The role of the library in enabling blended learning

At Basingstoke College of Technology in North Hampshire, U.K., librarians have become learning facilitators and students turned into digital leaders, explains Scott Hayden. Library space was redesigned to support independent, flipped and blended learning.

At the heart of what we do at Basingstoke is student focus. As part of the Department of Education’s EdTech Demonstrate program, we use the passion and energy of our students to enhance learning. We see an opportunity to forage, curate and bring back interesting ways to enhance teaching, learning and assessment, along with well-being. Some 5 to 6 years ago, we started by looking at some ideas about how learning spaces can best support an independent, flipped and blended approach to learning.

We liked David Thornburg’s four elements—Mountain Top, Cave, Campfire, Watering Hole—applied to the way we learn, as he discusses in his 2013 book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments. The Mountain Top facility enables presenting, sharing, broadcasting, podcasting and the like. The Cave is more about solitude, introspection, reflection, evaluation and privacy. Think pods, areas for people to focus.

Campfires are spaces to get together with our peers to tell stories, help each other, work in teams and collaborate. Important for getting us outside our echo chambers and filter bubbles are Watering Holes, where we can cross-pollinate different courses, classes and group. Although there may be friction, good ideas can flow from Watering Holes.

Another influencer for us was futurist Gerd Leonhard, who advocates being mindful of the deeply human skills that can never be automated, digitized or replaced. Library spaces should facilitate and encourage the growth of skills the Leonhard designates as CORE—Compassion, Originality, Responsibility and Empathy. At the college, we’ve done a lot of empathy mapping over the past few years.

Learning Hub and Launch Space

To create a Learning Hub and launch space, we adjusted the library layout to add flexible furniture that reflects the dynamic nature of learning. The students can rearrange the furniture at will, record podcasts, make videos, study in a quiet space, check out library-supplied Chromebooks, experience virtual reality and other flipped learning activities. Our “potluck” environments let students develop specific skills. At the same time, creative spaces encourage teachers to think differently.

The Travel Room, designed for our travel and tourism students, expands to replicate an airplane cabin. Body Swaps give our students job interview practice. Engineering students can build engines, those in motor sports can actually do a car service, and fashion designers can preview an exhibition—all using VR.  

We retained some books but gave those not being used to charities and non-profits. We made a website where we make it easy to access general resources and information by subject.

We also have rental spaces that can be reserved, which puts students and small to medium sized enterprises working together, blending the work environment with the college environment. We have a sustainable room, where we teach about sustainable, econ-friendly approaches. It is used for meeting, seminars and discussions.

Librarians Becoming Facilitators

We don’t have any traditional library staff. The new roles we envision for our learning facilitators include training, support and coaching. One of our library staff has become a cult hero because of her compassion, kindness and patience. It’s the human touch that’s incredibly important. All the tech in the work doesn’t work if you don’t have the human element.

Our learning facilitators are a team and they are part of the faculty at the college. They are in faculty meetings and works with them to curate and find appropriate resources. We hope we are on the right side of history in terms of making sure that we focus on our learners.

[Editor’s note: This is a summary of a longer presentation given by Scott to UKSG. The slides are available at]