Intro to Rhizomatic Learning

Having been through a lot of changes over the last few years my interest in how things develop or become stuck keeps coming up. Personally, I’ve found myself both not particularly adaptable and also impatient in being stuck in one place.

After working most of my life in building construction, health conditions pushed me over into working at a small college. First researching methods for transitioning face to face instructors to online course delivery and later to helping enter course material into the LMS. Much of my research was based on simply phoning faculty training offices and speaking to whoever was there. It was surprising to me that one story after another featured active resistance and instructor melt-downs which were remarkable reflections of my own life in change.

My curiosity continues, especially around how we can move forward with the following barriers in place:

  1. People are generally not comfortable with change and tend to sabotage their own growth for the comfort of the familiar
  2. My definition of “growth” is suspect because it seems based on a notion of “progress” that relies on doing the same things, but with different tools—fooling myself with newness
  3. How far into the unfamiliar can we reach and still process what we observe? If we become so disorientated we can’t function then what we discover may be meaningless.

This is the point at which I begin to think exploring rhizomes as a metaphor for learning kicks in. If it isn’t possible for me to make meanings on my own then it seems an obvious advantage to work in a group and tune up listening skills to extend my understandings. Over the last few years the groups I’ve been in at work taught me to not pay much attention. Being licensed in a couple of building sub-trades and also an avid life long learner has no currency in higher education. When I asked questions I was TOLD things, when I had observations I was TOLD things and when I challenged I was TOLD to leave. This of course doesn’t apply to everyone in education  but this unhesitating urge to rightness is certainly a barrier to change.

Have a copy of Deluze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. I’ve read a couple of pages here and there and don’t see a useful connection to the world I experience. Back when I was 18 or so their writing. Now I prefer to struggle with Psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, Philosopher Christian Smith or Writer Annie Dillard.


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  • balimaha  On January 13, 2014 at 10:36 PM

    Thanks for giving such a personal background. Some of the issues you discuss with regards to folks in education treating someone from a builder background still applies within academia in other forms – e.g. Attitudes towards faculty without PhDs, or adjuncts, or non-teaching staff, and often condescension towards students.
    I assume the ideas of rhizomatic learning do not necessarily occur spontaneously in the rigidity of academia, but when you put informal groups of ppl together to learn… Though academia can learn a lot from it, I think, especially for teaching adult learners.
    A side point; I like your method of calling ppl up. I have a PhD in education but i still prefer to call people up or pasd by their offices for a chat than doing formal research that might not necessarily give me what i want to know or make them comfortable enough to say it

    • scottx5  On January 14, 2014 at 12:13 AM

      The fact that academics are on my list of people to be disappointed with interests me. I’m sure Freud could resolve this obsession:-) Until I was out of school I hated school. After that I was right back at the door asking for all the classes I’d missed.
      My sense is education is crippled by too many expectations and no room to try anything beyond the crap people both say they didn’t like and then insist on for their kids as “genuine education.” Things I hear coming out of the college where Leslie works are the sort of things only damaged people would engage in and I wonder if this is actually a sign that things will change?
      In many ways I’m worried about teaching as a target and a victim of administrative, political and public stupidity. Change is hitting them hard and they have very few allies out there. You work with teachers Maha, would you consider a project in the rhizome MOOC around teacher training and adapting to change? My encounters with teachers were quite interesting once they could shed some stress. Anyway, a number of members of my family are or were teachers and though I became tired of being told I didn’t know anything it’s also sign of defensiveness.
      Calling people was partly necessary because my position at the college as a casual didn’t allow me access to the library and all those dreary journals never were visited by me:-) Being without status helped too as people would open up to a conversation without fear of saying the wrong thing.
      See you in class and thanks for the continuing comments.

  • Jack  On January 14, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    Hi Scott. I like the rhizome analogy. As a Special Ed teacher I have to get students to make their own investment, their own engagement. As a teacher teacher, I’ve had to demotivate teachers in order to get them to pay attention to students struggling with with the material, often because the teacher is just moving on too quickly. If the teacher has no investment in helping the the ( often) bottom 2/3 of students, those students can only progress by making their own way . . . Hard to do!

    • scottx5  On January 14, 2014 at 8:44 PM

      Hey Jack, kind of ironic that the students at the bottom are the ones that need to create their own learning systems while the teachers swoon over the “top” students:-) As a C student I worked really hard to keep up and it may have been a favor to be ignored. Trouble with that nice little observation is my being in the upper middle class in a neighborhood full of professors and other interesting people. Has to be a better way to organize this? Thanks for the comment.

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