Implementation Example: Chicago Public Library

Getting Started

In 2014, Chicago Public Library (CPL) collaborated with Peer 2 Peer University to form study groups for delivering 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.

Training Staff

Library staff facilitate learning circles. Adult Services Librarians and associates opt in to offer learning circles at their branch. This self-selection has been a key ingredient to the continued success of learning circles at CPL because enthusiasm and a growth mindset are important characteristics of a facilitator. Recruitment of facilitators from the Adult Services staff is ongoing. 

Like many other initiatives in a sizable system, learning circles are managed by a staff member located at CPL’s central office in downtown Chicago. This coordinator organizes facilitator training, on-going support, and equipment needs, and is responsible for the growth and maintenance of the system’s learning circle efforts. Ideally, all staff attend an in-person facilitation training before offering their first learning circle. CPL uses P2PU’s online training resources and customizes the training to include specific logistics. 

Choosing a Learning Circle Topic

Staff are asked to think about the needs of their community and come to the training with a list of potential topics. Facilitator training specific to offering English language learning as a learning circle topic has also been provided. This training focuses on helping facilitators develop strategies for leading discussions and becoming familiar with online resources for language learning.

Because there is an emphasis on learning needs at the neighborhood level, librarians pick the online course (or resources) for the learning circle they will facilitate. Facilitators choose courses from the P2PU course selection or a compiled list of suggested courses provided by CPL. Although facilitators can research and choose the learning circle online resource, there is a system-wide effort to offer particular topics and courses for low skilled adults. Special training sessions are offered for specific courses that would be beneficial to the city as a whole and relevant to all branches (for example, training on USA Learns for English Language Learning learning circles).

Promotion and Recruitment

The format of learning circles is flexible and may change greatly with the course and the individual facilitator’s style. However, CPL uses a consistent process for getting the word out in the community, and all learning circles include common information on flyers and online event notices.

The Chicago Public Library system includes eighty-one library branches and learning circles are offered as regular programming, similar to a book discussion club or a Maker Lab class. Sometimes a course will work well in one place and not in another. There has been great success in pairing learning circles with other programs and initiatives. The library’s Assistive Resource Center, for example, offers American Sign Language learning circles. A keystone program, One Book One Chicago, has been offering learning circles as part of its shared book programming, and those courses are well attended and popular.

Some of the lessons learned include:

  • using courses that have been successful with CPL learning circles
  • routine scheduling of learning circles
  • offering smaller facilitation training
  • having open communication
  • soliciting feedback from individual facilitators. 

These elements have become guidelines in CPL’s planning and training of facilitators.

For more information, contact Katherine Lapinski, Manager of Adult Learning and Economic Advancement, Chicago Public Library, (312) 747-4252 or