The more virtual we become, the more tactile our needs

Talve´ (2011) says, “the more virtual we become, the more we seek tactile, earthy, soft nesting spaces in which to rest our bodies and soothe our overactive minds.”

I think this captures my outlook and interest in learning spaces well. The idea of hybrid space and hybrid learning are proving useful to me at the moment in my research and in my practice at work I am try to conceptualise for myself and others ideas of a (near) future learning space.

First to dissect that quote,

  • the idea of ‘virtual’ is quite problematic. I think in education we know what this refers to as it is commonly used in the term virtual learning environment, and its usage is good enough in this quotation from Talve´ too. It refers to simulated, enhanced or transformed behaviours which are supported and altered to achieve a given outcome e.g. learning.
  • “tactile, earthy, soft nesting spaces” suggests that even though we can achieve real tasks in a digital space, such spaces are essentially alien to our fundamental human needs of wellbeing. We need to ‘be’ grounded in a reality than stimulates our multiple senses. The implication is that the digital space brings temporary convenience so that we can construct, communicate, curate knowledge and connect ourselves with others in ways that would not be possible without the digital. However, this connectivity can only ever be in the form of brief excursions. Like submariners, astronauts, birds or travellers, eventually we need to ground ourselves in reality.
  • We need to, “soothe our overactive minds” reminds us that whilst we might achieve a lot more and do this more quickly than ever before, our minds remain human. There is actually only so much we as real people can actually process. There is a suggestion that if we believe we are keeping pace with what the digital facilitates, we need to take a reality check in terms of the quality of what we are doing, what this means, and in terms of our own health and quality of life.

I came across the quote in a paper by Bilandzic & Johnson (2013). This is a really well written paper about the library as a hybrid learning space. They ask, for example, “If all knowledge and information is perpetually being archived and made accessible online, what is left for the library as a physical place?” (p. 259).

It’s good to see research into Library 2.0 and reflect on the implications and transferability of this body of work to a more holistic view of spaces for learning. How about changing their question a little: “If all knowledge and information is perpetually being archived and made accessible online, what is left for the university as a physical place?” The inference of their original question, which they make explicit, is that the library is understood as a place that not only provides information and knowledge in the form of artefacts and archives, but which provides a sense of place to”facilitate sustained, uninterrupted intellectual work, as well as a sense of creativity, inspiration and scholarship.” (p.260)

It reminds us to look beyond the transactional to the ontological and even spiritual nature of learning. So we can extend this too to say that the university and a space for teaching and learning is not only a place in which learning is enacted through formal and informal study, interaction, action, feedback and the setting of diverse and stretching challenges, it is also imbued with qualities that give us as learners and teachers sustenance. Physical spaces ground us as social beings. This grounding defines the hybrid learning space in which formal and informal, digital and physical, social and independent conditions exist almost as a primordial soup from which learning can emerge.


Bilandzic, M. & Johnson , D.(2013) Hybrid placemaking in the library: designing digital technology to enhance users’ on-site experience, The Australian Library Journal, 62:4, 258-271, DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2013.845073

Talve´, A. (2011). “Libraries as places of invention.” Library Management 32 (8/9): 493– 504.



About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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