Ideas while travelling on the way….

Setup for the Live Presentation:

Other commitments prevented me from attending Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic learning live session and the recording on the MOOC site was audio only.  Cormier recommended a Youtube video of a draft version of the session.  Since I wished to observe the slides, this is the version I viewed.  Given that the recording did not reveal the full screen, it was not clear what presentation software was used.  The chat window was barely readable, but it looked a lot like Elluminate.  There were no significant problems with sound.


In last week’s session Cormier expressed his admiration for Nancy White.  That influence was reflected in his encouragement to participants to feel free to write on slides.  Several slides with a leading question allowed attendees to post their thoughts.  He described his session not as a presentation, but dinner theatre.

After introducing himself and highlighting some of his activities, he launched the session with a question: Why do we educate students? For Cormier, the traditional reason over the last 150 years is normativity.  The problem is having the community decide what the proper norms are.

Following the work of some French philosophers, he describes three outcomes of an educational system:

1.   Workers: “The worker was the original goal of the public education system.  How can we create a workforce that will show up to work on time, accept tasks and complete them.”

2.   Soldiers: “Soldiers are the defenders of the status quo.  They are the ones who establish what things we currently know that the worker should remember.”

3.   Nomads: “The nomad is a creative thinker.  They are not restrained by the status quo and carve their own paths.  They learn things because they need them.”

He clearly favours the nomadic approach, although he admits that it may not work in all areas.  One reason why he favours the nomadic approach is that it is the only one of the three that produces new knowledge.  If educators want their students to extend knowledge beyond the current state, it is the only approach.  Neither the worker nor the soldier develop knowledge into new territory.

How does Cormier propose to encourage nomadic learning?  Rhizomatic learning.  A rhizome is plant known for its resilience and its aggressive propagation by sending out multiple roots.  They need a lot of attention in order to keep them under control.


By XIII from TOKYO  CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How does this apply to learning?  He describes the process as follows:

The rhizome is a metaphor, like the nomad is a metaphor.  The Nomad learns rhizomatically – in directions unforeseen, and, maybe, to new creative spaces.  It’s a process of becoming, of coming to understand.  We are all different, and our new knowledge must become part of us.

In a linked article, he provides a different definition in order to differentiate his approach from other learning approaches:

In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises (Cormier, 2008, p. 1).

The outcomes of this approach are difficult to assess.  Usually connections will be made later when an individual finds themselves in a situation where they are reminded of earlier experience.


Given that Cormier says the outcomes of rhizomatic learning often do not appear until much later, I will have to get back to you on what I learned!

On a more serious note, when I first saw the title of this section, I had no idea how this botanical term might be connected to learning.  Last week, Nancy White introduced the idea of a social artist: someone who creates space for people to interact; helping them to be heard.  Cormier’s approach is similar.  He advocates providing a space for participants to explore, to push the boundaries, to go in various directions.

What are the limitations of this approach?  Cormier admits that it fits some areas better than others.  It is well suited when learners which to push beyond current limits.  However, much of education consists of finding out what is already within the boundaries.  To acquire all knowledge the rhizomatic way, seems inefficient, involving a lot of “reinventing the wheel.”  It is building on the knowledge of others that allow people to proceed quickly to the boundaries.  This is not to say that the approach should not be used until the boundaries are reached.  Providing a space for individuals to extend the limits of their knowledge can be very exciting and motivational.  It can also be very tiring, even tedious to be required to do all learning this way.  Rhizomatic learning is one approach, but not the only one.  Use it, but use it along with other approaches.

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4(5), 6.


Comments on: "Rhizomatic Learning–why we teach" (4)

  1. Great post of rhizomatic learning, thanx.


  2. I’m not sure if the Rhizomatic model involves reinventing the wheel. It’s more about thinking outside the box or the limit of a specific discipline. It’s true that much of our education today is about getting a preexisting form of specialized, established knowledge. This kind of education runs counter to life-long learning. And it definitely doesn’t foster the kind of healthy ecology required for solving 21st century problems beyond schooling.

    • cbran250 said:


      Thanks for your post.

      Most of my learning consists of two types. The first is procedural, where I wish to know how to get something done. The focus is usually on something else, and it is some procedure that helps me accomplish it. The second type of learning is more conceptual. In that type of learning, I wish to know the “state of the art” as quickly as possible.
      I do not find the rhizome model helpful to get me to either use a new procedure or grasp the latest thinking. On the other hand, in the second kind of learning, once I have some kind of understanding of the current status, the rhizomatic approach can then be used to push further and make more connections with other things I have learned.

  3. […] said .  Haystack and plate with noodles are images of the rhizome metaphor. (1)  text is from  Attention! It is my opinion and my reading of this text that is discussed on this blogpost and […]

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