Tagged: W11A20

Week 11 – Activity 20: Exploring rhizomatic learning

Timing: 3 hours

  • Watch Dave Cormier explaining rhizomatic learning in this video, Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012).
  • Consider your reaction to the video.
    1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?
    2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
    3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
    4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?
  • You can blog your responses to these or post them in the forum.


1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?

Yes and no. I felt that it was very specific to a certain demographic of learner. I for one would love to take part in a #Rhizo course, but this is most likely due to two factors; one being my level of educational attainment, and two being my level of general interest in learning. When dealing with students from young to old on a daily basis, I come across many who simply do not have much of an interest in academic pursuit. This might well change with age or other factors, but to have the self-discipline needed here would require a level of engagement and passion.

That being said, for this said demographic, I feel the pedagogical approach is a breathe of fresh air and very valuable. One of of the key values I would look to gain would be that of making connections. It hold it as being very true that the best learning you can do is through other people, as this spurs lifelong learning. From a professional or networking standpoint (i.e. to improve my trade and position), this approach to learning is much more akin to the professional environment (learning on the job) and thus would likely fit in nicely to my ‘normal life’ and form an extension of my professional learning environment.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?

In my current position not really. Possibly with adult learners. However, as my job is in language teaching, I wonder if it is really possible to hold that rhizomatic learning is better than a constructivist, behaviourist, or even instructivist approach. Indeed, as an additional activity encouraging self-discovery, networking, and a DIY approach is very beneficial to broadening learners scope beyond the classroom, however I am hesitant to start that Rhizomatic learning is best to learn English when a student lacks (for example) a particular level of grammatical knowledge first.

Taking from the Rhizomatic and connectivist approach, activities encourage students to make a learning space beyond the classroom (through blogging, twitter, or any other self-chosen means) could result not only in exposure to more practice, but also in other learning taking place. And this is where I see it as a possible inclusion.

Furthermore, it could be a financially challenging option, given that it would be less possibly to guarantee student success, and therefore the return on the investment from the school and parents could vary too greatly for it to be consider in a traditional classroom environment.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?

I like to think of pedagogies as a scale of barriers:

Instructivism > behaviourism & cognitivism > constructivism > connectivism.

I would place Rhizomatic learning as a an approach that best fits connectivism, and even on the far right end of this.

This illustrates that Rhizomatic learning has very little, if any, barriers or ‘safety lanes’ in place. It is an open world in which students should explore.

In practice, this would not only require teachers to ‘step back and facilitate’ (as the is the common buzz phrase in constructivism), but rather ‘leave alone’. A level of trust is required that students will indeed pursue learning, and due to the potential failure to do so, the financial structure in which such a course operates needs to be resilient enough high drop outs and varying returns. Thus, the internet is a great place for such a course to exist.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

  • Chaos could be a deterrent – making connections between what one person might be doing and yourself requires a level of skill that might not be possessed by all.
  • Patience – this is a possible swing and miss suggestion, but it could be the case that a student is passionate about X, and others are more interested in Y, and therefore to achieve learning in X, the waiting for applicable discussion to get involved in an contribute might seem like a waste of time. This is entirely up to chance and how wide a spectrum X engulfs.
  • Self-assessment – as educators we are still highly unsure about what ‘success’ is. As Siemens pointed out in a solid analogy, ‘if a student wants to learn only a certain thing in a MOOC, and drops out thereafter, has he/she not been successful?’
  • Funding – as mentioned above the internet and MOOC-like structure allows for high drop outs and varying degrees of ‘success’. In a classroom with paid teachers and rented buildings, this is less likely to be an agreed upon method.
  • Standardisation – if leaners are heading off in different directions, we need to reconsider what exactly constitutes a ‘grade’. Is it possible to streamline students at all?
  • Teacher training – this was said of the risks when implementing constructivism. For a teacher to stand back requires a level of pedagogical and epistemological knowledge to analyse a situation. Not only could this be an academic issue for some, but the there could be large variations within even a single school or MOOC team about who best to approach learning. This can result in a high degree of variation of stated learning outcomes, and streamlining assessments and so forth becomes challenging. It could also be damaging to the student if teachers differ too greatly in their views. Such an approach requires the teacher to ‘know’ each student which takes time and is a more personalised approach. The rhizomatic learning approach could hold similar concerns.
  • In Downes’ (2007) asks: “What is it to ‘construct an understanding’ if it does not involve: – A representational system, such as a language, logic, images, or some other physical symbols set (ie., a semantics) – rules or mechanisms for creating entities in that representational system (ie., a syntax)?”
    • Does Rhizomatic learning offer a set language, logic, or other semantics in which to consider, differentiate, and substantiate its particular means of ‘constructing an understanding’?
    • In other words, can one look at an approach and state ‘this looks very Rhizomatic’ as appose to another pedagogical or methodology?
    • It is worth considering if Rhizomatic learning is not a different entity altogether, in that it defies such criteria and can still be considered a unique and defined learning approach in the web of epistemology.