#etmooc Rhizomatic Learning

Following are my live notes from tonight’s #etmooc session on Rhizomatic Learning by Dave Cormier. I really loved this session because it confirmed what I’ve always suspected about learning: it’s messy, complicated, and exhilarating. As learning spreads out within the network, you become more of a community manager rather than a facilitator. You are supporting and encouraging, helping prune and shape (if I can borrow a gardening metaphor) how others interact and connect. One thing that I have noticed is that corporations/institutions want community but they don’t understand how organic it is. A community is a living breathing thing and so is learning (particularly in the sense of rhizomatic learning). You cannot force it, but if you do, like putting a bamboo in a pot, you stunt its growth.

Okay that’s it for the gardening metaphors. Any mistakes made below are mine alone. Thank you to Dave Cormier and Alec Couros for offering the session. It was highly interesting.

Dave Cormier, speaker

What is learning?

Learning is about preparing yourself for uncertainty.

  • What kind of uncertainty would you prepare yourself for?
  • Teaching students for a world we don’t understand, an uncertain unknown future.
  • Our learning, our whole process, should be about preparing people about uncertainty, decision-making, so when they are in certain situations they can make good decisions.
  • We need to be able to sift through knowledge and choose what to bring forward.
  • Alison – we need to be agile

Five things I think I think

1. The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.

2. The community can be the curriculum – learning when there is no answer

Once I’ve pre-determined the content, I have taken creativity out of it.

Community learning, communities of practice. Talk about your practice, learning starts to happen. You may not learn things that you planned to when you started. There are no set outcomes when you start talking to colleagues. Something beautiful about that, allows for new things to emerge.


Can’t take a community and say “Today we are going to learn this…” you can’t do that. Take some of the great things about community learning and apply it to the classroom.

3. The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.

Rhizomes are a way in which plants spread. They move and interact with their environment. They spread out and move. If you take out a piece of the rhizome and you drop it anywhere else, the plant will grow again. The nature of the rhizome metaphor for how we can think about things.

Why a rhizome?

1. They can map in any direction from any starting point

2. They grow and spread via experimentation within a context. Kind of like how people teach themselves.

3. They grow and spread regardless of breakage. No matter how you break it or bend it , it will continue to grow. No set narrative path.

Lateral spread is how he likes to think about the learning process. You spread out in the ecosystem.

This approach is very difficult to control.

@pam mile wide and an inch deep – not so much what he means about lateral spread. Knowing is integrative, it networks all the ideas in your head, which is what he means about spreading out.

Is there a downside? Rhizomatic approach is a terrible way to get those ten people over there to learn these ten things. This is not about giving them the five things, but taking the philosophical position, that those things that are worth knowing, that you have to experience and explore yourself. You need to incorporate it into yourself.

4. Rhizomatic learning works in the complex domain.


Rhizomatic learning is good for the simple domain. The complicated domain it takes an expert to solve. The answer is complicated. The distinction b

complicated scenario – The decision between two or three things. An expert could give you a right answer. Need an informed opinion.

chaotic – need to make a decision right now. I’m drowning I need to learn how to swim.

complex – nothing resembling a right answer. A complex understanding  taking a lot of ideas and do something with them, is what is interesting.

<<four square chart and asked audience to fill in the complicated, complex, chaotic, simple squares>>

<<20 minutes gone to get son from drama practice. Sorry! I’ll try to get what happened in the middle when he offers the next session.>>

5. We need to make students responsible for their own learning (and the learning of others).

Monica Hardy in Laughlin, CO has done amazing things with HS students. Have broken down the boundaries around what’s possible and what they are supposed to do, etc. (Twitter https://twitter.com/monk51295)

Get people to work past their comfort level. I want them to feel like someone is going to catch them if they are working past their comfort level. This is a big part about getting past their comfort levels. That there is someone to support them.

Evaluation? The hardest question on the board. I think that measuring connections is something you can do, particularly online, use social network analysis to get a sense of what people are doing. Use peer evaluation techniques. Student declarations. Take SNA (big map), how they are supporting others, declaration of their learning (represented by links, posts, etc of what they have done). It shows how engaged they are. Cross referencing etc can help measure.

From Couros, Measuring Engagement : Learning Analytics in Online Learning by Griff Richards




8 thoughts on “#etmooc Rhizomatic Learning

  1. Thank you for posting this! I wasn’t home at 6pm CST for #etmooc and Rhizomatic Learning. Just catching up and lucked upon your post. I love the beginning. The minute we predetermine the content and take over that job, the opportunity for kids to explore and grow as a class/team community through/with the topic does not exist. It is predetermined. That’s powerful stuff. I like it. Thank you again. Getting ready to re-read!

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