Lifewide learning domains: rich intersections or contested spaces

Deerhill in the snow. One of the moor top walks I take to wonder and wander

I noted in my previous post on mapping our learning that I would be engaging in the collaborative inquiry ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Our Own Learning Lives’ led by Norman Jackson, Rob Ward and Jenny Willis. I have just about managed to engage with this in week one (increasingly finding any space in my wide life feels tricky!) and I look forward to reflecting on how we compartmentalise or connect our learning lives across various domains as I pay attention to my own intentional and incidental learning.

This is essentially the focus of the study as I understand it. It coincides so well with my own thinking and questioning, and this blog space is one important strand in my own lifewide learning narrative.

My first task in the exercise has been to devise a Lifewide Learning Domain Map which I share below. I did it really quickly, believing that this cannot be a science and a rough and ready mapping will be as revealing as anything else. Indeed, I have added ‘connections and crossings’ to my map’s title because I think the intersections and contested nature of the domains will reveal more to me as I participate in this study – my role being mostly as a subject. Note, I have also used the word ’emphasises’ as I introduce each domain to again indicate the fuzziness and changing, ambiguous nature of (my) life: ‘If I say [domain name], then it is mostly to do with…, but note entirely or exclusively.’ And for me, this fuzziness is especially relevant to how I/we learn. That cliché of ‘I have my best ideas in the shower’ makes the point well – I find space to think and learn in apparently disconnected spaces and this gives us the concepts of third space and third place, as in the hairdresser’s fire escape fag break (Shortt, 2014).

Psychogeography is a surprising high level domain for me, and I may decide it is too much of a passing interest, however I see it as a broad set of ideas that connect and make sense of a lot of my life. This is quite ironic, because the literature on psychogeography, as far as I can tell, really caricatures it through the aimless nature of the lone wonderer. Obviously, for me, it turns out being aimless is an important dimension in my life, contrasting with the intense purposeful nature of pretty much everything else I do. My waking hours do feel as though I am on an intense mission most of the time. And that is the way I like it. I will return to psychogeography in a future post.

Colliding and compressing domains

In the introductory presentation given by Norman, he asked whether the domains in our lives had lost their distinctiveness during the pandemic. In these days of lockdown everything seems to happen at home. Being online happens at home – hence polycontextuality. The only time I leave the house is to walk or shop for groceries. I don’t expect this to change for a long time. If I’m right, there is an urgency for each of us to reflect on and develop new life strategies.

I think for most of us, this compression of domains will be most evident in those areas of life we have created to do with friends, family and leisure. Simply, friendship feels very different in Zoom. It’s the wrong place, because friendship is often quiet: friendship is about the space between words, being acceptant of social signals, doing things together for no other purpose than doing things with people just feels good. That’s much more difficult than the focused and purposeful activities we undertake at work or when we are being intentionally creative and productive.

Therein lies the crisis of schooling: the primary learning outcome of a formal education is to become a social being – it is not the ‘stuff’ we’re assessed on.

Quiet personal bubbles

And then, even though we are generally experiencing great social isolation during the pandemic, to what extent are we managing to find and protect those transitory dwelling places each of us needs? I get it in walking, taking photographs and posting them to Instagram, playing the guitar, writing, doing a lot of Skill Share courses, and watching a lot of YouTube videos (some ‘serious’, some not).

Often this could induce feelings of guilt though, given that a lot of this involves switching off in my bubble demarcated by my Bluetooth headphones. I can’t really imagine how on earth this plays out in families. Fortunately, I just live with my partner and we navigate our spaces pretty well! (I think?!)

Boundary crossing

As indicated, identifying domains feels somewhat arbitrary to me. It will be interesting to see how it works out for me over the next five weeks of the study. So much of what I think and write about is to do with experiential crossing points – I suggest it is the intersections of our lives in which we come across our meaning, when things get in the way (collisions) or when things add up or multiply (connections).

In terms of learning and what I am doing at work as an educational developer, this is informing what I am doing on Building Learning Communities: developments around non-formal learning space to enrich the student’s experience in a time of great alienation.


Shortt, H. (2014). Liminality, space and the importance of ‘transitory dwelling places’ at work. Human Relations, 6, 1-26. DOI: 10.1177/0018726714536938

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
This entry was posted in Belonging, Digital Placemaking, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Personal & Professional Development Planning, Polycontextuality, Scholarship and Research, Social Media for Learning, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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