Activity 20: Exploring rhizomatic learning

I just watched Dave Cormier’s video on rhizomatic learning and am now considering the questions posed in activity 20. The first question goes:

1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?

Well, I first had to get to grips with the rhizome metaphor. I think Cormier describes it pretty well in the video. Rhizomes, he says:

  1. Can map in any direction from any starting point.
  2. They grow and spread via experimentation within a context.
  3. They grow and spread regardless of breakage.

Cormier further states that rhizomatic learning is a useful model in a world with increasing uncertainty and complexity.



Rhizomatic learning, I think, is an approach that firmly puts the learner at the centre of things. As such it’s a useful approach if the context is lifelong learning. It might also be a good approach in formal education in support of students’ thesis writing where students pursue a topic of their own choice. Also, I can see how an entire organisation that wants to keep ahead of the development within its particular trade and market can do so by adopting rhizomatic learning as the approach to gaining new knowledge.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?

Yes, I quite like the idea that the community can be the curriculum and that participants set their own learning goals, follow their own learning paths and build the curriculum together. Faculty development, which is my area, must be 100 % meaningful for participants. They immediately want to know how things can be adapted to and implemented in their specific context. With rhizomatic learning teachers can experiment, evaluate, revise and so forth or “probe, sense and respond” in their own particular context so that they are able to find approaches that work and to continuously improve these to fit the current situation.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?

The biggest difference between rhizomatic learning and current approaches is probably the element of learner autonomy with regards to learning goals, topics to study, how to study etc.

Many current approaches also offer some learner autonomy, but not as full scale as rhizomatic learning. Project pedagogy, for example, lets learners select a problem or challenge to work with. Learners have some autonomy with respects to finding relevant literature and deciding how to investigate the topic chosen, but the overall work method is predefined and a certain output is expected.

I also see some parallels between rhizomatic learning and action learning. Action learning is also about probing, sensing and responding in a certain context. Learners set their own goals and pursue these with the help of e.g. colleagues. The difference between action learning and rhizomatic learning is a.o. that action learning is “confined” to the work place. The focus is on actual work tasks and processes and how to improve the methods used or develop new ones. Action and reflection are key words.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

Working with faculty development, I often hear the phrase: “I don’t have the time to study new learning approaches, teaching methods or technologies”. Just the other day, I did a workshop on ePortfolios. One of the participants told me that it was excellent that people like me were employed at the university, so that we could study, summarise and disseminate relevant topics. Clearly a time saving set-up for faculty. So potential issues would be: allocating the time, setting your own learning goals and pursuing these in a dedicated manner, self-organisation skills, networking skills etc. Probably, the learning outcome of rhizomatic learning would be deeper than just doing a traditional course, but it would be more difficult to engage in rhizomatic learning because there is no framework, you are the only driving force.


Cormier, D. (2012). Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning in Formal Education. YouTube video. Available at


2 thoughts on “Activity 20: Exploring rhizomatic learning

  1. A theme I have noticed throughout your posts is nudging people out of their comfort zones in areas like dealing with less external structure, understanding that life long learning is essential to stay employable and the underlying theme of better able to cope with uncertainty. I have to agree that your university is very lucky to have you. It sounds like you have a large but important job of keeping your staff current with the times; never an easy job in any environment. People do tend to resist change-:).
    I have learned much from having you in my PLN, thank you.

    • Thanks Deb, for that very kind comment and also for giving an overview of some of the issues that I’ve been working with in this course. I did have a feeling that I kept returning to certain topcis, but haven’t been able myself to pinpoint it as well as you. I’m very fortunate to have an exciting job that I love and that keeps developing in new directions. I’ve gained much inspiration from participating in this Open Education MOOC. It’s actually my first encounter with open education and open learning technology. So being able to watch, read and learn from you and other experienced participants has been very rewarding indeed. I’m very happy to have you in my PLN as well 😉

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