Planning a learning commons at the University of Miami

The University of Miami Libraries worked with brightspot to plan the services, staffing, and spaces for an innovative new Learning Commons that brings together disparate academic service providers – culturally, organizationally, physically, and digitally. Using a design thinking process to understand students’ needs and prototyping ways to address them, we fostered community among the staff and enabled student success.

BrightSpot Strategy

“In a complex project to bring together student services from across the campus into a dynamic Learning Commons, brightspot’s design-thinking process fostered the development of a community of practice that continues to thrive today (4 years later!) and is helping students succeed academically and beyond.”

Kelly Miller, Associate Dean for Learning and Research Services, University of Miami Libraries

Student success depends on the effectiveness of a wide variety of support services. These might include getting help clarifying a paper’s thesis, conducting research, visualizing data, working through a problem set, editing a video, honing presentation skills, selecting courses, finding a career path, and connecting with peers with shared interests—to name a few. Like many institutions, at the University of Miami these services were distributed across the campus and at the same time, student demographics and needs were changing rapidly.

brightspot worked with the University of Miami to bring services and staff together by developing a new Learning Commons. We used design thinking to reimagine services, staffing, and spaces in a collaborative process working with a Steering Committee of university leaders and a working committee with representatives from more than 10 different academic support service groups. We put people at the center of the process rather than systems or policies. We solved problems collaboratively, informed by quantitative analysis, creative insights, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations. Together, we prototyped and piloted ideas to get feedback, learn, and improve.

brightspot’s design brief summarized our research and our recommendations on spaces, services, and staffing. It included our findings from interviews, workshops, observations, and an online survey. It contained the future space program quantifying, qualifying, and relating the space needs. It included the service model including the shared service philosophy, the common portfolio of services, the plan for physical service points, and concepts for service delivery. Finally, the design brief also included a staffing plan articulating which staff roles would be created, which would change, and which would remain as is.

Informed by this brief, the Learning Commons opened in 2018 and has been a great success. In its first year, the Commons was visited 898,586 times physically and 959,509 digitally, answered more than 11,000 questions, hosted workshops attended by more than 2,000 students, and held more than 8,000 consultations with peers and staff.

BrightSpot Strategy
BrightSpot Strategy