Learning Commons:  More than Just a Name

May 07, 2012 (4 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

Kelly and I are often asked what are the essential ingredients for a Learning Commons model of a library. We gave some ideas in a previous post (Link). Is the Learning Commons simply another name? School Libraries have gone through many name changes; Library, Media Centre, Learning Resource Centre and now the latest appears to be Learning Commons. Still, we believe that this evolution is more than just a rose by any other name. The focus, rather than being on the change in name, should be on the change in thinking and action. Often the queries are, “What kind of furniture should I buy?” “What digital resources do I need?” “What technology is essential?” “Do I still need books?”

Building a Learning Commons involves much more than adding in technology, buying some ebooks and making the furniture movable: instead it is about the actions of the teacher-librarian and school staff. You can CALL any space a Learning Commons, but it is just the old library? Is it simply a redecorated room without life or activity? If you get funky furniture and fabulous technology, but use the space only for exchanging books or as a computer lab for classes, you are missing the point. A true Learning Commons is about the Program and the Personnel. Would you have a classroom with the latest desks, newest devices and students, but without a program or a teacher?

We are riding a tidal wave of change. Technology is redefining our lives at an ever-increasing rate of speed, and education is changing to meet the needs of our students today. We are moving from; teacher-centered to student-centered learning, from paper and pencil to performance tasks and paperless classrooms, from focusing on summative assessment to developing and researching big ideas, from individual classrooms to collaborating with others, both locally and globally. The Learning Commons needs to reflect these changes, not with more things, but with attitude. Jeanne Narum, Director of Project Kaleidoscope, says that we need to focus on the right questions to drive the change. What are the learning outcomes? What will happen in the Learning Commons to move their learning forward? Who will collaborate to develop the programs for students. It is the action implicit in the words learning, happen and collaborate that should be our focus. If we “design the commons primarily with the intention that learning will happen there, we are much more likely to see that magical moment when students, building on work begun in the classroom, take responsibility for and control over their own learning. This is the crucial event that makes the library and its learning commons the last bulwarks of a culture of acculturation. They are places where you learn, and in learning, become part of a larger world.” (Bennet, 2011)

If we continue to think about the actions required to create a Learning Commons, we can create a list that has students at the heart; shared ownership, inquiry, technology, community, collaboration, creativity, and above all LEARNING. Implicit in these actions is the idea that the Learning Commons not only becomes the active hub of the school, the Learning Commons goes beyond the physical walls of the library, but permeates the entire school. Wherever integrated collaborative teaching and learning are taking place, THAT’s where the Learning Commons is.

As Fister says in The Point and Click Generation, "Fundamentally, learning isn't about use of tools, it's a social experience." 

What are your thoughts? Is your library a Learning Commons?

Lissa and Kelly


Bennerr, S. (n.d.)  The information or the learning commons: Which will we have? Retrieved from http://libraryspaceplanning.com/assets/resource/Information-or-Learning-Commons.pdf

Bondi, G. (May 2011).  Our learning commons:  One "How to" for 21st century learning [blog post].  Retrieved from http://jo-online.vsb.bc.ca/bondi/?p=818
Gino Bondi http://jo-online.vsb.bc.ca/bondi/?p=818 ;


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