Thursday, April 18, 2013

R-Learning - Rhizomatous?

The video below is of Dave Cormier explaining rhizomatic learning. It's well worth watching and I think rhizomatic learning is an important concept. The worst thing
about it for me is its name. In botany there are many terms derived from the Greek word 'rhiza' for root, but the majority of them do not even refer to true roots but identify instead a variety of different 'root-like' structures. When one attempts to derive a metaphor from the existing confusion of botanical terminology, further mystification and misunderstanding are almost inevitable, especially if the learning process being discussed is challenging to explain. Thus, I would prefer to use a more neutral and connotion-free term like R-Learning.


To respond to some questions on this topic posed for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the course Open Education (H817Open, #h817open):

1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?
Yes, I think it's an important concept to have been recognized and an important learning approach to be conscious of. But it seems to me that r-learning is the appropriate approach  only in very special situations. Because the learning outcomes are not known beforehand, and are in fact created by the group during the process, the majority of prospective learners will not be able to handle it. Like some aspects of theoretical physics, r-learning is just way too far outside our normal intuitive experience of the world to have any universal appeal.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
Yes, but not in any conventional educational system. It would work best with a group of people that share a common understanding of the process and a common objective in solving a complex problem.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
R-learning can give rise to radically new concepts, insights and intellectual break-throughs, all things that are rare in current approaches. It will have no syllabus and can not produce measurable results (apart from simply monitoring the activities of participants). In the absence of traditional learning, implementing r-learning might lead to creating a lot of largely ignorant geniuses - students with brilliant insights that are new and innovative for them, but of little use because they are not grounded in any depth of understanding of real-world issues and circumstances.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?
  • dealing with participants' fear of uncertainty
  • adequate background in traditional education of participants
  • competition and refusing to share by lurkers, along for the ride
  • knee-jerk right or wrong expectations
  • still must establish what this 'has to do with'
R-learning probably characterizes effective personal learning networks, but not any kind of formal education. It's not really part of the task of education. It's part of the toolset for exploring the totally new and the unknown. It should be great for think tanks, leading edge research organizations and all other groups dealing with complex domains.

[This posting is for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text and illustration (but not the video) are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]