Rhizomatic 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)
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):
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:
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:
- Organisation of the contact
- Network of a contact
- 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:
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.
Dave Cormier (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks
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Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler #EDEN15, EDEN Conference 2015
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Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat Interview by Steve Wheeler #EDEN15 on YouTube – CC-BY-NC-SA