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Rhizomatic learning – that thing about roots

November 8, 2011









Dave Cormier has issued a challenge for his #change11 week on Rhizomatic Learning and this is my first attempt to respond, to put something out there and see what others make of it to help me further my understanding.

I first heard about rhizomatic learning in #CCK11 earlier this year and must confess that I couldn’t remember what it means this many months later.  The way I understand it now, rhizomatic = roots reaching out (a mnemonic I’ll hope to use for recall in the future).  Maybe this spidery plant will help me too.

So, am I rhizomatic in my practice?  I think I’ve started to be, though I didn’t have a name for it until now.  I draw linkages between people, places and ideas whenever it occurs to me to do so, particularly at work where connections are talked about more than they are practiced.  For example, I make a point of ‘e-troducing’ people that might not otherwise cross paths if I think they have something in common.  I use my personal network to help solve problems and, in doing so, find myself reaching out in new directions.  I use the tools at my disposal to capture and share ideas (and I am learning to do that in new ways through this mooc).

I like to think of this rhizomatic roots business as paying the favour forward.  There are a handful of people who were very good to me over the last decade or so, who went out of their way to be inclusive beyond the normal limitations of age, status, seniority and title in which my industry normally boxes itself.  Those people are still a small minority among tens of thousands.  I hope that my workplace will eventually reinvent itself and that networking, cooperation and collaboration will become the norm, not the celebrated oddity that it is now.  Maybe our roots will grow deeply and widely enough to choke out the weeds at the surface. to surface into longer stretches of becoming and thus choke out the weeds (Ed: updated after Nov.8/11 live #change11 session with Dave and about four dozen nomads and #socialartist s).


From → Smarter worker

  1. But, does calling what you were already doing by this new name change anything about you, your practice, or even your thinking?

    • Thanks for this great question, Jeffrey, I think it does. Now that I have a special name for this, my practice seems more conscious and purposeful and fits with something else I’ve been doing over the last decade: getting really clear on how much the little choices drive everyday life. Every choice I make to share (and it is a choice!) puts out another little root that connects to someone else’s choices to share, to connect and to e-troduce themselves into the mix. There is a like-mindedness about putting out roots (feelers) and seeing who else has done the same, regardless of whether their roots challenge or compliment my own.

      • You know, brainysmirf1234 (wish I knew your real name!) and Jenny, I wonder if these names coming into the varnacular, namely #socialartists and #rhizomatic learning, both of which are still vague concepts, are examples of how consultants or those who want to have a new concept that they wrap themselves around and become associated with? This is similar to what George Siemens has done with Connectivism, perhaps?
        Nothing wrong with this at all; just wondering if that is what this experience is similar to?

        • Hard to say as it’s all new vocabulary to me. I was never any good at remembering theories or what distinguishes one from another (constructivism, actor network theory)…all too academic for my needs at the moment. Even rhizomatic is a mouthful of a word but I’m embracing it now that I ‘get it’. Test me again in six months, though, and see if it’s still as clear to me! 🙂

      • Sorry for the mis-spelling in the last post!
        Question about this; now that you are using this new term, what or how are you thinking about doing anything differently? I agree that naming something has value…so what value may it have for you?

        • Thanks, Jeffrey, I enjoy your questions. I’m not sure I will be doing anything *differently* in the short term but I’m likely to be doing *more* of it: building more connections, throwing out more roots, recognizing when I’ve surfaced, diving back in for more. Having named something and claimed it as a valued way of operating, I hope to remain attentive to it. I’m still not sure about this notion of encouraging rhizomatic learning. Something about that struck me as unnecessary during today’s session. Yet, somewhere along the way, I must have been encouraged, rewarded, or validated for acting in a rhizo way hence I have continued to do so. Must ponder this further as the notion of validation keeps popping up in my thinking over the last few weeks.

  2. jennymackness permalink

    My thoughts have also been along the lines of Jeffrey’s question. I think Dave called Rhizomatic Learning ‘messy’ – but I think it has always been messy – just as last week with Nancy, I thought that we have always had social artists. So are these ideas new or are they just new ways of interpreting what has happened for generations – and that the new words – rhizomatic learning, social artistry and so on – help us to position ourselves in our current contexts more clearly, so that we can more clearly articulate (if only to ourselves) our personal identities.

    Hope this isn’t too rambly and waffly 🙂

    • Not waffly at all, I think I understand better (esp. after today’s live session!) I think you’re right that messy rhizomatic learning and #socialartists aren’t new, per se, just that we have a new way of describing these phenomena and sharing them across time and space. We even have opportunities to encourage and enhance nomadic practices, perhaps, though that was a debate started in today’s session that I need to digest further. Thanks for weighing in! 🙂

  3. I think Jeffrey and Jenny both make good points about the rhizome always having been here; however, to my mind, the contribution that Deleuze and Guattari and Dave Cormier make is in giving us language with which to conceptualize and talk about rhizomatic structures and processes.

    I think that much of the academic prose for the past few centuries has been heavily framed by a reductionist, positivist mindset, in large part because that mindset has been so successful in terms of scientific and technological advances – to the point that we find it difficult to discuss anything in academia, business, or government other than discrete entities and their causal processes that can all be quantified. I spent ten years generating numbers and pretty charts for K12 educators who were certain that, if it couldn’t be quantified, then it was either irrelevant or didn’t exist. We all know in our hearts that there is more to reality than the merely quantifiable, but it has become increasingly difficult to discuss that part of reality in serious academic prose where everything must be noted, cited, cross-referenced, and quantified.

    What Deleuze and Guattari did was bust up the language into something that most people see as an awful mess, if not signs of mental derangement. D&G are not easy to read, and Dave is giving all of us an cleaner pathway into the rhizome, but he will likely be the first to tell you that it isn’t easy. Poetry is another way into the rhizome, but poetry is hardly the major cultural force that it once was. When is the last time you saw any academic studies in verse (actually, Erasmus Darwin composed a treatise on evolution in iambic pentameter verse, but it is now mostly treated as an odd precursor to his grandson’s more famous prose treatise)?

    I’ve written quite a bit about rhizomatics in my blog Communications & Society, and I welcome any comments on items you find interesting.

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