This is a new discussion thread in which to learn about learning circles and how you might use them. We can answer questions and discuss using learning circles for adult basic skills (including ESL/ESOL and ASE/HSE prep) classes, volunteer-led learning circles for subjects/topics your students want to learn but which your program may not be funded to offer, learning circles offered by public libraries, training for learning circle facilitators, free online courses available for learning circles, and more. This is not a course about learning circles, but rather a Q & A and discussion about them. You'll see some basic information about learning circles in answer to common questions below, but then you'll need to post your questions to learn more. I invite experienced learning circle facilitators to join in with their knowledge, and I can point you to some good resources to help you get started, or to improve your learning circles.
I should explain that although I have paid attention to learning circles for several years, have offered training for facilitators, have been on an evaluation team for a learning circle pilot project, and am currently an advisor to an English language learning circle project, I have not facilitated one so, depending on your questions, I hope we can have some expert facilitators join in to provide you with their experience, and answer some of your questions.
Here are some questions I am often asked, and for which I will offer my own answers; I also welcome answers from those who have facilitated learning circles, or who are in other ways involved with learning circles for example as administrators, learners, or the staff of organizations promoting learning circles.
What is a learning circle?
Simply, it's a non-formal learning group organized around a specific topic or learning goal. It's a study circle that has an online course and/or other online resources. Participants join because they are interested in the topic or want to accomplish or make progress on that learning goal.
How long is a Learning circle?
Typically six-eight weeks, but they could be as short as three weeks or up to 14 weeks. The face-to-face meetings typically are once a week for 90 minutes to two hours.
Are learning circles individually-paced or group-paced?
The facilitator and/or the learning circle group may may choose an individually-paced or a group-paced model, where everyone is pretty much on the same lesson(s) in a given week.
How much do learning circles cost?
They're always free to the learner. A public library, adult basic skills program or other organization that offers a learning circle could pay a fee for the online course, but most learning circle online courses are also free to the organization.
Where did learning circles come from?
The original model, the study circle, goes back at least to 19th century chatauquas offered throughout the U.S. as way that adults could learn non-formally, often in rural communities. The modern version of the study circle has been developed by a group called Peer to Peer University (P2PU). It's not a university. That's a metaphor for a kind of non-formal learning that is usually community-based, not-for-credit, and involves building peer-support for learning.
Is this distance learning?
No, it's blended learning, an integrated combination of online and face-to-face learning.
Do learning circles have high retention rates?
As you may know, online courses typically have low retention and completion rates, especially Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Blended learning models, however, have much higher retention and completion rates. P2PU has found that learning circles have very high retention rates compared with distance learning, especially considering that they are always free and voluntary.
Is there a learning circle for those who want to learn about learning circles?
There is a free, short, online course about learning circles that covers the basics for those who are preparing to facilitate a learning circle, or for those who just want to learn more about them. You will find it on the P2PU website at https://p2pu.github.io/facilitate-course/ You could organize a local group of staff or volunteers who want to learn about facilitating learning circles to take this short course as a learning circle.
Where are learning circles offered?
They are offered in over 150 cities, mostly through public libraries. They were first piloted several years ago in branches of the Chicago Public Library. The public library system that now offers the most learning circles is in Nairobi Kenya. You will also find them in public libraries in: Topeka and Wichita Kansas; Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Providence Rhode Island; Detroit Michigan; Los Angeles and San Francisco California; and elsewhere. For more information about learning circle sites in the U.S. and around the world, go here.
Through the help of World Education's English Now! pilot, and now its scale-up project, learning circles have been offered by ESL/ESOL programs in several states. The 18-month pilot project focused on five ESOL program sites in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and served learners on waiting lists for English classes. The scale-up also offers learning circles to those who are simultaneously enrolled in classes.
Are there learning circles offered where I live?
Where can I learn more about learning circles?
Ask about them here! or go to p2pu.org
David J. Rosen
Thanks so much for all of your detailed articles and webinars about learning circles. I'm trying to start an ESOL app to speed learning circle at my organization, using the XPRIZE apps in particular but also other platforms such as USA Learns and Duolingo. I wanted to ask if you knew of any learning circles where the learners had zero English, and the facilitator didn't speak their primary language? How did it work out? For example, I have a group of women who speak Farsi, and I'd like to invite them to a USA Learns learning circle, but I wonder about language barriers in accessing the course materials.
Thanks for your question. So far, I am not aware of any app to speed learning circle that has been offered to true ESL/ESOL beginners. However, at least one of the five pilot sites in the English Now! project sponsored by World Education and P2PU, Notre Dame Education Center in Boston, had true ESOL/ESL beginners with near-zero English. Since they may have been a mixed first-language group, I am not sure that the learning circle facilitator, Manny Reynoso, spoke all their languages; however, he is a skilled and experienced ESOL teacher and comfortable with teaching English to beginners. Because I believe that most or all the learners had no experience using computer technology and little, if any, access to or experience using the Internet for English language learning through a computer at home, the online instruction was accessed in the classroom as a group, using a computer with Internet access and a multimedia projector. Manny could give you a fuller picture. I have asked him to join the discussion here on LINCS, so maybe he will reply with more detail.
Also, several of the sites in the English Now! pilot project used USA Learns; others used Burlington English, a proprietary program; and one chose a more advanced Voice of America website for a learning circle of adult immigrants planning to go to college.
Has anyone else in this discussion had experience using learning circles with true beginners in adult English language learning?
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP, Integrating Technology and Program Management groups
Hi Clair and David,
I am assisting Priyanka Sharma with the English Now! Scale Up through World Education, Inc. (WEI). We recently checked in with all of the programs who are participating in English Now! I heard from several that when there is a common language within the group, and English skills are somewhat low, learners help each other in their native language with some aspects of the instruction. However, facilitators have to be comfortable with that happening. I have a few recommendations for you with how you might facilitate each section of a Learning Circle (LC) for beginning English speakers:
1. Have a structured check-in each week using sentence prompts such as: My name is... I am from ... etc. You can structure the check-in so that it relates to the online lesson they will use in the next section.
2. Before you begin the online portion, teach basic digital skills. You may not be able to do a survey if their English skills are low, however, they might translate it into Farsi. Teach them to use Google Translate if they do not already use it.
For the online portion, I agree with the options you suggested. Some programs said they thought using a computer-based program first like USA Learns 1 to start with made sense so learners could build computer literacy skills. But if you want to use an XPRIZE app, be sure to introduce it soon. Users have to log in on three separate days before August 31st so they can continue to use the app for a full year--Android users only. Check out our XPRIZE Team WorldEd website for more information about the apps including webinars with the app developers and practitioners. In this EdTech Center/WEI blog post, Linda Beliveau, a teacher from Nashua, NH, highlights how she prepares learners to use apps. Very useful stuff!
Note: Programs we spoke to said that using an app took less time that learning on a website like USA Learns so be prepared for the online portion of the LC to only last 30-40 minutes. I have found in my classes, students tend to be ready to move on from an app in 30 minutes or less. The app lessons are designed to be short and consumable in short spurts. Learners will work at their own pace and be in very different places within a short period.
3. When the group comes back together, try something structured like teaching basic grammar using a chart (or something similar) and having them practice basic structures orally each week. After a month or more, you should be able to be a bit less structured as students gain some conversational skills. You could also use picture stories or photos and have them create Quizlet sets or a notebook to study new vocabulary. Lastly, they might like some time to chat in Farsi to help each other navigate their new environment.
Most of the learning circles took on a life of their own so I would say, be flexible and see what happens! Let us know how it goes.
Workplace Education and EN! Coordinator
World Education, Inc.
Thanks for this great information. The EdTech Center/WEI blog post by teacher Linda Beliveau is terrific. Linda offers some very practical advice and tools for any teacher who is helping adult learners to use learning apps.
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group
Thank you so much for your detailed reply! I will absolutely make use of the structure you set out for the low-level ESOL student learning circle. The resources you provided are indeed very useful. I love the mobile gestures chart that Linda Beliveau featured in her blog post.
I also had the same feeling about using the apps in a shorter timeframe- I've definitely felt like that in my own language learning. I definitely think using USA Learns makes complete sense for our context to establish the learning circle and get students familiar with studying online. We'll look into adding the XPRIZE apps like Learning Upgrade in the third or fourth session!
I will definitely post an update with how it goes. Our info sessions are tomorrow and there seems to be a fair amount of interest!
Claire Balani mentioned my articles about learning circles. Some of these may be of interest to readers of this discussion. I have written (or co-written) three blog articles on something I call "App to Speed" learning circles. These learning circles are short, usually three or four face-to-face sessions, and their purpose is to help adults who have smartphones download, use, and get peer-support in using adult literacy or ESOL/ESL learning apps. If this interests you, take a look at one, two or all of these articles:
App to Speed learning circles for Public Libraries https://davidjrosen.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/app-to-speed-learning-circles-in-public-libraries/
World Education Ed Tech Center blog article focusing on ESOL/ESL programs https://edtech.worlded.org/app-to-speed-learning-circles-in-adult-esol-programs/
ProLiteracy Blog article by Michele Diecuch and me on App-to-Speed Learning Circles for ABE programs https://www.proliteracy.org/Blogs/Article/426/App-to-Speed-Learning-Circles-for-ABE-Learners
David J. Rosen
Claire, there are bilingual English/Farsi texts available which you could purchase for use in the class. Or you could use a Picture Dictionary. In this way the students could more easily learn a basic vocabulary of 500 words for the class, which would then serve to broaden their knowledge of English.
Great minds think alike! I, too, decided to organize a Learning Circle focused on the X-Prize apps. Last night we had our 2nd of three sessions, and I think that I can say they are a success. I invited about 30 students and tutors in our organization that typically meet at our library with a tutor, and we have had a nice turnout. The majority of the group are very low-level Chinese-speaking learners. Fortunately, I was able to arrange to have a volunteer tutor help me with the learning circles, so I haven't been the lone instructor. In addition, several tutors have been coming to the circles. This has allowed us to give individual attention to each learner. Since we don't have projector capability, one thing that I would do in the future is to have screen shots of each of the log-in screens to hand out. It is much easier to show than explain when you are working with low-level language learners. It's also helpful that our students have been working with us awhile. They are used to getting lots of "help" and have been willing to wait patiently until we can give them individual attention. FYI: our lowest-level learners have found Learning Upgrade to be difficult to use. They have needed a lot of hand-holding with it. However, Cell-Ed seems to be much easier for them once we get them started on the Level 1 course. We haven't tried the other 2 apps because many of our students have iPhones, but we will try USA Learns next week. Two "supplies" that students have needed are their Apple log-in id in order to download the apps and earphones. It gets really loud and difficult to hear when everyone's phone is making noise! I'll be interested in hearing what you decide to do.
Hello Catherine, and others,
I would be very interested to hear about what you learned from doing your three-session learning circle on the Adult Literacy XPRIZE apps. You could reply here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org How many participants came to the first meeting? How many stayed for all three or two of the three meetings? It sounds like you have offered other learning circles before this one. What were the topics of the other learning circles? In introducing the USALearns app, did you accompany it with an introduction to the USALearns online curriculum or did you just introduce learners to the app?
You, Claire and others who are interested in learning circles might be interested in joining the (free) p2pu learning circles Community. https://community.p2pu.org/ You will have to create a (free) account, and then log in. When you do, consider joining this new group: Adult basic skills, including basic literacy, ABE. ASE, high school equivalency prep, U.S. Citizenship test prep and ESL/ESOL
David J. Rosen
Thank you for providing this valuable information! I don't have any experience with learning circles, so I have already started the course, Learning About Learning Circles. I look forward to involving others in Delaware in a learning circle.
Thank you again, Jeri
Hello, Everybody, I have created a number of ESL groups on WhatsApp which, I think, can be considered Learning Circles. My students are low-income working women who usually have school-age kids and therefore not able to attend classes easily. Not only that but there have been a lot of ESL cutbacks and Level 1 or Beginner classes are no longer offered at the local CC. These groups grew out of "live" classes in a local library, which I have discontinued for the summer. I will, howevever, be available for classes in peoples' homes and also offer lessons "live" via smartphone.
Over the years I have written many texts which serve as the basis for two free websites which I often post on the WhatsApp groups. I also often refer to other websites, especially YouTube and Google.
I believe that WhatsApp study groups or Learning Circles are the best way to provide ESL to adults who work and have families. For one thing learning English well takes a long time and short lessons daily probably are more effective than a one hour class. And at the same time I am always available to answer questions, which can then serve as a class to the whole group.
Plus WhatsApp groups are easy to expand and in the next few weeks I will advertise a lot on Facebook to recruit new students.
Hi Paul, and others,
Paul, you wrote, "I have created a number of ESL groups on WhatsApp which, I think, can be considered Learning Circles."
That raises some interesting questions for me:
What distinguishes learning circles from other kinds of blended learning models, and from study circles?
What is blended learning? Blended learning is an integrated combination of face-to-face and on-line learning. The "integrated" is important; sending students once a week from a classroom to a computer lab to do an online learning program, even in the same content area, is not blended learning unless it is well integrated with what's happening in the face-to-face class. If the online and face-to-face learning are not integrated this is sometimes called "hybrid learning."
What's a study circle? These have been around since at least the 19th century. A study circle is an organized, facilitated group of adults who are all interested in exploring the same topic. Study circles are usually non-formal, not-for-credit, face-to-face groups of people who are often learning about and discussing a topic of high interest, sometimes highly controversial. In adult basic skills, study circles have used plain language articles that represent sharply differing points of view on the topic or issue. (See this National Issues Forum article in the Wikipedia). Adult basic skills learners are encouraged to read, discuss, even debate an issue in their study circle meetings. There have also been professional development study circles for adult basic skills practitioners. A study circle could be entirely online; however, this might not, strictly speaking, be a learning circle, which is a study circle with a regular, typically weekly, face-to-face meeting.
How are learning circles different from classes? In addition to being integrated online and face-to-face learning, learning circles tend to be short, between three and fourteen weeks. They are not "taught," but are "facilitated," and the facilitator may or may not be a trained teacher. Whereas classes can be either formal or non-formal, learning circles are non-formal. Classes are usually offered by an education organization; learning circles are most often sponsored by public libraries, or may be held in community-based organizations, senior centers, workplace cafeterias, homes, and elsewhere. Often the content of the learning circle is an organized online course, but there have been learning circles that use other online learning resources that are not, strictly speaking, courses. Perhaps most important, learning circles, as developed by Peer-to-peer University, support peer learning, that is, they provide face-to-face and online strategies and encouragement for learners to help each other learn.
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group
Paul, you wrote, "learning English well takes a long time and short lessons daily probably are more effective than a one hour class." This is an intriguing assertion, one where evidence from research might be helpful. My guess is that it could be correct for certain kinds and levels of learners under certain circumstances. English language learning for immigrant adults delivered by a mobile device may be the only choice if face-to-face classes at an ESL/ESOL program, adult school, or community college are not available, affordable, or aren't offered at a time that the learner can attend.
Anyone -- suppose a learner has a choice, however; would short ESL/ESOL lessons on a smartphone be more effective than face-to-face classes? Would a blended model that provided both face-to-face classes and short lessons on a smartphone during or between classes be most effective? Is there ESL./ESOL research from K-12 or higher education on this? Have you seen research on this question for adult ESL/ESOL learning? Are there experimental design studies in which the control group gets an English language face-to-face class, and the experimental groups get either or both 1) English language learning solely provided by short lessons on a portable digital device such as a smartphone, and 2) a blended learning model with face-to-face classes and short lessons delivered by a smartphone?
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group
I'm not sure about any experimental-design research, but the data from Texas for the past 8 years clearly show that students who have face-to-face classes and at least some distance learning (but less than 50% of their hours) significantly outperform both traditional classroom and mostly-at-a-distance students in their ability to make NRS Educational Functioning Level gains. For Texas, blended is a subset of hybrid (having both in-class and out-of-class activities) in that blended learning indicates intentionally aligning in-class and out-of-class activities. Sometimes the class can be both.
My night class this summer is a case in point. The class only meets two nights a week for 2 hours a night. The students who complete activities outside of class (mostly on their phones) make progress a lot faster than those who don't. The additional out-of-class practice is especially important because my students right now are all Spanish speakers and Spanish can be used just about everywhere in this part of Texas. It's much more like teaching English as a Foreign Language sometimes.
I encourage students to use a wide variety of tools. Currently, we use Google Classroom, Duolingo, Quizlet, WhatsApp and USA Learns for the most part. I embed a lot of things into our Google Classroom, which helps reduce the "find this app" or "follow this link" issue. For example, for the summer session, we're using the We Are New York series quite a bit. I post the link to the videos, the study guide and reader in Google Classroom. I ask students to watch the video before class, which all of them do (amazingly enough), so that we can spend the entire class time actively practicing. That's the blended part. However, they also use independently USA Learns and Duolingo. They receive proxy (distance) contact hours for USA Learns, but not for Duolingo. I hope that changes in the future, though.
Another advantage of hybrid/blended instruction is that if students miss class, they can "keep up" by following the syllabus and working on the assigned activities, or by continuing to study independently on the app(s) of their choice. I have one student visiting family in Mexico for the summer and another who has had some significant health problems and couldn't attend, but I see that both of them are working on Duolingo and USA Learns even though they are not enrolled for the summer.
Thanks for a great question!
Thanks, Glenda, for sharing the evidence from Texas including from your own classroom regarding the efficacy of blended models. To me, it makes sense that the more students engage-- whether that engagement is in a face-to-face classroom or online-- the more they will learn. Explicitly connecting classroom learning with online learning, the way you are doing would seem to be most effective since the teacher can build on what students are doing independently.
The We Are New York materials are great and can easily be adapted for learners in Texas or anywhere! Check out the review on LINCS!
Cheers, Susan Finn Miller
Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP
I'm glad that you mentioned the link to We Are New York materials in our LINCS Resource Collection, Susan. I was one of the reviewers for that resource and must say that the experience exploring the materials ranks among the most enjoyable. Great stuff. Of course, it appeals to urban residents the most, but there is enough there for everyone to enjoy with some modifications. Leecy
Thanks Glenda. You wrote, "...the data from Texas for the past 8 years clearly show that students who have face-to-face classes and at least some distance learning (but less than 50% of their hours) significantly outperform both traditional classroom and mostly-at-a-distance students in their ability to make NRS Educational Functioning Level gains." This is important evidence of the effectiveness of blended learning models used with adult learners in Texas. I wonder if it might be possible for others who may be interested to replicate these studies in their states. Your thoughts?
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group
Our class follows the same model like Glenda's. We meet only two times a week for two hours. Increasing the number of hours or days is not an option for us, as our students are working adults with not only work commitments, but also family responsibilities. We have been trying out and modifying our 'blended learning' option for the last several years for the reason that language learning cannot be successful without frequent and continuous encounter with the target language. Until the advent of language apps and other online tools, we relied on books with CDs. Students come to class tow days and they work independently on non school days using the books and CDs they borrow from class. It was good even though it had its benefits and challenges. Now that we have many apps and online options available, it is a lot easier and much better for students to have frequent and continuous encounter with English. Like Glenda, we also, have found that students that used the blended option learned English to show progress as well as achieving their personal goals at much higher rate than class room only or DE only students. In fact, I rarely recommend DE only. What we have seen is this; DE only can be successful with high functioning and students with good native language literacy/education. They have discipline and good study skills. Low functioning limited native language literate students often do not have tools to be successful in independent learning. They need constant monitoring and support.
We have used Rosetta Stone, Burlington English, USA Learns, and PLATO learning system with our students. We choose the lessons based on their NRS level on the tests. PLATO has been an excellent support for our high functioning students with post secondary education or professional certification/license as their goals.
Thanks for this great reply.about how you use blended learning. I have a couple of questions:
- I am interested in knowing more about what you have learned works and doesn't work as you have looked at and modified your blended learning model over the years. Also, what was the process you used to do that? For example, did teachers and administrators discuss the model at the end of each year and make recommendations for improving it? Did you get teachers' observations about how learners were doing with the model? Did you get learners' observations from them directly about how the model was working for them? Something else?
- What language apps and other online tools have you found work best for your students?
I like your description of an important need that apps can meet in an English language learning blended learning model, "frequent and continuous encounter with English" between classes. Many ESL/ESOL teachers have commented here, and elsewhere, that their students who live in first language-isolated circumstances in the U.S. do not get enough English language practice outside class. It sounds like you have found that some English language apps can help to meet this challenge.
David J. Rosen, Moderator
LINCS CoP Integrating technology group
Yes we have on going discussion with both the coordinator and the students about the lesson, the delivery, and if the lessons are helpful. What we count as success is how the students are achieving their goals. Of course for state mandated program goals, we do look at the attendance hours as well as progress. What I have found from my experience is this; if students feel that they are learning and are getting the help they need to learn English, attendance, and progress will take care of itself. We use Whatts App a lot as it is easy to forward materials, record and send voice messages as wells videos. One example: We did a lesson on summer safety- Leaving kids in cars on hot summer days. It is important as many non native speakers do not realize how quickly the temperature rises in a parked car during summer. It is not because they are careless, but many are new drivers and do not understand how insulation in cars work. Most students were surprised that that it takes only 15 minutes to cause serious injury or death. A couple of them were skeptical. I told them to sit in a parked for a bit to find out for themselves and share the experience with class the next day. Then I found a news item about a mother that left the baby in the car and the baby died. I forwarded that article via Whatts App. There is always real life experience articles that we can share using Whatts App, Our students with obtaining citizenship as their goal have the 100 questions app downloaded and installed on their phone to listen to on their drive to and from work.
Our students use dictionary. com not only to look up meaning, but to listen to the pronunciation of words. We have showed them how to use the microphone sign to hear. Also syllable breaks
Some students use the voice over app. Rosetta Stone was well liked by many, but Burlington English was not. The reason was it was not user friendly for I phones or I pads. PLATO lessons were well liked by many of our students. From our experience what we have found out is this. Lessons that are accessible on a phone or I pad are the ones that are the favorites. USALearns life skill lessons and Citizenship prep both are well liked by students. We are looking into Learning Upgrade, the new app the came out this year. Also PLATO is creating lessons that can be accessed on the phone. We use the program/app that is allowed by the state to track attendance and progress, but our students are free to use any resource that helps them in their learning.
Yes students spend most of their time in native language dominated situations, so it is important to create situations for them to spend time in English. We have used Photo dictionary with CDs, Oxford Picture Dictionary with CDs and Future Series with CDs. They are all well like by our students. They helped students to have more opportunity to listen and improve listening comprehension.
Hi, this is a good example of how using the smart phone and WhatsApp groups could help your students. You could supplement the use of books and CDs very easily. The use of the phone would probably increase the students' time spent on studying or reviewing. Everybody likes songs, so you could send a YouTube song with the lyrics. I also use WhatsApp to make announcements and keep in touch.
I was happy to hear We Are New York mentioned as a useful resource for students' independent work. Our colleagues here at City University of New York have partnered with New York City's Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to produce a second season of the show, which is now titled We Speak NYC (both seasons can be found at this link). The second season of 7 videos focuses on workforce development, adult education, early childhood education, worker rights, mental health, immigration legal help, and elder care and other social services. Each video is paired with print and web study resources, such as transcripts, introductions to the characters, study guides, images, etc.
Very interesting to hear that your class uses the We Are New York series. I've been wanting to use WANY in our classes (and by extension, learning circles) but I'm unsure how to best adapt the videos to our community members. Can you share any tips on how you have best adapted the series to appeal to your students in TX?
I've used it in my classes for years, and my best advice is to choose episodes that directly relate to students' interests and, just like any other "text," supplement it to make it work for your class. This summer, I have a nurse licensed in another country and a few others with health issues, so I selected the episodes that were directly related to medical issues. Most of the episodes have some New York-specific content, so I had to find similar resources for our area: where the free and reduced services are, emergency preparedness and alert procedures, how to get more information on available social services, etc.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I ask them to watch the video before class so that we can focus on practice in class, especially since we only have two hours. I don't want to spend 20 to 30 minutes watching a video. In class, we usually do some of the exercises from the study guide, but not all of them and not necessarily in order of their lesson number. My students actually notice when I do "7" before "3" for example, but there is a method to my madness. One activity they enjoy is reading through the script. I provide feedback and help with specific pronunciation issues. They identify new vocabulary for which I may make Quizlet cards. And I supplement the language point with other resources/practice as well.
I hope that helps!
Thanks, Glenda, for explaining how you adapt the We Are New York materials for your context. I've used these great resources in a similar manner. One thing that learners have enjoyed is using the transcript as a Readers Theater. I've also created listening cloze activities and/or peer dictation activities with excerpts of the transcript.
Thank you so much for your reply! I'm hoping to create another learning circle or class incorporating WANY and this definitely helps. It's amazing to read about how you've tailored the videos to your students' interests and brought in resources from your local community.
David – Conducting research along the lines you mentioned might yield interesting results, but my question is: what would be the reason for such research?
I assume it would help in decisions relating to the use of Smartphone/WhatsApp groups as a method of providing instruction to adults. Personally I think it could solve the budget problems.
While it might be obvious to some -- perhaps to you among them -- that blended learning will produce better results for some populations of adult learners, under some circumstances, others considering blended learning models will need to see research evidence before moving in this direction. The evidence from the Texas Workforce Commission data -- incidentally, an early step in a research process can be to look at the data you might already have, to see if patterns emerge -- is the only adult basic skills education evidence I am aware of that compares blended learning results with face-to-face and distance learning results. There is evidence from K-12 and higher education that online learning, and especially blended learning, can be more effective than face-to face learning only. If other states followed the Texas Workforce Commission practices, looked at learners' pre-post test results, and compared how groups of learners using these three models did it would be useful. We might know if these results from Texas are more generalizable or if they are unique to Texas. If we had a half dozen or more states looking at their publicly-funded adult basic skills programs' pre-post-test data, perhaps following the model used by the Texas Workforce Commission, and if the results from all or nearly all those states showed higher learner gains with a blended learning instruction model, particularly if there were statistically significant results, that might be convincing evidence for more adult basic skills practitioners to adopt blended learning models.It would be better still if analysis of these data could tell us more about what kinds of learners, at what levels, benefited the most.
David J. Rosen
David, if there were evidence / research to prove that using smart phones etc. could enhance learning, then what? Would teachers and administrators change their policies?
Personally I think that distance learning / blended learning programs would increase attendance in adult education programs, especially ESL for beginners. At the same time I am very aware of the prejudice against this kind of approach, having had some negative experiences in this regard. Policy is not always determined by evidence.
You wrote, "if there were evidence / research to prove that using smart phones etc. could enhance learning, then what? Would teachers and administrators change their policies?"
You have raised a great question which i will re-post to several groups, including this one, and which could in itself be an important discussion. My short answer is, sometimes; what is interesting to me is exploring when good research has affected policy and practice, what do we know about why that occurs; when it doesn't affect policy and practice, why not? What are the challenges or barriers? Rather than reply here, everyone, look for the new discussion thread on this!
David J. Rosen
I am in the beginning stages of preparing my organization (CBO) to offer learning circles for ESL and ABE students. I'm curious about the types of technology you are using. In addition to WhatsApp groups, which I love, are you mainly using desktops, Chromebooks/laptops, or tablets with learners? Many of our learners rely on pre-paid phones, so I would prefer not to use those as our main instructional tool. We serve adults who are primarily, but not exclusively, 30-55 years old. Some of our learners are refugees or former migrant workers. Computer skills vary widely, but we really want to breakdown barriers to accessing and using technology as well as creating cohesive groups for language learning. Our programs run in about 10 locations, so mobility is a consideration. I am leaning toward tablets, but I would love to hear about any experiences you've had.
As you know, a learning circle has a face-to-face and an on-line component. I gather that your ESL and ABE student learning circles have an online course or a collection of online resources; can you tell us more about what course(s) or other online resources you plan to use, as that might determine what technology can be used. Can you give us more context, for example, what the main goals or topics or the learning circles are, and how many weeks long they might be, and if they are to help people who are on waiting lists for classes, for example for English classes for immigrants, or if they are to supplement what is currently offered in classes, such as a way to learn numeracy skills, or high school equivalency preparation, or graphic arts, public speaking, or something else?
Some learning circles in an adult basic skills education program (including ESL/ESOL) use laptop computers or chromebooks that are rolled into a room on a cart; some learning circles are held in a program's computer lab; some learning circle facilitators use one Internet-accessible computer or tablet and a multimedia projector or an electronic whiteboard ("Smartboard" ) during the face-to-face time, and expect learners to access the online component outside of the face-to-face meeting using whatever device they have; some learning circles are held in public libraries using a range of technologies including desktop and laptop computers, chrome books, electronic tablets, or library loaner laptops. It is easier for everyone, including you as the learning circle facilitator, if the participants are all using the same kind of device, but it may be necessary to allow learners to use the device they have If the online resource can be used by any device. The key question is usually whether or not the online course or other online resources are suitable for access by smartphones or are designed for computers or possibly also tablets.
English language learners, from what I have seen, often have smartphones, but rarely have tablets. Will you be providing participants with tablets they can use outside the face-to-face time? If so, also with Internet access, or at least with a list of free hot spots where they can use their tablets?
David J. Rosen
Thanks for your questions. We would like to make our learning circles available to both wait list students and to students who are looking for a supplemental learning opportunity. My goal is to run the circles for 8-10 weeks depending on the term length. We hope to offer an AM and a PM session once per week to begin. For ESL, we plan to use USA Learns in conjunction with a facilitated group conversation/learning portion. My initial hope is to begin with a warm-up activity, have students work individually on a device, and finish with facilitated conversation activities. For ABE learners, I am looking at i-pathways but haven't made a decision. Initially, we want to begin with all online work being completed during the learning circle. We do have the ability to provide a free, refurbished desktop to each family for home use, but availability of mobile devices is much more limited. It would also be challenging to use desktops for instruction due to space constraints. We are able to provide a list of places hot spots are available, but we do not provide them. We also connect learners with everyoneon.org.
Our two main offices have access to projection and speakers but not all offsite programs do. None of our locations use Smartboards.
Our organization is largely volunteer based. I'll be doing a lot of the facilitation myself in the pilot phase, but I do want to be mindful of creating a smooth and rewarding process for both our learners and our volunteers.
Hello again Rebecca,
It sounds to me like you have been thinking this through well. For USA Learns I believe that desktop or laptop computers or possibly chromebooks would be best. Having said that, I know that USALearns also has an app that does not offer everything that the computer-based curriculum does, but might be useful for learners who have access to a smartphone and want to do more English practice outside of the face-to-face meetings. Perhaps i-Pathways and USALearns users who are members of Integrating Technology could weigh in on this too from their own experiences with these online learning curricula.
If the English language learners are true beginners, or if they are advanced ESL/ESOL learners, USA Learns is not designed for them, although for the true beginners it might be possible to make accommodations using a single computer and multi-media projector approach and have the learning circle be group-paced instead of individually-paced, especially if everyone is a true beginner. One of the programs in the English Now! pilot program did that successfully.
Your offering the learning circles yourself, as a facilitator, is a great strategy for at least two reasons: you will know what is and isn't working and can probably more easily fix it than an inexperienced volunteer, and if you will be doing the training of the volunteer facilitators you will be able to train from your own experience as a facilitator. If you are interested, there is a draft of an English language group learning circle facilitator guide that you may be able to look at. E-mail me about that if you are interested, and I'll see what I can do.
David J. Rosen
https://usalearns.org has launched a new beginning high / intermediate low course: English 1 Plus. As the name suggests, this course builds on USA Learns’ 1st English Course. It gives students the opportunity for more vocabulary, listening, and grammar practice before they move on to the 2nd English Course, addressing a long-time need for a bridge between the two levels. If your learners know how to navigate other USA Learns courses, English 1 Plus will be a snap. #LearnEnglish #EnglishLanguage #ESL #ELL
David J. Rosen