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Rhizomatic learning: chaos, provocation and conflation #rhizo14


This is something I scribbled during the week, and in this blog post I’ll tell you what I found the answer to be. But, for the sake of tradition though, I’m going to have to start at the beginning.

Chaos abounds in Week 2 of #rhizo14, which I guess is quite befitting of a learning experience concerned with rhizomatic learning. So many conversations distributed across a range of different spaces means that it’s very difficult to follow, keep up, pin down, think, comment and then start to make sense of it, just a small part of it even, and so many conversations speaking from different contexts and entry points. In addition, and just to ensure things stay interesting, provocation has been part of the mix this week too. Firstly with Dave’s initial challenge, and then with blog posts that challenged us to consider the theory associated with rhizomatic learning (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980) or drop the rhizomic prefix altogether.

Yes, the challenge: “explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?”

Now there’s a loaded paradoxical phrase to unpack and get your teeth into – enforced independence!! The language is provocative, possibly unnecessarily so. Hitherto, the phrase I’ve associated with rhizomatic learning is “make learners responsible for their own learning”, which is getting at the same thing. Isn’t it? Well to start, for an effective learner, independence isn’t the only stance to learning that they need – what about dependence and interdependence? On this point, Catherine Nardi’s post is particularly illuminating. Even then, going back to the phrase “make learners responsible for their own learning”, doesn’t that imply that learners have to be coerced and that “taking responsibility” doesn’t come naturally. Well, I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case. Perhaps thinking more in terms of “allowing” learners to take responsibility would be more beneficial because to a large extent, learners aren’t really “allowed” to take responsibility for their own learning, are they? I’ve been thinking about my learning history and how I came to be a relatively effective lifelong learner. I have to agree with Scott Johnson’s sentiment that because school is “so deliberately generic” being a lifelong learner is something you just have to take on personally; apart from an innate desire to explore, this for me has always stemmed from contradictions between what I was told and what I experienced. Madhura Pradhan says something similar in her delightful blog post too.

“One way to feel independent or to assert your independence is to take charge and break out of the mould and you can only do that when you are uncomfortable or in a situation that demands you to stand out and voice your opinion”.

To permit “responsibility” and enable learners to assert their independence, it seems to me (and to a few others) that schools, or any formal learning context, would do well to not only encourage learners to pursue their passion, but to honour their unique experiences and to give them voice. But such a move would in turn necessitate a conversation about assessment, wouldn’t it? Yes, and wouldn’t it be great to have such a conversation and consider the benefits of such varieties as peer assessment, self assessment and ipsative assessment and how these might help learners to self-assess and self-remediate.

That’s what my short ruminating on the question has come up with anyway. However, it doesn’t tell half the story of the head scratching, mind blowing, obfuscating, illuminating yet ultimately nourishing learning conversations that I’ve been exposed to in #rhizo14 this week.

I think the main reason I found this week intense was not only because there were so many different angles, or experiences, of learning being brought to the table, but also because of a nagging feeling that the discussion was at heart conflating something. So how glad was I then when an old post by Bonnie Stewart from #change11 surfaced and I found her declaring that “we conflate learning and schooling”. That’s it! Indeed we do.

The post was also magic for me in that it helped calm the chaos that had been symptomatic at the start of the week (maybe symptomatic of the start of every week in #rhizo14, what with “detonator Dave” and his provocations). Anyway, it helped me (as per the title of Bonnie’s post) to see more clearly what rhizomatic learning is actually about and what rhizomes are good for, which is kind of ironic because as Bonnie points out, it’s not about seeing learning more clearly; it’s about seeing it differently.

References: Stewert, B. (2011) The rhizomatic learning lens & what rhizomes are good for. Accessed at:

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  1. Glad my post shed some light on the chaos. I also appreciated Bonnie Stewart’s article, so thank you for sharing. But, you’ve coined a new phrase with ‘Detonator Dave’. Now that’s conflation!

  2. Detonator Dave, love it! Reminds me of Massumi’s description of D&G:

    A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.” A Thousand Plateaus p xiii

  3. Thanks ladies. All I can do is reply with a smiley face 🙂

    Oh, and to say that I’m minded to head off and read D&G. Now that I’ve been well and truly provoked.

    • Do you think it’s possible that too many ideas can be generated at once and collapse our ability to converse? I’m so confused about who I’m responding to and what I planned to say…Could be why regular school is so boring–it’s safer that way.

      • Hi Scot – possibly. I think it has a lot to do with Clay Shirky’s notion of filter failure – as opposed to information overload, or conversation crushendo in our case. I think that, like many others, I was so keen to explore this topic that I had all my filters wide open (or is that a case of no filters in place?) that I got swamped at the start of the week with all the activity and found the conversation a little chaotic. Like you say, that’s one problem that school has overcome.

  4. […] Helen Crump has called it chaotic. I, and I’m sure others, can recognise this sentiment – but for me it has been ‘messy’ rather than ‘chaotic’. ‘Chaotic’ implies ‘out of control’ which I don’t think it has been – but, judging from blog posts and Facebook activity, the focus for many this week has not been on the suggested topic – ‘Enforcing Independence’  –  but on perceived divisions within the community. For me, this is what has made it feel so ‘messy’. […]

      • 🙂 Maybe. But, I think I was somewhat to blame; like I replied to Scott earlier, I think that I was too keen and didn’t effectively filter the tsunami of ‘rhizo’ conversation. I was originally going to make the point that it was messy to the point of being destabilizing, but chaos was catchier. You have to admit though that Dave certainly has the knack of igniting conversation at the start of each week.

  5. […] and as @FrancesBell has mentioned more than once, this is not the whole story.  In addition, Helen Crump suggests in a lovely blog post that we need to move beyond traditional types of assessment if we are really going to allow […]

  6. […] call out those moments that help hit the reset button on “learning.” We need – as Helen Crump writes – “to not only encourage learners to pursue their passion, but to honour their […]

  7. I have commented in this Diigo annotated link:

    I love how you have summed up and reflected so clearly #rhizo14 week two without reducing the experience too much. That is a pretty rare gift. I plan on using this post as an exemplar for my university comp class this week. Partly as a way of clarifying and partly as a way of muddying the waters up again with that enforced messiness stick. I am pretty fearful of this and talk about the problem of putting on too much sail. Hell with it. Add sail. Shiver them timbers!

    • I think the honest answer is that I hadn’t even considered plotting and that I hadn’t even considered the ‘consequences’. Is that reckless? Yes, if it had been my first time on a sailboat. But it isn’t. I think I am discovering that, like Mrs. Malaprop, I have been here before. For her, she realizes she has been speaking written dialogue all her life. For me, I realize that I have been sailing pretty close to the wind much of my life, but that I haven’t ever gotten out of sight of the land. I can swim and I have a life vest on if you were wondering.

      I am reminded of the scene in the movie The Truman Show where Truman sails to the edge of his universe and discovers that his whole life is a pre-plotted course. I do not want to get to the end of my days only to discover I had plenty of sail and could have made it to Bali.

  8. Hi Helen, be interesting to do a study on questions that provoke disorder. Or question style anyway. There’s some key to this that could be used to topple small governments and disable filtration systems. How far can we go with destabilizing questions (if that’s right term) before people go seriously off the rails? Was thinking about this relating to that sharp outer edge of the Footprints model where things fall into chaos and incomprehension.

    Going to skip D & G and read “Expertise and Skill Acquisition” Ed James J. Staszewski. Psychology Press.

    • The footprint model was in my mind too when I picked the word chaos. Destabilising messiness probably would be more apt, but hey – that’s the terminolgy they’re running with. And besides, I think you can always salvage something out of chaos.

      • Looking at the footprint model revealed to me the idea of there being a line beyond the tools of sense making to resolve. A kind of anti-Vygotsky zone where you are too far away from understanding. Should do a rings of misunderstanding chart so we stop using the word “messy” and be more specific. Salvaged from Chaos.

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