[Translation (French-English) : EPALE France]
Third places for learning? This is a subject that fascinates Denis CRISTOL, Director of Engineering and Training Systems at CNFPT, Associate Researcher at Paris Ouest Nanterre, and expert in pedagogical innovation. First of all, because the notion of “learnance” that he has developed and implemented addresses all the conditions that facilitate the act of learning. Also because place is a relevant and enlightening indicator of how we perceive training and learning. The fact that our training rooms and lecture theatres have changed very little since the Middle Ages cannot be without reason, he begins.
1- Thank you Denis for talking with us about third places for learning. First of all, what do you think the development of these multiple places tells us about the evolutions in the activity of learning?
The development of multiple new places challenges our understanding of how places transmit an informal dimension of our relationship to knowledge. This implies that they are a vector for the transformation of these relationships to knowledge. In this sense, they can be compared with the ‘nudges’ likely to induce new behaviours in the public space. Are we ‘nudging’ training? In any case, the question of the impact of the place on peoples’ situations is now an obvious one, and richly documented. While ‘third place’ remains a vague, catch-all term, it nevertheless introduces several essential ideas: collaboration and cooperation but also flexibility and openness. In short, a place carries an intention. When we observe what is happening, we see that thinking about place gives us a new way of seeing social connections and the relationship to learning. Moreover, it does not only concern urban places, there are also many initiatives in rural areas, or more generally in all environments. Training centres, which are mono-functional and focused on passing on organized and pre-established knowledge, are clearly competing with poly-functional places where companionship is essential. In these environments, action and our relationship to work become valuable again, in an operational sense. Activity requires more active participation. This echoes Richard Sennett's book ("The Craftsman"), putting actions and gestures back at the heart of practice. A fresh approach to learning?
Smells, movements, vibrations, voices, etc. The atmosphere in these places produces a less sterile environment than traditional training rooms, sometimes comparable to "egg boxes" where space and time are optimized. A breath of fresh air! Instructors are also rediscovering this, as they are tasked with building and inventing new operating rules which are understandable, but more flexible. This can be disruptive to traditional managers. Managers themselves are often subject to paradoxical demands. They must facilitate the appropriation of knowledge and build innovative systems within very rational management frameworks. This demand for openness only makes sense if we then look at learning progress indicators and not just management and attendance ratios.
Basically, it questions the layout of the place that facilitates cooperative production, which is centred on what is common rather than on what is external and singular. First of all, it is a space for action, where we can undoubtedly meet and create together.
2- In your opinion, what are the conditions for a place to facilitate learning? What does this mean?
We can take inspiration from creators' studios. These places create a lively combination of order and chaos around the creators. They promote junctions between eyes, hands, looking at how the layout of a place can inspire us and enable us. These places are above all inspiring, just as nature can be. This presupposes vibrations, spaces that are differentiated, living, flexible and adaptable, with facilitated possibilities for transformation. It also requires poly-functionality, without rigidity. But it also implies an appropriate approach by the facilitators in these places. Facilitators who help others to inhabit the space, who try to ensure that the place is useful to everyone and achieves its goals. Third parties who can verify that the place is accessible and appropriate for everyone, that it serves the objectives pursued through mediation, both in terms of relationships and technology.
In short, the environment is empowering if it has the potential to stimulate and motivate. It allows participants to feel their way around, to try new things. All this generates a form of disorder, but it does not harm creativity. On the contrary it is essential to creativity. It is therefore more of a living space, which facilitates movement and reorganisation. The place imposes itself, inspires us and is an undeniable part of the process. It is our ally, if we give ourselves permission to take advantage of it. And especially if we don't try to reproduce the same thing over and over again wherever we go. There is therefore, in this logic, an added value of the place in the process that we must find, amplify and tame in the service of collective construction. It is like a hive of activity, in which people produce things in common, highlighting the cooperative dimension fostered by the place.
3- What does this offer in terms of prospects for work in local territories between the different actors?
First of all, the simple fact that a place is theoretically not limited to predetermined uses offers a space for multiple creativity. It can of course bring together people who have no institutional reasons to work together. These places can attract people who can give free rein to their inventiveness. In these places, they can be embarked on a kind of creative ‘underground’ approach, meaning they can develop practices that are still hidden and confidential. But it can also lead to revelations at a collective level. These hidden practices can then be more easily expressed and can become a resource for others, reinforcing the logic of peeragogy, which is essential for innovation. There can therefore be a moment of revelation by the collective of creative singularities (‘middleground’), which can then gain in strength and reveal itself as an ‘upperground’. Other actors and intermediaries from institutions can then make use of the practices, experiment with them, and sometimes develop them into more standardised practices, as resources for all.
This plays an essential role in innovative practices. As such, some practices are rediscovered through a process of indirect stimulation, also linked to the flexibility of the place. But third places can also have essential organisational effects, making it possible to re-examine management and evaluation methods. Because above all, they are spaces for creating new possibilities. A place can change all forms of organisation: roles, working methods, atmosphere, etc. A place is, by definition, indisputable. It is. It is up to us to make it inspiring and educational.
Denis Cristol ends with this formula, the third place as a creation of a learning landscape! An inspiring perspective.
Thanks to Denis CRISTOL for this breath of fresh air!