Mendeley and Rhizomes

If you look at my participation in Change11 you might notice that it tails off just right around the time that the word rhizome is mentioned for the first time. Is this a coincidence?

I’ve known of the concept of Rhizomatic Learning since Dave Cormier’s Innovate article back in 2008 but it was always on the periphery of our work at the Caledonian Academy. I think we are coming at the same issue (learning when knowledge changes so fast) from different directions: our work  is focused on supporting learners in the workplace (where learning is a  secondary activity to work), while Dave’s focus seemed more on improving the value of  formal education – preparing learners to better cope with the modern knowledge workplace.  [apologies for any over-simplification]. In the back of my mind I knew I had to get to grips with Rhizomatic learning, but it never got to the top of the pile. Dave’s change11 week should have provided a good opportunity, but it seemed to get a little bogged down by discussions on terminology. While I should have engaged with the topic, I found myself a little de-motivated by the discussions which were ongoing. My change11 participation never really recovered.

A few months ago, Martin Weller wrote a post where he questioned the practical value of  the rhizomatic concept in helping us as educators.  Martin helpfully used the words expert and novice in his post  and his clear and useful examples (e.g. blogging) helped me relate the ideas of Rhizomatic learning back clearly to our own work.  In the comments to that post I tried to defend the un-teachibility of rhizomatic learning by  focusing  instead on the way learning specialists can create an environment which supports learners in interacting with knowledge and harnessing the knowledge held in their learning network (and the places where new knowledge (the useful stuff) will be created) . The interest in Rhizomatic learning has – gladly – returned.

Anyway, Dave has now set up a Mendeley group about Rhizomatic Learning and is inviting people to pitch in to gather research articles around rhizomatic learning, with a view to developing a literature review on the topic. He has blogged about the motivations for taking this plunge here.  Undeterred by my previous experiences of the discourse surrounding this topic I decided to join the group and add a couple of papers which I have come across in the last few months.

The first: [Wood, M., and Ferlie, E., (2003) Journeying from Hippocrates with Bergson and Deleuze. Organization Studies 24 (1) 47-68. doi:10.1177/0170840603024001680 ] is concerned with knowledge exchange in healthcare settings and uses  Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the ‘rhizome’ to explore how in contexts such as healthcare, discrete perspectives such as research and practice are necessarily broken down and there is continual exchange and interplay. while not explicitly about learning, the paper helps us think about the nature of knowledge flows in complex networks where different groups interact – clearly relevant to discussions of networked learning.

The second: [Fenwick, T., (2008) Understanding Relations of Individual-Collective Learning in Work: A Review of Research. Management Learning 39 (3) 227-243. doi:10.1177/1350507608090875 ] was actually the place I found the Wood and Ferlie paper. Whilst it says little beyond stating that Wood and Ferlie argue “for a ‘rhizomatic’ understanding of knowledge circulation within activity”, the review may be of real value to the Mendeley group as it shows where ‘Rhizomatic’ concepts might sit within our current understanding(s) of workplace learning.

Hopefully the Mendeley group will provide a place for some clear development of the concepts of Rhizomatic Learning. I’ll try and stay engaged this time.

Author: Colin Milligan

Learning researcher based at Glasgow Caledonian University, and living in beautiful West Stirlingshire.

5 thoughts on “Mendeley and Rhizomes”

  1. Hi Colin,

    This does look like an interesting project. The office I work in designs “distance” courses and companion sites for blended delivery at the community college level. Against assumptions around remote learners being entirely faceless and isolated our college is small enough to actually allow me some time to be in contact with the occasional student experiencing difficulties with our online classes. I really enjoy those moments of contact and the chance to “diagnose” problems with the content, delivery or communication style. And we try to feed this contact information back into course to continually improve our material.

    How people come to understand things is a very complex process–particularly when the understanding applies to practicing medicine where a near miss could be catastrophic. It aso seems medicine is not the entirely linear process I would assume it to be.

    Can you suggest any books / articles on information gathering techniques when dealing with people? The only guidance I have is from journalism classes which is a rather cold process.

    The article Journeying from hippocrates with Bergson and Deleuze is available here too:;col1

    1. Thanks for the comment Scott. I’m not sure I can provide you with much in the way of pointers – your comments on Dave Cormier’s recent post show that you have a good grasp of the learning theory. From my own practical experience of working with adult learning communities, In terms of improving information/knowledge flow in classes, I would encourage you to engage on their terms (use their tools, don’t impose yours), recognise the value of peers for motivation, encourage them to ‘own’ the curriculum by personalising it to their own context (what do I want to learn from this course, rather than what does this course want to teach me) and trying to achieve a better balance between the stuff they consume, and the stuff they create and contribute back to the community (see posts on charting elsewhere on this blog) etc. Hope this helps.

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