One of the advantages of a long commute is that you do have plenty of time to think. It struck me on the drive in this morning that the model of the Learning Commons proposed by David Loertscher, et al is not that different than walking into your typical school gym. A gym, is about activity and flexibility. Very few schools that I know of (likely no schools) have the resources to have a different gym design specifically for a particular sport. One or two gyms have be able to accommodate basketball, floor hockey, volleyball, badminton and who knows how many more sports. Often, the space is also an assembly and performance space. The lines on the floor overlap and are colour-coded for different functions. The space has to be ready for just about any use. The one thing that the typical gym lacks is the equipment to play those sports. These are usually housed in a separate, often locked, room.
The library, is the equipment room. We usually have security gates controlling access to the resources. It is all about storage. The difference is, that we would never expect the basketball team to hold a practice, much less a game, in the equipment room, yet we do this daily in the library. OK, the school library has never been that small and locked down. There’s always been room to sit and read, study and work. But the emphasis has been on the resources, not the activity. With a Learning Commons, we’ve moved out into the gym. This space is about the work being done, not about the storage of resources. The difference is that we’ve kept the storage room doors wide open. In fact, we’ve removed the walls to the storage room and made it part of the gym space. We now have the flexibility to carry out any number of tasks from individual quiet reading, to group study and even performance or other displays of expertise and knowledge. The “game” is knowledge building. We have layers of colour-coded lines on the floor and are ready to accommodate any activity related to the game and the tools to play that game – books, computers, maps, tables, presentation space… – are in the room and ready to go.
In the gym, we primarily exercise the body. In the Learning Commons, we primarily exercise the brain.