Learn here about learning circles
Submitted by David J. Rosen on June 26, 2019 - 8:21am
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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