Learning circles are a flexible model of group learning in which people meet regularly to work on an online course together and in person. They build a sense of community that supports individuals who might otherwise be intimidated by learning on a computer. This peer learning experience can prepare adults for independent online learning and serve as an on-ramp to more traditional adult educational opportunities. Similar to a book club, a small group meets for 1.5–2 hours a week for six to twelve weeks, in a library or other community space.
Support for Learning Circles
Learning circles were developed by Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to increase access to educational opportunities. P2PU piloted learning circles in 2015 at the Chicago Public Library, which increased completion rates of online courses and engaged new audiences in online learning. . . “Learning circles also formed strong social bonds for citizens from diverse backgrounds who shared common goals, and helped to highlight the library as a hub for community learning experiences” (https://www.p2pu.org/en/about, accessed on 12/15/19).
Learning circles are free to create and free to participate in. P2PU continues to maintain the software, resources, and community of practice that support learning circles. Anyone can use the P2PU platform to create a learning circle at any time.
Facilitating a Learning Circle
Learning circles are led by a trained facilitator who can be a librarian, educator, or volunteer. The facilitator’s role is:
- organize the program
- guide participants through online course modules
- facilitate pre- and post-discussions to support learning
- foster a sense of community
Library leaders and learning circle facilitators select the resources and design of the learning circle. Ultimately, meeting the needs of the target audience is the goal and might require modifying space, resources, use of technology or meeting times or even provide childcare.
Conditions for Success
Implementation Example: Chicago Public Library
Use of learning circles at Chicago Public Library (CPL) dates back to 2014. Through a strategic planning process, the Learning and Economic Advancement Department was created to help advance new adult learning initiatives, including adult education, English language learning, digital literacy, and workforce development. In collaboration with Peer 2 Peer University, study groups were formed to deliver MOOCs to a wider and more diverse audience. These study groups became known as learning circles. Since 2015, CPL has continued to offer learning circles in library branches throughout the city. Learning circle topics address the needs of adults with low skills as a means of increasing opportunities for better-paying jobs, and of helping adults enter job training programs or college. Read More >