Seeing rhizomatic learning and MOOCs through the lens of the Cynefin framework

The Change11 course has brought me many realizations, but none so useful as the Cynefin framework. As i suggested in my last post, i’ve been working on bringing it into my decision making at my day job. In the last four weeks it’s occurred to me that it is also an excellent way to help clarify some of my thinking around learning as well. In trying to describe rhizomatic learning, there are two critical challenges that I’ve not been able to voice properly.

1. How is this not simply anarchy?
2. How are people supposed to understand the basics?

I certainly don’t see my classrooms as anarchic, though they sometimes slide off in that direction. In a very real sense, my job is to keep the classroom from descending into random patters of behaviour, and keep it to the topic that we are supposed to be covering. That’s the difference between having a class and simply hosting a party.

I also am not particularly interested in ‘teaching’ the basics. It’s a troubling word that… basics. I often find myself thinking that things like ‘definitions’ are basic concepts, whereas experience tells me that knowing enough about a concept to describe it is actually a pretty profound statement of understanding. By basic here i mean ‘turn on the computer’ rather than define a computer.

Still, the energy and creativity that can come from the unexpected and the toolkit that can come from having ‘acquired the basics’ are very handy to have when we are trying to grapple with a complex world. Therein lies the problem…

MOOCs as a structure – and rhizomatic learning as an approach – privilege a certain kind of learning and learner. The MOOC offers an ecosystem in which a person can become familiar with a particular domain. Rhizomatic learning is a way of navigating that ecosystem that empowers the student to make their own maps of knowledge, to be ‘cartographers’ inside that domain. It suggests that the interacting with a community in a given domain is learning. The community is the curriculum.

MOOCs offer a complex ecosystem in which you ‘can’ learn, not one where you ‘will learn.’ It doesn’t come with many guarantees. Rhizomatic learning is a complex way of learning, not the easiest way to learn to tie your shoes.

This is the germ of an idea that i’m getting out of the Cynefin Framework. Lets see if i can convince you… first, the framework.

Enter the Cynefin framework

This is the core of the Cynefin framework as developed by Dave Snowden. Five domains of decision making. Broadly speaking the framework offers a categorization for separating the different kinds of decisions that can be made, and the differing approaches required for each. The following is gleaned through pouring over the cognitive-edge website, reading through articles like this one, and watching the excellent videos Dave has online.

Simple issues: A relationship between cause and effect is observable. A thing can be easily categorized, and established best practice applied. See what’s coming in. Make it fit a category. Make a decision. This is ‘best practice’.

Complicated issues: There is a right answer, but it isn’t obvious. There is need to analyze. Several different ways of doing things, all of which are legitimate if you have the right expertise. This is ‘good practice’. See what’s coming. Analyze towards a solution (perhaps by contacting an expert). Make a decision.

Complex Issues: No connection between cause and effect. Safe fail experiments. If an experiment succeeds, it gets amplified. If it fails it gets dampened. Amplification and Dampening should be predetermined. Try something. See what happens. Amplify or dampen.

Chaotic Issues: Move very quickly to stabilize the situation. Any practice will be novel.

Disorder: Is the space of not knowing which of the domains we’re in. In this space people tend to fall back on their preferences for action. For the bureaucrat (simple domain) all failures are a failure of process. For the Deep expert (complicated domain), all failures are a failure of time and resources for research. For complexity workers (complex domain) all things require a large amount of resources/opinions/concepts to be brought to bear to search for a solution. For totalitarians (chaotic domain), everything is chaotic, and all decisions should be made directly by them, and immediately acted upon.

How the Cynefin framework can help people with MOOCs
If you are looking for ‘best practices’ in a given domain, the MOOC is a fantastically inefficient way of acquiring them. The simple domain described in the framework is no doubt a useful end of the educational realm… its the domain that allowed me to remember my timetables, and where to attach the wires on a light switch. ‘Best Practices’. You might find them in a MOOC, but who would know where to look.

If you are looking for ‘good practices’ a MOOC is probably a better option than for simple practices, but it’s still not exactly designed for that. Good practice decisions involved deep content experts using years of experience to offer guidance. Mentorship works like this. Working with an expert guide can be a wonderful way to learn… but it’s not how a MOOC is built. A MOOCer kinda needs to find their own way, and outside of paying for someone’s time to help guide you, it’s not built on the mentorship model.

If you are looking for a ‘chaotic experience’ MOOCs are probably a little tied tight for you. We tend to pull together materials, and have expert centred discussions that are fairly restrictive. If you’re looking for chaotic experiences where you need to put your foot in the ground and ‘do anything’ you already have the internet. You don’t need a MOOC.

The complex domain is where the MOOC really shines. If you want to try things, see how it goes, and build from that response, a MOOC is just the ecosystem you need. In it you can find people to try ideas out on, to work out the knowledge in the content domain that you’re interested in. Probe, sense, respond sounds just about right for a MOOC.

Rhizomatic Learning
And that description of how to act in a MOOC sounds just about right as a description of rhizomatic learning. The knowledge lives in the community, you engage with it by probing into the community, sensing the response and then adjust. Just like the rhizome. It is a learning approach that is full of uncertainty… not least for the educator. But its one that allows for the development of the literacies that will allow us to sharpen our ability to participate in complex decision making. Dealing with the uncertainty is what the learning is all about.

Here is an excerpt from the cognitive-edge website from a blog post written by Gary Wong

Fuzzy is better than Sharp when setting vision
Question: Which bird is a better predator? A sharp-eyed hunter that could pinpoint a specific animal 3 miles above ground or a half-blind bird that would pick up anything that moved, including rolling tumbleweed?
Answer: In a stable environment, pick the sharp-eyed bird. Hunting is easy and pickings are tasty. Ah, life is wonderful.
In a changing environment where windstorms, drought, or human intervention can drastically alter the food supply, go with the half-blind bird.

and so…
It’s that complex domain that interests me in learning. I think most of what i criticize or, at least, what concerns me about education is the movement between the complicated and simple domains. Our bureaucracies encourage simple domain learning, things that can be tracked and analyzed. Research goals seem to attempt to take things from complicated domains and shove them down into the simple one. Our world is increasingly one where complex decisions need to be made… and thats the kind of education i’m interested in being involved in.

Looking back at the worker, soldier and nomad, it seems to apply very well here. The nomad learns in the complex domain.

Change11 MOOC – First six weeks of 2012

Ah… the ever increasingly misnamed change11. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a journey that i’ve been less prepared for… and still gotten so much out of. It’s been a season of change for me, I’ve moved houses, spent two months involved in our schools future discussion as an informal consultant, and have tried to dig a little deeper into my own thinking. (see previous blog post)

So… here I am weeks into Change11(12) and no post to show for it. The truth is… I’ve had some pretty critical learning and some excellent conversations throughout, with my house now mostly settled, here’s a review of the first six weeks. I had the pleasure of doing two discussions with Howard Reingold, one with Valerie Irvine and Jillian Code, one with Dave Snowden, I missed much of week 20 and have had a very… interesting discussion with Pierre Levy during his week. So here goes…

Week 17: Howard Rheingold
Howard’s week focused on his idea that there are “five essential literacies for a world of mobile, social, and always-on media: attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network know-how.” Howard has been around the technology/communications field for a long while, and he’s done some very interesting work (see so what he thinks it all comes down to is well worth paying attention to. It’s a practical list, and one that you could take into many situations. I also think it turns out to be a very deep list, as the more you dig into each one, the more richness you will find there.


Week 18: Valerie Irvine and Jillianne Code
Flexibility seems to have become a theme all through higher ed these days. I was at a meeting recently where plans were being concocted for rolling continuous entry for courses. Enter Valerie and Jillianne, who gave us a very candid look into how their systems deal with the technical realities of that new frontier. How do people get registered? How do we synch local and distance students to classes?


Week 19: Dave Snowden
Well… the Cynefin framework. How do we deal with complexity? How do we separate complexity from the simply complicated? How do we use this information to make decisions about what we are going to do, or how we are going to handle situations? The one hour session i facilitated with Dave is easily one of the most challenging i’ve had the privilege of participating in, but I found it hugely enlightening. Actually… I liked it so much, i’m trying to use it for decision making in my work at UPEI.


Week 20: Richard DeMillo, Ashwim Ram, Preetha Ram, and Hua Ali
I won’t lie to you, I was underground for this week. My good friend Dr. Jennifer Maddrell filled in to facilitate, and I missed most of the chatter. I have, however, chatted with some of the Georgia Tech MOOC folks before, and have found their take on the subject to be enlightening. Check out The Center for 21st Century Universities and get a sense of how one university is preparing itself for the future.


Week 21: Break
On this week… i moved. and unpacked.

Week 22: Pierre Levy

IEML. Information Economy Meta Language. As I just received the following tweet from the professor, you should take my opinion with a grain of salt

(You try to understand before you have learned, IEML is not for you.)

But I still find it fascinating. Trying to build a semantic underpinning that will allow for all information to run together through a single system. It’s a huge vision… and one that everyone interested in learning and knowing should at least take a look at. ” So my research in the past 15 years has been devoted to the invention of a symbolic system able to exploit the computational power, the capacity of memory and the ubiquity of the digital medium.” Isn’t that worth a few minutes of your time?


My first six weeks
As always, I’m fighting the guilt of not having done enough work, but lets put that aside for a second. Each of the four weeks i participated in (sorry Georgia Tech!) has impacted my work in a different way.

  • Howard’s week brought me back to ideas of digital literacies, of thinking about what we need to offer people as structure so that they can come to understand digital spaces
  • Jillian and Valerie’s week impacted a work discussion that I had last week quite directly when the issues that they covered came up almost word for word
  • Dave Snowden may have changed the way that I structure my professional work. So far… Cynefin is really useful to me
  • Pierre Levy has left me humbled. I never studied the math I would need to completely understand the work he’s talking about. He was friends with the philosophers that you’ve heard me babble about here for years. I’m trying to see his comments as the encouragement that I need to continue to take my own thinking more seriously – more rigorously.

Well. Seems like a worthwhile adventure so far for 2012.

This, my friends, is learning.

Rhizomatic learning – Response for day 2 and 3

I knew i wouldn’t get it done every night… but here is the second attempt at pulling together some threads of feedback and organizing them here for later. (see my intro post if you don’t know what i’m talking about)

A carving Bon brought back from her 2 years in the arctic

A metaphor too far
Terry Anderson layed a pretty heavy critique on the session from yesterday and it falls into three parts all three of which seem to position rhizomatic education and the people in the discussion as people OPPOSED to us having an education system. I don’t think there’s a single person taking time our of their day in that discussion when they could be doing anything else in the world who aren’t DESPERATELY PASSIONATELY devoted to the idea of learning, to having some kind of education system and to education as a concept.

In his critique is of the negative responses to the question “Why do we educate students?”. He notes that there were no responses that said ‘for learning’. I will note that many people in the session suggested that were positive: for innovation, creativity… stuff like that. Here is a link to the slide if you would like to make your own judgement. We were trying to get to the reason behind it… the thing that drives the ‘kinds’ of things we teach. It’s entirely possible that in doing so… we were focusing too much on the negative. A good lesson for all of us… focusing on the negative does not forward a discussion.

Educating for Nomads was being posited as a goal FOR THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

That does leave us with the unanswered question as to why such an eminently experienced, intelligent educator got the impression that we didn’t care about education. I don’t know.

George – Rhizomes, back to basics

In his back to basics post, George challenges me to help him understand why the rhizome metaphor is useful. He describes what he sees as an existing division between formal/informal and facilitated/student driven learning and asks “how is it more than this?” Now that… is a good question.

I see Formal learning is something bound tightly to objectives, outcomes and (power) systems. Informal learning not so much… I see informal learning as the stuff i learn from my buddies. It was this ‘stuff i learn from my buddies’ that had me start this whole rhizomatic thing in the first place as i was trying to understand how the informal community of practice that i was in was responsible for so much of my learning. And, more importantly, how i could devise a way to do it on purpose.

It’s super easy to learn when you find just the right people at just the right place. This, it seems, doesn’t happen everyday… so i set out to try and find a way to explain it so i could have some theory to back up what i was trying to do in the classroom… replicate the ‘learn from your buddies’ style of teaching.

The conclusion that i came to, through reading Deleuze and his rhizome metaphor, was that i was looking at the whole thing backwards. I was thinking that courses were about CONTENT and what i was trying to do was bring people together with the content. What the rhizome metaphor is meant to impart is that the learning process is rhizomatic, it moves, shift, sprouts at different times and places (and different for different people). It’s many. I used to try and restrict the knowledge in a given field so i offered fewer options to my students… now i do the opposite. By starting without a set curriculum, by thinking of the learning process (and by extension the content) as growing OUT of the learning process, i offered up all the options, the ways of seeing things to my students… allowing them to find their own paths… (to be nomads).

This, i would argue, is what the rest of life is like. Why should we teach any other way?

Rhizomes and collonization
Two excellent posts one from one of my favourite online people and the other from my favourite person. One i’ve never met face to face and one i’ve lived with for 10 years. I won’t try to restate what either of them say, but rather try and entice you to read their blog posts with a snippet from them

For instance, the metaphor of the rhizome is a fine antidote to our tendency toward reductionism. This reductionism lies in the background of the interviewers’ attempts to define rhizomatic learning, I think. Like most of us, they want a handy nugget that says, “Oh, yes, that is rhizomatic learning.” The metaphor of the rhizome, however, helps us to see that reductionism is always a fiction. No thing can ever actually be reduced to a discrete thing, or not in reality. We can think of ourselves as discrete and alone in the Universe, a train of thought that usually leads to all sorts of misery and suffering, but none of us are discrete, however convenient or persuasive the reductionist fiction might be. Keith Hamon

and this one

We live in a culture and time where our minds are colonized by education. Most particularly, by education as a system. We go to school, almost all of us, and are taught from an extraordinarily young age that school equates with learning. Our cultural concepts of education and learning are intrinsically interwoven with notions of schooling. Bonnie Stewart

Broad responses from me
It’s been an incredible few days of learning for me. I’ve heard from many thoughtful voices on ideas i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about… some supportive, some critical all well thought out and focused. I really appreciate the time and effort people have taken to interact with the subject and with me.

There are tons of other cool blog posts and links out there… but i trust you have other ways of finding them. Search for the hashtag on google, follow the daily, follow the tag on twitter, join the Facebook page. There is little that is more rhizomatic than a MOOC 🙂

Rhizomatic Learning – Responses for day 1.

So I’m facilitating this week of discussion on some stuff i’ve been talking about… and people are talking back. This openness stuff is for the birds 😛

Wow. some kind of a day. I make no promises of being able to do this all this week… but i’m going to try. I know if i don’t make some comments about stuff right away, I will lose it. And there have been some amazing things created yesterday and today. (don’t know what i’m talking about? I’m fascilitating an open course this week… see the course page)

Giulia Forsythe (and cogdog)
First nod has to go to the breathtaking bit of work pulled together by Giulia Forsythe. If you ignore her overly kind bio, you’ll see a stunning piece of artwork describing her feelings about rhizomatic learning. She’s challenged people to add a new soundtrack.. AND Cogdog took her up on it. If you’re unfamiliar with what a ‘remix’ is… this will clear that up for you. I’m working on my own overlay for Giulia’s work which i hope to have done by the end of the week… but i’d like to address something in Cogdog’s video.

Roots vs. Rhizomes.
When Deleuze and Guattari chose the ‘rhizome’, and the reason i find it appealing, is that it is always a multiple. There is no ‘plant’ (singular) or tree or some single entity that starts and ends. No roots of a tree that serve that single tree. A rhizome moves and expands twists and turns, throws down roots and pushes up shoots as the context allows. When you look at a patch of japanese knotweed or aspen… you are seeing something that is many. I think this distinction is important 🙂

Several comments in yesterday’s post inquired after ‘motivation’ in rhizomatic learning. What encourages the learner through the process… what gets them to engage? This is certainly a challenge. Of course, its a challenge for any model. The big obstacle, i think, is that most students are accustomed to an entirely different model. Some general comments

  1. ‘successful/good’ students have decided, in many cases, that their motivation is ‘doing things right’. My classes are a struggle for those students.
  2. In the best cases, motivation is something that is part of the learning process. It is the REASON the student is there… but this is not usually the case.
  3. I’ve found that rhizomatic learning motivates those not motivated by ‘doing it the right way’.

Facts Facts Facts
suifaijohnmak wrote a very interesting, penetrating response to rhizomatic learning. There is a point at which we started talking about facts… and i have funny feelings about facts.

Basically… i don’t believe in them. I know that’s an odd statement… but i mean it directly. I don’t BELIEVE in them. I don’t think that the things we point to as simple components “WWII started in 1939” or “Two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen” exist on their own. Implicit in them is a whole bunch of things unsaid. What does it mean to start a war? War for whom? Does it make sense to call it a World War? Do we actually understand what is happening inside an atom? etc…

Yes. They are good shorthands for everyday conversation. Getting students to be able to repeat this ‘facts’ allows them to be part of a discussion that could allow actual learning.

Community vs. Peer Review
There were a few comments about the validity of ‘just getting stuff from the community’. Many, many people in my community get their research peer-reviewed. Some of them also apply equivalent rigour to the work that they post on their blog. Some of their blogs are reviewed (mine certainly is toughly enough by times) by the same people who do the peer reviewing for journals… except that it is done in public. ALL KNOWLEDGE is created by people. Saying that you are getting your curriculum from the community doesn’t mean, in any way, that what you’re working from has less rigour.

Challenge in rhizomatic learning
A couple of comments about this… which i can’t seem to find right now. The model breeds challenge… lots of it. Come out to see the event tomorrow…

I love the title of this blog. Music for deckchairs. A nice (if tangled) set of comments on the reality of the standards agenda and how this conflicts with rhizomatic learning. Yes. There are realities that we are bound by… this is how i handled grading during the last ‘graded version’ of a course like this.

I read lots of interesting posts today, many of which i did not do a good job keeping track of… sorry for those folks who didn’t get cited here. I’m sure there are some i didn’t read, but there were lots that i read and pulled together for these responses… lets see what tomorrow brings.

Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach?

It’s my week at #change11. My topic? Rhizomatic Learning.

Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in a thousand plateaus. A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by D&G to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-relicating. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process. I wrote my first article on the topic ‘rhizomatic education: community as curriculum’ in an article I wrote in 2008.

I’ve been talking about rhizomes and learning for about five years now. I have spent the better part of the last three months trying to collect all those thoughts together and organize them ‘properly.’ The problem with that, of course, is that the whole idea of rhizomatic learning is to acknowledge that learners come from different contexts, that they need different things, and that presuming you know what those things are is like believing in magic. It is a commitment to multiple paths. Organizing a conversation, a course, a meeting or anything else to be rhizomatic involves creating a context, maybe some boundaries, within which a conversation can grow. I’m going to try and create some context for a conversation about rhizomatic learning by offering four questions about education… and explaining how i’ve tried to answer them with this theory.

  • Why do we teach?
  • What does successful learning look like?
  • What does a successful learner look like?
  • How do we structure successful learning?

Why do we teach?
I refuse to accept that my role as a teacher is to take the knowledge in my head and put it in someone else’s. That would make for a pretty limited world :). Why then do we teach? Are we passing on social mores? I want my students to know more than me at the end of my course. I want them to make connections i would never make. I want them to be prepared to change. I think having a set curriculum of things people are supposed to know encourages passivity. I don’t want that. We should not be preparing people for factories. I teach to try and organize people’s learning journeys… to create a context for them to learn in.

What does successful learning look like?

the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectible, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 21)

It is that map that I think successful learning looks like. Not a series of remembered ideas, reproduced for testing, and quickly forgotten. But something flexible that is already integrated with the other things a learner knows. Most things that we value ‘knowing’ are not things that are easily pointed to. Knowing is a long process of becoming (think of it in the sense of ‘becoming an expert’) where you actually change the way you perceive the world based on new understandings. You change and grow as new learning becomes part of the things you know.

Sounds a bit like networked learning…? The rhizome is, in a manner of speaking, a kind of network. It’s just a very messy, unpredictable network that isn’t bounded and grows and spreads in strange ways. As a model for knowledge, our computer idea of networks, all tidy dots connected to tidy lines, gives us a false sense of completeness.

What does a successful learner look like?
In a recent blog post i tried to offer three visions for ‘what education is for’ to help provide a departure point for discussion. Workers take accepted knowledge and store it for future reference. They accept that things are true and act accordingly. The soldier acquires more knowledge and becomes responsible for deciding what things are going to be true. The nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path. I think we should be hoping for nomads.

Nomads have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts. They are not looking for ‘the accepted way’, they are not looking to receive instructions, but rather to create.

How do we structure successful learning?
Establish a context
As we approach any new endeavour, we need to understand how we can speak about it. We need to learn the language, our timetables… the shortcuts that allow us to be part of a conversation. This goes into our memory. This is good. It helps us see the local context. It is not what i think of as learning… it is one of the building blocks of learning. I think of this as an open syllabus.

Community Curriculum
Gone are the days where we need to painstakingly collect information, package it up in time to send it to the printers and await the return. A curriculum for a course is something that can be created in time, while a course is happening. The syllabus becomes a garden space, a context setting within which learning can happen and the curriculum is the things that grows there. The tidiest example of this I’ve done are live slides which attempt to give room for the learners to create slides for a presentation.

As an activity for this week I’d like you to take a piece of your own practice and think on it rhizomatically. Does it mesh with what I’ve described here? Are there goals that you want to accomplish that would not be served by a rhizomatic approach? Is there a way to change what you are doing to make it more rhizomatic? What impact would that have? Good? Bad?

I need not tell anyone that they are free to critique these ideas, they are in the open, and critique is one of the biggest reason that I post my ideas. So please, critique away.

I am one of many who found Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the ‘rhizome’ as a useful framework for talking about learning, education and what it is to know. Appropriately, I suppose, there is no ‘rhizomatic learning’ that you can cite and define specifically. You could take Maryanne’s view or like Glynis Cousin use it to critique the VLE or delve into this interesting series of journal articles from 2004. I should probably apologize to these scholars for not having cited their work… but, to be honest, i didn’t know about them until sometime this summer and I have been exploring the rhizome since 2005. For those of you interested in broader exploration of Deleuze in education, google is your friend. I have none of those smart people to blame for these ideas… it’s all me borrowing and twisting some of the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, and, really, from all my network, for my own ends. 🙂

Change 11 – catching up

We’ve had five speakers of change11 and i thought it might be a nice time to try and pull some reflections together and maybe offer a point of departure for someone taking the course a little late. I myself haven’t had the time to devote to the course that I’d hoped in the beginning, and am trying to recommit myself now that the rest of my life has slowed down a bit.

Don’t know what the Change MOOC is?
If you’re just getting to the course now, and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, the change MOOC is a 35 week journey through a particular cross section of educational and technology. All of the topics/people covered in this course are suggesting or pointing to some kind of development or change in learning. The course is an attempt at pulling the people responsible for those ideas together in the hopes that between the 2000 or so of us, we can create new connections and ideas. Each week a different speaker will come in to talk about their ideas.

Sound like a nice idea? Not sure what to do about it? Watch this video

The first five.
We’ve had five speakers so far. We’ve talked about mobile technologies, academic research going digital, collective learning, open content and practical approaches to technology implementation for better teaching. If that sounds interesting to you, you can go and check out the weeks that have passed, on the main course site at or, if you like, you can follow along with our ebook creation at

What have we learned so far
We’ve definitely seen a willingness of participants to engage with the ideas of the speaker. As you can see from the group response (in the ebook) for the week hosted by Zoraini Wait Abas, there was significant critical response. I think this is one of the most interesting results of the kind of openness represented by a MOOC… people feel like they’re engaging directly with the ideas.

I think the most eye opening week for me was the career description that we got from David Wiley during his week. I have had the pleasure of meeting David at several conferences, but was not familiar with his earlier work. There’s something nice about getting the context for someone’s career that can round out your understanding of their perspective. He’s been ‘iterating towards openness’ for a long time now. His pragmatic approach has been very influential to me, and, clearly, to lots of others.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of response to the activities presented by some of the weeks. It’s a strange balance, i guess, to try and suggest some activities to provide structure and i wonder if it somehow conflicts with the self-regulation that we are suggesting as core to the MOOC model. I’ve also had a difficult time trying to track the responses to the given weeks. It may be that I have missed on an easy way to do that, if someone knows how, let me know.

I’m going to have to take some serious time to think about how “the collective” suggested by Allison Littlejohn interacts with my own work. It seems like a natural fit, i suppose, but its always a struggle trying to nail down how the language works. Her description “By ‘collective learning’ we mean how people learn through sourcing, using and making sense of the collective knowledge – the knowledge stored in people, resources, computers, networks etc.” rings familiar, but i’m a little concerned about ‘knowledge’ being ‘stored’. I’ve been thinking lately that ‘memory’ is what’s stored and that knowledge is something that needs to be negotiated…

I found Tony Bates talk rang very true for me as well. He discussed various ways in which they have researched the impact of really bringing real technologies into real classrooms. We did similar (if not as broad based or as thorough) research at my university with similar results. Administration is very supportive of the incorporation of technologies, but we’re not as far along in terms of figuring out how to use them to positively impact teaching (whatever that might mean). Really, the disagreement about what a ‘positive outcome’ might be has a great deal of influence on the reluctance or inability for institutions to address this issue.

I was fortunate to actually be at the discussion Martin Weller had re: digital research. I’m probably most familiar with Martin’s work of the five presenters and still found lots to learn from his presentation. I find myself nodding in agreement on most of this things that he says, so I’ll spare you the ‘wow, he’s so right’ in this review and just link to his presentation 🙂

How to find stuff
This may seem like very simple advice, but simply putting an author’s name into google followed by ‘change11’ is enough to find pretty much anything you need if you’re looking to catch up on the last five weeks.

Join the ebook team!
We are still pluggin away on the ebook. It’s something we’re all doing off the side of our desk, but I’d love to have more people involved. If you want to be on the team, just let me know in the comments of this post. No pressure, but if you do want to, I’ll send you a username and password and you can just pickup work from the worklist on the homepage.

Why teaching isn’t selling

Boring preamble
I’ve been trying to think my way through the reasons why I’ve spent so much time in the last five years tracking down what i’ve called rhizomatic learning/rhizomatic education/rhizomatic thinking… I’ll be presenting in the #change11 mooc before long and am committed to putting together the week in such a way that those that might be interested in finding out what I’ve been doing get the clearest description possible of what i mean. That may or may not contribute to people ‘agreeing’ with me, but i’m not particularly concerned about that. At least not right now. I’m reaching for clarity. Today I want to talk a little bit about why i think it matters.

How selling is like selling
There was a fantastic series of interviews on the CBC’s as it happens tonight. The first was a debate on a giant oil pipeline from northern Alberta to the southern United States. In it two separate sides, each with its own self-contained narrative, disagreed on whether they should build a giant oil pipe. Good for the economy(Shawn Howard). Bad for the environment(Maud Barlow). Good long term planning. Bad long term planning. I found the pro-oil side sounded jingoistic, repetitive and bullying. The anti-oil-line person was thoughtful, accepting of both sides and still holding a position. I much prefer the presentation of the latter (obviously) but it’s still a pretty big issue here. (Part 1 – 2:00-16:00)

The second interview was a breathtaking piece replayed on CBC from an interview on the BBC with Alessio Rastani (Part 1 – 17:00-20:00) an independent stock trader. They asked him what he thought of the new plans for the Eurozone and whether he thought it might help save Europe from a catastrophe. His response? He didn’t care. He was a trader. He was in the business of making money. He likes a giant recession. It’s easier to make money. He then explained to each individual listening how they could make it through the recession… by making money.

To listen and understand the first piece is difficult. It’s long. There are issues to be balanced. There is a huge financial impact. Lots of lives will be affected either way. Should we be exporting all that oil? Is a pipeline the best way to do it? Should we be investing in oil infrastructure, because its a safer investment, or new energy, because its safer for the planet? Many different issues, and, objectively, not really a right answer. It requires some ethical decisions, some practical thinking… lots of different things. No matter what happens, one side will see it as a partial success and the other mostly a failure. There is no unit of environmental measurement we can put against $ of tax dollars. Both sides are trying to convince us that there position is the correct one, and, in a sense, spur us to some action. But it’s hard.
These are the kinds of societal questions i would like to think our education system could prepare us for.

In the second example, a much shorter interview, and a much simpler position. Our friend Alessio has a way of measuring success. His success is measured by whether or not he is making money. His measurement of our success is whether or not we make money through the recession. He then goes on to give us tips and tricks to make money. Thereby, in his words, trying to help us. That’s easy.
This seems to be the kind of question our education system actually prepares us for

Dealing with clutter
Rhizomatic learning is my thinking about how to deal with the clutter. The complex. How do i teach teachers the ‘best’ or ‘right’ way of using social media? How do you teach ‘good marketing strategies’? Most of the issues that i deal with in my own work, that i discuss with my friends, or that i worry about are hard. Should my client spend all this money on this new project… and what are the chances it wont work. Should we build an oil pipeline? Should i send my kids to french school? There aren’t right answers to any of these questions. There may be answers that are better than others for me, I may learn something this time that will avoid a given problem the next time… but there’s no real measurement in it. It’s hard to know even after things have gone through whether these are good decisions.

Would you let a doctor operate on your if…
Turns out, lots of things are like that. I have heard (way too many times) people argue with my work by saying “you wouldn’t want a doctor to learn that way”. My response, now that i’ve talked to a bunch of doctors about it, is that they do learn that way. They learn a bunch of what they practice as interns. They learn lots on the job. Turns out that brain surgery in Canada is ‘watch one, do one, teach one’. Yeah. Doctor told me that. They learn as they go. They learn from their buddies. And they learn from journals (which, i might add, are mostly just their buddies, writing in a more focused format)

That doesn’t mean that memorizing things is bad. You need to know what a (insert fancy word for part of my brain) is before you can cut it open. There are places where you need to simply familiarize yourself with a subject before you can participate. Those things might be like money. You can check and see if someone’s had success with remembering fancy brain words. Actual brain surgery is something else. As is deciding what school to send my kids to. I need to know what schools there are, i can read research… talk to people.

Why learning isn’t selling
People seem to know that most of the important things in our lives aren’t easy to decide, aren’t easily measured, and yet we try to shove this measurement all over education. We see this in funding calls around education. We see it in research studies. We see it in districts looking to be accountable. And i really mean that… I think they are trying to measure education in an effort to be accountable. In order to do that, however, I think they end up having to think like our friend Alessio. They need a measurement system they can count. Do kids ‘know things’. How much does he know? Are they succeeding? I don’t doubt these kinds of measurements make sense in the business world, heck, I use them when i’m doing that kind of work. I just don’t think learning is like that.

We can sell knowledge to our students, trading their time for our approval. This will allow us to measure their ‘learning’. This in a world where we know all the answers. Or we can challenge them to measure themselves. It’s messy. Hard to track. Ugly to teach. But i think it’s the most important thing in the world. Because that’s the world we actually have.

But you need to measure learning?

It doesn’t matter if you NEED to measure how much people are learning, some things just aren’t possible. Learning just isn’t selling.

Ebook team for Change11 – the record of an event

people used to make records
as in a record of an event
the event of people playing music in a room
Fuel. Ani DiFranco

I’ve recorded a little video tour of the ebook project planning page. It should give you a sense of what the project is about, and what you can do to participate if such a thing strikes your fancy.

I’m hoping to find a way that a group of interested people can make a record of the event of a MOOC. Seeing music live is better, if you can, if you have the time, the emotion and the locatedness to enjoy it. But we listen to records… again and again. In bits and pieces. We sample from them. Taste them. I want to try to make that record. and I want you to help me.

see you at

Change MOOC ebook – The textbook as product and artifact

The idea of a MOOC was really a response to something that was already happening. I was talking to Stephen Downes and George Siemens in the summer of 2008 after their landmark CCK08 course had crossed the 1500 mark in registration (i think it ended north of 2300) and they asked me to play along with them. I was particularly interested (and still am) in one of the few things that the three of us always agree on. Bigger is different. Scale matters. If this has 2000 people in it… what does it mean? What if it’s 5000 or 50000? Does it start to shift the balance of what people believe in a field? Does it just clog up the internet (for people in that field) while it’s running? How do you facilitate to that many people?

We’ve come up with some of the answers to those questions I think… my responsibility in that first MOOC was to moderate the Friday discussion sessions, and while i’m not happy with how I did those, I’ve since come up with some ways of moderating lots of people that has the chance of keeping people engaged. Live slides might be a little hairy… but it certainly can work. The truth is, though, I still have many, many things that I don’t understand yet.

The one issue i want to try and address in the MOOC that starts this fall, and have failed miserably at before, is the concept of archiving these courses. You might ask why i would want to do such a thing… and to be honest I’m not 100% sold on the value of it, but i think that the work of so many people is worth the effort of trying. How can people interact with the course when they weren’t following along? How do you navigate through all the sessions… the ideas? I think the method/mechanism for organizing people to engage (or follow along) in a course is fundamentally different than asking them to look at it after the fact.

What hasn’t worked for me so far – weak curation

The two things that i took a run at, tagging/aggregating and ‘community curation’ never really got out of the gate. In the first instance I made an attempt to feed all the content i could find into an aggregation site. It was a mess… I couldn’t even look at it and make sense of it. There was simply too much there. As for the community curation… i never really found a way to get people excited about it. I don’t think i explained it very well. I had hoped that people would create their own OER pieces to contribute back to the community. It may be that the topic – Futures of Education – might have been a tad esoteric.

My plan for the ebook
As of now i have a plan for an ebook to follow along with the the change MOOC this fall and winter. We are going to have dozens of facilitators, each coming in for one week to talk about something that is important to them. We’ve asked each of the facilitators to give us a 500-1000 word piece that describes the work they are going to talk about. This will form the foundation of the ebook. Each chapter (assuming everyone is ok with it) will include thinker details along with this introduction. After that, I’m hoping to curate some of the responses done by the community during that week. Interesting blog posts, artifacts… that sort of thing. Not sure about how i’m going to do this yet. The third thing that was suggested, and I”m really not sure about, is a group edited response to the ideas. I have no faith that this is possible to facilitate… but i’m willing.

So. a Chapter is…

1. author details
2. 500-1000 word description
3. curated links
4. group edited response (maybe)

It’s going to be a big job… and a long one considering the length of the course. I’m hoping for help… particularly with the link curation. I’m also interested in other people’s ideas. What else should be included? formats?

I realize that i’ve complained about books in the past. Just sayin’

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