I am always amazed at how different nomenclature creeps into contemporary discussions and then, like lightning, an ‘epiphany’ crystallizes in someone’s consciousness and a new approach to something crashes into our world view.

So it seems with the “Rise of the Rhizomatics”, a “discovery” of Dave Cormier, who has applied a concept of “Rhizomes” to learning theory. Obviously, we are supposed to be enamored, enthralled and even entranced by this deeply revealing concept/approach to teaching.

Briefly, and perhaps cursorily, it is a concept of the vastness and the interconnectedness of individual learning experiences which the learner coalesces into a coherent, functioning body of knowledge from which to operate.  Furthermore, Cormier emphasizes that its effectiveness and impact are enhanced through a concept of “community”.  Obviously, there is more to it than that overview, but you get the idea.  Our learning is vast and not confined to a specific discipline or model and is more effective through a connection within a community.

Forgive the sarcasm and the cynicism, but Cormier’s “discovery” reminds me of the time as an undergraduate I woke up my logic professor at 2AM at his home because I had discovered something which “clarified the relationships of propositions.”  Thank God, Dr. Fitzgerald was patient with me as we walked into his library, and he pulled out a book asking, “Is this what you have just discovered?”  It was a logic text clearly thirty years old with a perfect explanation of Venn’s diagrams – and I had just “discovered” them!

Naturally, I was crushed and embarrassed, but it taught me something far more valuable – when it comes to learning, each of us does, in fact, learn at an individual and personal pace. And that pace is framed by the interconnectedness, if you will, of all the learning experiences we have accumulated up to that moment of personal enlightenment – of our personal epistemic “discovery”.

If only Cormier had read Plato’s Theaetetus or looked more deeply into Piaget, or Schopenhauer or Nietzsche and then had seen that Marie Montessori had incorporated Nietzsche’s concept of education into a comprehensive curriculum, he might not have fallen in love with Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts so hopelessly.

I am pleased that he has been able to make a correlation between Rizhomes and MOOCs.  The marketers for MOOCs owe him a debt of gratitude.  Now they have a new marketing pitch.

The sad fact is that this approach to education is not another “learning theory”, but rather a re-branding and combining of those which have been in place for centuries and have suffered the ignominy of marginalization or neglected.
But, hey, now we have a “new” name, Rhizomatic Learning, and I admit it’s clever, catchy and difficult to really pin down in principle or process.  As stated, it appeals to a concept of “community”, but so did Hillary and so does Michelle.

Still, no philosopher, scholar, or pedagogist  ever did a better job of integrating the disparate elements of individual learning into a unified, holistic codus than Aristotle.  Cormier would enhance his rhizomatic view of the world if he read some of “Ol’ Ari”.

I have gone to “Dave’s Educational Blog”, Cormier’s online platform.  His platitudes are clever and relate well to our electronic labels – but it is not “new”.  It is a contemporary application of the Nineteenth Century “organic” approach to education.

And since it seems that education theorists are so desperate to catch on to something “new” they get swept away with anything which appears different.  What can be more different than a “Rhizome”?

Yet, I do salute Cormier and his collaboration with the MOOC hucksters…Lord knows they need something “catchy” to continue their assault on the education market.

But, as former and present teachers and coaches are well aware, “teaching” does not equate to “learning”.  The two processes are entirely different –  “teaching” is an external activity, while “learning” is an internal process.  And as Socrates so succinctly put it 3,000 years ago: “As pedagogists, the best we can do is to become midwives to ideas.”

Perhaps in the long run, Cormier will come to see that his efforts are a solid re-statement of long-held concepts of learning applied to an age of instant information – and ultimately, he may also re-discover that the real function of education is facilitating the ability to think.

Having seen various modes of delivery and approaches to contemporary education, the fundamental educative platform and processes in place here at the Academy do, in fact, inherently, and perhaps innately, already exhibit Rhizomatic pedagogy.

From my perspective,  I believe it is something we are doing quite well as is and have been doing for over forty years.

Sorry for the rant, folks, but education theory and learning theory are two of my “hobbies”, as it were, and sometimes some “new” things give me a rash…but, then, maybe I’m just gettin’ old..

Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy.  He has worked in higher education for more than four decades.  He has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.



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