Learning Circles are facilitated study groups for learners who want to complete online courses together, in-person. Learning Circles are:
- facilitated by a non-content expert
- designed to be taken with few prerequisites
- hosted in a publicly-accessible space
Why Learning Circles?
There are a wealth of high-quality, free, online courses out there. And theoretically this allows you to learn anything, at any time, anywhere. Sounds amazing, right? Well it is, in theory, but in reality this format can isolate many learners. Actually making it through one of these courses requires an immense amount of self-motivation and discipline. It is often difficult even for people who have succeeded in formal education, let alone those who don’t have the privilege of a background in self-guided learning.
That’s where Learning Circles come in. By convening a group of learners who are all interested in learning similar things, you’ve got the basis for an open, collaborative learning environment that has the the potential to be the support system many learners need. Good peer learning leads to more proactive learners who know how to work with people and draw out their strengths. The role of the facilitator is not to impart content knowledge, but rather cultivate an environment in which peer learning and self-guided exploration can emerge.
But Learning Circles do more than help individuals work through course content. At the heart of the model is the belief that learning is better together. Peer learning offers learners of all stripes and sizes the opportunity to be exposed to new perspectives, develop useful social skills, and achieve something greater than they could have on their own.
Another way of saying this is that peer learning supports the development of academic mindsets. Academic mindsets are the beliefs and attitudes that individuals develop about themselves as learners. When these beliefs are positive, learners tend to exhibit productive academic behaviours, such as seeing work through to completion, meeting their goals, doing quality work, and searching for their own solutions to obstacles. When course material exists without mindset support, we find ourselves in the world of online courses with 95%+ dropout rates.
We’re running our first iteration of Learning Circles at the Chicago Public Library as part of a Knight News Challenge Grant.
You can follow our progress through the courses on the project page here and on Twitter.