How does your garden grow?

Rhizomatic learning is a concept first developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and later expanded by Dave Cormier. It takes as its starting metaphor the image of a Rhizome, the creeping rootstalk of a plant. It presents learning as a messy cat’s cradle of ideas that can be approached from any number of ways.

In Dave Cormier’s excellent blog posting on the subject he offers the following quote from Deleuze and Guattari:

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

He goes on suggest the qualities of successful learning:

  • Learning is making connections
  • Learning is a process of becoming
  • Learning changes how you see the world

So far, so conventional. However, the key distinctive quality of rhizomatic learning is that it has no fixed entry or exit point. As such, Cormier advocates an ‘open syllabus’ that provides a place for learning to occur but does not parcel up knowledge into discrete components. He describes this as a ‘garden space’.

This notion may not sit comfortably with modern educational institutions, which have moved in the direction of describing learning in more exact terms. It is difficult, for example, to imagine writing learning outcomes for a rhizomatic course. Perhaps that is why its advocates have seen the advent of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) as a more natural fit for their ideas.

So, does rhizomatic learning run counter to threshold concepts? Can learning be labelled? If so, does it become as robbed of animation as a butterfly pinned to a display?


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