Just now I listened to a talk by Dave Cormier about Rhizomatic Learning as part of participating in ETMOOC. The most important statements about what it is to me are “that participating in the community is the curriculum” and “the Rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty”.
Put into practice this leads to no set structure for your education, no clearly defined end terms and no authority figure who decides if you mastered the subject. Put positively participants set their own goals and by interacting with other people learn themselves new things and in the process of doing so also teach others new things.
The catalyst for Rhizomatic Learning seems to be the internet, the vast amounts of information that is available on it and the ease it gives us to connect and interact with other people.
Rhizomatic Learning was not presented as a solution for learning in all contexts but only for complex contexts as described in the Cynefin framework. In this framework complex contexts are defined as problems “in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect”.
Listening to the talk and thinking about it for a bit I have severe doubts about the whole concept for three main reasons:
- The whole idea that this is suited for problems in complex contexts is counter intuitive to me. I can live with the idea that for simple contexts where there is clarity about the best possible answer to a solution a teacher chooses to let the students figure out the answer for themselves in any way they like and in a cooperative manner. Complex problems on the other hand are never complex as a whole. Think of this as a pyramid where the top is the complexity that is not understood by anyone. The layers below the top are complex also but understood by ever more people. The further down you go on the pyramid the less complex the underlying knowledge (for solving the complex problem) is and the more it is understood by people. Of course given the definition you don’t know for sure what the base of the pyramid is before you solve the problem but I would think that you have some idea of what knowledge might help you to solve the problem. In learning about it, it seems to me that one is better of when one does this in a context with specialists in the underlying knowledge domains who provide guidance, give feedback and prevent you from taking routes with little likelihood of success.
- The whole concept draws so heavily on high level skills (being able to deal with uncertainty and distinguishing which contributions from others are valuable and which are not) that it becomes elitist.
- As the community is the curriculum there is a big risk that people end up with misconceptions about whatever complex problem they are studying. The voice of the majority in the community in which you are studying might decide what you belief to be true while ignoring relevant facts that point in other directions. Psychologists call this group-think. The best example I can think of is people who hold intelligent design to be true.