LEARNING CIRCLE MODEL: Introduction * History * Defining Dimensions * Norms *Phases *References * Next up: Designing the Learning Circles

History of Learning Circles and Online Learning Circles.

Describes the formation of this Website and the model of Learning Circles.

Details the importance of giving yourself the time and space to develop fluency with Learning Circles.

These videos come from a small collection of videos produced for the blended-model community of practice for educators implementing the Digital Learning Process, developed by Ferdi Serim and described in Digital Learning: Strengthening and Assessing 21st Century Skills, (2012) published by Jossey-Bass.

A Brief History of Learning Circles

The use of a circle as both the organizational structure and descriptive metaphor for a meeting of equals is likely to have been a part of our history for as long as fire has. The learning circle is a mechanism for organizing and honoring the collective wisdom of the group and is present in many indigenous cultures. For example, in early native councils of elders came together to understand problems in a spirit of shared community in “wisdom circles.” The term Learning Circle has been used to describe group efforts with clear links to social change. Over time and across countries, civic organizations, neighborhood communities, trade unions, churches, and social justice groups have used the idea of learning circles to empower their members to make choices and take action. The web can help locate the many ways both present and past that groups have used the term Study Circles or Learning Circles as a form of adult education. For example, Northern Michigan University finds that learning circles --with their principles of equal participation, reciprocity, and honoring of collective wisdom -embody the democratic principles of effective professional development partnerships. The School Nutrition Association uses learning circles, rather than more traditional forms of group meetings, to help participants share what they learn at their annual conferences. Primary teachers use a form of learning circles when they gather the students at the rug for "circle time." Among the goals of this activity are helping students to develop trust and respect for diversity of experience, and fostering both listening and speaking skills among peers. Researchers have used learning circles as a form of professional development to improve their practice. A similar term, "Quality Circle" was used in the '80s and updated from time to time. to characterize the successful practice in corporate settings in which the hierarchical boundaries between workers and managers are flattened to encourage participatory management and team leadership. Quality circles were originally associated with Japanese management and manufacturing techniques developed in Japan after world war II, based on the lectures of W. Edwards Deming (Joel & Ross, 1982). The goal was to encourage everyone to develop a strong sense of ownership over the process and products of the group.

The Online Learning Circle Model

These different forms of learning circles--wisdom circles, circle time, study circles, and quality circles--are all structures for face-to-face dialogues. But Learning Circles can also take place over a network in an online or virtual setting. This specific use of the idea of learning circles refers to an online structure for linking participants from different countries to work together using their diversity as a resource to achieve deeper understandings.

The spirit of honoring the collective wisdom, and trusting the process to create deeper understanding -- the heart of learning circles--remains constant regardless of their context. The cooperative approach to decision-making and management that is essential in Quality Circles, also describes how participants work with each other in online Learning Circles as they design learning activities to extend knowledge and skills. However, in contrast to these different forms of face-to-face meetings, the mode of communication is different. It shifts from listening and talking to reading and writing. The participant can be a single person or a group. The outcome of the circle is a written document, a summary, or a collection of their collaboration. Each use of learning circles is set in a complex set of institutional constraints which will shape a different phase structure for learning circles. The purpose of this guide is to define the structure of learning Circles and the phase structure that is a defining characteristic of online learning circles.

The learning circles model is defined by (1) a set of dimensions, (2) specific norms that support the learning circle interaction; and (3) a phase structure that guides the process (Riel, 2004a, 2004b). Many of these features also describe learning circles in face-to-face settings. Many examples of these can be seen in the section on other learning circle models.

Next up: Defining Dimensions of Learning Circles