Psychogeography for Learning

Have you every wondered why certain environments offer a stronger emotional resonance that others? Why we are drawn to a particular kind of place? Despite being a geography graduate (from many years ago), I recently discovered that there is a name for this, ‘Psychogeography’. It was originally coined by Guy Debord, who defined it as: “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” Can many of our self-direct learning habits be defined in the same way?

In other uses, Psychogeography can be used to define the ‘aimless, random drifting through a place, guided by whim and an awareness of how different spaces draw you in or repel you.’ (Derive). These are the quasi-random pathways we take through spaces, drawn by our emotions and moods. They differ distinctly from the more typical use of maps, signposts, and GPS, which dominate our trajectory through places.

Guy Debord, Guide Psychogeographique de Paris


This may seem like a curious notion, but I imagine this mode of traversing between and around places, things and ideas, is more common that we might first think. It also has strong similarities to the way in which our random walks through internet websites are drawn by a sense of emotion and curiosity, than a clearly defined plan.

Some implication for learners:

Studies of internet user emotion have been derived from early research analysis of twitter use. This work was able to provide insights into temporal changes of moods across gender, events and locations. We typically expect our learners to be objective and rational, but as greater use of social media, analytics and distance learning emerges, we need to support learners more and recognise an emotional level to learning.

The randomness and serendipity of self-directed learning, particularly on the internet is driven by a purpose for learning, a motive to explore, and an emotion to be drawn towards or away from different opportunities. As we encourage greater life-wide and life-long learning to complement traditional educational routes, how individuals interact differently with online resources and applications can impact on their learning and satisfaction of the experience.

This also has strong resonances with the study of geographies of crime – the analysis of how crime hotspots form and how public behaviour towards these areas is modified. Our movements through the internet in our learning and exploration are similarly affected by areas we are positively drawn to, and others we try to avoid. We are seeing more of these tensions in early use of the internet and mobile phones by school children.