Learning circle

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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 circle or Learning Circle as a form of adult and student education. For example, Educators for Community Engagement,[1] find that learning circles—with their principles of equal participation, reciprocity, and honoring of collective wisdom -embody the democratic principles of effective service-learning partnerships. They use learning circles, rather than more traditional forms of group meetings, to structure their annual conferences. Primary teachers use a simple form of learning circles when they gather the students at the rug for "circle time." However many educators are using learning circles to connect students from around the world.[2][3][4][5] Among the goals of this activity are helping students to develop the 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 80's 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, originally associated with Japanese management and manufacturing techniques developed in Japan after World War II, based on 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.

Models of Learning Circles[edit]

Learning Circles have been used for centuries with students and adults in many different contexts. Two models are described here but others may exist.

Model 1: OpenAgile Learning Circle[edit]

OpenAgile is an agile system of project and team management. In the OpenAgile system, the Learning Circle "is a simple and practical model of effective learning".[6] The Learning Circle was adapted by Garry Bertieg from a development model in the "Building Momentum" document issued by the Baha'i World Center around 2003.[7] The Learning Circle is one of OpenAgile's three foundations, alongside Truthfulness and Consultative Decision-making.

This model describes learning as a series of four steps, four capacities for us to develop, and the pivotal importance of Guidance.

The Four Steps[edit]

The four steps in the Learning Circle are Reflection, Learning, Planning, and Action, and are followed one after another, over and over. It is possible to begin an endeavour with any of the four steps. The diagram below shows the Learning Circle Model:

  • Reflection - The Reflection step is a pause in our activities where we gather data, impressions, history, stories, and any other observations about what we have done. In order to do this effectively, we must develop and exercise the capacity for Detachment – detachment from preconceived notions.
  • Learning - In the Learning step we carefully examine the observations made in the Reflection step and "discover" new insights, skills, relationships, structures, failures or any other conceptual changes. We search for the principles involved in our work. In order to do this effectively, we must develop and exercise the capacity of Search – search for the underlying principles.
  • Planning - In the Planning Step we apply the conceptual understandings we have developed. We use these newly discovered principles to systematically to create a plan of action. We should directly reflect in our planning each insight or principle we have learned. In order to do this step effectively, we must develop and exercise the capacity for Love – love for the act of learning.
  • Action - In the Action Step, as an individual, team, or organization we carry out the plans we have created. We do our work. In order to do this effectively, we must have Courage – courage to plunge into the unknown.

The Four Capacities[edit]

Each of the four capacities in the Learning Circle are prerequisites for taking the next step. At the same time, as we exercise these capacities through the use of the Learning Circle, we develop these capacities within ourselves, in our teams and in our organizations. Our inner conditions and capabilities have an effect on our environment which in turn then has an effect on us. By going through the Learning Circle, we use and develop these four capacities:

  • Detachment- The capacity for Detachment supports the Reflection step. Detachment is openness. Detachment means that we set aside our ego and objectively look at the evidence including facts, events and feelings.
  • Search- The capacity for Search supports the Learning step. Search includes consultation, wisdom, discernment, judgement, and search for solutions.
  • Love of the Work - The capacity for Love of the learning supports the Planning step. Love creates openness to Guidance. Love engenders vision, passion, and a sense of purpose.
  • Courage -The capacity for Courage supports the Action step. Courage encompasses conscious choice, volition, willingness, and desire to act even in the face of uncertainty.
  • Guidance - Central to the effectiveness of the Learning Circle is Guidance.

Guidance is the act of assisting an individual, team, or organization to reach a destination by accompanying, giving directions, or supplying with them advice. Guidance plays a pivotal role in developing our capacity and can be applied to all four steps and all four capacities. For individuals, teams, and organizations, Guidance is critical to be able to progress in the development of knowledge, skills or capacities. Guidance can come from within - a team member who has expertise can share it with the other team members. And Guidance can come from outside - we can bring experts into the organization, we can read books or web sites. Inspiration can also be thought of as a form of Guidance, for example a team member suddenly has a bright idea. Being open to receiving Guidance ensures that the Learning Circle is both organic and disciplined.

Model 2: Distributed Leadership and Collaboration in Online Learning Circles[edit]

In this model, Learning circles are described as a structure or distributed leadership in collaborative learning contexts Riel, 2010[8] "A learning circle is a highly interactive, participatory structure for organizing group work. The goal is to build, share, and express knowledge though a process of open dialogue and deep reflection around issues or problems with a focus on a shared outcome."[9] This model is described by a (1) set of defining dimensions, (2) norms that support the interaction; and (3) the phase structure that guides the process. Many of these features also describe learning circles in face to face settings.

Learning Circle Model of Distributed Leadership and Cognition -[10]

Set of Defining Dimensions[edit]

  • Diversity of Participants
  • Distributed Leadership
  • Knowledge Building Dialogue
  • Centrality of Project-based Work
  • Phase structure for interaction
  • Final group Shared Product

Norms that guide interaction[edit]

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Open and Flexible Approach to Thinking
  • Individual Responsibility
  • Group Reciprocity

Phases of Learning Circles[edit]

  • Getting Ready
  • Opening the Circles:
  • Defining the Set of Projects:
  • Working on the Projects:
  • Sharing the Outcomes:
  • Closing the circle:

More details on any of these dimensions can be found in the description of the <rev> [10] learning circle model </rev>

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Educators for Community Engagement
  2. ^ [2] IEARN Learning Circles
  3. ^ [3] Australian Model of Learning Circles in Education
  4. ^ [4] The Global Teenagers Project uses Learning Circles
  5. ^ [5] Action Research Learning Circles
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2011-01-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Official page about the OpenAgile Learning Circle at wiki.OpenAgile.org.
  7. ^ [6] An interview with Garry Berteig about the OpenAgile Learning Circle
  8. ^ [7] A description of the model of distributed leadership and collaboration learning circles
  9. ^ [8] provides a more detailed view of the distributed leadership and collaborative learning circle model.
  10. ^ [9] Riel, 2010- Model of Online Learning Circles