29 April 2013

Rhizomatic non-learning

I've justed watched a video on "rhizomatic learning" set as part of the OU MOOC Online Education.

The "course" proceeded to ask four questions, and suggest that we answer then on our blogs.
  1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?
  2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
  3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
  4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?
So here's my answers:

Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?

No.  One of the most important rules of knowledge and understanding is that if you can't explain something, you don't understand it.  Cormier singularly failed to explain anything about what rhizomatic learning actually means.  He explained the roots of the analogy, but failed to explain how that maps on to pedagogy.  It is hard enough to be convinced of something that you don't understand, and it's harder still to be convinced of something that isn't understood by its leading proponents.

Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?

No.  Until I actually know what it is, I have no way of picturing such a process. All I know is that it "deals with uncertainty", but all good teachers already do that.  I already try to give my students strategies to deal with unknown language, including guiding them to understanding how to determine what is an important word, and which words can safely be ignored without losing the main thrust of the sentence.  If that's "rhizomatic learning", then the term is pretty trivial and meaningless, because it's already common practice.  If that's not rhizomatic learning, then rhizomatic learning is unnecessary.

How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?

Rhizomatic learning appears to be fundamentally very similar to other recent approaches in that it builds a complex and intriguing narrative to capture the imagination and build a following, but it gives no concrete, reproducible guidelines or anything approaching "information".

What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?

Simple: you'd have to figure what the hell they were talking about before you started.

Don't get me wrong: the philosophical notion of the rhizome is a very useful conceptual tool when analysing large bodies of data, and it gives an interesting way of looking at learning schemata, but the thing is that the rhizome is an attempt to explain the underlying conceptual structure of information, and not a model of the learning process.  It can and should inform the teaching process, and it does provide a philosophical counterpoint to a hardline belief in a single "correct" order of teaching, but this alone does not justify it as a direct model of the learning process.

In fact, Cormier doesn't even seem to talk about the central point of the rhizome paradigm: the interconnectedness of knowledge.  Instead he veers back off into networked learning, and instead of the "rhizome" representing the culture connecting various visible phenomena, its something connecting people as nodes of information

And this leads us to the biggest contradiction in the connectivist pedagogical ideology: Cormier talks briefly about the qualities of MOOCs (and by this he means "connectivist learning") and he talks about self-organised groups learning from each other ("the community is the syllabus").  But we naturally self-organise into groups with shared interests and philosophies.  To use an extreme example, people who believe that the Earth is flat are more likely to be members of the Flat Earth Society than members of their local astronomical society.  Their network therefore contains information that is objectively and scientifically verifiably incorrect, and the network reinforces the belief of all members.

If a course was to be written that brought together a bunch of educators that were predisposed to believe in the untested, unverifiable and barely defined theories of a bunch of educational ideologues, would we not similarly find that the "truth" within their network would be very different from the "truth" in the global network, or indeed the actual truth (as much as there is) in the peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals...?

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