. It cannot be developed as a mere pedagogy that allows wandering and exploration but then ultimately winds its way back into a canonical knowledge structure where it can be measured and codified back in the arborescence of the academy or accepted academic practice. Where Deleuze & Guattari say that ’Literature is an assemblage. It has nothing to do with ideology. There is no ideology and never has been’ (p5) the notion of literature, as they also do with philosophy, suggests for me that the whole notion of how we approach the concern with what learning and education is/are needs to be considered with a realisation of what the rhizome suggests, the transformative disruption it would require. Literature and Philosophy, and then Education/ Learning, are only viable once we understand that the terms themselves are ever widening and altered by the consideration of what each can mean as context changes, as the people linked together change the context and the meaning, as notions of ‘expert’ become meaningless and open to change.
    The rhizomatic applied to education is exciting and persuasive I guess because it offers alternative readings of the world that are not genealogically traced back to the dominant canon of ideologies so well established as to be seen as a tap root.
    I think the proposal of the rhizome you give highlights an externality of the rhizome in this reading. The notion that knowledge is constructed through a process of construction and ultimately consumed is perhaps where the reading of the rhizome is less clear. Focussing on the community in each of the points offers some link of communal creation but only if the sense of ‘becoming’ is part of this. The community is not then merely a group of people suggesting they are community because of the desire to be so, but through realising that the rhizome is all, that abandoning the reliance on structure of the trees, safety in knowledge, familiarity with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, recognising these are not universals but contextual terms. Much easier to say than do.
    Much educational context for the rhizome focusses not on pedagogy or approaches to the internet and the abundance of knowledge but on the potential to realign marginalised groups and ways of thinking that become free by using the rhizome as alternative to the tree. Semetsky for instance highlights the ‘and…and…and’ of the rhizome as breaking the acceptance of the binaries we so often rely on as given, as truth. Semetsky says
    ‘It is the conjunction ‘and’ that enables interaction between the otherwise dualistic
    opposites, such as self and other, or subject and object, or teacher and student, and
    connects them in a rhizomatic network of relations so that both are transformed by
    mutual experience’ (Semetsky, 2012).
    Others, such as Lesley LeGrange (2009) and Tara Cumming (2014) and Suzanne Carrington (2014) are closer to my own reading of the rhizome as a means of empowering alternative meanings, and new approaches through destabilising (reterritorialisation and reterritorialisation) of the pervasive and accepted institutional models. This, I think, is much more difficult than the application of theory, or looking at teaching/ learning through the lens of the behaviourist, the social constructivist or even the Connectivist. The point of rhizomatic thinking rather than rhizomatic learning or rhizomatic teaching is that just as with Literature or Philosophy the terms are thrown open, pulled apart and allow a new knowledge to be written/ spoken/ thought and which even as that begins to form is already part of a rhizomatic spreading, along lines of flight that are the stuff of the individual, of the temporal, of the local that means they too are not fixed but shifting.
    I think that the term ‘community’ is problematic for all of our discussions – I liked your notion of the xMOOCers still learning rhizomatically. Yet, can they? Even in a tightly organised behaviourist model with regular step by step assessment and gateways, the freedom to nip to the library is there, the opportunity to discuss with a ‘non-believer’ a radical, an alternate, is always there. The point there is that such wanderings ‘don’t count’, they are not assessed, they are excluded and omitted, marginalised and made external. Becoming rhizomatic is the gradual realisation, perhaps, of a fragmented consciousness, a free wandering option is not comforting and cannot be readily applied to models of tree like appreciation of knowledge, a contemporary style of learning that can better help us achieve qualifications, awareness, understanding, recognition and achievement. What is community here? The teacher-led one? The informal? None of the above?
    As an interested participant in Rhizo14 I think I can see the dichotomies you identify in your blog. Even as the approach saw Dave Cormier attempting to minimalize the ‘instructor’ role (a fundamental and essential necessity for the rhizomatic) it was almost impossible to stop it becoming ‘Dave’s Rhizomatic Course’ for some. That’s the thing with it all, it is almost impossible to think this way without becoming schizophrenic as the duality of academy and community emerges. Rhizomatic exploration does allow for the marginalised to find a way of thinking that challenges the dominant but the dominant is so pervasive that begins a whole new problem as we try to recreate new connections that are not simply recreating the old ones.

  13. Nick Says:

    “If (and this is a big “if”) the nature of learning is rhizomatic, what does that mean for our education institutions and the folks like you and me who are charged with improving business performance?”

    Ryan, I think it means people really are capable of seeking this stuff out on their own, but edu institutions provide a better curated experience where more can be learned easier if that drive is there. In the form of rhizomatic learning, it’s well placed plants in fertile soil and fertilization provided to allow the plant to grow as rapidly and successfully as possible.

    For you and I, well, we’re doomed! Just kidding. Again we can provide that well curated information and make sure the plant (or person) is in the right spot and has the right soil/nutrients to thrive. And I’m not talking about nutrients as in eating good food, although that’s a big part of it!

    Very odd talking about rhizomes and plants and soil and such in terms of seeking, person, and education/performance change but I like it!

    What do you think of all that?

    ps. your comments section does not format for conversation very well, difficult to follow as there’s not indentation/rhyme or reason.

  14. Ryan Tracey Says:

    @Peter Thanks so much Peter for your in-depth comment. I’ll need to re-read it a few times to get my head around it, but for the moment your final paragraph resonates most with me. I am beginning to appreciate the schizophrenic attribute of the original metaphor.

    @Nick Well put, Nick. Apologies for the commenting situation, I’m relying on WordPress :0(

  15. Sharvaani Says:

    What about if the community is not ready for such type of learning? At what stage in our lives we can say that now I am ready to learn just for the sake of learning?

  16. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for your questions, Sharvaani.

    With your first question, are you referring to a community not being collaboratively minded? Or unwilling to use social media? Or perhaps both? I agree that these are barriers to social learning.

    Regarding your second question, I think the answer would be different for everyone depending on their circumstances. For some, I imagine, learning just for the sake of learning would be a luxury.

  17. Sharvaani Says:

    Thank you Ryan
    I meant a society that is not collaboratively minded.

  18. djs Says:

    The basic problem with rhizomatic learning is that nobody seems to understand, not even read, A thousand plateaus. Those who has no idea of what are talking about, think according this script: rhizome is no order; no order is freedom; learning is (or should be) freedom. It sounds great talk about learning and freedom, so why not rhizomatic learning?
    But you will not find nothing of this in the original Guatari and Deleuze.
    Things like “Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari adopt the rhizome as a metaphor for the spread of culture throughout society” is inadmissible. Sorry, you didn´t read the book neither understand the concept.

  19. jennymackness Says:

    Hi djs – yes I think you are right, few seem to understand the concept, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Who’s to say who understands what :-) And it probably is true that few who talk about rhizomatic learning have read A Thousand Plateaus. I can’t claim to have read it all. I dip in and out – move from plateau to plateau as need dictates and am miles off understanding what they were trying to communicate.

    It is also true, I think, in my limited knowledge, that D&G’s ideas about the rhizome have been adopted in ways in which they never would have anticipated or maybe even approved of. But they were, as my understanding goes, trying to challenge traditional ways of thinking – so in those terms I can understand why the metaphor has been adopted as a way of thinking about how teaching and learning might be different. This does not mean that the metaphor is perfect, or complete, or even how D&G intended, but anything that keeps challenging the way we think about teaching and learning is a plus for me:-)

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could know what D&G would think about how their ideas have been interpreted. As with painters of great works of arts who are no longer here to tell us what they meant by their work, there is no way of knowing what is right or what is wrong in the way they are now interpreted.

  20. djs Says:

    Jenny Mackness:
    Of course, you can interpret any concept of different ways, incluiding a different way from the original author. I agree, it is a basic right.
    But, in this case, I notice lazziness, superficiality, lack of rigour, not exactly a scientific virtues, isn’t it? When I read about rhizomatic learning I get confused because of lack of scientific rigour.

    Well, some kind of interpretations at war, I guess :-)

  21. louilewis7 Says:

    Reblogged this on Louise Lewis and commented:
    Great blog

  22. Ryan Tracey Says:

    djs, I didn’t read A Thousand Plateus, just as you mustn’t have read my “quite possibly wrong” qualification.

    As you may not have picked up, I don’t think we L&D pro’s should put too much stock into Deleuze and Guattari’s original metaphor. I see it simply as Dave Cormier’s inspiration for rhizomatic learning.

    That the script you mention can not be found in A Thousand Plateus is irrelevant in this context.

  23. Sam Says:

    If we’re not too curmudgeonly about it, I actually think comparing rhizomatic learning with A Thousand Plateus can add to the conversation: D&G used the metaphor to compare a way of thinking that’s neatly hierarchal, linear, segmented with the rhizomatic logic, which is non-linear, non-hierarchal, “ceaselessly establish[ing] connections.” For D&G, culture follows the rhizomatic logic, and the state (government) uses the linear logic to to control culture. The state has a vested interest in controlling culture because it wants to perpetuate itself–authority’s position fundamentally depends on hierarchy and linearity.

    We’re talking about learning as rhizomatic–are L&D departments D&G’s state, chopping up the rhizome to try to create hierarchy and order so we can perpetuate ourselves? The idea of rhizomatic learning is threatening, I think, to L&D depts that can’t imagine what they’ll do or whether they’ll have jobs if we start embracing that this is really how learning works.

    (Thanks for the opportunity to think about post-structuralism with my learning design hat on!)

  24. Ryan Tracey Says:

    You’re welcome, Sam ;0) and thanks for contributing more insight to the conversation regarding D&G’s original metaphor and how it relates to learning.

    I agree with your observation that the concept of rhizomatic learning is threatening to L&D professionals who can’t imagine what they’ll do if (or when?) we start embracing that this is how learning works. To those who lack imagination, the reaction to anything new or different is resistance. Unfortunately, those in power can make the resistance stick.

  25. tanyalau Says:

    Hi Ryan, wow lots of food for thought here, it’s making my head hurt! (much like so many of the best learning conversations often do….).
    Just a few thoughts – as I was reading through your post and comments one of the things that struck me was the reference to ‘content’ and the focus on the individual’s learning experience in relation to that content. Whereas for me, the notion of rhizomatic learning and Dave’s concept of ‘community as curriculum’ has always been more about CONNECTION than ‘content’ per se. Sure, there is talk of ‘content’ as created by the community / participants vs merely institutionalised / textbook content assigned by an instructor, but I as I understand it, Dave’s ‘community as curriculum’ concept (inspired by rhizomatic notions?) emphasises the creation of COMMUNITY more than content.
    This is reinforced through the comment he makes on Jenny’s post (which she linked to above http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/rhizo-14-emerging-ambiguities-and-issues/#comment-8474) where he says: “I think the community actually IS the curriculum, and that that ‘content’ and ‘object’ stuff is actually just reified object pieces from a ‘community of knowing’.”
    If you’re interested in his conception of ‘community as curriculum’ (which is continually evolving – as is all knowledge!) this is a neat little youtube video which I came across recently where he explains it fairly basically – illustrating (literally, via stick figure drawings…) how this concept compares with the traditional notion of formal instructivist school education> to constructivist pedagogies > to connectivist pedagogies > & finally to ‘community as curriculum’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4LrB-jFEgM
    You’ll notice the distinct focus on connection, & developing an ongoing network (that you continue learning with, and through – beyond the end of the formal schooling / education experience) as the primary distinction between ‘community as curriculum’ and the other pedagogies.
    In terms of a rhizomatic approach to learning, I think as Peter and Jenny have stated or implied, that its application requires the “destablising…of the pervasive and accepted institutional models.” – and the inherent challenge of this being, can we actually live and think out of these institutionalised models? It’s like asking us to instantaneously throw out years of ingrained socialisation (e.g. re our ingrained notions of the role of the ‘teacher’ / instructor and the associated power relations that come with that…vs the role of the ‘student’, as well as coming to grips with new behaviours of open networked learning…). As Jenny asks in her post: “Is a course, which necessarily means there is a course convener, the right environment for exploring and modelling rhizomatic learning?”
    Ultimately the same issues apply when thinking of how to apply notions of rhizomatic learning in any institutionalised context (education, the workplace etc…)

  26. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for clarifying, Tanya.

    I appreciate Dave’s observation that networking skills are a by-product of community building and participation, but it seems to me (much more clearly now, after your comment) that his main thrust is on the acquisition of the network itself. As George Siemens would say, “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.”

    So that begs the question: Is rhizomatic learning simply a poetic lens on connectivism?

    I also appreciate Dave’s point that the emergent content is reified object pieces from a community of knowing – but is it “just” that? Surely that’s the point of the community!

  27. tanyalau Says:

    Hi Ryan – don’t worry, I’m as confused as you are ; ) I also find it a little difficult to differentiate ‘community as curriculum’ from connectivism – although thinking that the ‘community as curriculum’ concept is merely just an extension of connectivism, which also has connection as its primary goal. The difference perhaps being that by making ‘community’ the focus of the curriculum, helps to minimise some the ingrained assumptions embedded in traditional notions of ‘curriculum’ (i.e. of pre-set learning outcomes, content, instructor / teacher role, & predefined ‘end’ point).

    I interpret the point of community as not merely the creation and consumption of content in and of itself, but also participation in the continual evolution / reshaping / remixing of that content and our understanding of it through our connections with others in the community who have contributed to creating that content. Totally just speculating here….!

  28. francesbell Says:

    HI Tanya. From my reading ‘Community is the Curriculum’ has its origins in Service Learning, preceding Connectivism and Rhizomatic Learning. Now that’s not to say that Siemens/Downes or Cormier were consciously influenced by earlier work but I do think it’s useful to acknowledge that there are other sites and reasons for ‘Community is the Curriculum’, not necessarily relying on online connection. Le Grange whom Peter mentions above, employed Rhizomatic thinking in Service Learning in a South African context. In my work with Jenny and Mariana, I have become fascinated in the relationship between the process of community formation, the curriculum, and the learner experience.

  29. Ryan Tracey Says:

    This is why I love blogging. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Frances.


  30. […] dieses Gefühl, etwas noch nicht wirklich verstanden zu haben aber zu wissen, dass es relevant ist? https://ryan2point0.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/the-grassroots-of-learning/ … […]


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