Designing Learning Circles to Support Economic Mobility: Research Findings and Potential Impact

How might P2PU make a difference on economic opportunity and beyond? 

At Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), we are a grassroots network of people who believe that knowledge should be freely shared and learning is best done with others. We’re exploring ways to expand our impact in 2023 and beyond. We want to bring you – our community – along for the journey. This is the third in a series of blog posts that will share areas we’re investigating, what we’re learning, and the ideas it’s sparking for us. Read posts #1 here and #2 here. And we want to hear from you! Email us your questions, comments, ideas, and feedback at

We have spent the past few months listening and learning to inform future program opportunities. We have learned how complex the systems and supports around economic opportunity really are. We have seen and heard how these systems still fall short from helping people achieve their goals and earn enough money to meet their basic needs. And we have learned a lot about how public library workers and workforce developers support the people who come through their doors every day looking for greater economic opportunity. 

We uncovered many ways to support economic opportunity. Four stood out. 

Our landscape research showed us the many different leverage points available to support greater economic mobility in the U.S. People and organizations working on this issue focus on a wide variety of interventions – from maximizing uptake of current safety net benefits, to supporting people’s success in the current job market, to advocating for changes to employment practices and public policies that maintain inequities. 

Based on what we learned from our research, we know there are a few “must-haves” for any future P2PU programs: collaborating with partners, leaning into our unique organizational strengths, and keeping equity at the center. With those needs in mind, we landed on four areas of potential impact to explore further. How might P2PU learning circles support … 

  • Teens who identify as BIPOC and/or girls to pursue STEM studies? 
  • Working adults to achieve a 4-year degree that leads to a high-demand, high quality career trajectory?
  • People to build the digital skills and confidence needed to fully participate in today’s tech-driven economy?
  • People who are incarcerated to learn skills they want in ways that work for them?

Each of these areas showed potential for P2PU’s learning circle model to help solve problems and increase impact for partner organizations’ work. 

Economic opportunity isn’t the only space P2PU could expand into. We heard other needs, too. 

As we sorted through our interview data, we noticed other themes emerging. These were potential areas of impact that would align with our strengths and goals and respond to the needs of our end users. We heard about a desire to help more people build community engagement and community organizing skills – to understand how to shape change in community. We heard about people coming to libraries with questions like, “How do I keep from getting scammed online?” or “What’s a chatbot and what do I need to know about them?” And we heard from libraries saying that learning circles work really well as a way to expand adult programming by helping people level up current skills, learn and practice new languages, and work on fun, playful topics together. 

While these needs were beyond our economic opportunity question, we didn’t want to lose them as ideas for consideration. How might P2PU learning circles … 

  • Support more library staff and community members in developing skills needed to fully participate and build power in a democratic society?
  • Support libraries in educating community members on information literacy in the age of the internet and AI?
  • Enhance general lifelong learning in communities across the U.S. by deepening and expanding learning circle participation in public libraries?

We now had seven ideas on the table for potential future programs. How to decide which to move forward? We used the Hedgehog concept from Jim Collins’s Good to Great and the Social Sectors to help us sort through these ideas. As a team, we examined which ideas strongly aligned with our mission and values, built upon our unique strengths and assets, and made sense with our resource model. We landed on two that felt like the strongest paths forward: 

  • Digital skills development that connects to career pathways for our tech-driven economy.
  • Information literacy in the age of A.I. 

We’re excited to dig in and explore further what it could look like to build new ways of using learning circles for these topics. For now, we want to hear from you! 

  • What stood out to you or surprised you from these findings? 
  • What digital skills do you need to work on for your career? How are you continuing to develop those skills? What are you seeing in your community? 
  • What questions do you have about A.I.? How are you learning about this technology? What are you hearing about in your community? 

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