Learning Circles- An Innovative Structure for Collaboration

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The Online Learning Circles Model is an innovative structure for group collaboration. Online Learning Circles are being used effectively in cross-classroom collaborations by many thousands of students around the world at all levels from primary to graduate school. This short video draws a contrast between two approaches to group work: committee teamwork and facilitated small group process. In committee teamwork, a task is divided among participants each doing a part of the work. In facilitated small group process, the leader collects different perspectives and summarizes to create the report. This contrast is used to show how learning circles combine these two approaches to maximize strengths while minimizing drawbacks. The result creates a form of collaboration based on distributed leadership.

This online learning circle model has six dimensions.

  • Diversity of participants
  • Centrality of project-based work sponsored by participants
  • Distributed leadership and collective responsibility for projects
  • Phase structure for interaction from opening to closing the circle
  • Knowledge building dialogue
  • Final group shared product

The goal of learning circles is to bring together people or classrooms with a wide variance in perspectives around a theme-based inquiry. Learning circles participants include whole classes in cross-classroom collaborations and individual learners in university and professional development learning circles. In each learning circle, participants sponsor projects around a theme. The circle projects are participant-lead through a process of distributed leadership. Learning circle interaction proceeds through a set of phases from opening to closing. The outcome of knowledge building dialogue leads to a shared product.

The norms and expectations, the implicit rules that guide learning circle interaction are trust, respect, flexible thinking, responsibility and reciprocity. It is important to design activities that surface issues that result in norm setting by the group. In future blogs, I will describe how learning circles are organizing learning in different virtual learning environments.

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