• Rhizomatic learning for a Rhizomatic world

    by  • August 10, 2012 • Schools and Communities • 0 Comments

    Rhizo-what? – some background.

    I recently watched one of the latest additions to the RSAnimate YouTube channel, Manuel Lima talking about the power of networks. In this part of this talk, Lima shows how we, as humans, have changed the way we look at nature. Starting from the roots of modern science, where we studied how one element influences the other. Moving on to the first half of the 20th century, when we realised that every action has a multitude of consequences that affect a multitude of other things (but do so without apparent structure). Leading us to where we are now, which is the understanding that the chaotic nature of the consequences may not be chaotic at all. But instead of a linear interpretation of the process, the world is a complex, yet organised, web of causalities.


    Lima makes the connection from science into how networks have been manifesting themselves in our daily lives: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikipedia, public transport maps, technical drawings, computer networks. The word “Network” has become such as big part of our lives. We have so many “Networks” we are part of – and we are still adapting to living within them.

    The biological origin of "Rhizome", which brought us to "Rhizomatic"

    The biological origin of “Rhizome”, which brought us to “Rhizomatic”. (click to enlarge)

    Lima reckons that the world we live in has become fully networked. A network which scientists have now called “Rhizomatic” (based on Rhizome Theory which plotted the gathering of knowledge to the same principle).

    With its origins in biology, Rhizomes are roots and shoots a plant spreads. Each root or shoot has the potential to become a new individual plant.

    While it may sound a bit like science fiction, we now live in a world where every question raises another and answers are rarely satisfied with simple answers. We live in an interconnected world where information is available in abundance and choices need to be made.

    As educators, we find ourselves battling with how to prepare students for the world outside of school. This world, we find, is increasingly interconnected and we need to give them the tools to navigate it.

    Only a few weeks ago the Open University published a report concerning innovations in pedagogy. The report (click here for a direct link to the PDF) lists ten new methodologies used in education. The report mostly highlights their use in higher and further education, but most of the methods listed can be adapted to be used within primary and secondary education. Based on the report’s observations, here are some thoughts on how we can adapt learning to a networked world.


    Rhizomatic learning

    Based on the same biological concept, Rhizomatic Learning encourages the student to extend shoots and roots in their quest for knowledge. Thus, to ask questions and take responsibility for their own learning experience. Don’t let the complexity fox you – you probably call it “learning pathways”.

    Rhizomatic map of words from visualthesaurus.com: words linked with other words

    Rhizomatic map of words from visualthesaurus.com: words linked with other words. (click to enlarge)

    This pedagogical concept is hinged around allowing students “take charge” of their learning. Although this may sound a bit scary (after all, learning objectives must be met), the concept allows the teacher to build a flexible approach to some of the learned elements. The student can pick their own path between the objectives, being encouraged to explore the subject further.

    Much like the rhizomatic network of roots, rhizomatic learning encourages the student to travel along learning paths. They are not alone, though. There is a wide network of peers and supervisors around them. The student learns from the teachers and supervisors, as they do from other students.

    If it sounds like hard work, I urge you to consider Kolb’s learning styles and types of learners. A Rhizomatic approach can actually save you – as teachers – a lot of time and effort trying to build activities that will suit all the types of learners in your classroom. If a student needs to understand the practical use of percentages – does it matter how they get there, so long as they actually get there?

    On the surface, it appears complicated and dangerous, letting students do their own thing. You have to remember, though, they are already doing it. They are doing it with the wealth of information that is around them all the time. They are doing it when they are texting with their friends, or when they are on facebook, or when they are playing online games. Bringing this approach in a smaller scale within a classroom will only enhance that capability.

    And if you are not convinced (or confused), here’s another blog post about it, by Steve Wheeler that may convince you.


    Personal enquiry learning

    Next up, is a more structured approach. I do find this structured approach critical in making Rhizomatic learning work. And – it is a critical tool kit to help deal with the interconnected world.

    Based on a scientific investigative approach, personal enquiry learning teaches students to manage the information around them. Namely, when faced with a question, the approach teaches them:

    • What questions to ask and how to ask them in order to gather more information about the problem at hand
    • What is reliable data, why is it important?
    • How to collate and analyse information
    • How to formulate conclusions, theories and findings
    • How to present findings and make decisions

    Again, this sounds more appropriate in further education, but it is becoming increasingly relevant in secondary and even primary education. I’m not suggesting you put a 10 year old in charge of a murder enquiry. But planting the seeds to the methodology of exploration has a place with children as well as adults.

    A rhizomatic network of music from music-map.com: what music do listeners associate with other music.

    A rhizomatic network of music from music-map.com: what music do listeners associate with other music. (click to enlarge)

    According to this approach, the role of the teacher is not to provide the answers (or tell whether answers are correct or incorrect) but to guide students through the process of investigation.

    These skills will serve students well beyond the realm of science. In previous posts I discussed the importance of being able to understand and explore complex vocabulary – these are the skills needed to do exactly that. By introducing students to the reality that the world is made out of complex questions and answers and giving them the tools to deal with those we are preparing them for what our world is fast becoming. Be it in education, academia, politics or business – we need to have the skills to manage the information around us in order to reach conclusions or make decisions.


    (Heck – we need to be able to do that to know how to cook a healthy meal, or decide what laptop to buy.)



    The rhizomatic word maps was created with VisualThesauras.

    The rhizomatic music map was created with Music Map.

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