No hay camino

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

Walker, your tracks are
The path, and nothing else;
walker, there is no path,
the path is made by walking.
By walking the path is made
and when you turn your gaze back
you see the trail you can never tread again.
Walker, there is no path,
just the foam in your wake on the sea.

This is from Proverbios y Cantares XXIX, in Antonio Machado´s collection Campos de Castilla. There is no path, you make the path by walking. Terry Elliott explores the idea of the learner as walker in his post about the feldgang. He also wrote an excellent post about slow viewing.

I have been thinking about the idea of the “fork back“, which is a term that arose especially in the FedWikiHappening. In Smallest Federated Wiki when one wishes to edit one makes a copy of the page, which is called a “fork” (the term comes from software development), and this page may diverge from the original, down its own path. It is rich and fascinating. But is quite hard to “fork back”. We wander off down our rabbit holes, explore and enrich our thinking, and quest on ever outwards. That’s fine, and for people of a certain demeanour, it is sufficient, we go on learning, and no one but us has to know or reflect on it (bear with me on that). This happens in most cMOOCs. It is part of what is valuable about them.

Back in education, though, there are requirements, especially the need to present and represent our learning so that others can be convinced that we have learned, and that we do now fit into whatever discourse community we need to enter. Bringing the unpredictable, unstructured chaotic flow of informal learning (for shorthand the “rhizome”, if you want) within the fold, within the pale of education is a challenge. How do we do that, how do we fork back from our outward paths back into that fold, how de we reduce the rich multiplicity, that we ourselves can often not encapsulate, in order to present it for evaluation and accreditation without collapsing and reducing and belittling it? Should we even try?

One of the things that I wonder about in cMOOCs is the kaleidoscopic nature of the conversations, how they fragment and coalesce, emerging to the surface in a tweet, and later in a reference in a blog post, and then reappearing somewhere completely different (on a sign in a country lane, for example). However, perhaps due to the volume (noise and number), so much seems to be a rush forward, a tumbling ride through the ideas. I am increasingly attracted to the idea of a slower space, and I wonder whether the way to really enrich and consolidate what goes on in a course like #rhizo15 is to build in conversations about the paths we have trod. A kind of retreading, the path will have changed, it is more like a spreading wake, but it gives a chance for a dialogue around how we learned, what we learned, with whom we learned, the tools we used, it allows for a slow, slight return. The idea would be to pick just one notion, one thing we took away from the conversation and engage in a structured dialogue with a peer about it, where the peer is a critical friend, a fellow explorer. What might emerge from that?

First, the reflection is a further step along the journey,  even as it looks backward, the path has changed and is a new path, and the echoes and shifts in the pattern are likely to enrich our understandings.

The co-reflection can also be highly valuable, it is useful to share the process, and the retreading together may become a reworking, a re-exposure, leading to new patterns and/or consolidation of others. So this might be another (formative?) tool within the informal learning process.

But this could also evolve into a peripatetic approach to assessment. If a teacher walks with a learner, in this way, they should soon be able to discern what has occurred, and understand the depth and breadth of the learner’s journey….

Is there mileage in this? I would love to try this out. Please contact me if it interests you.


Young Minds workshop

Young Minds UK are doing some very valuable work with MindEd to create brand new e-learning tools for parents and carers on the topic of children’s wellbeing and mental health. They are currently talking with parents about what these modules should look like, and which topics parents would most like to learn about. So they are having a series of workshops for parents. One of these is in Somerset next Wednesday. Here’s their invitation:

We would love to speak with parents with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to help make these resources as useful and engaging as possible – this includes parents and carers whose children have or haven’t experienced mental health difficulties.

 We will be meeting on Wednesday 10th June, 11.45-2.30pm at The Albemarle Centre, Taunton, to hear your views on the subjects you would most like to see covered, and the style in which they should be presented..

 Please click here for a map to the venue.

 We would be delighted if you could join us at this group. All participants will have travel expenses reimbursed, and you will receive a voucher as a token of thanks for your time. We will also have a light lunch available on the day.

 Please email to register to take part. If you can’t make this session but would like to get involved do get in touch, and we will keep you posted about other opportunities to take part. You can also email with any questions!

 Thanks, we look forward to seeing you there!

I think this will be a very interesting workshop. There are others across the UK in the next weeks. Have a look on their site.


Some notes on turmeric

Turmeric is a flowering rhizome.

The name appears to derive from Middle English/early modern English as turmeryte or tarmaret having uncertain origin. There may be Latin origin, terra merita (merited earth).[9]

The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.”

Turmeric is considered auspicious and holy in India and has been used in various Hindu ceremonies for millennia. It remains popular in India for wedding and religious ceremonies.

From Wikipedia

Turmeric (villanelle)

The roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.

Though the garden is manicured, carefully clipped,

when the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Though the school is a prison; a withering blight

On the soul of the child, unprepared, unequipped,

the roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.


We work through the dark hours, the rich warmth of night,

eschewing instructions, ignoring the script.

When the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Our spaces are cross-hatched with soft lines of flight,

with echoes of play, and the parts that we skipped.

The roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight,


and once they entwine, once entangled, they might

coalesce and emerge, when the masks have all slipped;

when the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Hard to say it sometimes, it’s so blinding, so bright,

but it isn’t content, to be packaged or shipped,

and the roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.

When the flower is ready, the shoots will find light.


There is no mother tongue

This is the notion (thanks to Peter Shukie and Lou Mycroft) that finally made me want to respond to the suggestion that the rhizome might be an invasive species. Before that I had been too busy down other rabbit holes to engage enough to write. It felt like a set task.

The first objection that had come to me was the fact that this is a category error, the rhizome is a plant type, it is not a species. (I’m fascinated how my dictation software creates un-intentioned echoes and counterpoints, it is not a species, came onto the page as it is not suspicious). Actually I’d say the rhizome is a mode of plant self-propagation, or perhaps the a mode of being, but more of that later. Then I thought about the notion of invasion, invasion requires a somewhere to be invaded, and perhaps someone or something to be invaded. I wasn’t sure what this somewhere/one/thing could be, the rhizome for me doesn’t exist in a bounded space, and that is what is joyful and rich about it. If there are no bounds, there is nothing and no one to be invaded.

But more than anything the words invasive species created the image of a homogenous marauding mass that smothers everything else. This this way of looking at the rhizome jars profoundly with my understanding. I see the rhizome as a way of looking at what learning is and how the mind works; we explore, and grow through that exploration, we assimilate nutrients and trace elements, we cluster, and sometimes we throw shoots skywards. And it works: when I sit with it, and follow the thought, I realise that that is how I learn.

There is a cartoon by Gary Larson, in which a cow is standing in a field with some other cows, her head is raised and she looks amazed, or even outraged. And she’s saying “Wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!” I felt like that when I came across the idea of learning as a rhizome. As if that notion had been staring me in the face all along, or waiting at the tip of the tongue. No possibility of invasion, the rhizome has always been there.

It reminds me of what happpened with the idea of the Personal Learning Environment. When that notion first appeared there were people trying to build Personal Learning Environments, when actually we all already have one, in the same way as learning already is rhizomatic. The PLE is not a thing, it is a way of thinking about learning and comprehending the interactions involved. The question is how to use that idea to improve teaching and education.

In this context, to me the idea of “rhizomatic learning” as opposed to any other kind of learning is odd. What would that other kind of learning be? Arborescent learning? I can entertain the notion of arborescent teaching or arborescent education, but my learning is not arborescent, however much I may sometimes express knowledge in arboreal form (and in the process simplify it). Learnign just is rhizomatic.

As with the PLE, the challenge is how to use the notion of the rhizome to improve teaching and education. Learning will probably take care of itself. But if you ask me about rhizomatic teaching and education, I hope we can make it as successful as the Bermuda grass in “Greener than you Think”, though preferably much more diverse.


After all, “there is no mother tongue”, only power relations – hi Mom! -, so let a thousand weeds bloom.

Answers on a postage stamp

In my first teacher training course, back in 1987, I watched a video of a man giving a 2 hour class. During the whole session, which involved extensive group activities and learner participation, there was no lecture, and he used just one piece of “content”. A postage stamp.

postage-stampsOf course we didn’t call it “content”, it was resource or material, or part of the contents of a textbook.

I may be mistaken, but there seems to have been a shift in the understanding of the noun “content”, around the mid 90’s, roughly with the rise of the internet and the emerging need for business models for the Internet. From being simply what was inside something else, a container, it became something that could be packaged, and sold. Prior to this, what was sold was the container – the book, for example.

As things went digital, the container remained important for a while, so that though it was clear that the contents of a CD were tiny bits of information it was still felt to be necessary to package this, in a large, useless (hard-backed size) cardboard box. Packaging is important.

As the Net became the container, it became necessary to find other ways of thinking about selling the contents. When the Net is the container, the package is not often clearly visible and identifiable. This was of course disastrous, inimical to effective commoditization of the experience of going online. For example, if you buy an online course, it is hard to say where that course is. To get a “purchase” on the course you need something visible, something concrete.

So the contents of the package became the package. And what was a plural noun, as in “Table of Contents”, became singular. It became a concept. It became “King”.

This shift, from the perspective of education at least, has been pernicious. It has led to mistaken understandings that the material/textbook/video/syllabus/etc used in an educational experience, is the same thing as the educational experience, or as the learning that takes place. How many times have you heard a student say: “I missed the class, but it is OK I have the notes/slides”? It might be an easy mistake to make, given the pervasive presence of transmission perspectives around learning in our folk pedagogies, but it is still pernicious.

In 2002, when MIT launched Open Course Ware, the same conversation about content took place. The decision they made, to put their content online free, was accompanied by clear declarations at the time by Charles Vest, then MIT President, that MIT content was not at all the same as an MIT education. But the identification of content with the course, or worse still, with the learning goes on. Because it is necessary for those who wish to commoditise and control learning.

In this sense, it seems to me vital to question and contest the use of the word “content”. The very word shifts the frame of the conversation around learning. The term drives us to believe that learning requires “content”, neatly packaged, of course, by your vendor of choice. And that without Content, our work is incomplete. Thinking of content as a kind of conversation with the people who created it is a useful way to shift our thinking, it might also be valuable just to stop using the word, and go back to using words like “resources” or “materials” or “texts”, which are words that help to reframe the conversation.

Somewhere south of Wellow

2014-04-02 15.38.22We went riding today, out between the hedgerows, wending our way down leafy corridors. When the path opened out to hillside, we galloped, wind in our manes, until suddenly both horses veered, right, past the scattering lambs, away from the route we had planned…they were excited and fractious, tossing their heads, anxious to be moving forward. We gave them their head, they know these ways more than we do; each startle, each twitch, is a memory. They led us deep the woods, down a bridle path that was new to us, and as we went we tried to work out where this was leading, which track it would connect to, how close we were to the road, to the village. As we talked, relaxed, at the rhythm of horse and hips, we discovered how our mental mapping diverges.

She sees landmarks, fragments of experience; that hay-bale that shone in the sun, spooking the horses, that sign that says “Slow! Free range children” just at the edge of Faulkland. A pointilliste network of loosely located reference points.

I seem to focus more on the hills, and the curve of the valleys, and a sense that our starting point must be more or less “that way”.

As we rode we learned, about the landscape, and about how we learn the landscape, how each of us finds our way. We drew our maps in the air between us, made the learning visible.

All around us the brambles, the grass, the birches, kept up their slow movement through the earth. And the horses found our way home.


This is a response to Ellie Lighthouse’s thought-provoking post on mapping learning. Thanks, Ellie!

You can’t measure learning?

Dave Cormier says we live in a world obsessed with measurement. This is true, many have seen the potential for monetization in measurement, and that has led to a lot of meaningless measurement dressed as utility. But part of the reason why that has worked is that, in a world of uncertainty, many find measurements comforting. Rhizomatic thinking with its hefty dose of uncertainty is not exactly mainstream. Dave maintains that learning is a non-count noun (Speakers of other languages do speak of “learnings” might dispute that). But his key point is that you cant measure learning, even that you shouldn’t. I’ll take the bait.

You can measure learning, and we all do, and we need to. We are measurers, assessors. Not necessarily bean counters, but evaluators. You skim this post to gauge the reading time, and judge according to previous assessments you have made, perhaps unconsciously, of your capacity to engage with and process blogs in this space. You wonder to what extent you can engage with D and G to get under the skin of this rhizo thing. You quietly assess the different posts and messages to try to get a hold on what you should filter in or filter out. Managing participation in a cMOOC with the firehose full on requires continuous assessment of everything against your own subjective rubric, and not least your own progress: of course it is ipsative, we are all free to be subjective. But we do  assess our learning, and we do that competently, and regularly, making decisions on the basis of the results. Every fork in the path, every opening rabbit hole involves a micro-assessment, sometimes analytical, sometimes intuitive, sometimes the decision is to simply jump, but it is a decision. These are formative, sometimes transformative, assessments.

What is resisted is external measurement. We detest that. Because we feel that only we ourselves are capable of assessing our own learning meaningfully or legitimately. This is not negotiable from a rhizomatic perspective. Others cannot see the whole picture, lack the information to take those decisions for us. If they do, or when they do, it feels like an aggression, a judgement that fails to do justice to our learning, or our learning process. Summative assessment aims to encapsulate and package the learning, the transformation we have lived through, for external consumption. But in free range learning, the idea of an external summative decision is anathema.

At this point there comes a coyote moment.

Learning is rhizomatic. We can influence the growth of the plant, we can attempt to build channels and free spaces for it, and sometimes simplifications, potted rhizomes, will work (as Dave Cormier readily points out) but the kudzu keeps growing.

And in the end the rhizome takes us out beyond the edge of the cliff. Deep down in the warm earth we are free to muse and explore and root, we are even free to make privileged spaces in our classrooms and institutions for learning to take place, but at some point, the transmissionists ask as to prove it, to provide evidence. We have no framework for evidence, no structure, no scaffolding. The very notion of evidence is questionable. But we seem to be avoiding the question. Is there no possible framework for conversation about our rhizomes (not about the notion of the rhizome, but specific rhizomes, named rabbitholes)?

There are a whole load of things we can measure, ipsatively, formatively. We can develop rituals and conversations that enrich our growth, expand our curriculum, our community. The beacons we light, our campfire on the beach may attract others, and the idea may spread. But at some point we will have to address the fact that the notion of the rhizome is largely incompatible with formal learning. We can create privileged spaces. I have done what could be termed rhizomatic projects in formal education spaces and seen substantial transformation, but moving from the small success to widespread change is immensely challenging. There is a lot of inertia.

Some might say the idea of the rhizome is like kudzu grass, slowly undermining the foundations of formal learning. I would love to believe this, but I think that current conservative narratives, folk pedagogies around education, are extremely resilient. Models and examples will help, but formal funded education has to show evidences to parents, politicians and employers. We can’t avoid the need to measure “learning”, and as I have suggested I think we know how to measure, but we do need to reframe what kind of evidence is legitimate, and what kind of “learning” is valued.

Those are however political issues. But then learning, and education always have been political issues.

Post script:

Evidence is mostly understood as static, for the most part evidence is a dead letter from the past of the individual. Could new ways of providing evidence be structured around dialogue?

Cartographic conversations

Ellie Lighthouse in the Rhizomatic Learning theoretical discussion group on Facebook wrote a very interesting post about tracings and maps as ways of looking at learning objectives and subjectives respectively.
She quotes from a Thousand Plateaus (p.12): “The tracing has already translated the map into an image; it has already transformed the rhizome into roots and radicles. It has organized, stabilized, neutralized the multiplicities according to the axes of signifiance and subjectification belonging to it. It has generated, structuralized the rhizome, and when it thinks it is reproducing something else it is in fact only reproducing itself. That is why the tracing is so dangerous. It injects redundancies and propagates them. What the tracing reproduces of the map or rhizome are only the impasses, blockages, incipient taproots, or points of structuration.” She points out that the tracing could be seen as one of the “worst effects of goal setting/ assessment/ goal setting cycles in institutionalised learning“.   I see the tracing as a useful image, though perhaps these days less accessible than another that Simon Ensor pointed to in the comments on that thread. The Satnav, which gives you a single route, or at best a selection of three. Leaving aside the occasions where the route is not appropriate, the problem with satnavs is that that they are drvien by assumptions of efficiency. The scenic route is rarely an option, redundancy is impossible, and serendipity is an accident.
Ellie also quotes from a Thousand Plateaus (p.13) on maps: “A map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back “to the same.” The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged “competence.“” She suggests that a map may correspond to a learning subjective. I am not so sure of this. Though it is more linked to performance and has a multitude of potentials, the map is perhaps one of the outcomes of a process that begins with subjectives. The map is what emerges as the learner explores the territory, and as each rhizome curves and turn and sprouts differently, so each individual map will be different. (And, obviously, the map is not the territory, as Borges so elegantly pointed out.)
The set of subjectives, rather than a map, is perhaps more akin to what a cartographer carries in her bag. These might include tools for viewing, tools for orientation, tools for sampling, tools for representation, probably some kind of prior impression of what the territory may involve (mountain range, tropical jungle, estuary etc) and a set of intentions (or at least a rough direction in which to direct one’s steps at the outset).
The challenge is perhaps the tendency for territories to collapse into maps and from there into tracings (or satnav routes). The tracing is a complete collapse, but the map that emerges from our exploration also exhibits this tendency, and however much we may label it provisional, it always involves a partial closing. It is natural to want to represent and summarise our learning, if only to be able to speak of it, and thus consolidate it, as well as share it.  But to do this is always to discard, and ignore some of the richness of what we have explored.
How can we sustain the potentialities that flower during a rhizomatic exploration of the territory… what conversations are possible between our emerging maps?