Responding to an Era of Complex Change

Today's schools are experiencing a great deal of change. Just as the rest of the world's political, social, economic, and scientific realities have been shifted by swift advances in information and communication technology, so too has education. These forces are altering the way people work, play and learn.

Schools are being challenged to harness the unfamiliar yet incredibly fascinating opportunities presented by this transformation... all while ensuring students emerge with the skills they need, not only to survive, but to
thrive.

Development of a Learning Commons addresses this challenge.



What is a Learning Commons?


A Learning Commons is a flexible and responsive approach to helping schools focus on learning collaboratively. It expands the learning experience, taking students and educators into virtual spaces beyond the walls of a school.

A Learning Commons is a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn.

And best of all, as a space traditionally and naturally designed to facilitate people working together, a school’s library provides the natural dynamics for developing a Learning Commons.


Why a Learning Commons?
 
There is growing consensus among educators that students need to learn transferable skills in order to work efficiently and successfully in our future world.

To achieve this, students will need to become critical consumers of information, effective problem solvers, capable decision makers and innovative communicators as well. They will require the skills and ability to flow with change. And most of all, students will need to understand that these transferable skills give them the capacity to make a difference in this world... personally.

A Learning Commons provides boundless opportunity for growth. It is based on a cross-curricular perspective that recognizes literacy, numeracy, knowledge, thinking, communication, and application as foundations for learning how to learn.

A Learning Commons becomes the physical and virtual catalyst where inquiry, imagination, discovery, and creativity come alive and become central to growth — personal, academic, social and cultural.


The Role of the School Library in a Learning Commons
 
The school library, a key component of a Learning Commons, has an integral and transformative role to play in implementing this fresh and innovative vision for education.

Every member of a school’s population will ultimately participate in the creation of a Learning Commons, but the concept’s early coordination and leadership will rest with school library expertise.

Where properly developed, a school’s library is already the hub for networking and information access. As the Learning Commons’ concept grows, a school library’s collection-based facilities will continuously change and expand, creating access-based services suited to a school community’s needs.

This process will mean changes in the operations of a school’s library. Resource collections will need to be reshaped even more rapidly and readily than they are currently to reflect their communities as well as the world at large. It is the only way a library’s access to the global, interconnected and interactive communication networks of the future — whatever they may be — can be assured.


The New Learner
 
Educators of today understand that when students are provided with rich learning experiences and opportunities to explore areas of interest, they learn better. When they’re given tools to solve problems and encouraged to think creatively, they’re ultimately better equipped to make useful connections with the real world. The search for more relevant content and experience has driven much educational practice in recent years.

But it is how this needs to be done that is undergoing incredible change. Technology is rapidly modifying the nature and significance of information. The context for finding relevance is in radical transformation.
For those younger than 25, a technologically-rich environment is a natural part of everyday life. The interactive and social nature of digital technologies is woven seamlessly into their lives. To them, the online world is a reflection and extension of the offline world. For this generation, it is not about the technology, it is about life.

  • Young people are very social, and depend heavily on technology to keep in constant touch with one other.
  • They use social media routinely and through their use, define themselves as individuals.
  • They are growing up in a media-saturated environment; information and ideas are accessed and shared in extremely visual, multi-media formats without concern or deliberation.
  • They expect that you can have conversations with anyone in the world.
  • They use multiple technologies to obtain and share information on an “on demand” basis. Most “wear” a variety of portable devices allowing them to stay in contact with friends and family, access the Internet, listen to music, watch videos, play games, and take photos and videos.
  • They expect to have access to electronic information quickly and easily. Most have never known a world where this wasn’t possible.
  • They embrace new technologies readily and transfer their skill with one technology to each new technology.
  • They are comfortable learning informally with their peers as the technology brings them together socially.
  • They are multi-taskers. It is not uncommon to see them chatting on cell phones, surfing the Web, sending instant messages, watching TV or listening to music, all while doing their homework.

The Challenge

 
The structure of school learning was built more than a century before digital communication was developed, and since then the structure has not changed significantly. It is no wonder there is a growing disconnect between the way students live with technology outside school, and the far more restricted use of technology they experience inside a school.

Many students are finding it almost impossible to make meaningful connections between what they learn at school and what they need to know outside in the world.

The skills needed to be successful in life, technology notwithstanding, remain largely the same. As much as ever, a learner must be able to attain the ability to think critically. But the tools to carry out decision making are expanding and merging with remarkable speed and subtlety. What a student will need to be able to do in a school, in a workplace, or at home is experiencing radical change.

How we teach time-honoured skills has to change as well. The Learning Commons provides the environment for this transformation.