The Building Blocks of Learning Commons

The Building Blocks of Learning Commons

by Kami Kinkaid, September 4, 2015

Learning commons have been around since the 1990s, but the concept has become increasingly widespread as more libraries and schools are seeking to reinvent the physical space to inspire students to learn and to collaborate.

Just as each school varies in its teaching philosophy and approach, the learning commons that supports a school’s particular pedagogy also takes many shapes. Depending on a school’s openness to new teaching trends and investment in technologies, the learning commons could assume a variety of functions and forms.

As a space, the learning commons has become more significant because it brings together the functions of the library, computer labs, lounges and meeting rooms in one place. The learning commons concept must constantly evolve in order to support the students’ curriculum requirements that change with advances in technology. New tools materialize and broaden the opportunities for new ways of learning. This constant state of change relies on a physical space that can support the specific functions needed for a school today, but can accommodate the unknown changes of tomorrow. Given this challenge, the form and use of learning commons libraries vary widely, but often rely on these common components.

• Information desk – a help desk for information technology
• Moveable furniture – wheels on tables, heavy furniture and whiteboards. Stackable chairs and accessible storage so that spaces can be easily arranged to suit the task at hand.
• Spaces for working on computers – flip top tables on wheels with electrical outlets for plugging in
• Rooms for small groups and collaborative work
• Quiet spaces for reading, writing, independent work or even taking a nap
• Genius bar – modeled after the Apple Store, this resource supports learning new technology through tutorials, tech support, rentals or loaners, and sometimes even repairs
• Social spaces – these could be clusters of comfortable chairs and couches, outdoor gathering zones or even cafes.
• Spaces for teaching – these classroom like spaces are outfitted with digital white boards, presentation equipment, web, and video conferencing capabilities
• Gathering spaces for large groups, events and programs

In planning for learning commons designs, the following questions may help you gain more understanding of the needs of the school from staff and community members and help you build a learning commons space.

Curriculum Specialist Questions
How do you see your curriculum changing and/or progressing over the next 5 years?

Are there new studies that you would like to introduce into the program that are not currently in use?

Is there a strong emphasis of your curricula that you would like to market?

How is your curriculum translated into specific spatial needs? (For example, an outdoor space for a garden program.)

Lower School Questions/Middle School Questions
Is there a standard teaching methods throughout the school, ie Montessori Method, Waldorf Methods, etc.

In a classrooms setting when you get together for a group discussion do you gather on the floor on a ‘meeting rug’?  Do you gather around a conference table?  How do you gather?

How do you gather for art?  Are your in-room art facilities adequate?

Questions for all schools
What do you believe is missing from your current classrooms and facilities?

What do you like about your current library or other parts of your campus that you want to maintain in the development of a future learning commons for your campus?

Active and social spaces: What do you like about the current spaces where students gather socially?  What aspects of this would you like to see in your future learning commons?

Green Space: How are your current green and outdoor spaces used?

Light: How is the quality of light in your current facilities?

Technology Questions
How do you see your technology changing and/or progressing over the next 5 years, 10 years, etc.?

For Primary, and Middle Schools: Can you summarize the focal difference in technology with early childhood development (ECD)?

How do you currently utilize lap top programs?  How would you like to utilize a similar program in the future?

Do you currently use smart boards or other similar technology?  Do you plan to include similar technology in the future?

How do you see the library changing/progressing due to technology?

How do you see the special needs changing throughout the school due to technology?

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