Re-Envisioning the MLS: Libraries and the Learning Sciences

On March 25, Dr. June Ahn and Dr. Tamara (Tammy) Clegg lead another thought-provoking discussion as part of the iSchool’s Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative. Co-sponsored by the Information Policy & Access Center, the talk entitled: Why Libraries are Critical for Revolutionizing Learning: Insights from the Learning Sciences.

Drs. Ahn and Clegg began the presentation by questioning the very concept of learning. They posit that in formal education settings, “we work from the assumption that learning is learning about a topic (i.e. getting content) and on skills based on standards.” This definition of learning has lead to an increase in standards-based learning such as the oft-discussed Common Core Standards. Relying on this definition has lead to increased visibility and attention to the achievement gap that exists between students of different socio-economic statuses, races, and other factors.

The reliance on content-driven learning ignores the fact that learning is more than content and procedural knowledge building. Their research in learning sciences emphasizes the need to prioritize the identity of the learner and develop teaching and learning opportunities that personally relate to the individual. One method of achieving this is the “disposition approach.”

The Disposition Approach
Instead of encouraging students to memorize facts, dates, or concepts, disposition encourages the student to develop an understanding of the values of, ideas about, and ways of participating in a particular discipline and cultivating them in a way so that they come frequently, consciously, and voluntarily. In other words, teaching a student to put themselves into a particular discipline and organically explore and develop knowledge in that area. The disposition process includes:

  • Conceptual understanding: an understanding of the topic or concept.
  • Interest: an interest and desire to learn about the topic or concept.
  • Social interactions: cultivating social relationships during the learning process.
  • Personal connections: connecting the concept or topic to the individual student’s experience.

In order for the disposition process to be effective learning must take places beyond the classroom. Out-of-school-spaces, like libraries, have a huge opportunity to help learners develop a broader “ecosystem of learning,” and to help students “practice and develop” as well as “identify and explore.”

Why libraries are libraries ideal for disposition learning? Because libraries:

  • Are open and inclusive spaces that encourage exploration;
  • Are already focused on connecting people and communities to resources they want and need;
  • Have existing tools, resources, and skilled staff; and
  • Provide a low stakes learning opportunity (i.e. learning because of individual interests and desires and not for a grade or requirement).

In order to foster a disposition learning space librarians must cultivate opportunistic noticing that requires attending to individuals’ particular interests and moments of learning. Through opportunistic noticing librarians can use what they noticed to point individuals to appropriate resources, connect those interests and values to formal learning opportunities, and through this process develop social connections with the individuals, which promote further exploration, discussion, and learning.

If you missed the presentation, you can watch the archive here: More information on the Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative is found at, search on #HackMLS.

Up Next!

Join us April 28, 2015 from 4:30-5:30 for  Digital Curation: The Future of Archives? You can join us in person: Room 2119 Hornbake Library, South Wing. University of Maryland, College Park or online via Adobe Connect:

If you have not RSVP’d please do at:

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