The natural cascade of rhizomatic learning

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Despite feeling like a dragonfly darting around over a pond in midsummer without enough time to warm my wings,  I’m going to try to keep my thoughts delving into the brilliant diversity of ideas that emerge from Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning course –   #rhizo15.

‘Learning Subjectives – designing for when you don’t know where you are going’.

Letting go of the tendency to try to fence, manage, scaffold, waymark, signpost, leave breadcrumb trails, trim, neaten, or homogenize. I love this as the first lillypad to land on in the big deep pond of rhizomatic learning.  It fits with my head-space at the moment – deep in an ecological theory that I’ve been pondering a lot after reading George Monbiot’s book Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding  – it’s about rewilding.

Rhizomatic learning seems like it might be the re-wilding of learning…

How do we design, our own or others learnings, when we don’t know where we are going?

Subjective 1: Learning takes place.  

It will always take place. So, take your place in it.

To watch a natural system rewilding, it must first be given time to descend into chaos, before maturing into a natural unique niche of biodiversity.  This is hard for us. It looks a bit messy, a bit ugly –   all the weedy, competing chaos. We might at first, seem to struggle, even lose a lot.  Rewilding has its own time, because it’s just simply is perpetual unfettered change. There is no end. Or a beginning. There are also multiple instances and microcosms. Sounds like the opening weeks of #rhizo15 to me! Also a bit like our entire universe.

Learning for me, has always felt like it has elements of natural cascade. The jaunty tilt you have, that very specific way that you engage with your environment – offline or online – spawns a whole unique environment around you. Your interactions that may feel small in the massiveness, are a catalyst for changes in that community. You can’t see it or feel it. It’s a little quiet revolution. Sometimes you can look back and see the hint of a pattern that draws you in. So you feel like you want to replicate that same learning experience.

But wanting to replicate learning experiences is hard in complexity. Sure, there are fundamental laws of interaction, but just the tiniest change to that tilt, veering off your axis, even just a bit, make things different.  Not just immediately around you, but in far reaching ways. Every interaction spawns its own local gravity.

Subjective 2: Unfurl to suit 

a fern leaf
unfurling into rhizomatic learning (Photo: Angela Brown)

I think that everyone has different cues and stimulation that trigger their mind to open and unfurl in readiness to learn. They are complex, partly the environmental conditions, partly inner secrets of cells, partly our inner voice and also the stimulation of observing triggering behavior and communication in others.

Copy of ready
Waiting for the cues… (Photo: Angela Brown)
….and then…unfurl!  (Photo: Angela Brown)
Edible mathematics! (Photo: Angela Brown)

The equations we can find at the heart of the universe, scaffold nature to unfurl. The resulting patterns can be equally perceived as random, and yet, teasingly, can also be seen in their complexity, to have design elements.

So it is with learning. Learning will always happen by itself. Yet, it can also be designed so that we can make learning happen when we need to it, because sometimes we need it to happen at point in time and want to synchronise that with others. Having objectives, speeds us to a fixed point so that we can quickly unfurl at a pre-determined point in time. It might be against our nature, but by simulating the right conditions, we really can unfurl and learn in the climate controlled greenhouse of formal education.

Then there are the wild spaces like #rhizo15. Where you just unfurl at will, subjectively, when the triggers are right. If they are right. You’ll know it. Feel it.

Subjective 3: Trust instinct

Instinct becomes quite fascinating when you think about how it fits with learning. It’s our internal navigation for chaos. Our very own GPS that pretty much every species in the animal kingdom has some form of.

For example, it’s interesting to consider how songbirds can either be taught/learn to sing, and other species learn instinctively.

When we don’t know where we are going with learning, could instinct be our ultimate compass?

Photo: Angela Brown
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3 thoughts on “The natural cascade of rhizomatic learning”

    1. Yes, he sometimes has environmental ideas that I find challenging to think about, which forces me to read more and think about how a lot of my own ecological philosophies are based more on perceptions gained from media reporting or not having the full picture. He’s an excellent voice.

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