Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words

I got a very simple request from someone a few weeks ago to give a 300 word description of rhizomatic learning for an upcoming book. I thought “hey, 300 words, that’s not a big deal”. Moron. It’s been a bit of a challenge, and I’m mostly only sending it off because I”m a couple of days passed the deadline, not because i think it pulls together all my feelings about the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been grappling with the idea.

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain. It is also, as anyone who has ever had one in the garden will tell you, extremely resilient. As with the rhizome the rhizomatic learning experience is multiple, has no set beginning or end, – “a rhizome creates through the act of experimentation.” ?

The web is an ideal place for this kind of learning. By exploring a community or a context, you can get to know how language is used, what the customs are and how decisions are made. You can get a feel for knowing in that field. The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem. The public negotiation of that ‘acquisition’ (through content creation, sharing) provides a contextual curriculum to remix back into the existing research/thoughts/ideas in a given field. Their own rhizomatic learning experience becomes more curriculum for others.

Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.

Feel free to chime in.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

21 thoughts on “Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words”

  1. I think that collaborative learning and project planning online is one more way to get things done. Deciding when it is the appropriate tool to get the job done may be more of the construct in your post.

  2. The parts that resonate with me are your emphases on negotiating, experiencing, experimenting and participating… precisely those aspects of learning that are in between the nodes of content, the things. Verbs and adjectives rather than nouns! That’s what I see as rhizomatic’s disruption to the educational status quo.

  3. I like especially your comment that rhizomatic learning is “an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces available in that ecosystem.” The problem with traditional education is that the teacher is the sole source of all the value within a class. In rhizomatic education, on the other hand, students bring as much, or more, of the value of a class, which in my experience, almost always makes for a richer class, a richer ecosystem.

  4. Dave, what an excellent explanation. I have followed you work for a while. The picture on Rhizonomy is getting clearer and clearer. My Ph.D is based on your concept of Rhizomatic Learning. Is it ok to contact you via email for inspiration and guidance? I am based in South Africa where everything is still pretty much structured and rigid…

  5. Collaborative learning, cooperative learning, project learning, rhizomatic learning.
    Subtile differences, not always easy do distinguish them from each other.

    In this context the work of Niels Jakob Pasgaard is interesting.

    As learners create their own curriculum, they could learn each other things that others believe to be (proven) untrue.
    How you look upon reality, is important, and determines for a big part how free you can let your learners be in determining the content of the curriculum. At least when you’re in a official program.
    More on this at:

  6. I have been thinking about Rhyzomatic Learning/Education on an off for a whilebut, in particular, as to whether it is really a good analogy, especailly as the definition changes subtly. So let me pitch in with my cent/6penny-worth.

    The trouble with the root/rhizome analogy is that it is structural and describes an adventitious network impinging on other people/peers/tutors/insitutions etc. Fine, the Cloud/network chatting to people works well enough. What it does not say much/anything about is the way in which knowledge is transferred at the points of contact. By ‘knowledge’ here I mean in a general sence of facts/ideas/skills etc. What goes on at the points of contact may be variable, highly beneficial or not at all. The system knows nothing about this.

    Now introduce another metaphor, the mycorrhizosphere. Sorry about the extra syllables but this does exist in a botanical sense:

    We can use the root as a functional analogy by considering the way in which plant roots (the rhizosphere) interact metabolically with the soil by way of a fungal system that is present in the majority of plant species as mycorrhizae. The fungal system (the mycorrhizosphere) has evolved (since the Devonian probably) as a mutualistic system. Mutualism, a form of symbiosis, is where two organisms of different species co-exist and each benefits from the presence of the other. In a mycorrhizal system, the plant benefits from the increased surface area provided. The fungus gains sugars and carbohydrates from the plant and the plant gains minerals required for growth. This might well be very specific, such as phosphates from certain minerals. In this way we can consider the mycorrizal system as a means of knowledge transfer and brings us back to connectivism.

    Comments on this appreciated, especially as French ‘philosophy’ rather passes me by …..

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