The Rough Guide to Rhizomes

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As I was cycling home between taxis and showers I was trying to work out what made rhizomatic learning different. It discussed in previous posts it certainly shares a lot of common ground with other theories. As I skirted between a Ginsters van and a bus on Euston road, this following question occurred:

  • Is it best to learn with or without a defined curriculum?

Or, put more flippantly:

  • Is it better to have a guidebook or not?

A guidebook has its uses. If I’m visiting a city for the first time I like to know where the affordable hotels, restaurants and places of interest are. I also like to feel briefed about the local language, customs and transport infrastructure. It saves me a lot of shoe leather and embarrassment.

However, as I faithfully trail around the city clutching my guidebook I can’t help feeling that I’m missing out on something. By doing what I’m being told to, am I blind to the unexpected treasure lying off the beaten track? After all, it’s always nice to boast about that special thing that you stumbled upon (i.e. that other people didn’t).

In this, rhizomatic learning would seem to be at odds with threshold learning. In that theory someone who belongs to a discipline plots a route through the transformative concepts that enable others to experience that sense of belonging. In rhizomatic learning, there isn’t that map. No one is expected to be at A in the first place, let alone progress in an orderly fashion towards B. You are arriving in the city without a clue.

I’ve done this. Many years ago, a friend and I visited Jerusalem. We arrived on the Sabbath day, when the narrow streets were dark and deserted. We hadn’t booked a hotel. We hadn’t done any research. We simply booked travel and arrived. It was scary. It was also exhilarating. In the three days that we spent there we got an experience of Jerusalem that we never would have got on a tour. I don’t regret a moment of it.

Are we denying ourselves similar adventures by signing up to defined curricula, which lay everything out neatly for us? Forget about external factors such as validation or value for money, would I learn most by simply being with other people who also want to learn? Thinking in terms of my adopted discipline of art and design, would potential students be better off setting up a collective than enrolling at College? I’m starting to wonder.

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