Learning Circles at St. Louis County Library St. Louis, Missouri
The St. Louis County Library chose to implement learning circles as an alternative to their Career Online High School program because the peer support learning circles offer helps learners persist. The learning circle would provide participants an opportunity to prepare for each subject of the HiSet test individually, taking some of the pressure off of learners to prepare for all five subjects at once. Once circumstances of the Covid pandemic pushed services online, learning circles were offered virtually.
At the same time, the library had a grant to pilot a 9-week course, Job Skills for All, that was designed to develop a peer learning model within the context of workforce education. It included four online modules: goal-setting, tailoring resumes for a career/job, interviewing, and communicating at work. The library turned the course into a learning circle by reorganizing the coursework and adding discussion and sharing throughout.
St. Louis library addressed the pandemic challenge of helping patrons at a distance by meeting them outdoors to show them how to use loaner hotspots and devices, using screen shots to show them how to use Zoom functions, sharing video tutorials, and offering check-in phone calls. However, recruitment was difficult and, although participants were engaged by the learning circle content, it was a challenge to get them to unmute and engage with one another virtually. Attrition rose as people dealt with school-aged children at home and other demands.
At the end of the first Job Skills For All learning circle, each participant had a new resume and a LinkedIn profile to help them in their job search, and was ready to be matched with a job counselor. But with flagging attendance during the second round, the library decided to put learning circles on hold until they could be done in person.
The library sees the potential for learning circles to expand into non-academic subjects of interest to patrons such as basic banking and a range of health topics. In addition, the library envisions learning circles in service of other programming, such as how to start and grow a business or how to use the library’s electronic resources for specific research purposes.
Staff at the St. Louis Library learned that onboarding students to Zoom and other technologies could not be accomplished by demonstrating features one time. Instead, learners needed to revisit basic features and navigation many times and then build on what they learned. This scaffolding allowed learners to gain confidence in using the technology, resulting in higher levels of engagement.