Next steps in rhizomatic learning research (Rhizo14)

messy research

(Source of image:

Last week (Friday 6th June), we sent out a set of email interview questions as follow up questions on the survey we conducted in March (2014). Participants who agreed to this follow up interview each received an individual question aimed at trying to gain a better understanding of their survey response. They were also asked to comment on a set of statements which relate to the themes currently emerging from the data we have gathered. We explained and listed these as follows:

Our preliminary analysis reveals a diversity of responses to #rhizo14. Rather than try to form a ‘false consensus’, we present the following statements that represent the scope of issues that have emerged so far from our data analysis. Some respondents have the view as stated whilst others have a very different or even opposite view. If any of them move you to respond, please do so with any comments which you feel will inform the direction of our research. If you would prefer to discuss these via Skype, rather than by text in this email, then please contact us to arrange a time.

  • The rhizome is a useful metaphor for learning but it does not add anything significantly new to our current understanding of teaching and learning.
  • The use of the rhizome as a metaphor for designing teaching and learning has a positive impact on the role of the teacher.
  • The rhizome metaphor is sufficient to describe networked learning, but insufficient to describe learning in a community.
  • The rhizome is an adequate but incomplete metaphor for explaining how we learn.
  • The metaphor of the rhizome works well for social learning, but less well for knowledge creation.
  • Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas were not relevant to learning in Rhizo14

We now have a wealth of data and with each interview response the data gets richer. A big thank you to all those who are freely giving of their time to participate in this research.

From a personal perspective, this is probably the most challenging research I have been involved with to date. There is something of a contradiction between rhizomatic thinking and conducting research into rhizomatic teaching and learning.  Whilst I recognise that research is always a complex and the messy process, it ultimately does try to bring at least some provisional order to the ideas being engaged with – whereas the rhizome has no beginning or end and seeks to avoid representation and signification.

“Representation and signification belong to and perpetuate the tree image of thought …..’ (Holland, E. W., 2013, p.37).

Deleuze and Guattari were opposed to arborescent, vertical, linear and hierarchical ways of thinking and proposed the rhizome, as an alternative.  They write about the principal characteristics of a rhizome as follows (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.21,22):

… unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes  of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple….. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills…. The rhizome is an acentered, non-hierarchical, non-signifying system…..’

So how should we think about and present research about a subject that seeks to avoid representation?

I don’t have any answers. I suspect this might be the start of years of questions rather than answers and that ultimately there isn’t an answer, or if there is, it won’t be simple or straightforward and will likely be provisional and maybe even fleeting.

But the positive side of this research for me – and indeed any research – is that it focuses the mind on questions.

For now, Frances, Mariana and I continue to try and unravel the data we are receiving with a view to publishing our findings at some time in the future when we feel we have something to contribute to this area of research.

And before then, Frances and I will share our  initial thoughts and findings and experiences to date, in relation to Rhizo14 and our research collaboration, with ALTMOOCSIG on June 27th.


Holland, E.W. (2013). Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

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