March 18, 2018

Infinite Learning | Office Hours

Michael StephensDeep in the conversations streams of the Hyperlinked Library MOOC (massive open online course), the large-scale professional development course I’m coteaching this fall for more than 300 library folk, my thoughts turn again to the concept of librarians as facilitators of learning. It becomes clear to me that as learning goes on the move, we not only must keep up with significant changes in education environments but aim to become connectors and collaborators within our users’ learning spaces.

Future thinking

Imagine these scenarios:

  • A collective of educators and librarians align to offer an online learning program fashioned on the Learning 2.0 model but aimed at enhancing the public’s digital literacies, those skills everyone needs to live and work in our hyperconnected world. The authors of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) report entitled Building Digital Communities define digital literacy as the ability to “access and use information and communication technologies.” I might call them “life literacies.” Without access to these skills, the report states, “full participation in nearly every aspect of American society—from economic success and educational achievement, to positive health outcomes and civic engagement—is compromised.” Lifelong learning goes hand in hand with life literacy.
  • A public library offers its patrons online courses with content from the community’s experts. Partnerships are formed. Localized learning and collaboration play out between a socially focused course platform and in-person meet-ups hosted at the library and around town. Library staff facilitate the course, helping not only to create connections but assist participants with the creation of deliverables. I’ve seen the seeds of this at Library You, the clearinghouse from the Escondido Public Library, CA, which collects and shares local knowledge through videos and podcasts. On the academic side, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is offering a new LOOC—local open online course—open to anyone with a campuswide UBC login ID.
  • Amid the day-to-day work of assisting students, coordinating purchase of online resources, and planning for future collaborative spaces, a university librarian is called upon to assist a professor with her “flipped classroom” online.

In the now

That last item wasn’t future dreaming, but recently featured in a post by Brian Mathews at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mathews opines that curating the learning experience may be something many librarians may soon support. “Personalized virtual communities for teaching and research are primed to be one of the next big things for librarians and academia,” he writes. “It’s part of the transition we face from content providers to engagement developers.” I’m with you, Brian, and I appreciate your carefully chosen words to define these new roles: “learning experience curator” and “engagement developer” may sound buzzwordy, but they describe some significant alterations to our skill sets.

Public libraries are the best platforms for success with community-focused online learning of all sizes. It’s easy to create successful MOOCs in an academic environment. It’s something else to make them successful in a nonacademic environment. Jeff Jarvis, on This Week in Google (9/11/13), discussed the idea of unbundling education from universities, unbundling lessons from courses, and looking at new ways to view/score outcomes. Public libraries, with limited resources of staff and time, could still create unbundled MOOCs—smaller, shorter lessons that, when combined, total a full course. Busy patrons plus busy librarians still can equal quality learning opportunities.

The above may seem daunting to some or far from the library’s mission. Many of the folks in our MOOC have been confronting their own ideas of what it means to be a learner in a new and sometimes unsettling landscape. I’m here to learn, one participant told me, “and figure out how I might play a role in MOOCs on my campus.”

I’m pleased and proud of the San José State University SLIS students and student volunteers from other library schools who are working with co­instructor Kyle Jones and me on ­#hyperlibMOOC. Dubbed Participatory Learning Guides, they are overseeing what we call “homerooms” of 35 to 40 students. The guides answer questions, troubleshoot technical issues, and participate in leading the community of learners through our content modules and monitoring their activity in homeroom and the larger course environments or learner-created “tribe” spaces. The experience they are gaining will fit perfectly into the future skill sets needed for the scenarios above. Across all types of libraries, the librarian as community learning connector and collaborator might support learners on platforms that offer endless opportunities.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. I’m currently doing the #hyperlibMOOC and think the PL Guides have been incredible. Looking from the outside, it seems to me they put a lot of time and effort in,and use a wide range of skills. I agree they are learning skills that we all need moving forward. What a fantastic opportunity they have each been given. Oh, and our homeroom tribe’s leader, Jonine Bergen, is very supportive; she rocks!