A case for Chaos

Activity 20: Exploring rhizomatic learning

Although I had read the original Deleuze and Guattari (1987) article for a previous OU module, Dave Cormier is an interesting addition in the case for rhizomatic learning, in the context of learning technologies.

So what did I take from this video.  Well I have always been interested in rhizomatic learning, just not as a controlled or considered response, but rather as something that is self-generating in this era of permanent connectability.

bambooBut to implement rhizomatic learning is tricky.  To use the bamboo analogy:  I might plant a bamboo with the intention of eventually having a bamboo hedge, only to realise (possibly too late) that not only do I not have a straight hedge, but rather an out-of-control thicket potentially invading my neighbour’s lawn.  And that is where rhizomatic learning differes from other approaches, and where its limitations arise.

Cormier references interactions with his son – but for my own children who are now in secondary school, I feel that consistent best practice is still the best approach, because overall, I think one of the requirements for successful rhizomatic learning is motivation and enthusiasm.  Not that children aren’t enthusiastic or motivated, but in a class of 30, attitudes will vary depending on the subject, the teacher, the student.  However where the students have chosen to be there for a specific reason, objective or interest than the community can be the curriculum and rhizomatic learning can generate more than a rigid lesson plan.

But for me the greatest issue with rhizomatic learning is testing.  Keeping the bamboo under control or going in the right direction.  Throughout my OU experience, this has been the great unanswered question.  Even for this course – our blogs, wikis, number of words on a discussion board don’t count (and interaction as been lower than on other modules).  It is the TMAs and the EMAs.    Must we test a language course, or should participation in its learning be enough? After all, we have all had students who know the theory but can’t communicate in simple sentences.   And if learning is going to be tested then how?  My son loved speaking German but was forced to drop it because his  spelling was atrocious.  But what is the goal of this teaching:  to be able to write a few perfectly grammatically correct sentences or to be able to speak German comfortably (even with a few mistakes).  As a parent my choice is the latter, but the rigid requirements placed on schools to test means communication – the goal of most language acquistion – is lost in the noise of exams and grades.

Furthermore the issues of MOOCs can also be applied to rhizomatic learning – is the high drop-out rate in MOOCS in part due to a lack of, or difficulty with interaction with the community. Conversely, do rhizomatic communities die or just fade away? As a theory of learning, can it lead to some students being frustrated or losing interest if they struggle to find their place in the community?  And if connection, effort and engagement are to be measured – will only the loudest pass?

I’ll finish with Cromier’s words, particularly relevant in this day when employers say what they need is often not what students are taught, or rather, tested on:

“We need to measure learning – the fact that you need it doesn’t make it possible.”

Cormier Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education (2012).




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