So, Is This Rhizomatic? How About This?

No teacher

Terry Elliott asked an intriguing and rather pointed question yesterday (not surprising, if you know him) in the #Rhizo15 Twitter Stream: Forget the mumbojumbo theory about rhizomatic learning.

Where canĀ rhizomatic learning be seen in practice?


First, a definition, of sorts, by Dave Cormier:

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or Japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain … The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem.

I tried to get at this question from another angle the other day, with mentions of Inquiry Projects in the K-12 setting, but heck, even then, the teacher sets some guidelines and scaffolds the way forward, if only with structure. Inquiry-based learning has some rhizomatic flavors, but may not be full and true rhizomatic learning.

I wondered about the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the Connected Courses. Nope. Both were/are deeply planned in many ways, and while the invitation is to go your own way, if you desire, they are also a contained unit (6 weeks or so).

But the creation of the Daily Connect, which replicated the Daily Create (see below) emerged from a discussion on Twitter and became a collaborative brainstorming idea around ways to keep people connected with short activities. That was rhizomatic.

Push for Fun-1

I wondered about the RhizoRadio Play that a bunch of us created in the first week of Rhizomatic Learning, where a sketch of a skit on a blog post led to a global collaboration of writing and recording and publishing. Yep. That’s rhizomatic.

I started to think about the Headless DS106 course that I took last year (was it last year?) in which there seemed to be no real teacher and no real classroom. But even then, someone (Alan Levine, I think) was pulling the strings behind the screen … we had loose themes and loose tasks on a regular basis that sent us off into our own thing, like creating a DS106 radio show.

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

Ahhh, but this had me thinking DS106 and the Daily Creates. Each day, a new Daily Create is sent out and people can join in or not, share or not, connect or not. You follow your own path and your own inspiration, and can contribute ideas to future Daily Creates. You can access the entire library of Daily Creates online. And it never seems to end. The Daily Creates keep coming, day after day. I’m not sure we are teaching each other what we know, necessarily, but we are sharing what we have created in networked spaces, and inspiring imagination. I’d consider the Daily Create a rhizomatic learning activity.

So, that’s another one, perhaps.

Then I started to mull over how songs come to be adopted in the band (Duke Rushmore) that I play in. Sure, this is a non-traditional educational space — a rock and roll band — but we are always learning together. I am one of a few members who write songs for the band, and I always find bringing in a new song to the band to consider to be an interesting and challenging event.

Duke Rushmore

Just recently, another member has been working with a new song that he wrote. He had it all mapped out in his head — you play this, you play that, drums go like this, saxophone comes in here, vocals are inflected like this. He “heard” it. But reality was very different. We were all very hemmed in by his directions, and yet, we were respecting him as the artist with the vision. We tried. But. Something didn’t gel.

Then, two weeks ago, he gave up on us and almost on the song. He said, do you own thing. So, we sped the song up and began to unshackle ourselves from his vision of the song. And you know what? Over an hour or so, we began to collectively remake the song into a shared vision of music, and it was good. There was life to it. We all had a hand in the song’s re-creation, and that is making all of the difference in the world.

That’s rhizomatic learning. The roots take hold.

Peace (in the mulling),



  1. The dis/advantage of the rhizome tuber is that it gets tangled up and connects in/conveniently to everything and nothing. It may be an interesting picture for learning but, BUT what we are talking about is not necessarily so esoteric. Can we/should we get rid of dave? Pfff well we won’t. Can we get rid of the rhizome? Yes we CAN. Let’s just jam šŸ™‚

    • I already know that I have two defs of rhizome in me. One is an academic one, not very embodied. That is this Deleuze and Guatari language. It is handy for categorizing. In fact, I have used it as I am scouring the web for rhizomatic instances that you added to this morning (BTW, I created you a pad for your instance and put your link there. I hope you didn’t mind.

      The second def come from growing my own stuff including rhizomatic stuff like bamboo and mushrooms (shitake not the psychoactive kind ;)). The second def comes from movement and practice in the field that is sensified and embodied. Nature is the ultimate rhizomatic field. It is also a check to getting all twee about extending metaphors past the breaking point. Hard to break a pasture’s reality.

      So rhizomatic learning and teaching is, as the D&G crew says, a multiplicity, but for me it has to have that practicing element to it otherwise it is unembodied and dead. And that might just be me.

      Anti-spam today: “barky roo”: this is a new genetically modified organism created by…well, maybe we could be even more specialized and make poodle roos and corgi roos and pitroos and….

  2. Dunno what counts as jam.

    I am not sure D&G is really academic. It attracts academics but from what I pick up from interviews they are rather apart.

    Any way I adapt language to express what embodied means to me…

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