I am back in rhizospace again.

This week we are to explore the notion of “learning subjectives”, and more specifically focus on this question: How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going?

The notion of “the learning subjective” appears to be a way of questioning the idea of learning objectives. Though there are wonderful semantic rabbit-holes to run down here, I shall save them for later. In the term learning objectives, the word objective is largely synonymous with goal, or aim. A learning subjective would therefore in some way be the opposite of a goal. This might be some kind of non-goal, something that has no “goal-ness”, or an absence of goals.
But the focus is on design. The assumption is that something has to be designed.
This assumption could be questioned, we could focus on the value of aimlessness, of not having goals. We could sit under the Bo tree…
Bo tree
But for the moment, the question is how we design…
The notion of design inherently implies intentionality, we design for a purpose.If there is an intention involved then there is a vision of some kind, an end, however nebulous, We can’t do “design” meaningfully without it.
This implies that in some way we “do” know where we are going. The question is perhaps more about whose way it is, whose intention? The word “subjective” implies a self-defined intention. The rhizome sprouts upward through the rich patch of nutrients known as critical pedagogy.
If we do know where we are going, what do we know about it, we know it is unpredictable, perhaps uncharted, it is a place where the usual course structure and linearity is not present, a place where we make the road as we walk it. Designing then is about preparing ourselves for the unknown and the unpredictable. It’s about providing the tools, resources and companions that will help us deal with the unexpected, filter and select what we find, choose paths, orient ourselves. This rhizome emerges into a thicket called metalearning.
But there is another assumption underlying the question, which is that at some point we actually do know where we are going. On the face of it we might, but from some perspectives the linearity of learning through courses looks more like a seductive fiction. Though a curriculum may be set out on paper, and a set of learning objectives defined and later assessed, what is actually enacted in the learning space is usually divergent from that formal curriculum, and the lived experience of the curriculum for each learner is likely to be even more divergent. Our formal assessments focus on compliance with curricular objectives but fail to explore all the other learning that takes place. Every classroom is full of the invisible rhizomes of learner’s thoughts, growing in and outside, beyond and through the syllabus.
This learning is something we can only guess at, in this respect as “designers” we don’t know where we are going. We may draw elegant maps with learning objectives and a set path, but the mind of the learner may well decide to explore the lonely mountains at the corner of the map, or the whale-monstered sea-bottom, or look at the hand holding the map, and the person behind it. We and they need equipment for that journey, and the equipment involved is largely emotional and attitudinal, a mindset. We need to help them, and ourselves, develop the wherewithal to thrive in uncertainty, and the autonomy to stray, and bloom.

May the road rhize with you!


5 thoughts on “Intentions

  1. I’m still not sure what a learning subjective is but I enjoyed reading your post:) Objectives, goals, aims- they can all tie us down and constrain us. But not as much as step by step processes. I am quite attached to the idea of declarative – as in programming – that expresses the logic of a computation without describing its control flow (wikipedia):) But seriously, I just want to put in a good word for minimal structure that can liberate us to diverge, create and generally have fun together. I really wonder what minimal structures can help to frame an emergent design by teachers and students, and what can help with ‘mindset’.

  2. So many nice ideas to follow through on in here and i hadn’t thought about the whole idea of metalearning in this way, which makes sense. Thanks! Welcome to the rhizome 😉

  3. I really like your point here that insofar as we are talking about designing a course, there is some goal or other. Even for this course, there might have been goals like encouraging discussions on various topics related to rhizomatic learning, allowing people to pick their own paths, destabilizing the idea of a course with learning objectives, etc. I agree with Frances about minimal structures that still leave lots of room for exploring and moving in different directions.

    And I agree about whatever goals one does have will be taken differently by different participants. That doesn’t mean there’s no value to having some minimal structure or goals to guide the design, though!

    Nice, thought-provoking post!

  4. Thanks, Nick. I am mindful that many of us who have the vocation and privilege of teaching do so within syllabi, institutional missions, requirements and guidelines. Your post makes this explicit, and I’m grateful to see that brought into the #rhizo15 conversation. How do each of us bloom where we are planted, and invite this kind of awareness of learning to “rhize up” alongside institutional objectives?

  5. Pingback: #becomingeducation_W25 And so they begin… | Becoming An Educationalist

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