From information … to knowledge creation!

Towards a Learning Commons


together we are stronger

As we continue to discuss inquiry and ICT in my current graduate course, many individuals have remarked that it is hard for a teacher to implement inquiry on his/her own.  They posit that it is easier if they are embedded within a school that promotes a culture of inquiry.  From my own personal experience, I would wholeheartedly agree. I would also hazard a guess that it is difficult for students to exist within a building where in some classes they are expected to engage with learning in a certain way and in other classes, the learning framework is completely different.  Colleagues have told me that they are interested in hearing more about what is happening in other classrooms and schools. As educators, it seems to me that we have, of late, talked incessantly about the need to do things “differently” and change the way we teach.  How can we make this happen?  How could we come together as learners (students of all ages, teachers, experts, the community, etc.) to share and collaboratively build knowledge and expertise?

I would like to suggest that one way to draw attention to the importance of inquiry as a method of learning and a shift in educational practice would be to explore a learning commons philosophy within a school.

Why a Learning Commons?

Friesen and Lock (2010) point out that “…schools will need to broaden their focus from managing information exchanges to engaging learners, all learners— youth and adult alike—in collaborative knowledge building activity (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000; Gilbert, 2005; Hargreaves, 2003; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009; Jardine, Friesen & Clifford, 2006; Papert, 2004; Sawyer, 2008; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003; UNESCO, 2005b; Wagner, 2004)” (p. 3).

Society (beyond education) is calling for citizens and:

…a culture that collaboratively builds, negotiates, and shares such knowledge and information: a participatory learning culture. If the resources and infrastructure are in place but he education community, as well as society as a whole, fails to maximize their power, then millions of unique learning possibilities will be lost. (Bonk, 2009, p. 53)

Jenkins (2006)Defines a participatory culture as one:

Where members believe that their contributions matter
. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created). …In such a world, many will only dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills that are most valued within the community. The community itself, however, provides strong incentives for creative expression and active participation. (p.7)

If we agree that establishing a thriving participatory culture is vital and necessary to education, how will/can we move learning outside the walls of individual classrooms to encourage a more collaborative process?

What is a Learning Commons?

The Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) has created a document called Together for Learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons (2010).  In it, they reflect that:

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. (p.3)

Just as the Internet has created a web of global connections, information and interactions, the Learning Commons creates a network of information, people and programs for learning within a school and beyond. Universal access ensures that learning is within reach of everyone at all hours… day or night. (p.6)

How to Begin?

How would a school shift to implementing a learning commons? Together for Learning (2010) has some suggested questions for teachers/school communities to consider when considering moving to a learning commons philosophy:

  • 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? (p.41)

Concluding Thoughts

This is just the beginning of the conversation – the bigger ‘why” and the start of the ‘how”.  I plan to continue discussing this theme in future posts and welcome any comments and feedback from readers.  What do you think?  Would developing a learning commons to promote inquiry, collaboration, co-creation and sharing of new knowledge be something that would be desirable for a community of learners?


Bonk, C.J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey‐Bass.

Friesen, S. & Lock, J.V. (2010). High Performing Districts in the Application of 21st Century Learning Technologies: Review of the Research. Prepared for the College of Alberta School Superintendents. Retrieved from http://o.b5z.net/i/u/10063916/h/Communications/ CASS_Research_Paper_2_Friesen__Lock_Characteristics_of_High_ Performing_Districts_in_the_Application_of_Learning_Technologies.pdf

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010). Toronto: Ontario School Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf


Author: ephansen

I am passionate about library learning commons and the intersection of information seeking, co-creation and sharing of knowledge. Trans-literacy, inquiry and digital citizenship are also areas of exploration. Emphasis is K-12, but this is important for learners of all ages...

2 thoughts on “Towards a Learning Commons

  1. Really enjoyed the thoughtfulness of this post. You have drawn on relevant literature in the field and you ask lots of thought-provoking how and why questions. My questions would be: What have others done? What were their successes? Challenges? How can you learn from their mistakes? Also, the question of community and stake holder education arose for me. How do you communicate what a Learning Commons is, and why it is important, to parents? Other stake holders?

    Looking forward to more posts.

  2. A thought provoking blog. You questions continue to make me think, and ponder the efforts of my collegues to create a learning commons that is accessible to all students and teachers in our school.

    I do believe the creation of a learning commons is the vehicle to promoting collaboration, habits of mind and 21st century learning skills. From a practical standpoint, how do we make it happen in a school where budget cuts have been so deep there are no specialists left to support a learning commons model? The work of Loertscher, Loechlin and Zwaan (2009), speaks to the effectiveness of collaboration of teachers and specialists. In a school such as mine, where there the budget does not permit the allocation of specialists, what other options are available? For the time being, my colleagues and I must work with what we have: a desire to improve student learning, and each other.

    I believe collaboration supported by effective Professional Learning Communitiesmay be part of the answer. The work of Eaker, Dufour, and Dufour (2002), speaks to the importance of working toward common goals. Not just any goal, but goals that improve student learning. To bring the conversation full circle, is a common goal to develop a learning commons one that will improve student learning? I look forward to reading, Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010) with this question in mind.

    Eaker, Dufour, & Dufour (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. National Educational Service. Bloomington Indiana.

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