There is a huge volume of free, high-quality courses available online, offering access to valuable knowledge and skills that can help people further their education and careers. However, lack of peer-support, face-to-face tutoring and technical skills are often a barrier to successful online learning, especially for newcomers.
To help online learners to complete their courses, the non-profit organization Peer to Peer University (P2PU) developed a blended learning (combining digital with in-person methods) model, using learning circles.
Learning circles are lightly-facilitated in-person study groups for online learners. Each Learning circle comprises learners taking the same or similar online course. The groups meet regularly over a period of six to eight weeks while working through their courses, and group members share knowledge, compare progress and motivate each other to continue learning.
In 2016 EIFL and P2PU entered into a partnership to introduce online learning in public libraries in Africa using the learning circles methodology. Working with Kenya National Library Service, we tested the learning circles methodology in four public libraries in Kenya, Buruburu Public Library in Nairobi, and Nakuru, Narok and Murang’a public libraries.
The pilot project demonstrated that learning circles could be successfully applied in Kenyan public libraries, and inspired many more libraries in the KNLS network to offer learning circles in their communities. In 2018 EIFL and P2PU introduced learning circles in Uganda and Zambia.
- Building capacity of public librarians to plan, manage and facilitate learning circles.
- Community consultation and needs assessment to identify learning interests and needs, past experience of online learning and technology skills levels.
- Enrolling students and facilitating learning circles in public libraries.
- Creating online tools and guides to support facilitators.
- Disseminating experiences to other librarians at national and international events.
2016 - 2023
- Over 246 learners enrolled for learning circles in the four libraries that took part in the pilot project in Kenya (2016-2017), taking courses that included HTML/CSS (web design), Resume writing, Data analysis with Excel, English grammar and style, Interview skills, Community journalism, and How to cook healthy meals. Course retention rates were exceptionally high: approximately 90% of the learners completed their courses, which ranged in length from three to 11 weeks. Most of the learners had never taken an online course before.
- Based on the experience of the work in Kenya, EIFL, P2PU and KNLS developed a facilitator’s guide and handbook for librarians to organize and facilitate learning circles
- EIFL integrated a module on organizing and facilitating learning circles into the EIFL-PLIP curriculum for building capacity of librarians in Africa.
- Since 2018 we have trained 79 librarians from 42 libraries in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia to organize and facilitate learning circles.
- In 2019, public libraries in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia organized over 60 learning circles, attracting over 1,100 online learners.
- ‘The public library has put me on the right path!’, our article about the first group of learning circle participants in Kenya to complete their online courses.
- ‘Learning circles a hit in Kenya Public Libraries’ about online learners in Nakuru Public Library.