Rhizomatic Learning in Institutionalized Education?

Posted: September 28, 2014 in EC&I 831 Social Media & Open Education, Ed Tech


I’ve spent almost a week waiting for my subconscious to work out this blog post! While I was excited about the nature of rhizomatic learning, I was bogged down by the realities of the day to day in my teaching world. How can I marry the good pedagogy of rhizomatic learning with the demands of the classroom? Though at first I avoided reading my classmates reflections on this concept wanting to add my own thoughts, I was glad that when I broke down and read them it really put it all in perspective. Thank you ECI 831 colleagues! I submit my thoughts into the fray! 

Picture via thinkingenterprise.blogspot.com

Last week my Social Media & Open Ed class had a lively chat session with Dave Cormier about rhizomatic learning, a kind of interconnected, messy learning process based on the outgrowth of connected (or stunted) paths between a community of learners. Fascinating. As an educated adult, this process echoes how I learn what I need to know professionally and personally. Though I prefer a structured approach (for the accountability factor;) I do ultimately decide as the learner what I want to learn and how I will go about doing it.

As exciting (and distracting!) as our conversation was, my mind was spinning wondering how this fits in with the assessment/accountability focused climate of our public education systems today. It seems we have these wonderful leaders and researchers telling us what’s great for children and learning while the institution that is ‘formal education’ hampers accessibility to this experience for our students (or at least impedes the path with a myriad of obstacles.)

Is rhizomatic learning just a new name for inquiry based learning? Kind of but less restrictive I think. I’m trying to imagine how my young primary students will choose what they want to learn (all 22 of them) then go and learn it with my support. A motivating way to learn basic skills (literacy, numeracy, etc)? Definitely, but are they equipped for that much independence? From my vantage point, no, not yet though I am really excited about Sugata Mitra’s conclusions from experiments with children learning independently with computers in remote places in the world and his concept of Self Organized Learning Environments. An exciting future for education!

Mitra says that teachers should “salute learning” and allow for learning for pleasure rather than from ‘threat’.

If you allow for self-organization learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen, starting the process then standing back and watching in awe!”

Here’s what SOLE might look like in the classroom starting with some BIG QUESTIONS…

Perhaps our conversation just didn’t lead down that path of HOW to develop this rhizomatic process with our young students who are not yet independent readers. In my mind THAT is the necessary foundation of any inquiry process (aside from physical observation). Even in the video above the students are clearly able to read and search online on their own.

I guess like the concept itself, getting to rhizomatic learning with our young students is a winding system of prior learning, prerequisite skills, experience and connecting them to information they need. Providing a model and guided learning is key before expecting they can go it alone. And, before we can implement community as classroom (as Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic ideas suggest) we first need to forge our classroom community.

All of the different avenues we are learning in class should help us to form stronger communities and networks.”  from Kenna Nelson’s blog post Community as Curriculum.

So, can we really do both – engage our students to learn all of the prescribed outcomes while allowing them the freedom to learn what and how they want? It’s an amazing teacher who can motivate students in this direction. For me, it’s another step in my rhizomatic learning process. Models wanted.



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