Planning for learning




Any effort to plan library space for learning must be driven by an explicit understanding of a paradigm shift in thinking about learning. Two sets of concepts are especially important to space planning.

The first set involves a shift from learning about to learning to be. So for instance, many science teachers now shift their focus from learning the myriad facts of science to learning to think like a scientist. In this pedagogy, the objective is to become a new kind of person, to join a new community of scientific practice, and to do this by crossing new boundaries of understanding. Jos Boys describes such learning as involving “a form of transitional space, with boundary crossings or ‘thresholds’ en route to not just a new kind of knowing but also to becoming a new kind of person. Initial boundary conditions orchestrate how. . . ‘rules of the game’ are disclosed to potential new entrants as they negotiate the various processes of joining the communities of practice . . . . Once on or across such borders, these communities offer frameworks of varying kinds . . . for enabling increasing belonging as well as safe-enough conditions to enable risks to be taken and expertise . . . to be developed. . . .   The journey leads—in the right conditions—to a step change in understanding, a crossing of thresholds.”[1]

The second set of concepts shifts the focus from learning to be something to learning as a perpetual process of becoming.   The core idea here is that we confront unprecedented and rapid change, especially in technology, that drives often radical global change in society and economics. The only way to thrive in an environment of such radical change is to embrace learning as a process of unending self-reinvention.   There is no reason to predict any slowing or cessation of change, so our condition requires us to engage in learning as an unending cycle of becoming. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown extend Boys‘s argument by this one critical step. “For much of the 20th century,” they tell us, “learning had focused on the acquisition of skills or transmission of information or what we define as ‘learning about.’ Then, near the end of the 20th century learning theorists started to recognize the value of ‘learning to be,’ of putting learning into a situated context that deals with systems and identity as well as the transmission of knowledge. We want to suggest that now even that is not enough. Although learning about and learning to be worked well in a relatively stable world, in a world of constant flux, we need to embrace a theory of learning to become. Where most theories of learning see becoming as a transitional state toward becoming something, we want to suggest that the 21st century requires us to think of learning as a practice of becoming over and over again . . . [or as an effort] to embrace change and focus on becoming as central and persistent elements of learning.”[2]

[1] Jos Boys, Towards Creative Learning Spaces Re-Thinking the Architecture of Post-Compulsory Education (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2011), 132.
[2] Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown, “Learning for a World of Constant Change: Homo Sapiens, Homo Faber & Homo Ludens revisited,” a paper presented at the 7th Glion Colloquium (see, 2009, and available at (available 19 August 2015). For more on the central role of constant change in learning, see Chapter 3, “Embracing Change,” in Thomas and Brown, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (Lexington, KY: Create Space, 2011), 39-49.