Guerrilla Research into Rhizomatic Learning

guerrilla-marketing-gorilla-in-disguise (Source of image:

Martin Weller’s recent post about The Art of Guerrilla Research – so completely describes my personal experience of research, i.e. research undertaken by small independent groups who are up against larger forces (up against those larger funded research groups, who are usually associated with an institution, and also up against the recent focus on ‘big data’). With one or two exceptions, the research I have been involved in has never been funded and has been qualitative or mixed methods research.

Martin is going to be talking about this in a Masterclass workshop that he will be running for the ELESIG community in 10 days time. Wish I could be there, but because I am not funded, I cannot justify travelling for more than 6 hours for a 3 hour workshop 🙂  This is one of the hazards of Guerrilla Research. I hope the session will be recorded.

In a post by Russ Unger and Todd Zaki Warfel that Martin references, three characteristics of Guerilla Research are identified – rigor, time, and cost. Russ Unger and Todd Zaki Warfel suggest that Guerilla Research methods may involve less rigor and they take less time and cost less, but they still yield high-quality results. They say that there is probably just enough rigour. I think this is fair comment and in my own case, involved as I am in research into learner experience in open learning environments (principally MOOCs), unless I move fast, then my research is going to be out of date before I have even published it. So rigour has to be balanced with time. But I ‘own’ my time. I am an independent consultant who does research mostly for personal interest. So time for me means getting the research out there fast enough to still be of some consequence. Cost is usually not a factor for me, because I am not paid for it – unless I cost my time – which I don’t!

And this is the case in the Guerrilla Research that I am currently involved in – and that is research into the most recent open course that I have participated in – Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning – The Community is Curriculum  (Rhizo14) open course.

If you have been a participant in this course, however minimally, my colleagues Frances Bell, Mariana Funes and I would love to hear from you. Please have a look at the survey and have a go at responding. If you don’t like the first three questions, then I think Question 4 is accessible to everyone.

Here is the link to the survey –

And here is a link to my page about the research – 

And I would like to point you to another Guerrilla Research group which has sprung up out of the Rhizo14 course; the auto-ethnography group – who are collecting participants’ stories of their learning journeys in a Googledoc – see

Finally – looking up synonyms for Guerrilla, I find the following terms

  • freedom fighter,
  • underground fighter,
  • irregular soldier,
  • resistance fighter,
  • member of the resistance,
  • partisan

These resonate for me in relation to Rhizo14, but we’d love to hear about your experiences. Please let us know by completing both our survey and the survey of the auto-ethnography group.

And final thanks to Martin Weller for sparking off this post.

4 thoughts on “Guerrilla Research into Rhizomatic Learning

  1. francesbell March 7, 2014 / 11:17 pm

    Lovely post Jenny – it made me think of a workshop that Helen Keegan, Josie Fraser, James Clay and myself ran at ALT-C 2010 but we were thinking about research rather than practice .
    Anyway, I am confident that the research we are doing into #rhizo14 will bear fruit.

  2. Scott Johnson March 17, 2014 / 3:03 am

    This post made me think about that attention test where the instructions are to watch ball passing between specific players on the screen while a gorilla walks through the game. I really did miss the ape in the first run but now can’t watch basketball without seeing imaginary gorillas on the court and chimps hiding behind goal net in football.

    Just wondering if you’d seen this report?
    A Journal of Complexity Issues in Organizations and Management
    a publication of The Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence
    Volume #2, Issue #4, 2000
    Special Editors Yasmin Merali & David J. Snowden,
    Information Systems Research Unit, Warwick Business School

    “The new sciences of complexity explain but do not predict. Prediction,
    as conventionally understood, is beyond their reach. Such a limitation is
    inherent in their subject matter. Yet, can a science that does not predict
    be useful? The “failure” of complexity sciences to predict is due at least
    in part to their dependence on a loose coupling among the elements of
    the systems that they study for versatility in behavior. Couplings must be
    loose enough to allow different—and sometimes novel—behaviors to
    appear at successive iterations. Hence, no prediction. Such loosely coupled
    systems lead to evolving and emergent processes because their combinatorial
    potential is greater.” p 132

    Loose coupling and combinatorial potential! All in one place.

  3. jennymackness March 26, 2014 / 5:40 pm

    Hi Frances and Scott. Thanks to you both for taking the time to comment on this post – and for your suggestions for further reading.

    Frances – Martin Weller ran a workshop for the ELESIG community about Guerrilla research. I wasn’t able to go, but here are some relative links, which were sent to me by Hannah Thomas from Oxford Brookes University on behalf of ELESIG:

    Martin Weller has posted his slides on slideshare.

    Tony Hirst has blogged his presentation.

    Rob Farrow blogged his perspective as a participant

    Scott – Yes I have seen the video that you mention. I think it cropped up in a course of Howard Rheingold’s that I attended last year – Towards a new literacy of cooperation. I missed the ape too the first time I watched it! I haven’t had a chance yet to track down the article you refer to which sounds interesting. Loose coupling makes sense to me. I think I need to read the article to understand what they mean by combinatorial potential. Many thanks for sharing.

    Sorry to you both for the delay in responding.

  4. scottx5 March 26, 2014 / 7:02 pm

    Hi Jenny, I’ll look for Howard Reingold’s work. Think I’ve come across it before. Don’t worry about checking the link, long and a complex road to an unclear ending. Managed to get a textbook on complexity and will soon be an expert and tell all:-) What I like is things happen and may not be repeatable, or even form a coherent pattern, but still tell a story about the world. This one-off phenomenon thing is part of the narrative we live with and I’m thinking gorilla research would accommodate a patchwork individual outcomes forming a pattern that is less easy to describe than research that seeks to “make sense” rather than to observe and puzzle over.

    My usual foggy thoughts. Reading about public relations and making sense. Or more precisely forcing sense on the world. PR is about building paths to conclusions in your favour and I find it interesting as a tool for catching assumptions made without thought.

    The site below is a little easier to access than the resource I mentioned. Thanks for the reply.

    Complexity and Society

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