5 Reasons You Should Invest in a Learning Commons for your School

I remember my earliest experiences of my elementary school library. It was a place of wonder, filled with various artifacts from far away places, from voodoo masks that had been collected from Northwest Africa to a very large shed skin that a python had left behind after morphing into an even larger python. My list could go on. This place, I realized, was an emporium of discovery. It was a place where I could escape from my ho-hum life in a small city to experience and delve into a world that I could only dream of, let alone visit. This is where the engine of my thought life was engaged, fed and transformed. This is where I was able to explore, engage and change my world.

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Our world today however has changed. It is going through incredible transformations at a speed that no one individual can keep up with or understand. Technology has afforded the students of today the luxury of visiting these same place that I visited via a virtual medium. Connecting and learning about another student’s learning and living context is a virtual world away, sometimes in real-time. Incredible advances in technology and science have forced us to reconsider how we view today’s school library. Learning becomes even more dynamic, exploration becomes even more engaging and becoming a world citizen even more possible. Our world has changed and so must our windows into this world.

Why then don’t we renew our vision for our libraries? Why don’t we engage our student’s in a space where they can explore the multi-literacies of this brave new world in a space that once housed only books? Welcome to the wonderful world of the Learning Commons. The Learning Commons becomes a space that engages students in multi-modal ways – learning commons offer different spaces that engage the whole student. Spaces are set apart for full collaborative inquiry, learning is approached using the tools of technology so that students can reach out to other virtual worlds to explore and enhance their natural curiosity. The Learning Commons becomes a centre of exploration, investigation and realization. This ‘new space’ becomes hub-central for the whole school; it becomes the place where students can engage our world with the right tools, skills and outlook that will help them become successful and productive citizens.

Let me outline 5 reasons why you should transform and renew your library into a Learning Commons:

 1. A Learning Commons engages all stakeholders across all curriculum areas in an Inquiry-based learning approach.

If you wish to truly empower all stakeholders in your school community, then make every effort to invest in creating a Learning Commons as part of your library. Dynamic libraries are already meeting great needs in school communities however they tend to be centered on traditional concepts of literacy. With a Learning Commons philosophy both staff and students see the library as a centre for exploration, research and collaborative inquiry in all curriculum areas. Not only are students engaged in reading and writing but they are also able to explore ideas and concepts in math, science and engineering using technology and collaborating in spaces with both students and teachers in innovative ways.

2. A Learning Commons provides powerful ways to engage and impact the Modern Learner

We know that today’s student lives and learns in a multi-modal world. Information flows to them faster and more broadly than we have ever experienced. And yet, our libraries have remained stranded in yesteryear. What better way to meet the needs of today’s modern learner than to provide them with rich, interactive spaces that allow them to collaborate, explore, communicate and innovate with the tools that they are already using. In fact, we already know that students are using these tools in superficial ways. Why not show them how they can use these tools in more powerful ways so that they can truly explore and learn in ways they never thought possible.

3. A Learning Commons embraces the bigger picture of learning – they become the inter-connected hub of dynamic thinking and learning where true differentiation happens.

A learning commons provides the tools and spaces needed for today’s student and teacher to explore learning from all perspectives. Imagine a space where students can both collaborate on the genesis of an idea and then take this same idea to a phase where they can use hands-on tools to model this idea and discuss the nuances of this idea using various tools – all in the same space. Imagine a space where students can open a book, take the ideas garnered from this book and build a simulation or explore the ways the author has expressed her or his ideas using a hands-on approach. Imagine a space where true differentiated instruction happens. (What is Differentiation?)

4. A Learning Commons provides, supports and encourages ‘real-world’ learning.

Today’s student and teacher want to see real-world connections to teaching and learning. A Learning Commons provides students and teachers with opportunities to explore real world issues and problems using the ideas, problem solving and critical thinking skills developed in the classroom. Students become connected with a networked world. They can take their ideas and posit them into real world contexts and collaborate, communicate and investigate real world problems. This ‘real-world’ learning is done in a collaborative environment where both teachers and students learn together – there is a new synergy of inquiry and solutions are shared across all boundaries regardless of ability or maturity. Technology is used as a vehicle to enhance communication, exploration and collaboration. Students and teachers become empowered by the simple fact that they too can impact the world they live and work in.

5. A Learning Commons enhances, empowers and sustains good teaching and learning.

A Learning Commons develops partnerships with all key stakeholders in the journey of life-long learning. Teachers can work with other teachers in collaborative ways; students can learn with and from other students as well. This space becomes a place where ideas are exchanged, explored, challenged and refined by both teacher and student alike. Students and teachers are exposed to different resources, different methods of teaching and learning and the tools of technology are used to broaden horizons, deepen the process of critical thinking, enrich more powerful means of communication, and support creativity using collaborative inquiry.

These are only some of the ideas why you should think about transforming and renewing your school library into a Learning Commons. Below I’ve included links to 3 excellent resources that will provide you with rich and practical ways to help you on your journey to transform your library into a School Library Learning Commons.

Further reading:



Timothy Gard

TDSB Educator & MSL Contributor