AEA Learning Circles Background

The American Evaluation Association decided to provide support for a one-year pilot project employing learning circles as an avenue for professional development among mid-career professionals. They selected thirteen Learning Circle Fellows through a competitive review process. The goal was to extend this form of collaborative work to their membership by supporting the learning of Learning Circle Fellows who would then use this model in a range of different ways within their professional work. Their models are shared with others in the community on these webpages.

The program takes place across two tracks. The Learning Circle Fellows agreed to participate in both tracks and thus make a one-year commitment to the program.

Track 1 began with a two-day training retreat for a diverse group of 13 mid-career evaluators led by Dr. Margaret Riel and Dr. Linda Purrington, both form Pepperdine University. The retreat focused on building a professional community generally and on learning circles specifically as an adult education methodology. The training was held November 3 and 4, 2008 in Denver, Colorado in conjunction with the AEA annual conference. The thirteen Learning Circles fellows were formed into three learning circles.

The three learning circles continue to meet from Nov-May of 2009 under the direction of Dr. Riel. Each Learning Circle met approximately every two weeks via distance technologies. The goal was to develop a learning circle plan and model to be used in a range of different settings.

Track 2 will begin shortly after completion of the track 1 circles and will involve implementation of Fellows-lead Learning Circles during the period of approximately June through November of 2009. Each Fellow will facilitate one circle involving 5-8 colleagues. It is anticipated that some of the track 2 Learning Circles will also be conducted remotely using distance technologies at the discretion of the Fellow. During track 2, the Fellows will be supported by their circle colleagues from track 1 and will have Dr. Riel available as a resource with whom to raise questions or concerns.

The retreat and follow-up circles will be facilitated by Margaret Riel, a noted researcher and user of LCs who has been developing, writing about, and researching LCs since the mid-1990s and studying collaborative learning for over 25 years. Dr. Riel has developed learning circle curriculum guides, produced the Teachers' Guide to Learning Circles, and served as the convener of a multinational program using online learning circles. Dr. Riel is a senior researcher at SRI-International and a visiting professor at Pepperdine University.