Participatory environment

In some environments, the core activities are fundamentally active; much of the experience is substantially created through the participants’ efforts. I call these participatory environments.

Participatory environments may or may not have been intentionally authored. Media environments are almost always intentionally authored, but many social and natural environments are not. Part of the experience in authored participatory environments may be an Enacted experience.

Participatory environments support learning

Examples and counter-examples

Games basically always establish participatory environments. Per Lantz (2019): "Games are the aesthetic medium of action.” But watching someone else play a game on Twitch often does not create a participatory environment.

Books and films usually don’t establish participatory environments. The core activities of the environments created by these media are usually receptive and passive, for most participants. But counter-examples do exist: Make Magazine; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; workout videos; etc.

A dinner party is generally a participatory environment. A climbing wall (natural or man-made) is a participatory environment. A ride on the subway is generally not.

Most software interfaces establish participatory environments. One common class of counter-example is media players: VLC, Pandora, Kindle, etc. This software merely presents media which itself doesn’t establish a participatory environment.

Despite their aspirations, most explorables and Executable books do not establish participatory environments. The default behavior for the participant is to scroll and to read.


This term has significant overlap with prior concepts in education, cognitive science, and sociology like “active learning environment” and “embodied experiences” and “situated cognition” etc, but I’m trying to transcend those contexts and escape those terms’ baggage, so I’m intentionally building up a new term.


Conversation with Frank Lantz, 2019-05-07