Rhizomatic Learning – Motivation for Participating

Rhizomatic Learning on P2PU, initiated by Dave Cormier is an opportunity to explore a topic that is paradoxically near and dear to my heart, and at the same time feels uncomfortable against the backdrop of formal education. I came to the field of education first through applied linguistics, finding myself drawn to social linguistics and then moving towards instructional design. I’m not sure these areas could be philosophically more different, but the juxtaposition through my career has been essential. I think the most important lesson in life, no matter what your profession is that context matters and that adapting one’s approach based on the situation at hand is critical for expertise. I’m being very surface level right now, because I know that one could conceptualize learning in some other organic metaphor besides a rhizome, but I think it works, particularly for trying to capture the nature of social learning, of the randomness but interconnectedness of experience, and the shape of nonformal learning. As Deleuze and Guattari note: “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.” A learner is always in progress, always in the learning process– there is no end.

That’s where the tension comes in. In formal learning, if one were to tell a student that there is no end, no mark of accomplishment, no grade, no graduation, no degree, this would not be particularly motivating (to most people). When planning out a learning experience, for learners who are learning for the sake and enjoyment of the learning process, of discovering something new, and of being inspired by these new findings, it doesn’t really matter what the desired learning outcomes are– the learner will define those themselves. But even the same individual might find this to be a fine approach for something that they are really motivated to learn about, but for other subject areas might want a more structured approach.

At any rate, these are my assumptions at the outset of this experience. I look forward to delving a bit more into the rhizome and seeing my ideas evolve. Thanks to Dave Cormier for assembling this experience!

Next post will be about Week 1’s topic– Cheating as learning.

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6 comments on “Rhizomatic Learning – Motivation for Participating
  1. It’s true that people’s motivation is tied to extrinsic rewards AS OF NOW but i keep wondering if we could unlearn that.

  2. I completely agree with your second paragraph here: it depends in large part on what one is studying and one’s motivation. For those who have to take certain courses, say, for a degree in university, where they don’t really care that much about the subject matter, if one doesn’t set objectives and give much structure, will people find their own? Maybe, if it means the difference between succeeding and failing, and if there’s enough freedom to do what one finds most interesting even in a subject that one isn’t that interested in (or at least, that one doesn’t think is that interesting until asked to focus on one’s own!). I don’t know if/how this would work exactly, but it seems at least possible? Or maybe they’ll feel too lost, given how they’re used to doing education from the past, and will give up and take something else instead.

    If there’s no pass/fail, no degree at all, then people will only take courses they’re interested in (like us with this rhizomatic course!), which is fine I think.

  3. htillber says:

    Dave- Thanks very much for your comment. Ultimately, it’s a mix of both, though, right?– both intrinsic and extrinsic. On some level, I see this as connected to disparities that start very early in one’s life. Those who see learning as a part of how one needs to be in the world, driven by curiosity will have different options in life than those who only see it connected to extrinsic rewards will have a different set of options and those who don’t connect with the idea of learning as “for them” — options are very limited in the current economic landscape. One could say that for social justice reasons, we have to do a better job of helping people unlearn that.

    Christina-Thanks also for your comment. Tying in with what I was commenting to Dave above, I guess I don’t see it as a necessarily bad thing to have very structured learning experiences where appropriate and informal learning where appropriate. I guess I also see where when educational experiences are very carefully structured, if that’s all students encounter– they’ll get really good at following directions, but not develop the skills to know how to explore topics of interest to themselves personally in a manner that truly takes advantage of the opportunities in today’s networked world.

  4. balimaha says:

    Hi there. I found myself nodding to a lot of the ideas you shared in your post above. I am particularly passionate about the importance of context, of not dismissing different learning formats even if they might not suit our context (I teach mainly other teachers, so rhizomatic learning would work well for that, but i imagine some introductory chemistry courses might have difficulty using it – not impossible, but difficult).
    But yes, of course only teaching in structured ways (as in much of formal education) does not allow people to develop creativity, initiative, etc. BUT we forget that people still find informal ways to educate themselves outaide what we formally plan… The lucky ones, anyway!
    In my PhD research, i was fascinated by the students who took such initiative despite social background that did not help them get there, intrinsically motivated despite the odds… I still don’t know because they couldn’t articulate it, but it might be worth pursuing scholarship and in primary research…

  5. jaapsoft2 says:

    My young nephew is only 3 years old and he wants to learn. He wants to learn because learning is interesting.
    Always asking questions, always busy with experiments, just learning.
    And after some years he will loose that drive, learning will become boring and a must.
    That is a problem for education…

    • htillber says:

      I have a daughter just about the same age. I could not agree more about that being a concern. Learning is just what little people do. It’s fascinating watching them figure out the world. I worry about anyone being robbed of the love of learning. Thanks for commenting!

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