In Community
Some thinking about the metaphor of the “rhizome” in learning

“Rhizomic learning theory” caught my attention this past fall when Dave Cormier started a robust dialogue about these ideas during a MOOC I somewhat follow called #change11. I decided to “dig” into it (pun intended) as part of a course on Curriculum Theory, Policy and Change that I am taking this semester.

Dave Cormier is a blogger and educator in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and published an article in Innovate—Journal of Online Education called “Rhizomic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008).

Rhizomic learning theory is based on the metaphor of rhizomes found in the writing of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus:

"… A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicles. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes. Plants with roots or radicles may be rhizomorphic in other respects altogether: the question is whether plant life in its specificity is not entirely rhizomatic. …"

A core idea of Deleuze’s rhizomic philosophy suggests that there is no fixed knowledge only new knowledge that emerges from acts of creation.

Therefore in regards to curriculum, Dave writes,

"In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process."

Other educators have been thinking about this metaphor as a way to think about learning. Mary Ann Reilly, a blogger and educator working in New Jersey, considers rhizomic theory in the context of teacher professional learning.

"I suggest that implementation of [professional development] programs as a substitution for professional learning undermines teachers’ agency; obscures our capacity to recognize anomalous situations, and diminishes thinking and learning. As a counter model to development, I describe professional learning as rhizomatic, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s (1987) metaphor for horizontal thinking that is nonhierarchical, and advocate for locally determined professional learning."

In a blog post about her work at the InnovationLab in Colorado where rhizomic learning is a key theory of action in the design and implementation of curriculum, titled “Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations” Monika Hardy writes,

“One of our immediate goals is to affect the research/researchers/stakeholders enough to break down the walls of tradition and remove major roadblocks to these spaces of learning/permissions, particularly in the mind, such as standardized testing and set curriculum. And to do it in a way that is useful.”

I believe that I see and experience different aspects of rhizomic learning by participating with teachers and learners – particularly those taking an inquiry stance towards their work and learning – both online and within networks (see also a previous short study I did on teachers leading in online public spaces). Dave Cormier has suggested that the rhizomic metaphor is a useful way to think about the ways we can learn learning and connecting in online networked environments given his experience with #change11 and also EdTechtalk.

Here are a few forums online that strike me as fairly dynamic centers of activity with potential for highly rhizomic connections:

Would love to learn more about your rhizomic connections too!

See also …

 … it just makes my brain feel right. Want to join me?