Connected learning and the library


The idea of ‘connected learning’ encapsulates a lot of the current thinking around teaching and learning in libraries.

Connected learning incorporates the existing learning theories that have been around for while (such as constructivism, which acknowledges the contextual elements of a student’s learning), and adds the dimension of connectivity.

Connected learning about is about learning through engagement with others in a digitally mediated environment. It involves participatory and social learning through information and communication technologies, and helping students to cultivate unique, personalized learning pathways.  For more on this, see  Educause: 7 things you should know about connected learning 

If you want to learn more about connected learning, then head over to the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub to find an inspiring group of educators (including Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian) who are doing fantastic work in this area, for example through the Connected Learning Research Network.

Digital literacy

While connected learning offers the academic library a way to teach, what about what we teach?   Academic libraries are giving increasing attention to the idea of digital literacies, which includes the ability to operate proficiently in a digital environment, using information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate ideas.

Digital literacy expands the traditional province of the library’s information literacy instruction to include teaching our clients to become literate in the use of digital tools (of which there has been a veritable proliferation), and in using them proficiently at all levels of the information continuum – whether it be managing data, understanding the nature of information, or actually creating knowledge. All of the areas that encompass digital literacy are ones in which libraries already have a lot of expertise, skills and knowledge and there is much potential to develop them further.

The idea of connected learning can flow into how we operate within the library as a ‘learning organisation’, in terms of how we connect with each other, share knowledge, and learn. Connecting through digital technologies and social media within the workplace, engaging in self-directed learning, developing personal learning networks, (or personal knowledge networks as Harold Jarche frames it) has the capacity to develop our own digital literacy skills, which in turn affects our capacity to engage with others within the wider university community to help facilitate their learning around digital literacy.

Librarians as “curators of learning experiences”

However, it is not so much about librarians being ‘experts’ in the many digital tools and technologies available and imparting that knowledge to others; rather it is about them being facilitators of the learning process.  The role of the librarian is shifting toward being catalysts, navigators, mediators of information – or to use a phrase I particularly like – ‘curators of learning experiences’, coined by Brian Mathews in Curating Learning Experiences: a future role for librarians?.   Char Booth, author of Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, discusses this aspect of library work in a very interesting video discussion with Michael Stevens as part of The Hyperlinked Library MOOC.

As Barbara Fister argues in Practising Freedom in the Digital Library, this involves fostering critical thinking about how knowledge is made and shared, how information fundamentally works within the complexities of our society, so it is a shift from talking about finding and consuming information it to learning about how it functions.

How to translate this into creating appropriate learning resources, curating information resources, providing training and instruction, is the real challenge (for me at least). Libraries are looking toward creating scenario and self-directed learning activities which involve participatory, social and peer learning.  We need to move into the student’s space, to create and curate learning resources in ways that are accessible and engaging, self-directed, and easily adaptable to the individual needs of each students.

Games is one area which fosters innovative and creative ideas around connected learning.  The Games MOOC run by the Front Range Community College in Colorado, which is designed for educators who want to learn more about games, simulations and game-like environments for education, is based on  “connectivism” and uses Lisa Dawley’s model of Social Network Knowledge Construction.

There are some really interesting developments in libraries around both gamification and game-based learning, particularly in the areas of augmented reality and other interactive virtual / physical environments.  Curtin library has recently started a gamification blog to highlight some of these developments and related issues.

Engagement with research

The idea of connected learning is also central to the library’s engagement and collaborative activities with researchers and academics.  One area that the library is starting to carve out a role is in the area of big-data – and this includes researcher’s data as well as institutional data, which feeds learning analytics.

In relation to research data, the area of digital humanities is a particularly promising area for library involvement.  (Miriam Posner has created a very useful bibliography which illustrates this).  Much digital humanities work operates at the intersection of technology and cultural datasets and archives, and there are exciting projects being developed, for example around collections visualization. There is potential for libraries to be not only in support roles but equal partners and collaborators in digital humanities initiatives.

There are a number of fine examples of academic libraries which have built innovation hubs or scholars labs, which foster, support and lead collaborative projects around the use of research data. There is the Scholars Lab at University of Virginia Library, the Digital Humanities Centre at Columbia University Library, the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and the MIT Media Lab to name a few. Although as yet there are none in Australia it was discussed at the recent eResearch conference in Brisbane in a paper by Rowan Brownlee, David Groenewegen and Ingrid Mason – Should university libraries provide digital scholar’s labs and expertise for linking data?

I really love the idea of a scholars lab, innovation hub, or learning space that builds on the premise of connected learning, – of engagement, participation and collaboration. ( An inspiring example at high school level is the Innovation Lab at Thomson School Districts, Loveland CO).  It could be a space not only to expand the library’s role and degree of engagement within the university, but also engagement within the library – as a place to explore, imagine, incubate ideas, experiment.  A scholars lab or innovation hub could be a playground for engaged, connected and social learning and for fostering the development of digital literacies.

Going forward

There are lots of ideas that come out of the notion of connected learning, and potentially it is the basis all of what we do in the academic library to some extent or another.  In general, it underpins how we enhance the connections among ourselves; how we create, curate and share our learning resources; how we how we collaborate and engage with faculty and others in the wider university community and beyond.   I’m looking forward to seeing how this learning unfolds in tangible ways.

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