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Affinity Groups

Designing for Rhizomatic Learning

Overview; Last week I discussed what I described as ‘designing for discontinuities’ outlining what I had learnt about rhizomatic learning from engaging in MOOCs. Jenny Mackness has added some parallel reflections in her blog post Between a MOOC and a hard place too. This week I am going to look at how we will try and implement what we learnt from those reflections on the values of social discontinuity for learning and the strength of weak ties in networking. The key element in implementing rhizomatic learning in WikiQuals will be in supporting the process of self-organised ‘affinity groups’. This will develop the earlier idea of using Affinity Partners, rather than supervisors (or teachers), to support the learning process.

Affinity Groups; The idea of the Affinity Partner is to be empathetic to the learner. A key aspect of WikiQuals is trusting learners to follow their interests and to determine for them selves what they want to learn. The affinity partner rather than supervising acts more as a critical friend moderating the work of their WikiSqolar. However having an Affinity Partner still reflects an individualised mode of studying. Following the discussion with Tony Hall on social learning it seemed to me that we need to develop groups within the WikiQuals group process and if allowed Sqolars to be part of differing affinity groups, not based on subject interest per se, but on more human impulses this would be a useful development. It would also be a good way of integrating andragogy into the WikiQuals process, which is a key part of the Open Context Model of Learning.

The Q of Social Intimacy; In Imagination Jonah Lehrer quotes the work by Brian Uzzi on the social intimacy (or Q) of group creativity, when identifying what factors determine the creativity of groups. What they found in their research is that groups are more creative if members have a mix of people who know each other and people who don’t. They named this state Intermediate Q, high Q means people know each other too well and low Q menas they have little in common. So it seems a key factor in an Affinity Group would be to good an intermediate Q, where some people have knowledge of the subject ans some people dont. I think this is a key factor in designing rhizomatic learning.

Does guerilla filmmaking have the right Q? Philippa Young’s approach to making guerilla filmmaking work with What Took You So Long seems to reflect the appropriate, intermediate, level of Q in the way that they organise. They pull together a mixture of people who know each other and people who dont, who have a mixture of film-making experience and complete ignorance (but a lot of enthusiasm). They do seem to organise very effectively on that basis and go around the world making films by solving problems as they arrive on a ‘just-in-time basis’.

The Community is the Curriculum; in his work on rhizomatic learning Dave Cormierdeveloped the great maxim that ‘the community is the curriculum’ and, in part, this is what Affinity Groups will do within the WikiQuals learning process. That is we think that in having a group of Sqolars supporting each other then that will actually help shape each others learning within the Group. Certainly we agree with Guattari’s quote in his paper the 3 Ecologies ( social ecology, mental ecology, environmental ecology) that “Our objective should be to nurture individual cultures” and we think that each individual needs their own learning culture and Affinity Groups might be one way of enabling this post-institutional learning differentiation.

The Q of Affinity Groups; Affinity Groups will be the main innovation we will be developing over the next few months and it will be interesting to see how they work out as a form of self-organised groups within a self-directed learning process. Perhaps, as Dave Cormier suggests, Affinity Groups themselves will actually help shape what our Sqolars address in their learning; watch this space.



About fred6368

Visiting Researcher at the London Knowledge Lab Member of the Learner-Generated Contexts Group Social Improv & #Heutagogy Contextualist & CyberSalonista Participatory City Beatles & World Music Fan Working on #WikiQuals

One response »

  1. I’m playing catch-up here. It may take me a while. I love the idea of Affinity Partners.

    I learn in a non formal way and find plenty of people who I see as true teachers and mentors as I join in online groups (and some face-to-face ones) and do practical projects. But these people are all only connected with fragments of what I do, so there is something missing regarding opportunities to share and discuss “the whole thing”.

    I don’t want a teacher or supervisor in the traditional sense – telling me what to learn etc. I like the non-formal way I learn (although I have an envious vision of formal study with “the ideal supervisor” but I realise they are probably a rare breed – I look forward to finding out how to find an Affinity Partner or to being part of an Affinity Group.


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