Supporting Ubiquitous Learning (Principles of New Librarianship)

“Ubiquitous learning is a new educational paradigm made possible in part by the affordances of digital media.” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2008)

Libraries are learning environments that must continually evolve in response to the way technology impacts learning. As Cope and Kalantzis point out, technology has played a role in making ubiquitous learning possible. And new librarianship should support ubiquitous learning, both formal and informal.

What does that mean for libraries? The way a library supports ubiquitous learning will be unique to the needs of the community it supports. But there are some common issues that all libraries need to consider in supporting it. For libraries, ubiquitous learning is supported through services, resources and physical library space.

Supporting Ubiquitous Learning Through Services

What services should your library provide? That will depend on your library community’s needs. A needs assessment can provide insight into that.  How is your community using the library to meet their learning needs? What services do they need that are currently not offered? What services would they like to see? What services can you identify that will meet the community’s unrecognized needs?

Surveys and interviews typically make up a needs assessment. Just make sure that your sample size adequately represents your library user population. Results from the needs assessment will not only inform the services you provide, but they’ll also provide the data you need to justify adding those services.

Examples of services that support ubiquitous learning:

  • 24/7 reference services (e.g. QuestionPoint)
  • extended hours
  • web-based library courses (i.e. self-paced courses that teach library-related skills)
  • learning commons services, such as tutoring

Supporting Ubiquitous Learning Through Resources

Most libraries already provide 24/7 access to databases and other resources through their web sites. However, many library web sites still suffer from user-unfriendliness. If I’m trying to access online library resources and can’t navigate the library site well, guess what? I’ll probably switch over to Google. Here’s a tip: If you have to teach your library users how to navigate your library web site, it’s not user-friendly. Of course, that’s assuming the users are basically familiar with web site navigation.

Also, providing 24/7 access to online resources only works well if you’re providing the types of resources that meet your users needs. This is especially important for libraries that are serving large numbers of online students. Good collection development that balances purchase decisions with ALL users’ needs  is the key to supporting ubiquitous learning. (In my experience, online students’ needs were often forgotten in the purchase decision process – out of sight, out of mind, you know.)

Supporting Ubiquitous Learning in the Physical Library Space

Space. The thing that libraries never seem to have enough of. To support ubiquitous learning, it’s not about the amount space, it’s about what you do with it, including the policies that regulate it.

Consider the following:

  • For many online students, their home environments can be a bit too distracting to get real work done. They may need a good, quiet spot in the library where they can plug in a laptop and work without interruption. Academic libraries typically offer this, but it’s the public library where you will see many of these students. So public libraries need to consider offering adequate quiet space to support ubiquitous learning.
  • Cell phone policies need to be reconsidered. Smart phones themselves are ubiquitous, both as technology tools and as learning tools. Cell phone conversation and cell phone ringing issues can be easily integrated into policies that regulate noise level and respectful behavior. Banning cell phones outright in some areas of the library is fruitless and most definitely does not support ubiquitous learning.
  • Flexible spaces support ubiquitous learning and the collaborative learning that (sometimes) goes with it. Losing the wires can create more flexibility when space is limited. That means moving from fixed PCs to laptops, netbooks and/or other mobile devices that can be made available for checkout. Laptop checkout kiosks are even available now to reduce the burden that places on staff (upfront cost can be an issue though).
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