Feature: Learning And The City

By Dr Nurul Muiz Murad (nurul_muiz@oum.edu.my)

Geographically speaking, it is possible to conceive of learning spaces in terms of an opposition between the city and the non-city. The city conjures images of neon lights, smog and smoke, fast cars and even faster lifestyles. The non-city, by way of contrast, is everything that the city is not. It includes the kampung (which lies at the opposite end of the spectrum vis-à-vis the city) and everything else between it and the city (suburbia, city outskirts, and so on).

In terms of learning spaces, the city promises a wide variety of facilities (as well as distractions) not readily available in the non-city. For example, the best physical libraries are found in the city centre and so are the best entertainment hotspots. Theoretically, it is easier to fashion sophisticated learning spaces in the city because of the multiplicity of choices available to the city dweller. The tendency is to create a flexible learning space which combines the best of both worlds: education for dinner and entertainment for dessert.

Conversely, the non-city is typically imagined as an idyllic space that promises serenity and sanity away from the hustle and bustle of city life. You can read a book by the brook as you wander over open spaces, lost in wonder over nature’s bountiful beauty.

This binary opposition that I have drawn is of course simplistic. We know that even within the city, there are surely differences in the way learning spaces are conceived by individual learners. One city dweller might prefer online discussions in cyberspace in the privacy of his room; yet another might be more energized by a group discussion at the National Library.

Even between the city and the non-city, you may yet find points of intersection. Imagine two individuals, one from the city and the other from the non-city. Both individuals are introverts who prefer the solitude of their own rooms over the noise and din of public life. In terms of learning styles, both prefer to lock themselves up in their rooms and read quietly as the outside world turns on its axis. In this case, aren’t they both occupying the same learning space regardless of geographical location? This is because learning spaces are not confined merely to physical spaces or opportunities; learning spaces also exist in the mind.

As learners, regardless of where we may find ourselves, the creation of a conducive learning space is key to academic success. As such, it is good to adhere to certain universal principles to anchor us on the right path towards scholastic achievement. The following factors may serve as a guide on creating learning spaces for learners: (1) a sense of mission, (2) self-discipline, (3) positive interactions, and (4) healthy lifestyle. You will find that no matter where you are, these principles universally apply. Our mission as a learner is to learn. This obviously requires self-discipline to see you through the challenges. While you’re at it, you need to interact positively with fellow learners and tutors in order to share knowledge effectively. To sustain yourself through it all, you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough rest and relaxation.

In the final analysis, differences between city and non-city (while very real) do not ultimately make all the difference. What counts rather is the willingness of the learners to maximise their learning by optimising whatever resources they have at their disposal. The city and non-city exist out there as physical learning spaces; the individual learner carries within him his own mental learning space. It’s all in the mind.

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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