Place is our starting point

Aristotle’s gymnasium , Athens

“In Aristotle …we have a very powerful philosophy of place as the starting point for all other forms of existence.” (Cresswell, 2009, p. 2)

This year will see the publication of my book Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Central to its thesis is the proposition that place and placemaking are the starting points for understanding spaces for learning. We need to be learning-centred in our thinking about space. This is fundamental to evaluating social media for learning, for example, in which learning occurs within a distributed and networked context, being experiential and unbounded. Social media learning spaces do not fit the paradigm of learning space; they are fundamentally experiential, boundless and connective and so they are unlike historic conceptions of learning space conceptualised and straight-jacketed by binary distinctions of formality and actuality.

It is apt that I am in Athens for New Year. It is here that Aristotle established his Lyceum and the gymnasium, places of learning through interaction and contemplation. This is where peripatetic learning was born. Subsequently the word peripatetic has become associated with the organisation and movement of teachers, nurses or doctors to service a region, but its original meaning was Aristotelian, describing learning as contemplative and conversational through walking. This phenomenon continues to fascinate me. Not only are learning, walking and talking central to the twitter walks (#twalks) I have run this year, but they are symbolic of a disrupted yet valid conception of learning space in which learning is part of a narrative of becoming. The same ideas are fundamental to Studio for All (Middleton, 2017) – the proposition that learning is best understood as being active, co-operative, generative and dynamic. This brings us to ‘being’ and learner agency in which each learner must first understand, accept and embrace the active learning role, developing the skills they need to learn now and into the future.

By understanding connected place rather than simply detached space as our locus, educators may begin to redirect attention to learning context and situatedness, and what this means for developing knowledge and acquiring a learning disposition. Place, then, is much more than space: learning place is more about learning situation and what this means for each learner, while learning space is more interested in pragmatic matters of location and locale.

This year I expect to pay more attention to learning as it relates to place, placemaking, being, belonging and becoming.


Cresswell, T. (2009). Place.

Middleton, A. (2017). Studio for All: perspectives on the pedagogy and ecology of studio-based learning. Creative Academic Magazine, August 2017, pp. 31-37.

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
This entry was posted in Academic Innovation and Possibilities, Active Learning, Digital Placemaking, Learning Space and Place, Social Media for Learning, Studio and Studio-based Learning, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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