In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 5

complexityWhat if? Could it be that…? It is impossible, but still: why not try to…? These have been some of my starting questions throughout the exploratory processes of this series concerned with what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. While suggesting that rhizomatic learning could be such a pedagogy of abundance, I have taken on the challenge put forward by Martin Weller in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance. (Weller 2011:232-233)

My exploration has intendedly been processes of experimentation and of developing knowledge about rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy, whereas I have not been that interested in discussing the way Dave Cormier has adopted, adapted and rewritten the theories of Deleuze and Guattari in his vision of rhizomatic learning. Others have done that. But the exploratory processes and the ongoing questioning also mean that I have been presenting views, assumptions and perspectives on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance – views, assumptions and perspectives that are up for evaluation throughout this series.

It might be provoking that my voice hasn’t been a firm, authoritative academic voice, present at once, when it comes to rhizomatic learning in this series. That is what we are used to, and maybe implicitly expect in blogposts, too, even though the blog as genre is a genre that foregrounds processuality and ongoing reflection – a space of construction, experimentation and improvement. But I have rephrased views earlier on in this series, I have tried out how far similarities between networked learning and rhizomatic learning might vouch for rhizomatic learning being a variation of networked learning, and I have focused on communities of practice, serendipity and bricolage as important aspects of ‘community’ and ‘networking’ in rhizomatic learning. I’m going to evaluate and rephrase these aspects that I have attributed to rhizomatic learning once more, while stating that rhizomatic learning is not a version of networked learning.

Exploration is exploring an area over time for new possibilities, experimenting while building up a knowledge base, and sometimes acquiring new knowledge through serendipity or through searching for interesting problems, (Darsø 2001:76). My exploratory approach in this series has been about asking curious questions, trying out hypotheses and making mistakes, then starting out somewhere else and eventually having to reconsider my previous analysis and viewpoints and assumptions once again. Much along the same line that Michelle Knobel and Judy Kalman point out teachers need to go:

Creativity and change require an ability to brave the unknown and a willingness to try, rethink and redo…While it is widely recognized that failure is an integral part of learning, it is often not welcome or ignored in professional development context or classrooms. Teachers have to be at ease with mistakes and taking risks when trying to learn something new; they’re also well served by appreciating what making mistakes and trying to correct them means for their students. Placing teachers in the learners’ seat is as much a part of their professional development as is theorizing education, critiquing policy, or analyzing practices. (Knobel and Kalman 2016:15)

Knobel and Kalman write about teachers’ professional development but to me this is also very much becoming the practical precondition for taking on Weller’s claim and exploring pedagogies of abundance. And when it comes to discussing pedagogies and necessary skills in an era of knowledge abundance, this is also what the researchers introduced in this series all recommend: rethink, reexamine, reimagine, recast, evaluate, update, redo the existing pedagogies and our models of learning and teaching to suit a world of knowledge abundance embracing digital media and new social and cultural practices.

Two pedagogies dealing with community, networks, complexity

The pedagogies and learning theories that are up for consideration as pedagogies and learning approaches of abundance all focus on collaborative, networked and distributed learning, and as social and situated pedagogies and learning theories they foster and build on self-directed learning and participatory culture. That counts for rhizomatic learning and networked learning, too. So there are a great many similarities between rhizomatic learning and networked learning, and in this series I wanted to challenge my understanding of what rhizomatic learning is as a pedagogy by comparing it to networked learning, taking off from a broader conception of open networked learning as it is presented by Kop, Fournier and Mak (2011)(see Part 1 of this series).

This broader and descriptive conception unfolds a perspective that includes connectivism as networked learning and shows an understanding of networked learning that is not compatible with the dominating understanding of networked learning as a theory, pedagogy and practices according to Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen who distinguish between connectivism and networked learning (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:44-45). I introduced this dominating understanding of networked learning in Part 4 of this series, and it places rhizomatic learning – where each learner brings his/her context and has his/her own needs as a starting point – as a parallel to connectivism as a pedagogy and approach to learning that is not included in networked learning, and so rhizomatic learning is not a variation of (open) networked learning, although I claimed that in Part 1 and Part 4 of this series.

Despite the fact that rhizomatic learning and networked learning are having keywords, concepts and educational values in common, they are not the same and must be seen as two distinct theories with pedagogies and practices that in many ways respond similarly to societal developments and changes in education, teaching and learning. In his video “Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning” (2012) Dave Cormier in fact comments on many people’s assumptions that rhizomatic learning is networked learning and agrees to some degree that they look the same, but he also maintains that they are not. And I agree with him, but my comparison with networked learning – starting with my asking “What if?”, “Could it be that…?” – has made visible where some of the challenges might occur when choosing rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance in a campus-based course integrating online-learning. The theory, pedagogy and practice of rhizomatic learning certainly resisted being forced into the pedagogical framework of networked learning. This calls for a few precisions, definitions and comments in order to see rhizomatic learning and networked learning as two distinct theories, pedagogies and practices that in each their way are responding to an emerging new model of education (see Part 1 of this series) and a shift to an era of knowledge abundance.

Networks and community are equally important to rhizomatic learning and networked learning, and in my presentation of Dave Cormier’s campus-based course integrating online-learning drawing on his e-book “Making the community the curriculum” (2016) in Part 2, I saw a community of practice as the framework that can give direction to the learning processes initiated by the rhizome as a metaphor for the learning process. I listened to Dave Cormier presenting his idea of the rhizome, and in the embedded video “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC” (2013) I heard him point to a community of practice as the kind of community he works with. I listened many times and I quoted what I heard. But I must have been wrong. Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have kindly told me that Dave Cormier is not promoting a community of practice in his theory or pedagogy but just a community, and it is true that Cormier usually doesn’t define what he means by community in his writings or in his talks on video (Bell, Mackness & Funes 2016). So I have to admit that most places where I have written ‘communities of practice’ in relation to rhizomatic learning in this series it should have said ‘community’ in order to be true to Cormier’s way of conceiving rhizomatic learning. Nevertheless, the descriptions of the campus-based course integrating online-learning and the way the community is integrated into the learning processes introduced in the e-book still look very much like the practices of a community of practice to me.

A statement that definitely differentiates rhizomatic learning from networked learning is the comment I quoted in Part 2 of this series: “First rule of community learning is to give up control…” (A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC (2013) – embedded in Making the community the curriculum (2016)). It is a comment that in many ways is provokingly in opposition to the pedagogical values of networked learning as they are introduced in Part 4 of this series. The resistance to conformity that is inherent in rhizomatic learning as a learning approach became visible when I tried to fit the four cornerstones of rhizomatic learning into the design and processuality of a facilitated learning process much more consistent with networked learning (see Part 2 of this series). When dealing with education the rhizomatic way, students have to develop an understanding of the learning process they are going through while they are going through it, Dave Cormier says:

  • Students have to understand what they are looking for when joining the course.
  • Students have to take it upon themselves to engage and to continue to grow.
  • Students have to choose and to make a syllabus for themselves through connecting, responding and collaborating.
  • Students have to understand what it is to learn and what it is to know in a subject matter or a discipline and to be able to make decisions about how to create their own learning within that process.

So when I asked for a learning process that is facilitating, modelling and scaffolding students to get to know and understand what it is to learn, what it is to know and negotiate meaning, and what counts as knowledge in a discipline or a subject matter, I was in accordance with networked learning, whereas Dave Cormier clearly promotes self-directed learning right from the beginning of the learning process.

Networks play an equally important part of the understanding of learning in rhizomatic learning and networked learning, but as social and distributed theories they differ in their understanding of what a network is. The rhizome is a special kind of network that is non-linear, multi-perspective, heterogeneous and growing in any direction. But in part 1 I already added two concepts, serendipity and bricolage, to my description of the rhizome, knowing that none of them are part of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing. I did it to emphasize the chances of discovering new people, unknown resources, innovating ideas and knowledge through networking and thus describe the rhizome as a network that spreads via experimentation in a context, as Dave Cormier has put it in his talk “Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic learning” (2012). This way the rhizome as a network combines the processes of networking with connecting knowledge in ever changing constellations, in assemblages with no entry point and no exit point. This exploratory aspect of networking is crucial to understanding the rhizome as the motor in rhizomatic learning when it comes to creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. Apparently it is a self-perpetuating process once it has started but a process that may at the same time underexpose and overexpose the node in the processes of connecting ideas, people, resources and knowledge. It might almost seem more important to connect than what and who you connect with or where, when, how and why you connect.

When I called for a kind of balance between networks and community in Part 4 of this series, it turned out to be one of the aspects where rhizomatic learning resists my comparison with networked learning:

“But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction.“

After all, the balance between networks and community I advocate here is more a balance of networked learning – assuming that the community is existing prior to the learning process – than that of rhizomatic learning, as rhizomatic learning leaves room for smaller groups or individuals to break away. The community is not necessarily a stable group but an emergent grouping formed on the basis of interest and a result of ongoing networking in rhizomatic learning.

Networked learning makes room for several types of network theories within the framework of the theory, but social network analysis (SNA) might be at the centre as with Maarten de Laat when he defines “learning as a social network relationship” in Part 4 of this series (De Laat 2012:27; Haythornthwaite & De Laat 2010). With its focus on strong and weak ties social network analysis is integrated in De Laat’s definition of networked learning as a perspective: “…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for learning and development…” (De Laat 2012:26). In Part 4 I also focused on personal learning networks as a road to collaboration and participation in networked learning, but I think it is important to add the distinctions Haythornthwaite and De Laat make when  individual’s personal learning networks are integrated in a learning network as it is intended seen from a networked learning perspective. They add the two social network terms ‘ego-centric networks’ and ‘whole networks’. The ego-centric network is a personal network seen from the individual’s point of view and has the learner at the centre of the network as presented in part 4, and the term was also used by Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep as a synonym for the personal learning network in their article presented in Part 4:

Considering the network from the learner’s perspective provides a view of who they learn from (beyond peers), but also where conflicts in understanding may come from (e.g., unvetted online resources). It also reveals the conflicting – or complementary – demands on individuals… (Haythornthwaite and De Laat 2010:189)

On the other hand, the whole network view opens up to insights into how information and learning is occurring across a set of people, and this view is what we usually associate with social network analysis (SNA):

A whole network perspective provides a view of the entire structure, and thus of the ‘character’ of the network to which an individual belongs. Is the network collaborative: e.g., do most or all people freely share information, engage in discussion, or help search for information? Is the network divided into cliques, and if so on what basis (information hoarding? different interests? separate tasks?). Perhaps the most important contribution to SNA is this whole network view that takes the results of pair-wise connections to describe what holds the network together. As we begin to use SNA to examine and reveal learning networks, we are just at the beginning of understanding how and what makes for the kind of network outcomes we desire. (Haythornthwaite & De Laat 2010:189)

Social network analysis is not only a matter for educators but also for students to become aware of, and so both the skills, the competencies and the understanding of how to build and maintain ego-centric networks (personal learning networks) and how to use the social network analysis perspective must be part of what students know about networks and networking seen from a networked learning perspective. So here networked learning is much more specific than rhizomatic learning about what networks, networking literacies and learning literacies are and what must be integrated in a pedagogy of abundance. The way networks are applied in practice in rhizomatic learning and networked learning differ due to the differences in the conception of networks in the two learning theories. And still, I would like serendipity, bricolage and a bit of messiness to become part of social networking in networked learning in order to accentuate the necessity for diversity, inquiry and exploration if learning is going to happen and new knowledge to evolve.

I have tried to keep my own exploration open and running for as long as possible. My comparison between rhizomatic learning and networked learning has tended to join the two learning theories and pedagogies together to an extend that has more or less merged the two into one and the same in Part 4 of this series, until my exploration collapsed. It happened when I made the impossible attempt to merge in the design principles of rhizomatic learning with the principles and goals of networked learning. It is a paragraph of absurd prose.

And although I’m now ripping the bonds apart, there is yet another keyword that rhizomatic learning and networked learning have in common: complexity. Dealing with change, uncertainty and complexity are equally concerns and backdrops for the two learning theories. In this post-modern or late modern context complexity can be seen as a trend in education that is closely connected to seeing fluidity, contingency and emergence as characteristics of the post-modern or late modern which also changes the understanding of what counts as knowledge: knowledge is dynamic, continuously changing and emergent. This understanding of knowledge is based on complexity theory that stresses non-linearity, unpredictability and disorder as normal conditions, and as a consequence knowledge can be characterized as 1) indeterminate, 2) emergent and self-organizing, 3) both-and, 4) dominated by uncertainty, 5) emphasizing potentiality, and 6) working in a participatory universe (Darsø 2001:91).

I presented Maarten de Laat’s call for ‘New learning’ in Part 4:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-slide1Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices (2015)

and in her talk “New Metaphors for Networked Learning”  (2016) Caroline Haythornthwaite also advocates for opening up to complexity at many levels of education, stating that “Structure giving way to complexity”. She sees complexity as one of a number of trends that are at work simultaneously and have effects on learning, information dissemination and knowledge production (Haythormthwaite 2015:294).

Both De Laat and Haythornthwaithe respond to the challenges in Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance from a networked learning perspective and embrace change and complexity in both learning and education to meet these challenges. In many ways Caroline Haythornthwaite is complementary to Martin Weller’s model when she puts forward her view on the impact of social and technical changes on emergent models of knowledge and practice:

The dynamic and emergent nature of our media and learning spaces reformulates questions away from what is the best structure, system, or set of facts to address a problem to how to plan for complexity, be prepared for emergent factors, and continue to evolve and use a knowledge base. This changes the orientation from: closed systems and communities to open systems and crowds; information retrieval to contribution; individual – to – social learning; individual – to – community knowledge-building (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 2006); authority-defined knowledge and practice – to – peer knowledge and practice; following a class syllabus and being in a class to defining the content of the class and what it means to be in a class (Paulin & Haythornthwaite, in press)./This is not a call for a clean sweep of past questions and practices. These have worked well for many years and continue to be important ways of learning and knowledge building. But, like the complexity brought about by the interplay of contemporary new media trends, learning practices also have become more complex. (Haythornthwaite 2015:302)

Likewise Dave Cormier has sharpened his perspective on complexity in his recent talk “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). When discussing how and why rhizomatic learning is supporting complexity in a world of abundance Cormier positions rhizomatic learning as an ‘answer’ to my inquiry about what a pedagogy of abundance might look like:

And still, despite the resemblances and the parallels in keywords, concepts and educational values, the question of what counts as knowledge is exactly where it becomes evident to me, that rhizomatic learning is not a variation of networked learning. So it is time to break off the experiment of comparison and introduce a change of perspective in my exploration while asking: how is rhizomatic learning working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and how is complexity linked to the aim of being a pedagogy that promotes and fosters new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge and innovation in a world of abundance. This is also a matter of what counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning.

Knowledge and knowledge management in an era of knowledge abundance

In an era of knowledge abundance and knowledge being connected through digital media, knowledge management becomes an important aspect of learning and education. How to find, handle, interpret, validate, negotiate, create, improve, apply and share information and knowledge through connecting , communication and collaboration with online resources, experts, peers, networks, communities and communities of practice is essential in the processes of knowledge creation, I wrote in Part 1 of this series. And in his e-book “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015) Tony Bates adds that knowledge management is perhaps the most overarching skill needed in the 21st century, as “Knowledge is not only rapidly changing with new research, new developments, and rapid dissemination of ideas and practices over the Internet, but the sources of information are increasing, with a great deal of variability in the reliability or validity of information.” (Bates 2015:19). And this is a double challenge to any pedagogy of abundance, I would say.  But there are different views of what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and how knowledge is validated depending on the domain, the discipline or the subject matter in question. So Bates agrees with the view on knowledge as dynamic, expanding and constantly changing which has been introduced by Maarten De Laat, Caroline Haythornthwaite and Dave Cormier. But Bates resists the idea advocated by among others Dave Cormier that the nature of knowledge has undergone radical changes (Bates 2015:62).

As a backdrop for understanding what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and how knowledge is validated in rhizomatic learning, I’ll dwell on Tony Bates’ arguments about knowledge and academic knowledge in a digital age. While discussing academic versus applied knowledge in his book, Bates comments: “The difficulty I have with the broad generalisations about the changing nature of knowledge is that there have always been different kinds of knowledge…Thus while beliefs about what constitutes ‘important’ knowledge may be changing, this does not mean that the nature of academic knowledge is changing.” (Bates 2015:62). And Bates develops his arguments:

I agree that academic knowledge is different from everyday knowledge, but I challenge the view that academic knowledge is ‘pure’, not applied. It is too narrow a definition, because it thus excludes all the professional schools and disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, law, business, education that ‘apply’ academic knowledge. These are just as accepted and ‘valued’ parts of universities and colleges as the ‘pure’ disciplines of humanities and science…(Bates 2015:62-63)

These arguments are also met within the views on new production of knowledge by Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny et al as they promote two modes of knowledge production: Mode 1 and Mode 2. Mode 1 is focused within a particular discipline, produces knowledge in the absence of interested parties (autonomy), is an individual matter with criteria of one particular discipline (peer reviewed publications, peers and experts as gatekeepers in relation to relevant problems, ideas and research techniques in the discipline, making quality and control two sides of the same coin while establishing an understanding of what good or ‘correct’ research is inside that particular discipline). Mode 1 is associated with ‘traditional’ research in universities and higher education, but it is also an ideal of knowledge production that is already taught in K-12 schools.

Mode 2 is focused on application in practice. Mode 2 knowledge production is set in a web of co-producers coming from different disciplines, domains and contexts, and Mode 2 is centered on the usefulness for the involved parties and for the society in general, so heterogenous groups of professionals, practitioners and experts collaborate on problems defined in a specific but complex context of application and people. This makes Mode 2 a collective phenomenon with a wider set of criteria that is not grounded in a normative understanding of what good or ‘correct’ research is, but has to be evaluated from several parameters of quality due to the heterogenous group of people involved and their different norms of quality. So Mode 2 is transdisciplinary and heterogenous. Mode 2 knowledge production is taking place not only at universities and colleges but also in contexts like professions, businesses, research centres, libraries, museums, trades and ministries (Darsø 2001:126-127; Hobel, Nielsen, Thomsen and Zeuner 2015:14-16).

As in Tony Bates’ discussion of academic versus applied knowledge, Mode 1 and Mode 2 are to be seen as modes of knowledge production supplementing each other. Mode 1 has not become obsolete, and it is still needed and has its role to play in knowledge production in an era of knowledge abundance. Mode 2 knowledge is to be considered just as valid as Mode 1 knowledge. And the two of them are interdependent on many occasions. The production of Mode 1 knowledge is obviously associated with academic knowledge which is a specific kind of knowledge according to Tony Bates:

“In summary, academic knowledge is a second order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalization based on reasoning and evidence.

Fundamental components of academic knowledge are:

  • transparency
  • codification
  • reproduction, and
  • communicability.

Transparency means that the source can be traced and verified. Codification means that the knowledge can be consistently represented in some form (words, symbols, videos) that enables interpretation by someone other than the originator. Knowledge can be reproduced or have multiple copies. Lastly knowledge must be in a form such that it can be communicated and challenged by others.” (Bates 2015:61)

When it comes to academic knowledge, Bates argues that although some aspects of knowledge do change in a digital age where knowledge is dynamic, expanding and ever changing as quoted earlier, academic knowledge does not and should not change a lot with regards to its values and goals. But Bates has his eyes on the necessity for the students of today to learn not only content but also how it can be applied and used and to develop the skills that are needed to go on learning (Bates 2015:61). Knowledge involves, Bates says, “…two strongly inter-linked but different components: content and skills. Content includes facts, ideas, principles, evidence and descriptions of processes and procedures.” (Bates 2015:18), while skills are consisting of the skills that are required in a knowledge-based society – also known as 21st century skills and presented in the model of 21st century learning in Part 3 of this series.  To Bates the point is that the development of skills should be given the same attention as content acquisition so that learners have both the knowledge and the skills to handle and succeed in an era of knowledge abundance (Bates 2015:19). And as mentioned earlier: knowledge management is the most important skill of them all.

So Bates wants to develop the conception of academic knowledge, but he doesn’t see it as redundant or as a kind of knowledge that can be replaced by self-directed learning and networking (Bates 2015:66). Here Bates’ view almost echoes the view on past and emergent models of knowledge and practice presented by Caroline Haythornthwaithe earlier. Mode 1 knowledge has to go hand in hand with Mode 2 knowledge, and likewise learning has to be a combination of content, skills and competencies, and attitudes. At least this is how I read Tony Bates, and that is the reason why “…it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not). It is equally important also to enable students to develop the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills. All this is needed because of the explosion in the quantity of knowledge in any professional field that makes it impossible to memorise or even be aware of all the developments that are happening in the field, and the need to keep up-to-date within the field after graduating.” (Bates 2015:63).

What counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning?

What counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning? How is rhizomatic learning working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters, and does it make innovation happen? Looking at rhizomatic learning as a model for knowledge production suited for an era of ever changing knowledge, knowledge management becomes a core theme closely connected to the question of how we know what we know. And while Tony Bates equally emphasizes Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge as important forms of knowledge in an era of knowledge abundance, supplementing each other, Dave Cormier focuses on Mode 2 knowledge and knowledge production as a collective phenomenon while he is in alignment with the view of knowledge introduced in Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance (see Part 1 of this series):

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

In his much cited article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008) Dave Cormier supports this view due to its promotion of new technology, web 2.0 and participatory culture:

The existing educational model with its expert-centered pedagogical planning and publishing cycle is too static and prescribed to accommodate the kind of fluid, transitory conception of knowledge that is necessary to understand the simplest of Web-based concepts. The ephemeral nature of the Web and the rate at which cutting-edge knowledge about it and on it becomes obsolete disrupts the painstaking process by which knowledge has traditionally been codified. Traditional curricular domains are based on long accepted knowledge, and the “experts” in those domains are easily identified by comparing their assertions with the canon of accepted thought (Banks 1993);…In less-traditional curricular domains then, knowledge creators are not accurately epitomized as traditional, formal, verified experts; rather, knowledge in these areas is created by a broad collection of knowers sharing in the construction and ongoing evolution of a given field. Knowledge becomes a negotiation (Farrell 2001). (Cormier 2008)

Tony Bates discussion of academic knowledge, Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge echoes in Cormier’s writing, and while supporting Weller’s claim for a changing view on knowledge, Cormier especially opposes the rules of transparency, codification and communicability as aspects of reliability and validity of information and knowledge in traditional academic knowledge management:

New communication technologies and the speeds at which they allow the dissemination of information and the conversion of information to knowledge have forced us to reexamine what constitutes knowledge; moreover, it has encouraged us to take a critical look at where it can be found and how it can be validated. The explosion of freely available sources of information has helped drive rapid expansion in the accessibility of the canon and in the range of knowledge available to learners. (Cormier 2008)

Thus the foundations upon which we are working are changing as well as the speed at which new information must be integrated into those foundations. The traditional method of expert translation of information to knowledge requires time: time for expertise to be brought to bear on new information, time for peer review and validation. In the current climate, however, the delay could make the knowledge itself outdated by the time it is verified (Evans and Hayes 2005; Meile 2005)…Information is coming too fast for our traditional methods of expert verification to adapt. (Cormier 2008)

In favour of Mode 2 knowledge production Dave Cormier also goes along with a change to a more participatory and socially constructed view of knowledge: “In particular, social learning practices are allowing for a more discursive rhizomatic approach to knowledge discovery. Social learning is the practice of working in groups, not only to explore an established canon but also to negotiate what qualifies as knowledge.” (Cormier 2008). Here Cormier proposes his view of knowledge: knowledge is dynamic, emergent and ever changing – a view that is grounded in the rhizome as a more flexible conception of knowledge for the digital age. So in the theoretical arguments framing rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance, the rhizome is both 1) a conception of knowledge (what knowledge is), 2) a specific kind of network (what it means to know), and 3) a metaphor for learning in a specific context (what it means to learn). And so, as a multi-perspective metaphor, the rhizome cristallizes as a metaphor for “coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge.” (Cormier 2008). Cormiers answer to this condition of uncertainty is to focus on complex problems and collaborative problem-solving that match the complexity and uncertainty of rapidly changing knowledge and the abundance of ideas, resources, people and practices online.

Through the solving of complex problems that call for networking and collaborative interaction while experimenting, developing and co-creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge, Cormier challenges authoritarian and hierarchical ways of thinking and claims to replace the canon and the curriculum of a discipline or subject matter with interpretations, negotiations, peer-defined knowledge and practice, and with diverse and changing perspectives on complex problems set in a complex situation and context. The idea of the tree as knowledge is substituted for the idea of weed as knowledge as Cormier expresses it in his talk “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Stressing the processuality of rhizomatic learning this way, Cormier emphasizes that knowledge is not a thing but a result of negotiation and a way of knowing. And so Dave Cormier tries to save knowing from becoming a fixed canon of ‘pure’ content. It is this dichotomy between ‘pure’ and applied knowledge Tony Bates offers resistance to in “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015), and in a sense Cormier tries to overcome the dichotomy when he adopts Dave Snowden’s The Cynefin Framework as the complexity model he connects to and combines with his own conception of knowledge in order to establish a vision of learning: rhizomatic learning works in the complex domain of The Cynefin Framework.

As a complexity model The Cynefin Framework presents four “domains of knowledge all of which have validity within different contexts” (Snowden 2002:11), and in an early article Snowden announces that “It is about creating focused dynamic interactions between traditional and unexpected sources of knowledge to enable the emergence of new meaning and insight.” (Snowden 2002:3). Knowledge is not just to be considered a thing but also to be managed as flow, “…as an ephemeral, active process of relating.” (Snowden 2002:5-6). So as a complexity model The Cynefin Framework works with both-and, with paradox:

Philosophers have long seen paradox as a means of creating new knowledge and understanding. Physicists breaking out of the Newtonian era have had to accept that electrons are paradoxically both waves and particles – if you look for waves, you see waves, if you look for particles, you see particles. Properly understood knowledge is paradoxically both a thing and a flow…we look for both in different ways and embrace the consequent paradox. (Snowden 2002:7)

This sounds familiar to me, there is alignment with the ideas of rhizomatic learning, and in fact there is also a paradox entangled in the rhizomatic learning process: students following their own paths like rhizomes while getting accustomed to lines of flight and flow. As I wrote in Part 3 of this series an important aspect of rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy is that in many ways it turns the ‘end goals’ of a traditional learning process into its starting point: as a student you need to know what you have come in to learn when you enter the rhizomatic learning process, but to know what you have come in to learn implies critical thinking, reflection and independence, and that is paradoxically also what and why you have come in to learn. By introducing non-linearity in the form of the rhizome as a metaphor for learning in an experimenting, multi-nodal, multi-directional, multi-perspective and participatory way, learning itself becomes a complex system that is a network of many interdependent parts which interact according to the context.

A parallel can be found in Dave Snowden’s article where he describes the processes of the complex domain this way:

By increasing information flow, variety and connective-ness either singly or in combination, we can break down existing patterns and create the conditions under which new patterns will emerge, although the nature of emergence is not predictable. (Snowden 2002:16).

It is these processes of grasping relationships and recognizing changes in culture, Dave Cormier tries to initiate by describing the phases of the students’ self-directed learning processes as 1) orient, 2) declare, 3) network, 4) cluster, and 5) focus (Cormier 2015). The unpredictability of the non-linear dynamic exploration and connection of knowledge, people, resources and ideas is kept in a kind of balance by a sense of insight and temporary order through working in informal communities (cluster) and focusing on the complex problems and challenges chosen in order to co-create new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. But there are also traces of the domain of chaos in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy: it is the uncharted domain focusing on new and innovative knowledge and working through temporary communities (Snowden 2002:10-13).

The complex domain is a domain of informal learning according to Snowden: “…we create ecologies in which the informal communities of the complex domain can self-organise and self-manage their knowledge to transfer to the formal, knowable [complicated] domain on a just in time basis.” (Snowden 2002:19). And ‘just in time’ requires openness to networks. But when Snowden in his article insists on keeping a connection between complex and complicated, informal and formal, and between learning and teaching when it comes to an educational context, Cormier focuses wholeheartedly on the complex domain and students following their own pathways in his introductions to rhizomatic learning in the video talks embedded in this series.

That is, Dave Snowden is intensely concerned about the exchange and flow of knowledge between the four domains in his complexity model, while – although he recognizes the dialogue between the complex and the complicated domains – Dave Cormier seems to see the complex domain as an alternative to the ‘traditional’ knowledge production in the complicated domain as he writes in his article:

If a given bit of information is recognized as useful to the community or proves itself able to do something, it can be counted as knowledge. The community, then, has the power to create knowledge within a given context and leave that knowledge as a new node connected to the rest of the network. (Cormier 2008)

Informal learning is connected to the complex domain in Dave Snowden’s complexity model, and his vision of the community is associated with clustering – communities being based on mutual interest – and with swarming like in swarming bees as an alternative that “is used where no naturally occurring cluster can be found, either to create a cluster or to make one visible.” (Snowden 2002:21). Snowden’s conceptualizations match Cormier’s emphasis on initiating informal learning through introduction to an existing professional community where students can participate, and the processes of clustering and swarming, forming temporary communities, look very similar to the learning approach of rhizomatic learning that the student has to adapt and perform in order to learn what he/she has come in to learn: 1) orient, 2) declare, 3) network, 4) cluster, and 5) focus. I think the answer to why community is not to be understood as a community of practice in rhizomatic learning can be found here: the metaphor of swarming, the idea of clustering and the heterogeneity and temporary existence of them both goes against the idea of what a community of practice is in The Cynefyn Framework: a community based on known membership and known objectives and belonging to the complicated domain, not the complex. So social learning has a special meaning in rhizomatic learning as it connects students following their own pathways into clusters for a while where the processes of knowledge production and negotiation of meaning causes learning based on a social constructivist view of learning.

Aiming at bringing the knowledge flow of complexity at work in a pedagogical and educational context, rhizomatic learning has an affinity with Dave Snowden’s thinking – and not with networked learning – as it becomes very visible with Snowden’s characterization of The Cynefin Framework:

…an idealised model of knowledge flow involving three key boundary transitions – the disruption of entrained thinking, the creation and stimulation of informal communities and the just in time transfer of knowledge from informal to formal.(Snowden 2002:18)

But in his visions for learning Dave Cormier at the same time sketches what he sees as a key issue for a pedagogy and a practice that incapsulates the conditions of complexity in a digital age: “…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015). In Cormier’s world abundance is synonymous with fact checking and how to-videos online, with foundational knowledge and surveys a few clicks away, as he presents it in his talk “The rhizomatic lense –seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Abundance understood as the explosion in the quantity of knowledge – stressing heterogeneity and a diversity of knowledge, ideas, resources and people being available – is what is associated with complexity in Cormier’s world, and that is what qualifies rhizomatic learning to be seen as a pedagogy of abundance according to Martin Weller’s educational model of education (see Part 1).

This focus on knowledge production, on the other hand, calls for a pedagogical attention to teaching students how to be sure they enter and stay in the complex domain, and this has all to do with acquiring skills, competencies and meta knowledge about knowledge management, I think. In the complex domain both problems and solutions are ambiguous, so you’ll have to ask not just good questions but complex questions that deal with relevant and critical just in time problems, and there are no correct answers but possibilities coming from connecting knowledge, people, ideas and resources while crossing the borders of disciplines, subject matters and institutions. Complex problem-solving is about asking new and open questions, about recycling and combining the information and knowledge already available while coping with paradoxes, about finding new methods, and about trying to rethink and reimagine preconditions, understandings, norms and values. This is where networking and interdisciplinarity play a crucial role along with negotiating meaning, where the possibilities of networks and serendipity are tried out, and problem-solving and heterogeneity meet and stimulate each other. Understanding dynamic processes and complex contexts are the hearth of the matter here. As Mode 2 knowledge production, knowledge production in rhizomatic learning is focused on application in practice of actual, relevant problem-solving and set in a web of co-producers coming from different disciplines, domains and contexts as described earlier. But introducing students to a full description of what, how, why, where and when to do to enter and stay in the complex domain is not a part of Dave Cormier’s pedagogical considerations.

Innovation is an asset of the pedagogy of rhizomatic learning and implicitly connected to the practice of rhizomatic learning where the processes of qualifying new knowledge might produce innovation (Darsø 2001:29) – and when comparing with Cormier’s thinking about what counts as knowledge, it seems that it is rather radical innovation than incremental innovation that is the purpose. Innovation is about producing something new, that has to be useful and have value and it has to be usable and applicable in practice. And value has to be understood in the broadest possible sense, not just in the economical sense. The new – whether it is knowledge, procedures, methods, programming or artefacts – is not an innovation until it has been proven usable and valuable in practice and accepted by its users. And this is exactly what the complex domain – and especially the domain of chaos – is about in Dave Snowden’s thinking: an emergent practice focused on producing the new, the different, the unique (Snowden 2010). So students will have to master not only entering and staying in the complex domain but also to try to work actively with producing innovative knowledge in order to accomplish the rhizomatic quest, but I don’t think they will get there by navigating the complexity only.

Students will need to know how to work with the uncharted and with ‘unknowledge’, that is asking questions about the knowledge you don’t know you don’t know, and asking questions about areas you didn’t know existed, by asking “What if?”, “Could it be that…?, “It is impossible, but still: why not try to…?”. That would also be a start working deliberately, creatively, critically and reflective not only with uncertainty and complexity, understanding dynamic processes and changing perspectives, but also with producing new knowledge and innovation. As it is, there is no guarantee that rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy and a practice produces anything but knowledge that is new to the students but well known to the experts, the discipline, the subject matter or the social practice. Students still need to learn and be taught how to. But by saying that, I have left the informal space of rhizomatic learning.

A conclusion and almost the end of my exploration

The question of what counts as knowledge is what distinguishes rhizomatic learning from networked learning. Rhizomatic learning is concerned with producing innovative Mode 2 knowledge and based on a social constructivist view on learning, as far as I can see, as the starting point of the rhizomatic learning process is the individual learner or student. Networked learning, on the other hand, is engaged in working with foundational knowledge and Mode 1 knowledge as well as Mode 2 knowledge production, as I see it. Networked learning strives to keep a connection between teaching and learning, formal and informal education, and deals with both the simple, the complicated and the complex domains in Dave Snowden’s complexity model, so to say, whereas rhizomatic learning has its specific focus on self-directed learning and preferably in informal spaces in the complex domain. Networked learning is based on a socio-cultural perspective on learning and teaching (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292-293; Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:51). This is the reason why networked learning values more strongly tied groups and communities of practice/learning/inquiry/knowledge – contrary to rhizomatic learning – while building on collaborative interdependences between learners and on relational dialogue, critical reflexivity and shared experiences during the learning processes:

“Rather, learning and knowledge construction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teacher and resources, and seen as emerging from critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational phenomenon, and a view of knowledge and identity as constructed through interaction and dialogue.” (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

“…there is a shift from seeing knowledge as an object to seeing knowing and indeed learning as a situated activity and something people “do” together, collectively and socially.” (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:22)

I won’t blame you, if you still find it hard to see and understand the differences and distinctions between rhizomatic learning and networked learning. It can still be difficult to grasp that the definition of networked learning, quoted at the beginning of Part 4 in this series, doesn’t cover rhizomatic learning, too. You need to dig deep down into these two pedagogies to find out that they are not the same. And it shows that it might not be that easy to take on Martin Weller’s challenge and start exploring and experimenting with possible pedagogies of abundance. But it is also necessary to remember that these two pedagogies and practices of abundance might not be fully developed, described, conceptualized or theorized, even though networked learning has a quite long history by now. They might still be considered pedagogies in the making, so to speak.

I have come to an end with my exploration and I will conclude firstly that rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy of abundance not only in Dave Cormier’s view but also in the sense of Martin Weller. There is agreement between Weller’s educational model of abundance and the principal lines in Cormier’s thinking. Secondly I’ll repeat that rhizomatic learning is not a version of (open) networked learning as this blogpost hopefully has proved.  And thirdly it is equally important to stress that networked learning is not a generic term for several pedagogies of abundance but a specific pedagogy with a range of specific practices and a possible pedagogical choise for an era of knowledge abundance side by side with among others problem based learning, communities of practice, connectivism, rhizomatic learning and connected learning.

Is there anything left to say then? Well, after all I think there is still a little summing up to be done on pedagogies of abundance in general. It is not quite the end yet.

Further reading:

Bates, Tony (2015): Teaching in a Digital Age

Bell, Frances, Mackness, Jenny and Funes, Mariana (2016): Participant Association and Emergent Curriculum in a MOOC: Can the Community be the Curriculum?, Research in Learning Technology 2016, 24: 29927 – http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Cormier, Dave (2016): Making the community the curriculum

Cormier, Dave (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2012): Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic learning

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

Darsø, Lotte (2001): Innovation in the Making, Samfundslitteratur København

Haythornthwaithe, Caroline (2015): Rethinking learning spaces: networks, structures, and possibilities for learning in the twenty-first century, Communication Research and Practice, 1:4, 292-306, DOI:10.1080/22041451.2015.1105773

Haythornthwaite, Caroline and De Laat, Maarten (2010): Social Networks and Learning Networks: Using social network perspectives to understand social learning, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010, Edited by: Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L, Hodgson, V, Jones, C, de Laat M, McConnell, D & Ryberg, T

Hobel, Peter, Nielsen, Helle Lykke, Thomsen, Pia og Zeuner, Lilli (red.)(2015): Interkulturel pædagogik – Kulturmøder i teori og praksis, U Press København

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

Knobel, Michele and Kalman, Judith (eds.)(2016): New Literacies and Teacher Learning. Professional Development and the Digital Turn, Peter Lang Publishing New York

Kop, Rita, Fournier, Helene and Mak, John Sui Fai (2011): A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support on Massive Online Courses, The International Review of research In Open and Distributed Learning Vol. 12. No 7

Mackness, J., Bell, F., & Funes, M. (2016): The rhizome: A problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC,  Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 32 (1), 78-91

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Snowden, Dave (2010): The Cynefin Framework

Snowden, Dave (2002): Complex acts of knowing – paradox and descriptive self-awareness, IBM Global Series

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Photo by photo fiddler on Flickr CC-BY-SA – Some rights reserved

Elna Mortensen

 

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 5

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

536068094_69f72b259f_mRhizomatic learning is a variation of ‘open networked learning’, I stated in part one of this series of blog posts while looking into what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. At first sight this might not seem the most likely conclusion to make, but to me the design for learning laid out in Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning is in alignment with the definition of networked learning:

Networked learning is learning in which information and communications (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors, between a learning community and its lear-ning resources. (Goodyear et al 2004, p.2) (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

In their focus on communities, networks, participation and participatory culture, collaboration and negotiation of meaning the four examples of rhizomatic learning and networking across the educational system, presented in part two and part three of this series, show that the educational and pedagogical values in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach overlap the educational and pedagogical values in networked learning as a theory and a pedagogy:

…networked learning can be seen to be derived from critical and humanistic traditions (e.g. those of Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1970; Mead, 1934) and that learning is social, takes place in communities and networks, is a shared practice, involves negotiation and requires colla-borative dialogue (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:2)

So while seeing the world, including learning and teaching, from a socio-cultural standpoint, networked learning “offers the theory and practice for a pedagogy that is appropriate or suited to live in a digitally and networked world where sharing and collaborative ways of working are the norm rather than the exception”, as it is defined by Vivien Hodgson, David McConnell, and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292). Hence, my comment on rhizomatic learning as ‘open networked learning’ seems to be an unnecessary doubling, as openness is to be seen as an inherent and implicit characteristic of networked learning today:

Over the years, interest has widened to include the social aspects of networked learning, with a focus on building and cultivating social networks and seeing technology as a part of the phenomenon rather than as an end in itself. Networked learning focuses therefore on the diversity of social relationships that people develop, the strategies that they use to maintain them and the value that the relationships creates for learning. (De Laat 2012:27)

So let me rephrase my statement: rhizomatic learning is a variation of networked learning, as I see it.

The landscape of networked learning

The landscape of networked learning is formed by shared pedagogical values, although the shared values can lead to a variety of learning designs. Nevertheless, Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld estimate that most networked learning practitioners agree in valuing these aspects of networked learning:

  • Cooperation and collaboration in the learning process.
  • Working in groups and in communities.
  • Discussion and dialogue.
  • Self-determination in the learning process.
  • Difference and its place in a central learning process.
  • Trust and relationships: weak and strong ties.
  • Reflexivity and investment of self in the networked learning processes.
  • The role technology plays in connecting and mediating. (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

And they suggest that the practice of networked learning should be seen from a holistic perspective, where each aspect of networked learning has to be present and integrated in the practice and has to contribute to the educational values underpinning networked learning (Hodgson, McDonnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

Originating as an approach and a theory interested in understanding the developments in technology to support learning and engrossed in exploring socio-cultural designs of learning, networked learning is linked to the traditions of open education and to radical emancipatory and humanistic educational ideas and approaches such as critical pedagogy and democratic and experiental learning, as referred to in the quote earlier. These educational values of dialogue, independence and interdependence become visible in the six areas of pedagogy that David McConnell has emphasized as areas that need to be addressed when designing for networked learning. And of course, the shared pedagogical values mentioned earlier must be contained in these six areas of pedagogy, too:

1 Openness in the educational process.

Openness leads to meaningful learning and can be facilitated by the development of a learning community, where one works for oneself and for others and where development occurs.

2 Self-determined learning.

Self-determined learners take primarily responsibility for identifying their own learning needs, and help others in determining theirs. In these processes, learners become aware of how they learn, and develop deep approaches to learning.

3 A real purpose in the cooperative process.

Much higher education learning is abstract and often unrelated to real situations, and many students struggle to see the purpose of it. If learners have a real purpose in learning, they engage with the learning process in a qualitatively different way.

4 A supportive learning environment.

A supportive learning environment is one where learners encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts. Being supportive does not, however, mean a lack of intellectual challenge.

5 Collaborative assessment of learning.

Collaborative self-peer-tutor-assessment processes are central to networked learning: they are a corollary of cooperative learning and support the cooperative process.

6 Assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process.

Assessing and evaluating the networked learning course is also a cooperative tutor-learner process. Learners must feel that there is a real opportunity to change the design of the course; this can be achieved by the tutor and learners working together in regular group processing. (McConnell 2006)”(McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:8-9)

Accordingly, in order to sum up, collaborative and cooperative learning, learning through dialogue and group work together with online resources and collaborative knowledge construction is the hearth of the matter in networked learning (McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:10). With Web 2.0 the participatory aspect of networked learning gives possibilities for focusing on the learner as a node in a network while designing for “the relational interdependencies and connections between learners in their mutual meaning construction.” (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:300). This way learning and knowledge construction happens in a dynamic, ongoing process of connecting knowledge and negotiating meaning:

However, the ideas of relations and connections suggest that learning is not confined to the individual mind or the individual learner. Rather, learning and knowledge con-struction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teachers and resources, and seen as emerging from  critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational pheno-menon, and a view of knowledge and identity as con-structed through interactions and dialogue. (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

This is what Maarten de Laat terms ‘learning as a social network relationship’ (De Laat 2012:27). And rather, this intersection of networks and community leaves space for rhizomatic learning to fit in: the focus on independence and interdependence underlines my view, I think. But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction. And in Dave Cormier’s case the motto “The community becomes the curriculum” is the expression of this. With Cormier the community is a community of practice (Wenger 1998), as introduced in part two of this series of blog posts, but networked learning does not privilege a particular pedagogical model, so the kind of community that can be applied in networked learning might just as well be:

  • A learning community with a focus on learning together, sharing and developing relationships.
  • Communities of inquiry with a focus on inquiring about issues of common interest.
  • Knowledge communities with a focus on developing knowledge.(Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:297)

So needless to say, but still, designing for rhizomatic learning must 1) take the structures, principles and attitudes of networks and a community of practice into account, 2) while implementing the six areas of pedagogy in networked learning and creating learning activities that support them, 3) and seeing to that the shared values of networked learning end up being a part of the basis of the rhizomatic learning processes. It almost seems like an act of bricolage itself that must also activate and embody the rhizomatic vision in order to make rhizomatic learning happen:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)

Networking

As a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes are based on the interconnectedness of ideas, on the boundless exploration across many domains with many different starting points (Innovating Pedagogy 2012:33) and on serendipity and bricolage. While accepting complexity as a condition, the focus on connectivity and networks is making the rhizomatic learning process multi-nodal, multi-directional and multi-perspective: the rhizome is navigating the complexity as Dave Cormier expresses it in his talk in the video “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Here Dave Cormier challenges the problem of abundance and points out that:

“…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got a more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015)

Rhizomatic learning is working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and on being an innovating pedagogy in an era of knowledge abundance. Maarten de Laat has characterized this as “New Learning” in his talk on “Networked Learning in Open Practices” (2015):

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-slide1

In the talk De Laat presents the results of research on teachers’ professional deve-lopment that was introduced in his address “Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?” (2012). The research has been based on a networked learning perspective, and although it focuses on teachers’ professional development, I think quite a few of the insights from the research are relevant and useful to teaching and learning in schools and higher education as well – and especially relevant to understanding rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning. De Laat defines networked learning as a perspecitive:

…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for their learning and development (Good-year, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004; Haythorn-thwaite &  De Laat, 2011; Sleeples & Jones, 2002). (De Laat 2012:26)

De Laat suggests to combine formal and informal learning, and with an emphasis on participation, construction and becoming as metaphors for learning (De Laat 2012:26) he identifies these aspects as important for learning in an informal-formal environment – much in alignment with rhizomatic learning and with Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance introduced in part one of this series on knowledge abundance:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide2.jpg

Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices

Networking and communities are inevitable here, and in an interview with Steve Whee-ler after the talk, Maarten de Laat emphasizes the importance of learning networks to education and learning today:

As De Laat puts it:

“Networks are everything. I don’t think you can do anything on your own anymore, so for me networked learning is about creating a social web around you, if you like, so you have access to people who you can talk to, who you can share issues with, who you can do things together with….In terms of educational future I think it is very important to learn and teach those learning and thinking skills in order to participate in the debate and being able to contribute. So for me networking or communities or any social circulation is a very important part of education.” (Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler EDEN Conference 2015)

Apart from being networked, the skills we need to equip learners with in an age of digital abundance are the skills and the competences that are necessary for learning in the 21st century. De Laat refers to the framework of Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is one of the 15 frameworks analysed when establishing the model of the 21st century learning, I presented in the last blog post. And although social networking and technology are not identical, Web 2.0 and Learning 3.0 has placed social networking online as a part of networked learning. And likewise, De Laat explains in his address:

By social networking we mean the configurations of con-nectivity that exist when people interact with each other by communicating, sharing resources, and working, learning or playing together, supported through face-to-face interaction as well as through the use of information and communication technology (Hay-thornthwaite & De Laat, 2011). Each interaction defines a connection between people, known as a social network tie. These ties vary in strength from weak to strong according to the range and types of activities that people engage in. In other words, networked relationships – ties – connect the dots between otherwise isolated people. (De Laat 2012:23)

Here Maarten de Laat refers to Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties (1973/1983):

“In a favorite article on the strength of weak ties, Granovetter (1973) demonstrated that weak ties are important for gaining access to new knowledge, perspectives and alternative conversations. Strong ties with those who are close to you, on the other hand, are needed to deepen and embed knowledge closely related to day-to-day shared practice, as well as commitment to joint activities.” (De Laat 2012:27)

Communities of practice are often based on strong ties as the process of moving towards full participation usually builds on strong relationships, as I mentioned in part two of this series, but as Maarten de Laat defines it in the interview and Wenger–Trayner has said it: “Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there…it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity.” (Wenger 2010:10)

This way networking can be seen as both an important aspect of self-directed learning and of developing communities or communities of practice as places/spaces for practicing self-directed learning: the relationships and resources in a personal learning network (PLN) can be put forward as challenging or confirmatory perspectives in the negotiations of meaning with peers and facilitators/educators in a domain and in the community or the community of practice.

Personal learning networks – on the road to collaboration

In their article “Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them” (2012) Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep engage in defining networks that support individuals’ learning:

In our understanding, the skills at the centre of network-ing involve an ability to identify and understand other peoples’ work in relation to one’s own, and to assess the value of the connectivity with these others for potential future work. The result of networking is a personal professional network, i.e., an egocentric, personally and intentionally created network of people set up by an individual specifically in the context of her professional activities. This network gathers a heterogeneous circle of people, distributed across different groups and places, and connected to the individual with connections of varying degrees of strengths (Granovetter, 1983; Nardi, et al., 2000). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

For personal networks, Grabher and Ibert (2008) propo-sed a three-layered approach, consisting of a communa-lity layer (strong ties), a sociality layer (weak ties) and a connectivity layer (very weak ties)…By including weak links in their personal networks, learners can create an envi-ronment for learning (Kester and Sloep, 2009). We be-lieve the intentionality of the professional is the strongest at the sociality layer, as contacts in this layer are the most mobile within someones’s personal network. Depen-ding on the intentions of the professional, these ties have the potential to become stronger connections or develop into even weaker ties. An individual can therefore create and orchestrate ties to effectively support learning needs and potentially use technology to support this network, effectively making it a personal learning network (PLN). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

And so the focus on social networking seen from an individual’s personal perspective offers bridges to collaboration and participation in communities and communities of practice:

“Both strong and weak connections contribute to the individuals’s learning: strong ties allow for active collaboration on knowledge creation, whereas weak ties are sources for new information, knowledge and ideas (Bell, 2010; Gargiulo and Benassi, 2000; Jones, 2008; Jones, et al., 2008; Ryberg and Larsen, 2008; Wenger, 1998).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

A personal learning network requires, as mentioned, all three types of ties: strong, weak, and very weak, and while both Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep and Maarten de Laat focus on the importance of weak and strong ties for learning, I think the very weak ties are equally important to rhizomatic learning as they might lead to serendipity and growing networks in a ‘nomadic’ fashion. And this is a real potential for new learning, too.

According to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep the following factors influence the choises taken in each of the three stages of building, maintaining and activating personal learning networks:

  • Communality
  • Organisation of the contact
  • Network of a contact
  • Reputation
  • Benevolence
  • Like-mindedness
  • Real potential for collaboration
  • Real potential for learning
  • Trends in work environment.

Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep conclude, that ”…networking for networked learning is not only a skill to be developed, but also an attitude towards learning to be cultivated…networking revolves around a complex ability of (i) recognizing and identifying the other’s qualities; and, of (ii) making (valuable) associations of these qualities with the learner’s own qualities that could take place when interacting with a contact or even in the contact’s absence. Learners have different levels of proficiency in this skill, but can also differ in the actual application of the skill, due to the attitude with which they approach learning.”  (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

Networking is crucial to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep not only as a key skill for individual learners but also as a starting point for learning to learn and for future collaboration. This is also what Maarten de Laat hints at in the interview with Steve Wheeler quoted earlier. I would add, that this is the basics learners need to know about networks and networking, so that they can understand and practice the skills, the strategies and the attitudes required “to adopt a networking style” for their learning as De Laat calls it (De Laat 2012:29), and so that they are able to participate, collaborate, reflect and construct new knowledge – eventually through serendipity, rhizomatic structures and bricolage.

In his talk De Laat mentions the close relationship between networked learning and open practices, while he presents his model of education as “New Learning”. As mentioned earlier it is a model that resembles Martin Weller’s educational models of scarcity and abundance described in part one of this series. But De Laat’s  model of “New Learning” is also a model that includes perspectives and understandings from the theory of communities of practice and maybe from rhizomatic learning, as I see it. I think learners need to know these educational models and their implications on teaching and learning as part of the basics of networks and networking, too, and Maarten de Laat has summed it all up in these slides:

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Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices 

But how to get started?

Being a student entering a domain, a discipline or a subject matter, one of the first nodes in the network could be the educator opening up his/her professional network for students to connect to online. In many ways there is nothing new in educators introducing their students to resources, interesting people, stakeholders and different positions in a field, but the accessibility, the spreadability, the searchability and the ease and speed with which connections can be made is new and made possible by social media and participatory environments. Starting this way, the students get to know experts, members of communities, resources, ideas and links while they are getting a grip of networks and networking in the domain or the discipline, and they can begin exploring and networking across domains and disciplines from a diversity of starting points. As in rhizomatic learning. And as Dave Cormier exemplifies in his article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008). And eventually, the student turns into a learner who discovers that there are different kinds of problems and knowledge in education, and that they call for different types of networks to make collaboration emerge in a productive fashion. This must also be practiced and taught as part of digital literacies and networked literacies in the domain or discipline along with foundational knowledge, meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge due to the model of 21st learning presented in the last blog post.

And so, once again I have met the challenge of Martin Weller and have tried to look into to what extend rhizomatic learning can be regarded as a pedagogy of abundance, as Weller suggested in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:233)

But what then, when Martin Weller also mentions these two characteristics of the fundamental change in education, he is mapping in his educational model of abundance:

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

Well, then there are still issues to return to and to explore while asking: where do different types of network fit in in a pedagogy of abundance, and – apart from what has already been said  – how does rhizomatic learning realize this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed? And is rhizomatic learning really a version of networked learning, as I have been claiming until now?

This blogpost has been edited on 14. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages and in order to make my exploratory approach more visible in another two passages.

Further reading:

Dave Cormier (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

De Laat, Maarten (2012): Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands

Granovetter, Mark (1983): The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited, Sociological Theory, volume 1, pp. 201-233

Granovetter, Mark (1973): The strength of weak ties, American Journal of Sociology, pp. 1360-1380

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler #EDEN15, EDEN Conference 2015

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by Kris A on Flickr – CC-BY-NC-ND  Some rights reserved

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat Interview by Steve Wheeler #EDEN15 on YouTube – CC-BY-NC-SA

Elna Mortensen

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

And at last a Personal Learning Network

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Not long before I read about ”Open Networked Learning” on Twitter, I had discovered the existence of the concept PLN – Personal Learning Network. And I had also realized, that Twitter could be a PLN. And now I have been engaged in “Open Networked Learning”, a temporary community of practice based on participation culture and problem based learning, which I by now consider to be part of my Personal Learning Network. I have gained knowledge about and perspectives on Personal Learning Networks that I didn’t have before, and I won’t hesitate to emphasize the importance of this experience by quoting a definition of PLN that suits me well:

“The result of networking is a personal professional network, i.e., an egocentric, personally and intentionally created network of people set up by an individual specifically in the context of her professional activities. This network gathers a heterogeneous circle of people, distributed across different groups and places, and connected to the individual with connections of varying degrees of strengths…” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep 2012).

To me, “Open Networked Learning” has been characterized by a very quick and efficient introduction to a field and its experts, its gatekeepers, a greater variety of materials, links, support tools and social media. It has given me a sense of having a grip of the concepts, the issues, the perspectives and the discussions of the field, that it would otherwise have taken me ages to read me into. And as Wenger puts it: “Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there,…it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity.” (Wenger 2010:10). I expected to meet a community of practice and found a network that enhanced my understanding of networked learning.

The networks at work within “Open Networked Learning” as a community of practice also gave me a multi-perspective on the subject matter, e-learning or online learning, while involving a variety of digital tools, social media, social bookmarks and group constellations. It requires a balance of complexity – a balance between communication, pedagogy and technology. But it is also the strength of networks – even Personal Learning Networks:

“Both strong and weak connections contribute to the individual’s learning: strong ties allow for active collaboration on knowledge creation, whereas weak ties are sources for new information, knowledge and ideas…As the dichotomy of strong and weak ties is not self-evident, more refinement is needed…For personal networks, Grabher and Ibert (2008) proposed a three-layered approach, consisting of a communality layer (strong ties), a sociality layer (weak ties) and a connectivity layer (very weak ties).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep 2012).

“We believe the intentionality of the professional is the strongest at the sociality layer, as contacts in this layer are the most mobile within someone’s personal network. Depending on the intentions of the professional, these ties have the potential to become stronger connections or develop into even weaker ties. An individual can therefore create and orchestrate ties to effectively support learning needs and potentially use technology to support this network, effectively making it a personal learning network (PLN).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep 2012).

Further reading:

Rajagopal, K., Joosten–ten Brinke, D., Van Bruggen, J. Sloep, P. (2012) Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them. First Monday, Vol.17, No 1 – 2 January.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London.

Elna Mortensen

And at last a Personal Learning Network