(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Cormier’s Community as Curriculum, and Rhizomatic Education


I have just finished reading Dave Cormier’s 2008 article Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum and thought I would reflect on it here. (I am actually unsure why I had never come across this before, as I have been doing lots of research on MOOCs, and he is the one who coined the term, after all!)

First, it resonated with me big-time regarding how knowledge about rapidly changing fields can no longer wait for the traditional learning/knowledge-acceptance cycle. My recent experience writing a peer-reviewed article about MOOCs was a great example! Between first draft, peer review, and second draft, a lot had changed in the MOOC landscape. Between article getting accepted and its upcoming publication, my own views about MOOCs have already changed as I have taken more MOOCs and read a lot more about others’ views, especially given the recent conference on the matter.

Second, I had been looking for approaches to online education that did not take traditional instructional design approaches, and this is definitely one of them, as it focuses on the community of learners as knowledge creators rather than an expert as central to deciding which content is valuable for the learners. Not surprisingly this sounds a lot like social constructivism and even more like connectivism (and Cormier does mention the similarities). He suggests, however, that these theories still assume

“…that the learning process should happen organically but that knowledge, or what is to be learned, is still something independently verifiable with a definitive beginning and end goal determined by curriculum.”


“In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises”

Because knowledge in some fields is so fluid, he says it is like a moving target, and so community becomes central to curriculum,

“community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

This view has radical elements of empowerment, but I also have a tingling feeling that it might be missing something as many such approaches do: the inequalities within community. Just because all are told to “be peers and work collaboratively” does not mean they are equal. People have different levels of comfort with this kind of fluidity, they have different power to exert and confidence to exert it (e.g. Due to variations in tech skill, linguistic ability, time management, etc.), and the degree to which the are able to disconnect from traditional notions of canonical knowledge. Cormier does not by any means claim that this approach is appropriate for all disciplines and I value that contextualization.

I look forward to exploring these ideas further, reflecting on my own experiences with them (e.g.#edcmooc which I just finished, #FutureEd MOOC coming up) and how they connect with pedagogy even in less bleeding edge fields. I know there has been much more going on in the field since 2008, connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) being one phenomenon, and also HASTAC. Much more left to learn and reflect on, hopefully to bring back to my own teaching and faculty development work.


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

9 thoughts on “Cormier’s Community as Curriculum, and Rhizomatic Education

  1. Hi there… quite right about inequality. It’s ever-present and shows up continuously during the application of RL. The key is to make people aware of the inequality and work with it… as it is present whether we have a class or not. Finding strategies to work with it is critical. For more… check out http://davecormier.pressbooks.com

    cheers d.

  2. I’ve been meaning to read this article for ages and never do, but your discussion is quite compelling. I have been trying to revise a course I’m teaching next semester and it sounds like this concept of community as curriculum might help me. Heading off to read Cormier right now! I have also signed up for the #futureedMooc. Of course, I sign up for many MOOCs and rarely do much with them, but perhaps this one will stick!

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