What is a Learning Commons, Anyway?

February 23, 2012 (76 Comments)

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by Kelly Reierson and Lissa Davies

As we work to build twenty-first learning skills...collaboration, creation and communication we need to look at how we can support this by creating an environment that meets that need.  The Learning Commons concept takes libraries that one step further to support digital students and learning. 

What is a Learning Commons?

“Keechlin, Rosenfeld and Loerttscher define it as “a learning “space” that is both physical and virtual – a place to experiment, practice, celebrate, learn, work and play. Gino Bondi, in his blog post Our Learning Commons: One “How To” for 21st Century Learning says that “It is a transformation that calls for physical, virtual and, pedagogical changes as well as a shift in mindset for all players.”

How is it different from the traditional school library?

Traditional school libraries are seen as quiet places full of printed books, people reading and librarians ‘shushing’. A Learning Commons takes school libraries into the 21st century. Yes, we still have printed text, and there are still people reading, and there is still a librarian, however the Learning Commons has so much more! There is a hum of activity with students talking, learning, searching for information on a variety of devices, focusing on content creation and synthesizing of information. The Learning Commons becomes the hub and the heart of the school; a place for teachers and teacher-librarians to collaborate to build inquiry learning and critical thinking skills in students; a place for technology integration and experimentation; a place that is ‘owned’ by students and staff alike. 

Watch this Slideshare to see how one high-school librarian moved her library into a Learning Commons space:

From Library To Learning Commons.Ny.Slideshare
View more PowerPoint from valeriediggs
The Sounds and Looks of the Learning Commons

Lissa and I hope that you will join us in a discussion on the learning commons. Tell us what you think! 

Is it necessary to change the physical space to create a Learning Commons? 
How does the role of the Teacher Librarian change in the Learning Commons model? Where does one start when making the transition?  


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Thanks, Lissa & Kelly—this is a good overview of what a LC is…I guess I have a couple of comments/questions about LC in general, not related specifically to your post.  First, I worry that there is such a push towards moving into a learning commons model for school libraries without any research having been done on the subject.  There are no (or few) published research studies (in peer reviewed journals) that I know of about LC in school libraries. So many districts and schools are making decisions to move into this direction (and spending money to do so) without having the research to support the decisions they are making.  I think in some cases we have put the cart before the horse in this area.

The second thing that concerns me about the move to a LC model is that there is such an emphasis on the LC that it is easy to forget that the really important piece to any school library is the program itself.  It doesn’t matter what the physical space looks like or how many couches are in the space, if there is no program to support teaching and learning and if there is no qualified TL in the facility to design the program that best meets the needs of the learners.  To me, it is more critical to focus on developing a program, building capacity, ensuring that a qualified TL is in place than it is to really spend a lot of time and money investing in the space.

I would really like to see more concrete research done in this area before too many libraries head in this direction!

Thanks for opening up the discussion—I’ll look forward to hearing what others have to say about it!

By Joanne de Groot on Sat, February 25, 2012 - 8:56:59

Since I am a little late commenting on this article I can only hope that Joanne has found the research she is looking for.  I have been working on learning commons for 2 years and have found an abundant amount of information to support the library program within a Learning Commons.  My initial introduction was by Judith Skyes on behalf of the Government of Alberta and The Reaching and Teaching Conferences the last two years.  Never have I been concerned about a library program as all the research I have seen stresses the importance of student engagement and learning.

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ORC Grant-In-Aid Approved for 2014/2015

The Online Reference Centre (ORC) grant-in-aid for 2014/2015 has been approved! This means that the ORC will remain available to all Alberta K-12 students, parents, staff and pre-service teachers.

The ORC is currently in the process of firming up its 2014/2015 collection. Although the ORC is working with the same budget this year, US exchange rates have changed, and this has an impact, since many of the ORC contracts are paid to US publishers in US funds. The ORC Coordinator is working with the current publishers to see what can be done about maintaining the current collection despite changing financial circumstances.

Find the ORC at http://www.learnalberta.ca/ or visit the ORC Support Site at http://www.onlinereferencecentre.ca/

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