Rhizomatic learning – notes from Dave Cromier #etmooc presentation 28 Jan 2013

I took some notes while Dave was speaking last night – I thought I would share in case you cannot make it to today’s repeat session:) Just jotting things down so not a perfectly flowing narrative but some interesting messages there.

Here it goes:

Dave’s summary post trying to define rhizomatic learning in 300 words.

Dave has spent 7 years with rhizomatic learning – still does not quite knows how it works yet. Thinking arose from his experience of learning/working online.

What is the purpose of learning? A diversity of understanding – all these things are true.

What is learning?

Learning is not always planned – there is always an uncertainty of what the future will look like.

Learning = preparation for uncertainty. What kind of uncertainty are we preparing our students for. Often said – we are preparing students for a future that does not exist. All of the learning needs to be designed to prepare stds for coping with uncertainty/sifting through masses of information (not knowledge poor at the moment!).

5 things I think I think:

1. The best learning prepares ppl for dealing with uncertainty

Education process which forces you to make decisions all the time

Creativity – making sure that stds have to make decisions about their own outcomes (do not take the decisionmaking away from them)

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

1991 community of practice invented – have been talking about it since. The process of talking about practice = learning not necessarily going in predetermined direction.

Cromier inspired to start talking about ‘open’ by Courosa

Inspired to bring the community into the classroom (his own context 20 university students per class). You cannot control the community and tell them what they will learn – they will scatter and keep doing their own thing. Very different to how things are normally done in a classroom.

3. Rhizomatic learning. is a model for learning for uncertainty.

Rhizomes spread away from the main plant, and can be separated and grow their own plants.

French philosophers [need names here] – using rhizome ‘analogy’:

  • they can map in any direction for many starting points
  • they grow and spread via experimentation within a context
  • they grow and spread regardless of breakage

‘lateral spread’. not necessarily in a predefined direction.

Lack of depth?

Way more complex. Does not work with having to teach ppl specific things, that they cannot forget.

4. Rhizomatic learning works best in complex situations.


Snowden explaining the Cynefin framework

  • Simple – best practice – not useful to approach it via rhizomatic learning
  • Complicated – should I get an apple or a pc? You cannot teach somebody to answer questions like this – you need 1000s hours of study/experience as per a degree
  • Chaotic – no information available decision needs to be made e.g. I am drowning – need to do something/evaluate it and regroup.
  • Complex – no right answer e.g. ethics inside medicine – it all depends on belief, who you are, money etc. This is the best situation to address via rhizomatic learning.


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

Open syllabus – things that you are going to learn are things that are defined by you.

Social contract – they decide what they are going to learn (David does not start to teach until they agree on this). Need a goal to get there to make it a course and not just community (open to emergence but need some sense what you want to learn).

Not suitable for all contexts – e.g. not academic writing as too many little things you have to make ppl believe.

MOOCs – perfect for rhizomatic learning.

5 steps to succeed in a mooc (see David’s video)

  • orient
  • declare – ppl need to know about you
  • network – find others similar
  • cluster
  • focus – pick a place where you want to get (defined personally)

“you can’t collaborate alone” – mooc/gathering places needed to bring ppl together

MOOC as a (networked) textbook?


people don’t scale incl MIT profs – only their content

Ownership- “you lose your love when you say word mine” – NY

Openness is not about it being free – it is about SHARING!

If teacher takes all the power in the relationship, defining what needs to be learned at each step, what happens when the student leaves and has to deal with this lack of direction.

We need to measure LEARNING => the fact that you need it doesn’t make it possible. Stop measuring learning!

Measure effort, engagement and connection. Allow learners to be responsible for – and measure their own-  learning journey. Let the robots count what they can.

If we make the community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale.

Being an effective member of the community = means you can speak the language….etc.

How does other faculty perceive it – crazy? Ppl have this idea of having to finish – person in charge telling you have succeeded. They have difficulty in accepting that success can be defined/achieved as per your own definition of it.

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