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How to Create Learning Circles

Learning Circles take place over five phases which move from establishing the group to completion and reflection on a group product.  These phases can be of different length which will define the overall duration of the learning circle.  In most cases, learning circles are structured to last about 12-16 weeks.  It is possible to have a shorter 6-week circle or stretch the work at for a year.  We have also used the learning circles model to structure a group process at a workshop.  The important issues is the intensity of interaction and how this interacts with time.  A shorter session works fine if there is a high commitment of time, a longer session may better fit the working or learning schedule of some groups whose time commitments are more varied.  However, it is difficult to sustain interaction over long periods of inactivity.  It is often better to have weekly meetings over a shorter period of time then go for two weeks with minimal contact.   When using a video conference meeting, the structure of the meeting is as follows: 

Social/professional Checkins (5-10 mins) 
    1 minute time for each person to tell the group something that shapes their current world

Distributed Leadership (45 mins)
    Time is shared with each participant leading the group around a project or task that is being done by the group
    Generally each person leading a project has about 10 minutes to focus the group on this project 

Lightning Reflections (5 mins) 
    Again about 1 minute to signal something that was learned or valued in the interactions

The length of the meeting depends on the number of people/projects in the circle.  Generally, 5 active participant (or classrooms) provides a good balance of diversity of perspectives and number of projects. 

Phases of the Learning Circle Interaction
Learning Circles take place in five phases and understanding what takes place during each phase helps illustrate the process.  There are learning circle guides for many of the different projects which are often organized around the description of the phases, for example, the IEARN Global Learning Circles Teacher Guide.  Here we focus on a guide that is more generic and could be used with any group. 
  •  Getting Ready Setting the stage for Learning Circle interaction

  1. Opening the Circles: Building trust through self-disclosure and dialogue

  2. Planning the Set of Circle Projects: Individual Sponsorship of Collaborative Circle Projects

  3. Exchanging Work on the Projects: Distributed Learning and teaching through progressive problem solving

  4. Sharing the Outcomes: Publications, exhibitions, Presentations, Websites

  5.  Closing the circle: Reflective learning

Example of Learning Circle Schedules

      IEARN Elementary and Secondary Learning Circle Schedule
      IEARN - Lebonon Time line for Uniting Beyond Diversity
      American Evaluation Association  Learning Circle Schedule