Does education have to take place in a formal school based environment?
Is school truly the “Work of children”?
In 1989 Ray Oldenburg proposed his theories of different space in his book The Great Good Place.
The places were defined based on the amount of time that we spend in them.
The first space was the home, the second was work, and the third was the social space—where people choose to congregate and engage with each other.
He went on to define the features common to the third spaces that he studied. By looking at these features it is clear to see that schools tend to have more in common with second spaces than they do with third spaces.
In a third space, there is no obligation to be there. There is freedom to come and go as you please.
This is, of course, not the case with most modern education environments in which students are tightly constrained, regimented and legally obliged to be there.
The social status or money that a participant has outside of the space has no bearing on their acceptance within the space. Everyone is equal in the space, with status being granted by the community not by external sources.
Schools, instead of acting as levelers, often encourage leveling where communities are segregated by sex or age or ability in discrete fields.
Conversation is main activity
Good conversation is prized and encouraged. While difficult topics may be discussed, they are normally done in a way that is lighter in tone given the effects of leveling on the space.
Some schools are better than others at encouraging conversation and engagement, but it is hardly the main purpose for the environment.
Accessibility and accommodation
If you can’t access the space, it is not possible to fulfil all the other functions. As the person has no obligation to be there, the opening hours of the space have to provide for when the person is free to engage with it. It also has to provide for the basic needs and wants of the individual inside the space.
There are people present in the environment who welcome new people, who engage with others and give the space its tone.
A low profile
Third space are normally not grandiose or pompous. There is no social status gained for being a member of the space as it is open and inclusive to all.
When this is contrasted to schools’ tribal mentality of us versus them, it is clear that it doesn’t fulfil this feature.
The mood is playful
In general, the tone is marked by happy exchanges and great value is given to wordplay and conversation skills inside the environment.
In contrast, schools are seen as serious and needing of focus above all else.
A home away from home
In the final feature the people within the space feel a sense of ownership. They feel relaxed and at ease there.
When looking at the definitions of a third space, one could be tempted to conclude that education is incompatible with a third space. It would be easy to conclude that education should be the work of children, and that it should remain firmly in the domain of the second space.
This is, however, falling into the fallacy of equating education with learning.
People learn a great deal of things in third spaces—arguably more than in the second space. Its social nature and leveling allow for discussion and interaction with all manner of people in a perceived safe environment which is incredibly conducive to learning.
So the question becomes, how can we make education more like a third space and less like a second?
The answer is that we don’t have to. There is already a model for an active third space environment that teaches.
MMORPGS already exhibit all the features of a third space and have also been shown to encourage learning and engagement.
Online education, when it is well designed using similar principles to game design, can leverage all of the elements of a third space easily and effectively, thereby creating a much more social learning environment for the student—one in which they are happy, if not eager, to engage with.