Jan and Greg: Rhizomes for Breakfast

I received a link in my email this morning from Jan, one of our iFacilitate colleagues: “Seeing Rhizomatic Learning and MOOCs Through the Lens of the Cynefin Framework” (3.4.12). Coincidentally, I received similar links from Greg in his comment on one of my posts: Rhizomatic Learning – Why We Teach? (11.5.11) and Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum (6.3.08; originally published in Innovate on 6.2.08). All three are written by Dave Cormier and appear in Dave’s Educational Blog.

Photo by Noah Bell

In “Seeing Rhizomatic Learning” (2012), Cormier defines “MOOCs as a structure – and rhizomatic learning as an approach.” A MOOC is “an ecosystem” and rhizomatic learning is “a way of navigating that ecosystem that empowers the student to make their own maps of knowledge …. It suggests that the interacting with a community in a given domain is learning. The community is the curriculum.” Rhizomatic learning depends on the learner’s motivation: “It doesn’t come with many guarantees. [It] is a complex way of learning, not the easiest way to learn to tie your shoes.”

In “Rhizomatic Learning” (2011), Cormier credits Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari for the concept. Cormier describes a rhizome as “a creeping rootstalk, … a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It [describes] the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-relicating[sic]. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process.”

Here are some excerpts from the article:

  • The whole idea of rhizomatic learning is to acknowledge that learners come from different contexts, that they need different things, and that presuming you know what those things are is like believing in magic. It is a commitment to multiple paths. Organizing a conversation, a course, a meeting or anything else to be rhizomatic involves creating a context, maybe some boundaries, within which a conversation can grow.
  • We should not be preparing people for factories. I teach to try and organize people’s learning journeys… to create a context for them to learn in.
  • Most things that we value ‘knowing’ are not things that are easily pointed to. Knowing is a long process of becoming (think of it in the sense of ‘becoming an expert’) where you actually change the way you perceive the world based on new understandings. You change and grow as new learning becomes part of the things you know.
  • The rhizome is …. a very messy, unpredictable network that isn’t bounded and grows and spreads in strange ways. As a model for knowledge, our computer idea of networks, all tidy dots connected to tidy lines, gives us a false sense of completeness.
  • The nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path…. Nomads have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts. They are not looking for ‘the accepted way’, they are not looking to receive instructions, but rather to create.

In “Rhizomatic Education” (2008), Cormier broaches the idea of a new canon that’s modeled on the rhizome. That is, traditional methods (primarily academic publishing) of systematically extending the paradigm are out of sync with the exponentially rapid pace in which new knowledge is expanding. He says,

In a field like educational technology, traditional research methods combined with a standard funding and publication cycle might cause a knowledge delay of several years. In the meantime, learners are left without a canonical source of accepted knowledge, forcing a reliance on new avenues for knowledge creation.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

  • What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.
  • 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.
  • This is the new reality…. Through involvement in multiple communities where new information is being assimilated and tested, educators can begin to apprehend the moving target that is knowledge in the modern learning environment.

Comment: A rhizome works as a metaphor for the connectivist models of learning that are not only made possible by but required by Web 2.0. Knowledge, teaching, and learning are community based, or social, and this community is made possible by social networking. Thus, as Cormier says, “the community is the curriculum,” or, put another and perhaps more familiar way, “the medium is the message.”

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3 Responses to Jan and Greg: Rhizomes for Breakfast

  1. dave cormier says:

    Wow. you should do my presentations. thats awesome.

    • JimS says:

      Hi, Dave. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and chat. Greg Walker, who’s coordinating this MOOC experience, and Jan Schwartz, who’s participating in this workshop and also participated in the fall 2008 MOOC (U of Manitoba) and later shared her experience, pointed me to your garden and for that I’m grateful.

      BTW, thanks to you and Bryan Alexander, we have “MOOC” in our vocabulary. And thanks to both of you as well as George Siemens and Stephen Downes, we have the beginnings of theories, models, and metaphors for a paradigm of learning that’s more in sync with the 21st century.

      My background is Literature so I tend to think in metaphors, in images. Your rhizome is an organic model of connectivist thought, and the fact that it’s based in the natural world in a form that’s infinitely sustainable only strengthens the connection.

  2. Pingback: Jan and Greg: Rhizomes for Breakfast | Ideias | Scoop.it

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