If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.
Cormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media MOOC (massive open online course)–organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.
Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.
His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:
- The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
- The community can be the curriculum since members of the community help define what needs to be learned and also create learning objects—e.g., YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, postings on Google+—that support learning through collaboration.
- The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
- Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
- We need to make students responsible for their own learning.
Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.
“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.
Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.
Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:
- Adding @davecormier and a few others to my Twitter feed
- Reading Tanya Sasser’s wonderful description about how she applied rhizomatic learning to a first-year composition course
- Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
- Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
- Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC
“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.