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Tag: rhizomatic learning

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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Rhizomatic learning: metaphors, synergies and semantics #rhizo14

Rhizomatic learning, an open course with Dave Cormier, started on P2PU this week (or is that last week now?). Actually, it seemed to start before the course was officially launched because there was a real flurry of activity appearing beforehand in my inbox via Facebook and Google+ notifications and alerts, which didn’t let up once the course got going either. Such is the interest in this topic. Any way, I didn’t have time to check in to the course right away and find the content or the discover the task at hand but I was getting the gist via the conversation and postings in the channels mentioned above (oh and via the #rhizo14 hash tag on Twitter, of course), so that’s the reason for the sequence of my reflection here.


Firstly, I was struck by the dominance of the the rhizome metaphor within the initial discussion, and what plants are in fact rhizomatic (rhubarb, ginger, licorice…). Hardly surprising, I hear you cry; the clue’s in the title. However, that’s the botanical metaphor associated with rhizomatic learning; it’s the metaphor for “the learning process”. But what I’m interested to learn more about, what’s drawn me in (see previous blog post), is the anthropological metaphor that’s associated with rhizomatic learning; the nomad as metaphor for “a rhizomatic learner”; this is how Dave explains it:

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

It’s what Wynton Marsalis calls ‘being the thing itself’.

Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path.

In order to create an educational system that allows for nomads we can’t measure for a prescribed outcome.

All of this resonates with me completely. I feel rhizomatic. As such, I’m really keen to explore this further.


Also, I’d like to explore the relationship and/or similarities between Rhizomatic Learning and Heutagogy (self-determined learning). At this point I was grateful to Penny Bentley for asking in the Facebook group, “is there a difference between Rhizomatic Learning and Connected Learning?” Dave Cormier replied by saying that there’s “overlap” but rhizomatic learning is “messier”. Thanks. However, the handy part about the conversation was the mind map posted by Adeline Wall Avril (see below) as it illustrates that a core purpose of rhizomatic learning is to “make learners responsible for their own learning”. So, yes, there’s plenty of fruitful synergies to explore here.

Rhizomatic me, a learning nomad.

This blog post has been a long time coming, and it’s still only likely to be a waif of a thing after all that, but here goes any way.

Back in June, I gave a presentation at CELT entitled “beyond the walled garden – the story of how one learner used social media for professional learning and development” (that learner being me, of course). The aim was to make concepts regarding change within Higher Education real by bringing something of the lived experience to the discussion. As such, I related the story of how I discovered social tools for professional networking and development and how I subsequently went on to discover open education, take advantage of the new ways of learning online and to develop as a digitally literate and networked learner/practitioner. Whilst reflecting on and narrating this experience, I acknowledged a number of new ways in which the web facilitates learning and a number of new learning theories pertinent to the digital age, that is to say, learning in communities, social networks and in MOOCs giving reference to connectivism, rhizomatic learning, heutagogy and CoPs. Thinking back over it all, I found the concept of rhizomatic learning to really resonate with me, and to intrigue me equally as well. As such, rhizomatic learning is a topic that I want to understand more deeply, and to understand why it accords so greatly. Well, I’ve made a start.

I’d come across the term, or terms, “rhizome” and “rhizomatic learning” some time ago but what it signified didn’t really interest me, until I discovered, back in January, through quadblogging in #edcmooc, that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is the nomad. Thank you Ary Aranguiz. Now, the mention of the word nomad certainly had me interested; why, hadn’t I already got my summer vacation booked to Mongolia and China, part of which, …I kid you not, includes a home-stay with nomadic families (the adventure starts next week, by the way). The choice of destination, Mongolia in particular, seems like a natural choice to me as I generally spend my vacations roaming around and sleeping under canvas. I like to walk long distance paths and I love camping, especially wild camping. Besides, I’m a hopeless idealist who dreams of freedom and travel. Spanning time and space, I’ve read heaps of travel books and accounts from various explorers: ‘Into the Wild’; ‘South’; ‘Touching the Void’; ‘As I Walked Out One Mid-summer’s Afternoon’; ”Ghost Riders – Travels with American Nomads’; ‘In the Empire of Genghis Khan’; ‘Red Dust’… the list goes on.

The nomad in me.
The nomad in me.

Any way, enough of that. Why should it be that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is that of the nomad? Dave Cormier, originator of Rhizomatic Learning Theory, explains the thinking.

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

Hence, the learning nomad can be thought of as ‘being the thing itself’. It’s like the difference between playing a succession of notes, one after the other, and playing music, or it’s like parallel parking, if you prefer, if you think of the steps and perform them one at a time, invariably you mount the pavement. Either way, there’ s a point where you stop thinking of facts or steps and understand the act.

To me, and to probably a lot of others, a nomad more easily conjures up images of wandering across open spaces. So far though, this aspect has not come through in my reading. However, the notion of freedom and transcending boundaries seems to fit nicely with the idea of play as a habit of learning that I was thinking about in my last blog post, play as exploration that is.

Gwen Gordon, in asking “What is Play?” says that “freedom is a hallmark of play” as it softens boundaries and allows individuals to become adaptive and spontaneous. She continues, playfulness is “the freedom of the total self to move as a whole in relationship to the total environment”( p.8). Now that sounds like a nomad. What’s more, through such play, with its interactions across boundaries and it’s impulse towards both freedom and connection, transformations are made possible.

According to Dave Cormier, nomads (or those with a disposition for play as exploration) “have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts”. So, what does “to learn rhizomatically” actually mean? And, where does the term come from? Well, rhizome refers to a way in which certain plants spread. Often understood as a creeping root stalks, rhizomes go out horizontally and interact with their environment. Certainly, they’re messy, disorderly and difficult to control, but at the same time they’re resilient and have a lot of important qualities, which allows them to adapt within their ecosystem. As such, rhizomes have come to represent a model for learning for uncertainty and, like the learning process of life itself, they’ve no beginning or end either.

By the way, if you have an hour to spare, I heartily recommend that you listen to the Introduction to Rhizomatic Learning that Dave Cormier did on the topic in the #etmooc archive. It’s class.

If you think about it, uncertainty is always part of the learning process. How do we know what things you’re going to need in the future; what problems you’re going to have to solve? Thus, learning, now more than ever, ought to help prepare people for, and be comfortable with, uncertainty; help them to adapt to new situations and help them to make the best decisions they can when the answer is unknown. Therefore, for a learning nomad to develop it’s no good having prescribed learning outcome as this thwarts the ability to explore, make connections, be creative and to solve problems. Besides, the point at which any new idea takes shape, and what it means, will be different for each and every learning nomad.

“Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path”.

Incidentally, a nomadic nature is something that Harold Jarche equates with the new “knowledge artisans” of the network era. Connected and knowledgeable individuals with their own learning networks and their own ways of working, individuals who are often more independent and more contractual or shorter-term than previous information age employees, all-in-all, probably more comfortable with uncertainty. Well, I can certainly live with that.

This all sounds wonderful, learning and living nirvana probably, but so far I’ve only thought of rhizomatic learning from my own point of view as a learner and not from the point of view of a facilitator of learning, so now the question becomes how can I, and other educators, help learners to develop their learning nomad abilities and be comfortable dealing with uncertainty? To defuse those predetermined outcomes, rhizomatic learning theory proposes that community becomes the curriculum… and I propose that I save that for another blog post.


Cormier, Dave (2011) Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system? Available at:

Cormier, Dave (2011) Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach? Available at:

Gordon, Gwen (2007) What is Play? In Search of a Universal Definition. Available at: