Space, walking and non-verbal communications #activelearning


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Learning walks are valuable conversational spaces. They tend to be non-confrontational and, for me, epitomise co-operative learning. Not only do they feel familiar spaces exemplifying a networked paradigm as people move naturally between small groups through the course of semi-structured discussions, but they also imbue social respect.

This article from Psychology Today on posture and position by Audrey Nelson, sets out Albert Scheflin’s concept of “frames” which offers insight on personal space and body language, and gender differences. While reflecting on learning walks, I note that the ‘side-by-side’ frame explains what I experience and value as a walker in conversation.

Unlike the Vis-à-Vis Frame which can be perceived as confrontational (especially by men) or the Terminal Marker which signals an intention to end a conversation, the Side-by-Side Frame precludes eye contact. I was listening to Radio 4 this morning where, in an aside on child-rearing, an interviewee mentioned the ‘well-known’ parental strategy of addressing difficult matters using side-by-side listening in order to give the child the space to change their mind, own, become responsible, and learning from a misdemeanour. The person mentioned difficult conversation a parent might have with a child on the school run sitting side-by-side in the car. I recognised that non-confrontation and shyness in learning (not visibly declaring one’s ignorance to peers or mentors) are important spaces to create in active learning situations. In a walk, we are comfortable to deal with challenging ideas because we naturally find strategies for thinking through and building upon the ideas of others while communicating empathy and encouragement in equal measure.

Nelson observes how “unrelated people assume a side-by-side position by accident or because of the physical nature of their circumstances. They happen to be walking in the same direction or they sit down on the same bench or the same seat on a bus. In this case, they may have no other relation to each other.” Here she makes a connection with me to ideas about incidental learning, serendipity, and non-formal learning spaces, clarifying why I value such ideas as a dimension of co-operative studio-based pedagogy.

More generally, if we are interested in ideas around Active Learning, then Scheflin’s concept of “frames”, and theories on personal space, body language, and the development of active listening skills all warrant further study.


Nelson, A. (2014). Why you stand side-by-side or face-to-face: The secret science of posture and position. Psychology Today, 27 April 2014. Online at:

Scheflen, A. E. (1974 [1966]). Quasi-courtship behavior in psychotherapy.
In S. Weitz, (Ed.), Nonverbal communication: Readings with commentary
(182-198). NY: Oxford.

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
This entry was posted in Active Learning, Belonging, BYOD, Co-operative pedagogy, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Studio and Studio-based Learning, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s