Roles for Information Professionals in New Large-scale Learning Landscapes


Published: November 9, 2013 by Michael Stephens

Michael StephensThe emergence of online 24/7 learning in a large scale environment, such as the MOOCs I wrote about here, presents challenges for those supporting learners, specifically librarians. When learning resources are openly available on the Web and organized within a large scale MOOC environment, are librarians needed to manage the resources and facilitate access? I would argue in the affirmative. The more important question might be:

What roles will and should information professionals play in future large-scale virtual communities and learning programs?

I recently completed an article focusing on the potential LIS roles of learner, connector, and collaborator in large-scale courses for Internet Learning, Fall 2013. This post provides a brief overview of the piece.

The methodology used for this article is based on “futures research” (Glenn, 2003) and blends the methods of environmental scanning, trend research, and scenario planning. “The purpose of futures methodology is to systematically explore, create, and test both possible and desirable futures to improve decisions,” notes Glenn (2003, p. 3), and it “provides a framework to better understand the present and expand mental horizons” (p. 3).

Environmental scanning and trend research can both identify potential impact factors for decision-making in a variety of fields. A notable example of such methodologies is the OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition report to the OCLC membership by De Rosa, Dempsey, & Wilson (2003). The report identified and described emerging trends that were impacting libraries. Subsequent OCLC reports have done the same.

Scenario planning is a process of presenting and discussing multiple combinations of ideas as a way of quickly coming to a collection of plausible possibilities for the future (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013). Scenario planning allows us to identify potential roles that LIS professionals might play based on current trends and scanning as well as on insights from the literature.

Scenarios: Roles for Information Professionals in Large Scale Learning


The first role an LIS professional should play in these new learning environments is that of learner. This role is grounded in the “now” of these scenarios. As Jenkins (2012) notes, taking an active role in learning is part of the connected learning approach. Reading current news and articles about MOOCs might give information professionals background knowledge, but actively participating has the potential to provide more depth of experience.


The LIS professional may also find the role of connector to be a prominent part of future duties. A connector is someone who can facilitate a group to make connections between learning, ideas, and practice. Also, this person is a leader of sorts who connects people within organizations and lets those connections grow.


The role of collaborator within learning environments is the third scenario for information professionals. The collaborator might work with faculty and learners within large scale learning environments. They might help create a course resource or artifact, or provide instruction related to various technologies to enable everyone to learn together. They might also collaborate with other entities on campus, in the community, or in other information settings to further the goals of the course.

Next Steps: Research within the Hyperlinked Library MOOC

Following up on this futures research scenario planning exercise will be an analysis of data culled from the Hyperlinked Library MOOC participants in pre and post MOOC surveys and interviews with participants. Will the evidence support these ideas and/or will new roles emerge from the data? Future papers will share evidenced-based insights as to how librarians should consider serving students of all stripes in this emerging playing field of large scale learning.

For now: how would our CIRI blog readers respond to the roles briefly outlined above? Please comment below.


De Rosa, C., Dempsey, L., & Wilson, A. (2003). The 2003 OCLC environmental scan: Pattern recognition (Executive Summary). A. Wilson (Ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from…

Glenn, J. C. (2003). Introduction to the futures research methods series. In J. C. Glenn & T. J. Gordon (Eds.), Futures research methodology, V2.0 (pp. 1-61). AC/UNU Millennium Project, American Council for the United Nations University. Available from The Millennium Project website:

Jenkins, H. (2012, March 1). Connected learning: A new paradigm [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., & Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from