The New Libranet

Making / Learning / Work was an adult learning innovation project hosted at the MIT Media Lab from September 2014 to May 2016. This site is an archive of the project documentation.

Last May, libraries emerged as a theme from our kick-off Making / Learning / Work Ideashop. Using libraries as spaces for adult learning seemed obvious. They are free, open community spaces with a focus on access and intellectual growth. But our participants noted that libraries are currently underutilized for adult learning solutions. These observations led to one of our initial ideas: Libranet. In its initial conception, Libranet was a platform for job-search at the library. The system would provide patrons with goal-setting support and access to fellow job-seekers. Since May, the idea has shifted and morphed a bit, but libraries remain at the heart of it.

Reworking the Initial Idea

For generations, libraries have played an integral role in local communities around the world. But in today’s digital age, libraries are seeking to reinvent themselves. Gone are the days of books and cataloging, says R. David Lankes in The Atlas of New Librarianship. Instead, he suggests a new mission for libraries: “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”

Running in parallel to these efforts has been a surge in online learning initiatives. In the past few years, a wealth of learning content has come online in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses and materials are freely available to anyone with a computer and internet access; however, they are being severely underutilized by and for adult learners. This can be at least partially explained by the design of such courses. Often, they can be isolating experiences, with the majority of interaction typically taking place between a learner and his/her computer. This makes it incredibly hard for learners to stay motivated and engaged with challenging material and incredibly easy for them to give up in frustration. So while ease of access and low costs make MOOCs appealing for adult learning, in reality, their lack of learner support makes it hard for all but the most driven adult learners to benefit.

The New Libranet

With these observations in mind, the new Libranet emerged: How might we leverage libraries as open community spaces to provide adult learners with the support they need to make it through a MOOC?

The new Libranet is a model for facilitating in-person study groups at community libraries, organized around open online learning courses and content. On top of these materials, the model will scaffold a community learning environment to actively foster academic mindsets that are critical to deeper learning and future success of adult learners.

To begin this project, we are collaborating with Peer 2 Peer University and Chicago Public Libraries. We hope to start running the first study group in May 2015.