Making the Learning Commons Happen

The Learning Commons must be fluid; it must grow and evolve with school needs, emerging technologies and global realities. It requires leadership to succeed, and that leadership can only come through the willing co-operation and collaboration of everyone participating in the school learning process.

At the school level, the principal is key in establishing and encouraging working partnerships among staff and students. The principal must provide the climate for cooperation, experimentation and growth. The Learning Commons has great potential, but only when everyone participates.

With the help of the entire staff, start by studying how the Learning Commons would work best. Establish a timeline for its development, then list the school's real and potential learning spaces. Determine the gaps in how virtual and physical resources are accessed. Study the partnerships that have characterized the school's recent learning activities for how they can be expanded. And finally, evaluate the technology that is available for its potential use.

Beginning questions

  • How will the Learning Commons logically be developed?
  • How will the overall leadership of the Learning Commons be shared across the school? (e.g., administrator, teacher-librarian, representative teachers, media specialist etc.)
  • How can all members of the staff contribute to the success of the Learning Commons?
  • How can the school library program be essential to the success of the Learning Commons?
  • How can all school learning spaces contribute to the learning taking place in the school?
  • How can schools utilize the technology and social media that students bring to learning?
  • How can social media enrich the potential of learning activities?
  • How do resources owned, accessed and available to the school reflect the range available?
  • How do virtual resources and spaces integrate with existing physical spaces?
  • What flexibility is needed to allow students and staff to learn together?
  • What are the potential benefits of the Learning Commons to school improvement?
  • What are the professional development needs of staff to enable full participation in the Learning Commons approach to teaching and learning? How will these needs be met?
  • How do we create a culture of reflective continuous learning for all?
  • How will we measure the effectiveness of the Learning Commons?

As the journey to the Learning Commons progresses

As the Learning Commons starts to take shape, staff members will want to discuss the larger ideas and issues emerging.

The following questions can form the beginning of more detailed discussion.
  • How has the technology and social media changed how learning is taking place in the school?
  • How has modeling learning improved the level of understanding and knowledge creation experienced by students?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the physical and virtual learning spaces organized for the operation of the Learning Commons?
  • Has the range of resources available kept pace with the needs of students and staff?
  • Which learning partnerships have had the greatest impact on understanding and knowledge creation?
  • How much more engaged are students in using discovery and guided inquiry within the context of the real world?
  • How has the Learning Commons contributed to school improvement and student success?


Just how important the Internet and its networking capabilities have become in our daily lives is impossible to understate. In the 1970s, Marshall McLuhan said that a car is a physical extension of a foot… of a person’s total being. If asked now, McLuhan would have to add a cell phone, a handheld device and social media as extensions of a person’s total being. It is these devices — and their evolving technologies — that constitute the natural reality of the students in our schools.

The relationship of these new communication tools with our students is what schools and libraries need to absorb and embrace. We are just beginning to realize the power of technology on our communication, research and critical thinking. A new era is still just ramping up. Where it will lead us is, as yet, unimagined. Changes will continue to be profound, exciting… and bigger than all of us. Together we stand to harness unseen potential. The Learning Commons provides direction in the face of this great change. The Learning Commons provides schools, school libraries, educators and students with the increased flexibility and breadth of control needed for the challenges ahead.

I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip mined the earth...and for the future it won't service. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.

– Robinson, 2006