Thursday, May 29, 2014

Emergence and Crying in Public

Before I engaged with Rhizo14, I was writing a series of posts about complexity and how it affects education in general and my own field, composition, in particular. I want to return to that line of thought, but from an oblique angle.

This past February, I found myself on a panel at the Southern Humanities Conference annual meeting with Linnéa Franits of Utica College, and two others. I delivered a paper entitled Missing God: Meditations on Time, Complexity, and Serres, and Linnéa gave a paper entitled Authentic Narratives Elicited from Photographs: History, Memory or Fantasy? I'm not sure what brought these two papers together in the mind of the conference organizers, but I'm glad it worked that way. Unfortunately, though, I read first that day.

I had written a meditation on the absence of signal, in part to explore the side of life that is not covered by positivistic communications theories that model signal generation, propagation, reception, and response. All of those approaches to communications assume that communications begins with a signal, and I wanted to think about those times when the signal is absent: no signal. As is often my tendency, I was wallowing in the deep end of cosmic chaos, and I tried to balance the far reaches of remote galaxies and epochs with some concrete examples from my own local life. So I spoke of three times in my family history when I looked for a signal and did not get one, and the meaning that emerged from no signal.

One example spoke about a particularly difficult time when my youngest sister did not communicate with me about my oldest son's health crisis. I knew this was an emotionally charged issue and that was, in part, why I used it, or so I thought. I wanted to give some heated emotion to a discussion that was too cool and airy. Though writing reminded me of some raw emotions in my past, I wrote the part calmly. I then practiced my delivery several times, editing to get the cadence and tone right, inserting pauses for dramatic and emotional effect, and each time I spoke the part just fine. I was pleased with myself. I was striking just the right emotional, minor, bluesy chord at just the right time.

Well, I wanted the part to move my audience, but I didn't expect it to move me. As I started reading the part about my sister, however, I could feel my throat tighten, my face tingle, and tears swell in my eyes. I almost panicked. I can't do this, I thought, I can't cry at an academic conference. Well, I was wrong. I could cry, and I did.

I didn't completely break down, I don't think. At the last second, I decided to embrace the moment and ride it, and that gave me the ability to lean into the reading, though with a wavering voice, and complete the presentation. So the paper worked, though not at all in the way I thought it would. After our panel, Linnéa promised to share with me her own account of crying in public, and a week after I returned home, she emailed me a copy of her article Mothers as Storytellers in the Lewiecki-Wilson and Cellio book Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge (2011). I've just read her article, and it helps me understand what happened to me. She describes a retelling of a well-crafted story about her own son's disability, which I quote at length:
This telling became completely different. I found myself becoming more and more moved by the words I was reading, to the point where my eyes welled up with tears, which eventually spilled out onto my face as l was overcome with sobs. I was a mess. My kind peers passed tissues my way, and the professor was gracious and gentle as I tried to regain my composure. I was perplexed by my response and struggled to figure out why this telling of the story was such a different experience for me than my typical presentations. For some reason, reading my written word aloud multiplied the emotional impact it had on me. The story was the same as it always had been, and I already knew the admittedly constructed happy ending. The words on the page were somehow more real, more powerful because of their written and then aural form. As I heard myself reading these words to my classmates I became a listener as well as narrator, a participant who received the story and who was not in control of the happy ending. The roller-coaster track had become unfamiliar to me, and the turn startled me as it did the rest of the group. I was reminded that the story of my son’s birth and early life was not the one I had mentally written before it happened, the one that other mothers had told me to expect.
By the way, you should read Linnéa's article, as it is about so much more than crying in public, but that is the part I want to respond to here.

Our experiences were similar: we both had a speech that we already knew, but when we spoke it before a different audience, then a new meaning emerged that neither of us expected. My leading question is, where did this new meaning come from? We both wrote our articles, and that emotional meaning was not there, at least not in that way. We both delivered the articles at other times, and that meaning was not there. So where was it hiding?

It was hiding in the noise, along with everything else. Meaning is an emergent property of events which are themselves the emergent properties of countless trajectories that intersect just here and now, which are themselves emergent properties of things all the way back to the noise. It's emergence after emergence, ad infinitum. But to talk about this, I need simpler models.

The communications triangle will do, though it is a static, flat model of an emerging dynamism. Think of this model as a snapshot of a football game—it makes no sense and is useless unless you already understand football. This model says that any written communications is made up of a writer, a reader, a subject, and a text to connect the other three, like this:
Literary scholars have variously located meaning in one or the other of these four points: in the writer's mind, in the reader's mind, in the world, or in the text itself. More progressive minded folk of the latter part of the 20th century attributed meaning to the interaction and social agreements between writer and reader. The emergent (think complexity) view says that meaning is not a static property of any one of these points but a dynamic property of the interaction of all four trajectories. Change any one of these trajectories, and a different meaning emerges. This makes meaning the emergence of a very complex set of interactions. Actually, it's more complex than that when you consider that each of these trajectories—writer, reader, subject, and text—is also an emergent property of countless other trajectories. And it's more complex still when you consider more than just these four trajectories: throw in the technology, the social context, economics, philosophy, and so on.

Then consider this: all of that is lying in wait in the undifferentiated noise, the background, until a reader engages this nexus of trajectories, bringing it/them into relief against the noise, and then releasing them to fade back into the noise. If you are reading this post, for example, you are bringing into relief a number of ideas to which I, the text of my post, and the subject contribute only a part, maybe a small part of the meaning you see emerging. All of your other readings (to pick just one other stream of many) is also contributing meaning to your reading, and I am likely oblivious to this trajectory of readings as are the other readers of this post. Your meaning cannot be my meaning, and should you read this post later in life, your meaning now will no longer be your meaning.

The principle of emergence appears to work throughout reality, and not just in books and blog posts. In their article The Sacred Emergence of Nature (2006, in Clayton and Simpson's The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, 853-871), Goodenough and Deacon explain that emergence works from the ground up, and maybe from below the ground up:
Emergent properties arise as the consequence of relationships between entities. Robert Laughlin (2005) intriguingly suggests that emergent properties arise even at the level of relationships between subatomic entities—indeed, he suggests that the very ‘laws’ of nature may prove to be emergent—but since we are not trained in discourse at this level, we will begin with relationships between atoms. Atoms interact with one another, and hence generate emergent outcomes, in accordance with two general features: their energy and their form. … The key concept: if one starts with something like a water molecule, it is nothing but two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, but each molecule has something-else properties that cannot be ascribed to hydrogen alone nor to oxygen alone. The interaction between the three atoms entails a reconfiguration of electron orbitals and generates a trapezoid-shaped entity that is more electrically positive on one facet and more negative on the opposite facet. Compared with hydrogen and oxygen atoms, a water molecule has unprecedented attributes, because the joining of these atoms has distorted the shapes of each and produced a composite shape with its own intrinsic properties.
If this is the case, then we are all emergent properties among other emergent properties, and just as the meaning of a water molecule is an emergent property of the joining of the trajectory of one hydrogen atom with the trajectories of two oxygen atoms, then the meaning of a text is an emergent property of the trajectories of at least a writer, reader, subject, and text—and probably many more trajectories. Thus, when I stood to speak before a gathering of my peers in Richmond, VA, Saturday, February 01, 2014, at about 9:15 in the morning, the meaning that emerged was quite different—though in a self-similar, fractal kind of way—from the meanings that had emerged in other contexts.

I was surprised and initially embarrassed, though I don't know why. I know that meaning is emergent and dynamic; still, I was surprised. And now I know that I can cry, and why, in an academic presentation. Thanks, Linnéa.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sliding Out through Rhizo14

I'm sliding outwards, across the boundaries and just in time.

One of the most important results of Rhizo14 for me has been my connection to educational thinkers outside of North America and Western Europe, the West. In a series of articles for Hybrid Pedagogy, Maha Bali (Egypt) and Shyam Sharma (originally Nepal, now in New York, USA) tackle the issue of working with and speaking to the privileged West from a non-Western context. I had an epiphany when I read that Westerners and non-Westerners "do not talk the same language." I think Maha and Shyam are correct. We don't. Even the way I just wrote that—Westerners and non-Westerners—privileges the West, makes the West the touchstone, renders everything else as Other. I don't do it on purpose, but I do it none-the-less.

I'm not interested in beating up on myself here, or on the West, and that is certainly not what Maha and Shyam were doing. Rather, I feel an obligation to recognize our situation and to be sensitive to ways to work with this peculiar boundary that exists between us. I don't say eliminate the boundary because I have much more respect for boundaries than that. While it is true that hard boundaries can separate us, soft boundaries are also the affordances that join us. We cannot do without boundaries, but we can rethink and restructure our boundaries.

Then, Clarissa Bezerra (Brazil) has been sharing on her blog writings from Brazilian and Spanish scholars unknown to me and likely unknown to most US educationists. Clarissa has kindly translated a section from Maria Cândida Moraes' book Eco-Systemic Thought: Education, Learning, and Citizenship in the 21ST Century (Moraes, Maria Cândida. Pensamento Eco-Sistêmico: Educação, aprendizagem e cidanania no século XXI. 2 ed. -Petrópolis, RJ: Vozes, 2008), and it resonated with me immediately. I detect some heavy influences in Moraes' book from another of my favorite writers, Edgar Morin, who, I understand, is much more well-known in Latin America than in the English speaking world. I'm confident that Moraes has read On Complexity.

Moraes begins by grounding education and knowledge "adjacent to the roots of quantum, biological, and complex thought." This is where Siemens begins with his discussion of connectivism, and it's where I position my thinking about education, rhetoric, and rhizomatic learning: within complexity. As I've said in my blog before, I see connectivism, cMOOCs, rhizomatic learning, and a wealth of other educational efforts as expressions of culture's general expansion beyond the simple/complicated domains of classical scientific and cultural thought to include the complex/chaotic domains. I am interested in thought within the complex domain, and I sense that this is where Moraes is playing as well.

Moraes quickly focuses on the complex in education, pointing out that education in the complex domain is quite different than the "reproductive, authoritarian, and autocratic" approach of the simple domain with its strict adherence to linear, factory line processes: one path to one product, one way to one answer. The emergence of complexity thought to include the complex and chaotic domains, many paths to many answers, without doing away with or undermining the simple and complicated domains, has profound implications for our views of knowledge and education. Moraes says quite succinctly:
Today, it is no longer possible for us educators to ignore the epistemological implications of the scientific knowledge involving the concepts of self-organization, complexity, chaos, undeterminism, and non-linear dynamics which determine living systems. We notice that these macroconcepts or new themes, when allied with cognitive science (Varela et al., 1997), set forth a more challenging vision of the morphogenesis of knowledge, a non-linear vision of the dynamics of reality, which, more than ever, unveils the intricacies between cognition and life (Maturana & Varela, 1995). For these authors, living systems are cognitive systems, and life is a process of cognition. The interactions which take place within living organisms are aways cognitive interactions that are built upon the very flow of life. It is in this flow of life that, upon actions and reactions, we shape our world and are shaped by it. From this structural imbricacy, subject and world emerge together. And what is the meaning of that for education?
Education, then, can no longer be the cool, objective acquisition of inert knowledge; rather, it is the complex emergence of the knowing self within a knowing universe. Yes, the exchange of information, along with the exchange of matter, energy, and organization, is at the heart of how the universe works. We know, and we are known. We know as we are known. They are not separate things, but a dialog between ourselves and the universe. This is a radically different epistemology that we in education have yet to grapple with. Fortunately, we have access to a marvelous voice from Brazil that can help—though I must note that Jorge Luis Borges was trying to introduce us to complexity thinking way back in 1941 in his story The Garden of Forking Paths. It has taken me too long to comprehend. I have had to learn the first things last.

I look forward to more translations from Clarissa Bezerra, and I am indebted. Rhizo14, a garden of forking paths, is a wonderful place to study.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Experience and the Ludic in Rhizomatic Education

I've recently read from two of my Rhizo14 colleagues a couple of posts that kept pulling at my head, but I couldn't tease out what I was thinking. It had something to do with experience and education or education as experience, or something. Then I read a Wired post by Rhett Allain entitled Three Science Words We Should Stop Using, which concluded:
Science is really about making models and about playing. Yes, playing. Playing isn’t just for kids, adults just get better toys. … There is no point except to play. … I just wish grade level (and some college level) books would move away from defining things and stating pieces of science and focus on the playing part. Many science classes as they are taught now are like studying the different parts of a clarinet, but never playing any music.
Studying the different parts of the clarinet, but never playing any music. Well, yes. That seems to be what much of my schooling was like. I think too many classes still work this way. Well, let's play some clarinet, then. I understand that Artie Shaw was among the best, so enjoy some old skool while you read:

In her post An Awkward Encounter – Larossa's Thoughts on Experience & Knowledge, Clarissa Bezerra discusses an article Notas sobre a Experiência e o Saber de Experiência (Notes on Experience and the Knowledge of Experience) by Jorge Larossa Bondía in which Larossa argues that education is becoming more about information and less about experience. Bezerra notes that
the contemporary obsession with information, as well as information overload, is actually a counter-experience, in that it has caused a shift from quality to quantity, from existential depth to fast processing. We have access to an endless universe of information, yet nothing really happens to us anymore. … [W]e have become fast consumers and processors of information, taking it all in and promptly emitting opinions about all things, as if learning, or at least the deep kind of learning, were actually taking place in that process.
We learn all the parts of the clarinet—see? the information is at our fingertips—but we don't play. I can now pass a test on the parts of the clarinet, but I'll bet I couldn't get a sound out of it, never mind a real note. All that information and no Artie Shaw, no experience. I think I see Larossa's and Bezerra's point.

Then I read Maha Bali's post Curriculum theory, outcomes/objectives, and throwing the pasta out with the pasta water, in which she argues against two traditional approaches to education:
  1. a content-approach to curriculum is one where the teacher (or some central body) chooses the content beforehand and develops syllabus around it.
  2. the technical or product approach to curriculum … centers on learning outcomes, making them explicit and measurable, then designing assessments to measure them.
And I see her point: we put the information ahead of the experience, or worse, we substitute the information for the experience. It's like getting the tee shirt instead of actually visiting the Pyramids. You can pass the test, but you seem to have missed something important.

At the end of her post, however, Maha says, "although I am passionately opposed to outcomes-oriented approaches to curriculum, I don’t completely ignore learning outcomes, they have their place. I put them in the syllabus, but they are just not supreme for me, lest I miss out on the more valuable learning that can and does take place in a real classroom." This is a good point that provides balance for me: I am not opposed to information, I am just opposed to substituting the information for the experience.

I learned this lesson years ago when I was earning my license to coach futbol. In the critique of a practice training session that I led, the trainer told me that I talked too much. "Mostly, just let them play and watch them," he suggested. "When they do it right, encourage that." He was right. I was putting the information before and above the play. I was using both a content and a product approach to training: they need to know how to dribble the ball with the inside and outside of the foot, so teach them how to do just that before moving on to shooting the ball. Then I would set up some cones and have them dribble in and out of the cones, around and around until they just hated futbol. I'm glad we don't teach sex this way, or as Jerry Farber once noted, the human race will die out.

And this brings me to a main point: play is about the best way to get experience into the classroom. Trauma and great hardship are also rich experiential teachers, but I don't recommend them for the classroom. Play works. Few things are more rhizomatic than play. Just watch a futbol match: basically the same ingredients in the same space, but no two matches are ever the same. A match is a fractal, bounded infinity. Good classes are also fractal, bounded infinities. The idea is to give your students space to play in, and watch for when your objectives emerge. Encourage that while remaining open to the possibility that something even better than your original objectives might emerge as well. That's when education becomes magic.

I think that I learned all the really important things in life through play, with just enough trauma and hardship thrown in to keep me emotionally balanced but, fortunately, not too badly damaged.

I need to end this by pointing out that Rhizo14 encouraged play, created spaces for play, and that play is yielding some of the best learning that I've done in a long time. Rhizo14 put the experience before the information. Indeed, it went to an extreme by providing all experience and almost no information. The group provided its own information and objectives. And is still providing it. Thanks, Clarissa and Maha.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Making Space for the Six-Minute MOOC

Recently, Maha Bali and Sarah Honeychurch held a Google Hangout with Dave Cormier as a follow-up to Rhizo14. Lots of people had sent in questions, and mostly the hangout was about Dave responding to the questions. Along the way, Dave gave a good answer to my question about a different way of defining anything, but defining courses in particular—defining from the inside-out rather than from the usual outside-in. I first came across this idea from Edgar Morin's On Complexity, and for some reason, it has persisted with me. I have the sense that if I can fully understand the difference between these two approaches to forming reality, then I will see a different world.

Dave clearly understands the question, and framed it in a very practical way around the issue of learning objectives or goals. He says that in his own classes, for instance, he resists giving his students (mostly practicing educators) learning objectives, but encourages them to form their own. He notes that a course such as Rhizo14 is not driven externally by curriculum, money, certification, formal expectations, or assessments, and "because of that, the curriculum was a lot richer, was a lot more diversified … and you get a chance to learn in unexpected ways."  His answer makes great sense to me, except for one thing. At about 20:25 in the Youtube video, Dave says that he thinks this inside-out approach is not so useful for basic courses, such as first-year physics. As the conversation develops, he suggests that basic learners need more scaffolding than that afforded by cMOOCs such as Rhizo14.

I often come across this idea and its variations: that MOOCs are for advanced students who already know the ropes, who know what they want, and who don't need the scaffolding. Stephen Downes says that MOOCs are for advanced students. MOOC discussions seem to suggest it, but I'm not yet convinced. Something about this seems to sell short the younger, beginning student.

I will make a not so subtle shift here from talking about cMOOCs to talking about rhizomatic learning. I'm comfortable doing this, first, because Dave Cormier hardly uses the term MOOC in his answers during the hangout, and also because I think rhizomatic learning is the larger, more inclusive term. I think all cMOOCs are strongly rhizomatic, but not all rhizomatic learning experiences are cMOOCs. So let's start with a thesis and see if I can defend it: inside-out, rhizomatic learning works across all scales of learning, for beginning as well as advanced students, from birth to death.

First, I do not know if Dave Cormier would agree or not with my thesis here. I'm basing this entire conversation on an almost throw away comment he made off the cuff, and I'm tying it to a larger conversation that he did not intend to join, so don't infer anything about Cormier's beliefs from what I say here. Rather, just take his comment as I have: a starting point to talk about something that's bothering me and that I hope to figure out. Dave's comment merely triggers my ramblings.

I do not see that age or preparation are the determining factors in the appropriateness of inside-out, rhizomatic learning. To my way of thinking, the determining factor is the stability and focus of what is being learned. If the subject under consideration has but one acceptable outcome, one answer, and if there is only one acceptable path, or a very few, to that outcome, then inside-out learning is not appropriate. That kind of training is better performed from an outside-in perspective, preferably by someone who knows the acceptable outcomes, the right answers, and knows the precise path to those outcomes. Such training lies in the simple domain. By simple, I do not mean that the learning is not challenging or rigorous or even complicated, but I mean simple as in the Cynefin framework's definition of the simple domain: an obvious solution with an obvious path to the solution. For instance, if there was one clear answer to the question what is rhizomatic learning, then Dave chose the wrong method for teaching the class. He should have designed a set of exercises that led us in laminar fashion along a prescribed path, through rigorous hoops (advanced learning, after all), and finally to the right answer: rhizomatic learning. He, as the expert facilitator, would have assessed our progress and told us how close we got to the right answer, shown us where we failed, and suggested how we might improve. That's a rather standard approach to education, and in some cases, it is still the appropriate approach.

But Dave didn't take that approach because there is no one, clear outcome, no privileged answer, and no clear route. There are insights, there are ways, there are meanderings, there are territorializations and deterritorializations, there is terrain to cover, to map. But there is no final destination on the map. So Dave sparked explorations with challenging questions that opened up spaces this way and that for us to explore, and along our ways and with much note comparing, we began to develop a sense of the lay of the land. We noted some landmarks, made some new ones, walked or cut some trails, but no trails led to the answer. They were just trails that were rewarding to walk or not, but they were not necessarily to get somewhere.

I don't think this kind of rhizomatic learning must be reserved for advanced students. It seems to me that babies have to take this inside-out, rhizomatic approach to learning. They have almost no scaffolding to rely on. They are motivated largely from the inside: they want food, comfort, security, warmth, and they want to know their world: that looming face, that pleasant sound that seems so familiar, that shiny red thing just over there out of reach. I don't know that we are ever more rhizomatic learners than from birth to six months as our DNA is busy unpacking us into this strange new place we dropped into. That's inside-out learning, almost totally.

I think infants slowly transition to directed, outside-in learning, but they first have to develop some scaffolding—for instance, they have to figure out how to separate significant forms from the background swelter and noise, starting with the mother. There may be no more difficult or more significant learning task for humans than this ability to distinguish signal and form from noise. We still don't know how babies manage it. Then they have to learn a language, more scaffolding. This, too, is no trivial task, and it may be the second most important learning task. At this point, infants are ready to engage in directed learning, but they've already done the most important learning, and it seems to me that it was almost all rhizomatic, inside-out. For babies, scaffolding itself is almost completely a bootstrap, rhizomatic effort.

In time, we outsiders begin to provide scaffolding and direction to infants and toddlers. And here is a curious notion: we provide the scaffolding with, usually, the very best of intentions, and it is what we should do to foster the growth of our children; still, the scaffolding we provide is an act of power. That we teach our children this and not that with these tools and not those tools is always and unavoidably an act of power. This act of power extends throughout education. In a MOOC, for instance, choosing to discuss on Facebook rather than Google+ is a power play that includes some and excludes others. In a MOOC, writing poetry instead of scholarly tomes includes some and excludes other, talking about Deleuze and Guattari empowers some and disembowels others. (Hmm … educational scaffolding as an act of aggression may make a fine future post.)

Anyway, back to my thesis. (Writing is often like meditating: I focus on my breath/thesis, my mind/words wander, and I bring them back to my breath/thesis.) I don't see that the appropriateness of inside-out, rhizomatic learning depends on the preparedness of the learner; rather, it depends on the domain in which the content lies: learning in the simple domain suggests an outside-in approach, and learning in the complex domain suggests an inside-out approach. Both domains demand some scaffolding for the students, and either the students show up with that scaffolding (for instance, they already know how to use Twitter) or they have to be provided the scaffolding (taught to use Twitter). Dave makes a relevant distinction here between paying students in traditional education and non-paying students in MOOCs. He feels more obligated, and likely more able, to provide the scaffolding for the small, more manageable groups of paying students than for the massive, less manageable groups of MOOC students. I feel the same sense, but this ignores the point that the scaffolding is required either way. Students may bring it with them or they may build it quickly in the class, provided by the teacher or not, but either way, they have to have some scaffolding.

Actually, Twitter is not such a scaffolding problem in any kind of class. The more important scaffolding is the set of expectations and roles we develop to succeed in traditional classrooms. To succeed in a MOOC, that traditional scaffolding must be dismantled, otherwise it is in the way, and new scaffolding constructed. I don't think it's correct to say that cMOOCs don't have any scaffolding. I think they do, but that will be another post. (I like these posts that suggest lots of other posts).

Now, I've been discussing education as if it is all traditional, outside-in or all rhizomatic, inside-out. I don't think that is the case. Most of my classes over the years have been a mix, though I am introducing more and more rhizomatic elements and threads. Most of us still teach in institutions that demand, either explicitly or implicitly, that we teach in traditional ways. Moreover, most subjects have some elements with one answer and one method mixed in with more open-ended elements. Thus, a class can be a rich mix of the simple and complex domains, calling for a mix of outside-in and inside-out strategies.

And this brings me to what may be the last point of this post: rhizomatic, inside-out learning is always a matter of spatial scaling. What I mean is that where traditional, directed, outside-in learning gives us a specific path to trace through a known topography to a specific learning objective, rhizomatic, inside-out learning opens a space for us to explore. The size and topography of this space should be appropriate to the learner. This is another way to distinguish directed learning from rhizomatic learning: the amount of space. Directed learning posits less space: a narrow path to a specific goal; whereas, rhizomatic learning posits more space: an opening with many or no paths and no set goal other than to explore. However, rhizomatic space is almost never unlimited. It is always limited. We advanced learners like to think that we can move confidently in unlimited spaces, but we are fooling ourselves. Consider the following video of Felix Baumbartner's jump from the edge of space, 128,000 feet out. Are you really ready this afternoon to play in that space? I'm not, and I doubt I have enough time left in life to work my way up to it.

But here's the point. We don't need this much space to be rhizomatic. Actually, this much space pushes us into the chaotic domain, where we cannot function well for long. We all need learning spaces that border the chaotic, but don't go over. That border is always measured from the inside-out, from the view of the learner. Thus, a new, unexplored 20' by 15' doctor's waiting room can be a wildly rhizomatic learning space for a toddler, while at the same time a totally boring, predictable, restricted space for the watchful mother. A learning space, then, can be rhizomatic if it is sufficiently large enough, but not too large, for the learner. It need not necessarily be large enough for the teacher (though, as a teacher, I certainly am more engaged with my classes when the learning spaces are rhizomatic for me as well as for my students).

So can cMOOCs be too large and strange a learning space for some people? Certainly. Six month MOOCs are almost too large for anyone, as Siemens and Downes demonstrated in 2011. Six week MOOCs seem closer to a sweet spot for many advanced academics, but what's wrong with smaller MOOCs with smaller spaces. They can still be rhizomatic.

Why not offer children, or any other beginning students, a six-minute MOOC? Six minutes to be any dinosaur that you want or can imagine. What a great relief from the tedium of matching the names of dinosaurs to images. Or for Dave's first-year physics students, six minutes to describe a new force in the Universe and to explain why we haven't noticed it yet. Google has made a name for itself by giving its employee's 20% time to work on anything, to follow their own passions. That's rhizomatic, inside-out learning, and I think it can be done on some scale with any group of students.