Action Researcher's Learning Circles

Learning Circles are an effective way to have students support one another in the process of doing action research.  For more information on what action research is, you might want to visit the Center for Collaborative Action Research.  The center also has a wiki INTERACT site for sharing strategies for supporting action research.  Action research is the cornerstone of a number of different program in the Graduate School of Education and Psychology and we will be adding more soon.  There is now a new online tutorial on action research on the CCAR wiki...(

Master's in Learning Technologies Program

In this graduate program, students come to Pepperdine's  Malibu Campus for a week long face to face session.  They learn to work in groups and engage in a series of activities to build the necessary trust and respect for working in learning circles and for other forms of collaborative work that are part of the Master in M. A. program.  Some of these activities have been described in the model description under Opening the Circle.  Recently students designed an opening activity using cartoons  to help students reorient to new circle partners as they change throughout the year.  There are two videos here.  The first video centers on how learning circles help you to teach with small group online.  The second one describes the intersection between action research and learning circles 

YouTube Video

YouTube Video- Action Research & Learning Circles

By making a circle of action researchers responsible for the quality of all of their projects,  students have a team of critical friends to help shape their action research and reflect with them on the process over time.  Additionally students can see what is working in different contexts.  In course evaluations, students are very clear that  learning circles  is what makes their experience of action research so successful.  Learning how to do action research in one year is very challenging and Learning Circles make this possible by relying on the intellectual resources of the group.

For each of three 14-week sessions, students work in different learning circles to develop plans and carry out action research in their workplace.  The students plan together, help each other search for resources,  experimentation, evidence collection and analysis and through the final writing and presenting phase.  They are collectively responsible for the quality of action research projects  in their group. They meet for one hour weekly with the professor joining the circle every third meeting. 

This  use of learning circles in a university program modifies the model slightly as the new learning circles inherit the project planning  begun in the previous circles.  So the phase structure is a bit different.  Here is the phase structure for action research learning circles across three 14-week sessions. Each session, the students are reorganized into new circles.  This is done to increase the diversity of ideas giving everyone a chance to learn from most of the people in the program.  The Pepperdine program is a cadre based program so these students engage in all of their course work together.

In the beginning student complained (a bit) about having to read and give comments to others.  "Isn't that the role of the professor, why should I do it?" I realized I owed them an answer to that question so I gave them three. 

1) Life Co-Coaching: While your professors have many talents and years of experience in supporting action research, the ideas you most need might be in the head of one of your peers.  Their life experience might be of more value to you.  Helping others is a trade, and it is highly likely that you will  receive way more than you expected.  Helping others and being helped with action research is a bit like life coaching as you are trying to figure out how you and they can be more effective. Having a class of life coaches is extremely valuable. Student are one of the move valuable, underutilized educational resource. 

2) Thinking outside of the box:  We create boxes to help us deal efficiently with all of the things we need to process.  When someone who works in different sector brings us a problem, we are likely to have to combine what we know to think of something will be use.  This compels us to take things from different boxes forming new links.  And when we return to our issues, these new pathways might be just the combination of fresh ideas that moves your to a new level of performance. 

3 Leadership Training:  A good leader is someone who can inspire others to perform above their potential. When you see a peer who is not performing at high levels, what you do to change the situation. In a way a learning circle is an exercise in leadership training as each person is trying to bring out the best performance in the group. 

Each semester students complete course evaluations and when asked what was the best thing about the course, learning circles top the list as students describe what they learned from working in this way with their partners.  (For some survey data on learning circles used in action research, see attached paper at the bottom of the page).

Fall Learning Circles 
         Opening the Circles:    Description of self and workplace

         Planning the Projects:  Identification of  problem to solve, forming action research questions
                                              creating and sharing logic models,writing a literature review, plan the 
                                              first research cycle

         Exchanging Work:        Participants meet weekly and discuss each of the projects and
                                              help formulate research questions. They share their work on a wiki
                                              and each person comments on the work, they lay the foundation
                                              for cycle one sharing the progress with the cycle. Consent letters to
                                              participants or surveys are co-constructed by the group 

        Publishing work            A draft of the plan, research questions and  literature is posted on wiki
                                             Student share and discuss logic models (in voicethread)  

        Closing the Circle:        Students thank circle members and end the semester

Spring Learning Circles

        Opening the Circles:    Introductions of the workplace problem students have chosen to study

        Planning the Projects:  Circle reviews the plans for cycle one helping with predictions
                                              about what might happen
        Exchanging Work         Circle members support each other while planning and carrying out
                                             cycles of action research; they work as a team to analyze a data set
                                             and then work to help each person think through plans for collecting
                                             data; they helps in the process of data analysis;

        Publishing Work           Circle partners read and edit multiple  drafts for cycle 1 and 2 for
                                             each person taking responsibility for the quality of all of the projects. 

        Closing the Circle:         They thank circle members and end the semester

Summer  Learning Circles

        Opening the Circles:     They practice "elevator pitches" of their action research
        Planning the Projects:   Circle reviews the plans for final cycles helping with predictions
                                              about what might happen
        Exchanging Work         Circle members support each other while planning and carrying
                                             last cycles of action research; the work as a team to think about
                                             what next steps are and how to develop leadership skills in context.
        Publishing Work:          They read and edit multiple  drafts of cycle reflections and final report.
                                             Student publish their web portfolios  on action research and
                                             the circle presents their research in an Action Research Exhibition
                                             Conference at Pepperdine University at the end of June
                                             This event is webcasted for more information see the
                                             Center for Collaborative Action Research.)

        Closing the Circle:          Graduation and planning to present in other conferences

If you are interested in more information of how learning circles and action research work together, contact Margaret Riel at

Margaret Riel,
Apr 9, 2012, 1:50 AM