Rhizomatic learning, an open course with Dave Cormier, started on P2PU this week (or is that last week now?). Actually, it seemed to start before the course was officially launched because there was a real flurry of activity appearing beforehand in my inbox via Facebook and Google+ notifications and alerts, which didn’t let up once the course got going either. Such is the interest in this topic. Any way, I didn’t have time to check in to the course right away and find the content or the discover the task at hand but I was getting the gist via the conversation and postings in the channels mentioned above (oh and via the #rhizo14 hash tag on Twitter, of course), so that’s the reason for the sequence of my reflection here.


Firstly, I was struck by the dominance of the the rhizome metaphor within the initial discussion, and what plants are in fact rhizomatic (rhubarb, ginger, licorice…). Hardly surprising, I hear you cry; the clue’s in the title. However, that’s the botanical metaphor associated with rhizomatic learning; it’s the metaphor for “the learning process”. But what I’m interested to learn more about, what’s drawn me in (see previous blog post), is the anthropological metaphor that’s associated with rhizomatic learning; the nomad as metaphor for “a rhizomatic learner”; this is how Dave explains it:

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

It’s what Wynton Marsalis calls ‘being the thing itself’.

Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path.

In order to create an educational system that allows for nomads we can’t measure for a prescribed outcome.

All of this resonates with me completely. I feel rhizomatic. As such, I’m really keen to explore this further.


Also, I’d like to explore the relationship and/or similarities between Rhizomatic Learning and Heutagogy (self-determined learning). At this point I was grateful to Penny Bentley for asking in the Facebook group, “is there a difference between Rhizomatic Learning and Connected Learning?” Dave Cormier replied by saying that there’s “overlap” but rhizomatic learning is “messier”. Thanks. However, the handy part about the conversation was the mind map posted by Adeline Wall Avril (see below) as it illustrates that a core purpose of rhizomatic learning is to “make learners responsible for their own learning”. So, yes, there’s plenty of fruitful synergies to explore here.

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Posted by: crumphelen | December 27, 2013

2013, a year on the global learning commons.

Do you have books just lying around on your Kindle, clicked and downloaded back in the mists of time because they seemed to have something important to say then forgotten, or simply left upstream as the river of information kept on flowing passed? I thought you might, so have I (quite a few actually). Well, an airport lounge always affords the opportunity to paddle back and take a look; this is how, as I embarked on my Christmas travels, I came to read “Open: how we’ll work, live and learn in the future” by David Price and subsequently came to put this blog post together as a kind of end of year review.

Although the New York Times might have labeled 2012 the “year of the MOOC”, for me it was most definitely 2013, just take a look at my blog posts. I think I participated in 8 or 10 altogether, at least half of which I either completed or participated in to a large extent. However, I don’t think I’d like to remember the year as just being synonymous with MOOCs. After all, I was active in many online communities as well as kept busy attending to my personal learning network, so I’d rather like to think of 2013 as the year that I discovered the “global learning commons”. But what do I mean? According to the author of the aforementioned book, the global learning commons is something that

encompasses the ‘ecology’ of learning: the relationships we have with each other; the creation of an hospitable habitat for learning; how we cultivate the evolution of learning in communal, social environments, [and] transfer it successfully to others.

I like this idea because it gets away from what’s become almost ceaseless noise about MOOCs and their platforms/sponsors to put the spotlight firmly on learning (three cheers!!). That is, learning across a variety of environments in which open is a fundamental feature, learning that’s personally driven by passion and/or purpose and open in the sense of not just open access but in the sense of open values and actions too. In truth though, this notion is quite contentious because openness signifies the battle being fought for the control of knowledge (hence, the reference to the commons with its historical connotations and its antithesis, the enclosure); the idea also signifies a switch in thinking from teaching to learning, or pedagogy to heutagogy, which is equally contentious.


Medieval Open Field and Common Land System

Shaping how we interact online in the global learning commons, where collaborative participation abounds, are four inter-connected and consequential values making up the acronym SOFT: share, open, free and trust. Sharing appeals to people’s sense of altruism; they freely share with no sense of return other than maybe a little recognition, which in turn encourages reciprocity and requires that we’re open. Free can mean many things, but the notions that sit best with me here are “free to roam”, wherever your passion/purpose takes you, and “free to fail”. Trust is best thought of as “in ourselves we trust”, which gets us away from the plethora of institutions that we’ve recently lost trust in and away from the “command and control” mindset of the industrial era.

It’s these values and actions that are thought set to become increasingly important because they allow knowledge to flow freely and quickly, facilitate collaboration and in turn promote innovation. Looking back over my own participation for the year, I can certainly vouch that these values, actions and outcomes are to the fore in the informal social learning environments that I’ve been engaged in. And what’s more, it’s the learner that’s calling the shots. However, this shift is largely being experienced not in education or the workplace but in individuals’ social space. It’s true. Using my experience “in the new learning landscape” and telling of my learning journey “beyond the walled garden“, I’ve presented at a couple of education conferences this year and both presentations clearly illustrate this. In addition, I’ve recently collaborated, as part of a small international group, on a paper that’s been accepted for the European MOOC Summit in Switzerland in February, which again is proof of new and innovative things that can happen in open environments, or the global learning commons. I’ll blog about this at a later date, maybe after the conference, because it’s been an interesting learning experience, one that none of the group had prior experience of or that none of us could’ve have been prepared for, not in the management/logistics of the endeavor nor in its potential for cooperative learning.

So now, with all this in mind, it kind of begs the question of me, “so now you know (about the global learning commons, or learning in open online environments), what are you going to do about it?” This is the “transfer it successfully to others” bit that was mentioned in the quote above. Good question. Because like I said earlier, this is happening in the informal social space; I’m not a big shot in higher education (just a limpet on the underside), I’ve not had anything to do with learning in the workplace for over a decade and in the day job I teach adults that education didn’t do right by the first time and that “accidents of geography” now similarly place on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Looks like that’s the challenge for 2014. I’ll keep you posted.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_England_in_the_Middle_Ages

References: Price, David (2013). OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. Crux Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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This appears to be an interesting bonus that has come my way. Last week, or rather the week before because I got held up finishing this post, a tweet forwarded on by my PLN notified me of a webinar run by Jenny Mackness and SCoPE that was shortly getting under way, “what is emergent learning? why is it relevant?“. Not a topic that I know much about, only that it had been recommended by my PLN and that I happened to be free at the given time – so why not!!

It transpired that this would be the first of two webinars. In the first one we’d be introduced to the concept of emergent learning and in the second we’d be shown how to draw a footprint identifying the mix of emergent and prescribed learning experienced within a particular learning event.

Emergent learning being defined as:

“learning that happens when a large number of self-organising people interact frequently, in an adaptive, open environment, with considerable degrees of freedom and minimal constraints; no individual can see the whole picture; agents and system co-evolve”.

That being the case, it immediately put me in mind of the learning experience I’d just had in the open online seminar, Exploring Personal Learning Networks, because I have to say that some of the learning I experienced there was probably some of the most challenging I’ve faced in a long time, possibly ever! So yes, I’d definitely be interested to try and map a footprint of that. Footprints can be used to map not only the learning experience but the design intentions also. They’re also time contextual, so they can be drawn as a series over time by an individual.

So what is a footprint? With complex learning environments in mind, they aim to represent the pedagogy and design elements of a course in an easily accessible and visual way. The footprint is developed around a series of circles with the more structured, prescribed part of the learning experience towards the center, and the more “emergent” self-directed, connectivist elements towards the outside, and beyond which is “chaos”. The white shaded area represents what’s seen as the “sweet spot” for emergent learning.

from the centre out: prescribed learning > emergent learning > chaos

from the center out: prescribed learning > emergent learning> chaos

The series of circles are divided into four areas:

  1. Open/Structure (the space or environment and how it’s set up)
  2. Interactive Environment (the extent of contextualization and interactivity)
  3. Agency (self-direction and autonomy of learning)
  4. Presence/Writing (the learning process and product, or the way the learning is realized)

and in each quarter is a number of elements that can be mapped across the spectrum of circles and then joined up to create the footprint. The more inward parts of the footprint represent the more prescribed or directed elements of the learning experience, and the more outward parts represent the more emergent elements.

This is what a blank footprint palette looks like:

blank footprint palette

blank footprint palette

And here is the link to resources you’ll need in order view the mapping elements and to draw a footprint of your own. There is also a handy video to guide you through the process.

The activity is quite detailed, and in truth requires some amount of effort to fully understand the elements to be mapped, but once you’ve grasped those, I’d say that a footprint, such as the one I drew below, has a lot to offer as an attempt to describe and understand the dynamics at play in the learning experienced in these new and complex open environments.

#xplrpln footprint of emergent learning

It was an interesting and worthwhile activity, and I’d be interested to see what the course #xplrpln facilitators, Jeff Merrill and Kimberley Scott, make of my footprint, and indeed maybe see one of theirs from a design point of view. When I get permission, I’ll upload my completed mapping sheet to the emergent learning wiki so that it’s possible to see how I arrived at my footprint.

Posted by: crumphelen | November 5, 2013

Personal learning networks: it’s mutual #xplrpln

Week 4 of the open online seminar Exploring Personal Learning Networks gets down to participants pitching to an organizational leader the value (and implications) that PLNs would bring to them. I have to say that over the last few weeks the discussion has been both intensive and extensive as the community discussed the coming together of personal learning networks and the organizational context. Here though, I must point out that it’s the addition of organizational involvement that’s caused me difficulty because, similar to Deborah W Halasz, I’m not directly involved in an organizational context relative to the PLN that I’ve been developing (probably why I was interested to consider PLNs in relation to contractors, adjuncts and the like in my last blog post) and, no surprise here, I’m convinced.

So now what indeed?

Well thanks to suggestions, I’m going to think about others who might benefit from developing a PLN and explore the direction from which they’re best developed. The context I’ve chosen is higher education, as I’d like to think that the sentiments in this blog post might form the basis of a discussion in some kind of teaching and learning forum or committee. Hopefully, this would have representation from both academics and students with discussion/actions being disseminated to administrators and support staff within the institution.

All along within the seminar it’s been suggested that we hone a definition of personal learning networks and consider where this falls between the spectrum of “PLNs are absolutely personal and everyone has their own version of a definition” to “PLNs have clear defining attributes”. I’m squarely in the “personal” camp where each PLN is as unique as a snowflake. And as such, I’m not overly keen on providing a definition. I’d rather describe my PLN and show others how I’ve constructed one and highlight the benefits that it brings. At the moment, I’d describe my PLN something like this:

enhanced by social networking technologies, my PLN is the connections and relationships I develop and nurture in order to pursue my learning goals and to make sense of the things I’m interested in.

In addition, I can offer this screencast, entitled “A Presentation of Networking and Learning” (made for my POTCert class earlier in the year) to show what one might look like. Oh, and I think this #xplrpln tweet nicely captures the nature of my PLN and the dualism that’s at play.

Any way to continue, within the higher ed group that formed it was thought that the development of PLNs might assist members of faculty who wanted to develop their online teaching offer. But, as Rick Bartlett reminds us, it’s not that networking is new to faculty; academics have always had their networks, attended conferences and collaborated with colleagues. It’s just that the technology is changing and with it comes greater opportunity for networking/collaboration, and with a wider audience now too. On this point, it was thought that colleges/universities might encourage PLNs as part of their outreach activities. Virginia Trovato came up with the excellent idea of “campuses as incubators for PLNs” where opportunities for building PLNs would be encouraged and the relevant pedagogies embedded in the curriculum. After all, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that individuals and organizations need to develop a new set of skills and a new mindset to thrive in the new networked era (or possibly just survive even).

The important point in all of this is that personal learning networks are precisely that, and they flourish for mutual benefit when individuals are able to freely persue their interests and their learning goals (or shared learning goals). In which case then, PLNs can’t be mandated by top-down approaches nor, like Jane Hart frequently says, can people be forced to be social either. So it seems to me then that the best way to go is for committed individuals (like me) to model what’s necessary in order to develop and nurture a PLN and to highlight the benefits to be gained from being a connected/networked practitioner. Hopefully, this will encourage others to develop PLNs of their own. Furthermore, seeing as you can’t mandate or force this activity, any organization interested in “incubating” PLNs might best be served by considering the different ways that individuals can be supported to become connected, if and when they choose to, and not have technical issues or policy issues stand in the way.

Hey what do you know, I reckon I could pitch this to an organizational leader after all. In fact, I believe the whole #xplrpln community could do a pretty good job.

Therefore, before I sign off this blog post I’d like to say a great big thank you to Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott for facilitating this seminar and to the community of participants who wrestled with this challenging topic. I hope you don’t mind if my artifact is in fact a hyperlink to an existing one and if my final reflections have largely been a synthesis of the discussion we’ve had. I look forward to continuing the discussion in our ongoing connections… PLNs as language – now what’s that all about?

First of all, I think I ought to warn you that for me this post is somewhat of a foray into unknown territory, but it’s where my thoughts and readings have taken me this week as we consider, in Exploring Personal Learning Networks, the organizational context. Although I read the main readings for the week, which considered organizational culture and the power and politics inherent in networks, my thinking follows on from the comments on my last blog post and the reflection that is posted in the introduction for this week (week 3).

Considering my reticence to define a PLN, Jeff wonders if we might indeed be doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define them, and in thinking of them as some kind of “intervention” that can be implemented. That being said, he makes the point in reflections that defining, creating and maintaining a PLN is the work of an individual, and it’s not dissimilar to investing in the development of knowledge, skills and abilities. So in that case, might we now safely add network “klout”, “know-how” or “nouse” to that trinity?

You can certainly see how an individual with an effective PLN can bring value to an organization, but what are the politics of allowing an organization to appropriate such an asset. Yes, a PLN is an employee’s asset, something of value, and it’s interesting to think about the “value proposition” that a PLN represents, the power dynamics, or labour relations, that are implicated and the type of organizational structures that are best equipped to reap the benefits.

As I was thinking about this, a fellow participant posted that she does indeed work for an organization where certain staff are required to develop PLNs. It’s an interesting example, and nice to see how new ways of doing things evolve.

However, this brings me to another point, one that I think echoes Gordon Ross to some extent when he asks in his article “Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics“, “who is included in this so-called digital workplace and who is excluded”? What I mean is, in this day and age does everyone actually “belong” to an organization, and if so, to what extent? What does that really mean anyway, and do you even need to “belong” to an organization? So with this in mind, it was with great interest that I read the article by Terri Griffith and discovered the term Work as Service (WaaS). The notion of Work as Service is an adaptation of the idea of software as service (SaaS). Just as software used to come in a box, now it’s generally available online for download. Equally, work might become “free of the box” too, that is free from the organization and available through options such as contractors, mechanization, and/or crowd sourcing. The phrase used in the article is “a people cloud”, and it goes on to mention “people cloud”companies such as oDesk, which I was surprised to find I’d already heard of, and via a local source to boot! Any way, such companies aim to support the process of quickly and flexibly matching talented individuals with workplace opportunities.

"people clouds" and new organizational structures

“people clouds” and new organizational structures

I think it’s interesting to consider all this as organizations endeavor to create new, agile structures and “knowledge workers”, or “artisans“, take stock and adapt to these changes. Like Jeff, I’m wondering if PLNs can become a way for employees to maintain their value and to secure working conditions that are consistent with their talent and their contribution.

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve exactly addressed the question set out his week, which asks what would it look like for an organization to somehow “adopt” PLNs, or some aspect of them, and what would the likely barriers be? Moreover, I’m not sure from what perspective, or scenario, to consider the overall course project from. I’m interested to consider PLNs from the point of view of organizations and freelance or contract workers, or PLNs as they relate to higher education and adjunct staff. I’m just not sure.

Image source: Peter. Lorre http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2688143773


Griffith, T. (2012) Work as a Service – Is There a People Cloud? Accessed at http://terrigriffith.com/blog/work-service-there-people-cloud

Ross, G. (2013) Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics. Accessed at http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/social-intranet-strategy-networks-power-and-politics/

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It appears at this stage that PLNs are pretty loosely defined, so it was interesting to consider the question posed in Exploring Personal Learning Networks this week (week 2).

Are PLNs absolutely “personal”– meaning that everyone will have their own version or a definition? Or will there someday be clear marks to know where a PLN begins and other types of networks or communities end? And, if these two questions were terminal points at the opposite ends of a scale, where would you land – closer to “personal” or to “there are clear defining attributes?”

Instantly I thought, PLNs are deeply personal, everyone has their own version. And what’s more, I’m not sure that I want to define it either. I mean, it’s a bit like how do you define love? It’s impossible to define love in a concrete way because everyone experiences love differently. But hang on a minute, if you think about it, love must have certain traits that characterize it across time and space and endow it with universal similarities, how else can you explain why Shakespeare’s sonnets, and the like, still resonate today.

So, maybe a PLN does after all have clear defining attributes, to some extent or another.

In that case, perhaps the question shouldn’t be posited on linear thinking, and this echoes some of the thoughts Maureen posted in the comments to her blog.

In her blog, Maureen interestingly poses the question “can a network be owned?”. The conversation moves to favour the notion that networks can’t be owned, seeing as they are after all “just a number of relationships or connections”. Upon which the question is then asked, “if PLNs can’t be owned, then do you think that your employer can rightly demand that you provide a list of the people who are in your personal/professional learning network” Now there’s a thought. Can your PLN be co-opted by your employer?

When I looked it up, co-opted has four meanings. Here are 2
  • appoint summarily or commandeer
  • to take or assume for one’s own use

No, this doesn’t sit well. After all, a PLN is personal. It’s about sense-making; that is my sense making, and my sense making for me. In his post, “the knowledge sharing paradox“, Harold Jarche admirably addresses this aspect. Using frameworks such as PKM, he says that individual workers can develop sense-making skills to learn continuously and to apply their learning to their work. Individuals care about what they need to get the job done, or about what makes sense to them. As such, knowledge is a very personal thing, and individuals are more likely to invest time developing their knowledge networks, and more likely to share their knowledge, if they remain in control of it. He says, organizational knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Hence, the challenge is how to connect the two.

This brings us to, what’s been posed in this open seminar as “the PLN problem“, basically how to leverage PLNs for organizational success. In the final week we’re to make our case, as advocate or otherwise.

This is tough, especially as I’m not enamored of conjuring up a definition of a PLN in the first place, but as Jeff Merrell points out, unless you have a general definition of a PLN it’s not possible to tell if PLNs and organizations are in  “structural conflict with each other” (or “structural alignment” for that matter). And therefore you won’t be able to determine the kind of changes, if any, required in the organization to effectively incorporate PLNs and create a business advantage. Thanks, by the way, to Kay for mentioning this point in her blog. It was particularly helpful.

Still tough though. So far, I’ve got as far as discovering that I’m wary of defining a PLN but will probably have to, not being convinced that you can own one and that individual knowledge making practices trump organizational ones.

So, the challenge, it appears, is to see if PLNs can bridge the individual-organizational knowledge sharing divide to become a match made in heaven. Hey, we’re back to the theme of love. Not quite, but something reciprocal or mutual anyway. Until next week, where the topic is barriers to PLNs.

PLNs and organizations: are they a match made in heaven?

PLNs and organizations: are they a match made in heaven?

References: Jarche, H. (2013) The knowledge sharing paradox. Accessed at http://www.jarche.com/2013/03/the-knowledge-sharing-paradox/

Image source: http://pixabay.com/en/heart-love-luck-abstract-105730/

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Posted by: crumphelen | October 10, 2013

Personal learning networks: the power and the glory #xplrpln

An open online seminar, “Exploring Personal Learning Networks” started this week, and I’ve been looking forward to participating ever since I was alerted to it by, yes, you guessed it, my personal learning network (PLN).

This week is introduction/orientation week and it’s been suggested that participants relate something of their stories, either, what does having a PLN mean (that is, if you’ve already got one) and how has it changed the way you learn and practice in your professional field, or if you don’t already have a PLN, maybe, what’s the attraction?

Any way, I think I can safely say that I’ve got a PLN but, most likely it’s the same for a lot of people, it started to take shape before I knew what was actually developing. I first came across the term PLN whilst researching the use of Twitter for teaching and learning in higher education. I can remember reading one paper in which two ‘early adopters’ mentioned that they used Twitter to connect to their personal learning network (PLN). Although I registered the term, I guess I largely equated it at the time with a rail network, or some other piece of infrastructure. Akin to plumbing, probably. But then, as I began to use Twitter and to comment on blog posts and participate in discussion forums, I started to realize that I wasn’t just gathering useful information but I was actually getting to know something of real people. Avatars and headshots were coming alive as peepholes opened up relating snippets about work projects, world views,  conferences, commutes, pet hates and various passions etc. It’s this kind of interaction that builds trust, which in turn opens up opportunities for mutual learning and mutual benefit.

Agreed, engaging in this way and developing a PLN has really opened up my learning and created possibilities that I couldn’t possibly have had otherwise.

At first, my PLN developed by just observing how others interact online, but the really crucial factor has been my participation in a number of connectivist style MOOCs and the connections that these environments have enabled, connections that continue beyond the event to keep a sense of community and create chances for future collaboration. At this point I’ll direct you to Sheila MacNeill’s blog, “after the mooc has gone – the real collaboration and connectivism begins” so you can piece together the story for yourself.

Now, seeing as my personal learning network developed ‘organically’, what I’m interested to explore for this seminar is how others can best be supported to develop personal learning networks of their own and, seeing as I developed my personal learning network outside of any organizational context, how personal learning networks figure from their point of view.

But, before I leave this post, I’d just like to add that introduction/orientation week of Exploring Personal Learning Networks entreats us to try something new: share goals, experiment with new tools or reach out to people we don’t really know very well and maybe share our thoughts about a topic of interest. Well, in line with the anaology that cMOOCs are “like being in a pub“, I’d like to reach out to @JeffMerrill and @MattGuyan who, I notice from his #xplrpln tweets and Twitter bio, is a Pale Ale drinker to say “cheers, here’s to a successful PLN seminar”.

pic 1 (2)

Underlying the development of a PLN is the need for individual learners to be able to have the capacity for self-direction, which requires a higher level of learning maturity— – See more at: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Personal_Learning_Networks.html#sthash.FNI4TVHh.dpuf

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I just got back from a month long trip where I spent a couple of weeks exploring both China and Mongolia, well exploring bits of them at least because they’re massive, and I thought I’d put together a bit of a blog post to share some of the things that the trip made me reflect on, things loosely to do with learning that is.

It’s true, a funny thing did happen on the way to the museum. In Xi’an, my husband, Steve, and I wanted to gen up on Chinese history and the Terracotta Army but we’d read that the queues for the museum were gargantuan and that early arrival was advised. So one morning, armed only with the number of the bus that passed by the museum and a city map splattered in Chinese writing, we set out sharp. Believing we were somewhere in the vicinity, we got off the bus and began to walk in what we thought was the general direction of the museum. Happy days, almost immediately we found a large modern building with a ginormous queue snaking its way around.

Xi'an: the queue for the library.

Xi’an: the queue.

Naturally enough, we tagged on the end and joined the queue. After a while, I told Steve to wait in line whilst I checked out the front of the queue – to see if I could glean any info about entry to the museum. I scoured the front of the building for clues, anything written in English. There wasn’t much to go on, but eventually, above the main door, I spied the words ‘Xi’an library’. All these people were waiting for the library to open!! I couldn’t believe it. The queue was enormous. On closer inspection though, everyone in the queue had books under their arm. They were indeed going to study. When I got back to Steve, I said “this isn’t the museum; you’ll never guess what all these people are queuing for; they’re queuing to get into the library!”, to which he replied “if you told people back home, they’d never believe you.” It’s true. Here you just don’t associate libraries with queues, or with that much ‘pulling power’, I guess.

Anyhow, the incident got me thinking about the difference between studying and learning. Those in the queue were obviously going to the library to study (obvious once you allow the notion of queues and libraries to hang together that is). To me, studying seems to imply formal learning with motivation largely influenced by extrinsic factors, whereas learning seems to be something more ‘natural’ and somehow more intrinsic. However, when I looked at the definitions I got

  • to learn = to gain knowledge or skill by studying, practising, being taught, or experiencing something
  • to study = to read, memorize facts, attend school, etc., in order to learn about a subject

So, regardless of the motivation, a fraught topic in itself, it seems that studying is the action required to reach the learning goal.

The incident also made me reflect upon the role that libraries have played in my life. Certainly, I remember going to the library as a child and picking out my ‘reading books’, but the incident particularly made me think back to the time when I was nineteen and when, having returned home from a working holiday in Norway eager to know more about Polar exploration and the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, I received from the British Library, via an inter-library loan, a first edition copy of Amundsen’s account of his 1912 South Pole expedition. Well, at least I think it was a first edition copy; certainly, it was old and certainly, it was a thrill to get my hands on it. Also, I’ve long said that the thing I miss most about no longer living in a city is the library, the hours I spent in Nottingham City Library, all those free books and Ordnance Survey maps!!

So, although libraries aren’t exactly synonymous with eager queues, they’re a valuable, often unsung, public resource that, as we hurtle into the digital and online era, hopefully won’t be sidelined or diminished or, more worryingly given the current economic climate, won’t be axed as cuts in public spending are more keenly sought.

That was in China, but with my propensity for wandering around and my particular affinity for nomadism the other part of the trip was to Mongolia, and notably a “Ger to Ger” homestay with Mongolian families. This part of the trip was fabulous as we stayed in the guest ger (yurt/tent) of four different families and were able to interact and observe their daily life, which totally revolved around herding and milking their livestock. Getting an insight into the macro world of domestic life that takes place in a ger was a real privilege, and the ger itself is a real triumph of human ingenuity: not only simple, easy to erect, dismantle and move but cool in summer and warm in winter (temperatures on the Mongolian Steppe range from plus 30 degrees to minus 30). Though what I really would’ve liked to have discovered was where could they move to, who owned the land and what was the system for allocating it and/or enforcing the land rights. However, with just a phrase book that tellingly gave more space to the vocabulary of animal husbandry than eating and drinking (ooh, the food’s very basic, and at best might only be described as is “sustaining”), I wasn’t able to get to the bottom of this. It’s an important question, and one that transfers directly to matters of the Internet and digital technology. Where can I go and who says so; what affordances and constraints do our new technologies sanction? It’s questions like these, as a matter of critical technology literacy, that I always try to keep to the forefront of my mind.

Just where can a nomad pitch their ger?

Just where can nomads go?

In “gerlife”, technology is pretty much limited to a light bulb and a TV (powered by a solar panel) plus a mobile phone, with the mobile phone being a really valued piece of kit. In fact, if you’ll pardon the antediluvian metaphor, in every ger we stayed the mobile phone was “ringing off the hook” as families and neighbours chatted away the day and, ha ha might I suggest, “narrated their work” (Harold Jarche just jumped into my head there). Without all the other tech and the myriad of distractions that we’ve got in our lives, it was just plain obvious that at heart people are social beings who need to be connected. Our new digital and social technologies just amplify or scale this.

One final thing that my trip to Mongolia made me think about was open/digital badges. On the very first day we arrived, gathered in the main square to take wedding photographs or photographs to mark a special day out, were groups of Mongolians all finely dressed in traditional outfits. What struck me though was that a lot of them had medals, not military medals but civic/community medals, pinned to their outfits and that these medals were clearly a source of great pride. Back in the ger these medals were also proudly displayed. I don’t know how the “credibility” of open/digital badges will play out, but I’m certainly interested to follow the discussion in the MOOC that starts next week, Badges – New Currency for Professional Credentials. I can definitely see the appeal for the learner, being able to digitally display with pride the learning achievements that mean something to them.

Display your achievements with pride.

Display your achievements with pride.

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Posted by: crumphelen | August 2, 2013

Rhizomatic me, a learning nomad.

This blog post has been a long time coming, and it’s still only likely to be a waif of a thing after all that, but here goes any way.

Back in June, I gave a presentation at CELT entitled “beyond the walled garden – the story of how one learner used social media for professional learning and development” (that learner being me, of course). The aim was to make concepts regarding change within Higher Education real by bringing something of the lived experience to the discussion. As such, I related the story of how I discovered social tools for professional networking and development and how I subsequently went on to discover open education, take advantage of the new ways of learning online and to develop as a digitally literate and networked learner/practitioner. Whilst reflecting on and narrating this experience, I acknowledged a number of new ways in which the web facilitates learning and a number of new learning theories pertinent to the digital age, that is to say, learning in communities, social networks and in MOOCs giving reference to connectivism, rhizomatic learning, heutagogy and CoPs. Thinking back over it all, I found the concept of rhizomatic learning to really resonate with me, and to intrigue me equally as well. As such, rhizomatic learning is a topic that I want to understand more deeply, and to understand why it accords so greatly. Well, I’ve made a start.

I’d come across the term, or terms, “rhizome” and “rhizomatic learning” some time ago but what it signified didn’t really interest me, until I discovered, back in January, through quadblogging in #edcmooc, that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is the nomad. Thank you Ary Aranguiz. Now, the mention of the word nomad certainly had me interested; why, hadn’t I already got my summer vacation booked to Mongolia and China, part of which, …I kid you not, includes a home-stay with nomadic families (the adventure starts next week, by the way). The choice of destination, Mongolia in particular, seems like a natural choice to me as I generally spend my vacations roaming around and sleeping under canvas. I like to walk long distance paths and I love camping, especially wild camping. Besides, I’m a hopeless idealist who dreams of freedom and travel. Spanning time and space, I’ve read heaps of travel books and accounts from various explorers: ‘Into the Wild’; ‘South’; ‘Touching the Void’; ‘As I Walked Out One Mid-summer’s Afternoon’; ”Ghost Riders – Travels with American Nomads’; ‘In the Empire of Genghis Khan’; ‘Red Dust’… the list goes on.

The nomad in me.

The nomad in me.

Any way, enough of that. Why should it be that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is that of the nomad? Dave Cormier, originator of Rhizomatic Learning Theory, explains the thinking.

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

Hence, the learning nomad can be thought of as ‘being the thing itself’. It’s like the difference between playing a succession of notes, one after the other, and playing music, or it’s like parallel parking, if you prefer, if you think of the steps and perform them one at a time, invariably you mount the pavement. Either way, there’ s a point where you stop thinking of facts or steps and understand the act.

To me, and to probably a lot of others, a nomad more easily conjures up images of wandering across open spaces. So far though, this aspect has not come through in my reading. However, the notion of freedom and transcending boundaries seems to fit nicely with the idea of play as a habit of learning that I was thinking about in my last blog post, play as exploration that is.

Gwen Gordon, in asking “What is Play?” says that “freedom is a hallmark of play” as it softens boundaries and allows individuals to become adaptive and spontaneous. She continues, playfulness is “the freedom of the total self to move as a whole in relationship to the total environment”( p.8). Now that sounds like a nomad. What’s more, through such play, with its interactions across boundaries and it’s impulse towards both freedom and connection, transformations are made possible.

According to Dave Cormier, nomads (or those with a disposition for play as exploration) “have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts”. So, what does “to learn rhizomatically” actually mean? And, where does the term come from? Well, rhizome refers to a way in which certain plants spread. Often understood as a creeping root stalks, rhizomes go out horizontally and interact with their environment. Certainly, they’re messy, disorderly and difficult to control, but at the same time they’re resilient and have a lot of important qualities, which allows them to adapt within their ecosystem. As such, rhizomes have come to represent a model for learning for uncertainty and, like the learning process of life itself, they’ve no beginning or end either.

By the way, if you have an hour to spare, I heartily recommend that you listen to the Introduction to Rhizomatic Learning that Dave Cormier did on the topic in the #etmooc archive. It’s class.

If you think about it, uncertainty is always part of the learning process. How do we know what things you’re going to need in the future; what problems you’re going to have to solve? Thus, learning, now more than ever, ought to help prepare people for, and be comfortable with, uncertainty; help them to adapt to new situations and help them to make the best decisions they can when the answer is unknown. Therefore, for a learning nomad to develop it’s no good having prescribed learning outcome as this thwarts the ability to explore, make connections, be creative and to solve problems. Besides, the point at which any new idea takes shape, and what it means, will be different for each and every learning nomad.

“Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path”.

Incidentally, a nomadic nature is something that Harold Jarche equates with the new “knowledge artisans” of the network era. Connected and knowledgeable individuals with their own learning networks and their own ways of working, individuals who are often more independent and more contractual or shorter-term than previous information age employees, all-in-all, probably more comfortable with uncertainty. Well, I can certainly live with that.

This all sounds wonderful, learning and living nirvana probably, but so far I’ve only thought of rhizomatic learning from my own point of view as a learner and not from the point of view of a facilitator of learning, so now the question becomes how can I, and other educators, help learners to develop their learning nomad abilities and be comfortable dealing with uncertainty? To defuse those predetermined outcomes, rhizomatic learning theory proposes that community becomes the curriculum… and I propose that I save that for another blog post.


Cormier, Dave (2011) Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system? Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/10/22/workers-soldiers-or-nomads-%E2%80%93-what-does-the-gates-foundation-want-from-our-education-system/

Cormier, Dave (2011) Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach? Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/11/05/rhizomatic-learning-why-learn/

Gordon, Gwen (2007) What is Play? In Search of a Universal Definition. Available at: http://www.gwengordonplay.com/pdf/what_is_play.pdf

Posted by: crumphelen | June 28, 2013

Habits for successful lifelong learning #coastd

This caught my eye this week.

It was posted as the introduction to Learn Camp, a self-directed learning programme from the Central Ohio ASTD chapter that aims to let learners explore some of the new digital tools that are changing access to information and ways of learning today. The activity along with this, labelled ‘discovery exercise’, was simply to share your thoughts about which habit is easiest for you, and which is the hardest, plus any thoughts you might have about lifelong learning in general.

Looking at the 7 1/2 habits, I identify, more or less, with all 7 of them. What I have difficulty with is the fraction on the end, that is to say, play. Not that I’m particularly serious, or a kill-joy, it’s just that I don’t seem overly inclined to play, idly fiddling around with things. For me, exploration, akin to travel or journeying, better encapsulates the end fractional habit of lifelong learning more than playing. That is, finding out what’s next or over the horizon, finding out how things are connected and what it means, not just to me but to others too. Because I don’t identify greatly with the playing metaphor might be one of the reasons that I’m not particularly inclined towards the current trend in digital learning for ‘makes’. Oh well, we can’t all be the same.

An article entitled “How to Become a Successful Lifelong Learner” was also signposted by LearnCamp. I’m glad this article was flagged up because it served to remind me of the importance of goal setting within lifelong learning, and most importantly to write those goals down. If I’d written my goals down in the past, maybe my odyssey to learn Spanish might not have taken a nose dive in the last year or two 😦

All in all, a useful little activity.

Post script: subsequent to posting this, I’ve been thinking about the definition, or the meanings, of the word play. In his list of participatory skills, Jenkins identifies play as, “the capacity to experiment with and explore your surroundings as a form of problem-solving”. The role of exploration within play, together with experimentation and performance (testing roles and identities in different settings), has long been established (Huizinga 1950; Bruner et al. 1976 and Gagne 1985). However, nowadays, play can equally be seen as simulation, or as Garvey (1990) suggests, wilfing (what was I looking for). Indeed, in today’s intensely interconnected world, wilfing has the potential to be highly productive given that the discovery of knowledge is often little more than a few clicks away.

I suppose I’ve learnt that play is an important habit of lifelong learning, and that it has a number of forms; each to their own, just so long as you acquire the habit 🙂

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