Friday, 19 April 2013

Considerations on Rhizomatic Learning

Blog for Activity 20 for Open Learning MOOC

It is easy to see Rhizomatic Learning as a form of networked learning. People get together, working and learning with each other through a set of digital networks (such as online discussions) or physical networks (such as a reading group meeting in a coffee shop).

Dave Cormier suggests that this is not what he is talking about. Networked learning is neat and structured. This picture is a good example of networked learning:

It's neat and structured and everything is linked to everything else. Rhizomatic Learning reflects the uncertainty that we find ourselves in from an economic, social and even moral point of view. Things are falling apart and the centre cannot hold. 

Rhizomatic Learning might resemble the roots of a plant such as this:

There is no centre, links between the different parts may or may not exist and there is the possibility that parts will break off and begin to grow again.

You can also read Charles Handy's "The Age of Unreason" or Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" for more on the uncertainty of the future.

Because this uncertainty is inevitable then we need to restructure the way we learn to take account of it. This is learning without a centre, without a structure and without any boundaries. The best description is on Dave Cormier's video on Rhizomatic Learning. You can view it here:

It reminded me of something that the educationalist Ken Robinson said in his now very well-known TED talk on creativity and education. At one point he says that we are preparing our children for a world that we cannot possibly predict. How do we know that our children (or adults) are learning the right things?

The video of the talk is here. It's worth watching in full - not just because of his ideas but also because he is very funny:

I was with a friend a while ago who teaches at my local FE college. She said that a few years ago her students walked into college "looking up". They had dreams, hopes and ambitions. They talked about the future in  a way that suggested that they wanted to get to that future. Now she said her students are "looking down". The future for them looks at worst bleak and at best uncertain. They are avoiding the future with a mixture of nihilism and an attempt to hold on to their adolescent years for as long as possible. 

The banking crisis of 2007-8 and the current financial crisis spreading across Europe has created a world of uncertainty and most people really do not want that. They want knowability and predictability. Remember the old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times". Not many people can survive in interesting times although some will not only survive but will thrive.

This is my main problem with Rhizomatic Learning. It only works for those who will be able to thrive in this age of uncertainty. I see people who are doing well in this linked-together and globalised world and they will be able to take to Rhizomatic Learning like a duck to water. However, there will be many who are not and they will view it as being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Except, of course, uncertainty is inevitable and we need to equip ourselves and our children for this. The question has to be asked. What can Rhizomatic Learning do for the person who is disenchanted about education or has been unemployed (or underemployed) for quite some time and sees nothing in the future except more of the same?


  1. Could the concept of rhizomatic learning actually help people deal with uncertainty? I think what we call uncertainty in today's times is just a reflection of the hyperconnectiveness we live in. It is harder to avoid bad news. It takes more than just switching off the news station. Youth has had fewer random chances to learn first hand that stability is a myth.

  2. Thanks for your comments Deborah. I did not intend to write such a polemical piece but after watching the 'Embracing Uncertainty' I started thinking about those who would gain from this principle and those who would not.

    I am at a loss as to how to prepare ourselves and our children for uncertainty. Rhizomatic Learning may be part of the answer but it must be seen as a useful principle for all and not just an educated elite.

    I do not envy the young. They seem to me to have many more choices bit far less opportunities.

  3. This is my first time go to see at here and i am in fact impressed to read all at alone place....... by
    HCS 440 Week 4 provider.