As our latest round of Learning Circles at Chicago Public Library wrapped last month, we’ve been busy synthesizing the feedback from learners and facilitators, to find out what participating in a Circle has meant for everyone involved. And while we know that learning in groups is good learning theory, we didn’t expect Learning Circles to be such powerful community building tools among CPL patrons and staff. We thought we’d share some of the feedback from library patrons who took part in the Circles, and from the library staff who facilitated them, as it’s been such a rewarding experience for all involved…
“The Facilitators continually made me feel comfortable. Which I really appreciated, the informal atmosphere was great!” – Participant in Intro to Academic Writing, Greater Grand Crossing Branch.
Online learning is an intimidating prospect – many online learners report feeling lonely, and this is thought to be one of the reasons why completion rates for many online learning projects are low. Learning Circles were designed not only to help participants master the skills being taught in the course, but to help them develop bonds within the group, in order to learn more effectively with and from each other. An informal setting, like a library, is an ideal setting – it’s a place where participants feel comfortable and spaces where people feel at ease are more conducive to effective learnings, as opposed to traditional, potentially intimidating learning spaces, such as classrooms or lecture halls.
“I felt like I helped learners achieve a lifelong dream” – Facilitator, Start Writing Fiction, Greater Grand Crossing
Learning Circles are designed to be facilitated by anyone, and we encourage facilitators not to give away answers if they do have expertise in the subject. This is important because it fosters a sense of enquiry among the group, and motivates learners and facilitators to look for solutions to questions and problems together. But a good facilitator is a good guide, and we found that the most successful Circles were the ones where facilitators were active in guiding the participants to realize their own learning objectives and goals.
“I appreciate CPL’s commitment to learning and expanding tools of the library. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to take the class.” – Participant to Intro to Public Speaking, Roosevelt Branch
Learning Circles have been designed to help anyone interested in learning from materials that are freely available online by proving a lightweight infrastructure for face-to-face meetings in community spaces, such as libraries. At P2PU, we have always believed in the power of the Web to bring learning to those who need it most, but even in this day and age, the Web is not ubiquitous. For many of the residents of Chicago, access to the Web is a main reason for visiting the library, and we wanted to make sure that any patron of the library was able to feel confident enough to take an online course, no matter what their degree of Internet access was.
I feel pretty lucky, I feel like we became friends and I am part of their group and learning process” – Facilitator, Resume Writing and Interview Skills, Clearing Branch
Learning Circles are called circles for a reason! We know that strong learning communities last beyond the duration of a course, and in some cases, stay together as friends, once the course is over. CPL branches are already key community spaces, and by introducing Learning Circles into various branches, we hope that we can work with CPL patrons and staff to build stronger communities within the Library, and beyond, in the greater Chicago community.
This round of Learning Circles would not have been possible without our great team of colleagues at the Chicago Public Library and their patrons. We are grateful to have been able to work with them, and can’t wait to see what the next round of Circles in early 2016 will look like. We’re also hard and work on a toolkit for anyone who wants to run a Learning Circle in their own Community, anywhere in the world. We’re planning on sharing it as soon as it’s ready – so stay in touch via the Get Involved mailing list, Twitter, Facebook or this blog for more news.