Getting started

Here you will find a checklist that outlines the steps needed to get your Learning Circle running. Do not worry - each of these steps is explained in the following pages. You can compress or expand this timeline to suit your needs. However, if you don’t already have a dedicated group of learners, we recommend spending four weeks promoting your Learning Circle once you’ve finalized the date, time, course, and location.

6 weeks prior

  • Discuss plans with any affiliated organizations
  • Choose a course
  • Find a space
  • Choose date and time
  • Confirm supplies will be available

4 weeks prior

  • Establish a web presence
  • Prepare application
  • Customize the flyer
  • Connect with local communities
  • Publicize online and offline

2 weeks prior

  • Confirm with all applicants
  • Confirm with venue
  • Gather supplies

Before each Learning Circle

  • Send reminder email
  • Explore the online course
  • Review recipe card

Choose a course

There are many online providers that offer free online courses. But not all courses are created equal. Here are 3 steps to choosing the perfect course for your Learning Circle.

1. Know your community

You need to identify a course that will resonate with the learners you anticipate working with. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

What knowledge gaps exist in your community?

Is there a need for subjects that aren’t available where you live? Examples include learning Spanish, preparing for the High School Equivalency (such as GED®, HiSET®, or TASC®), or building a website with HTML/CSS.

Who do you expect to attend?

If you’ll be working with learners who aren’t fully employed, you may want to choose a course that supports finding new work or skilling up (such as resume writing, public speaking, or academic writing). Be sure to look at the prerequisites for the courses and make sure the content isn’t too basic or too advanced and advertise appropriately.

What would you like to learn?

If you are passionate about the subject matter, it will resonate with learners.

2. Identify possible courses

There are a number of ways to search for online courses. Regardless of how you choose a course, make sure you download the platform guides to help learners get set up for the first time. Here are a few options for choosing a course:

3. Choose the best fit

Once you’ve identified a few courses that will interest your community, whittle the list down further. Use these criteria to identify good courses for your Learning Circle:

Logistics: Does the course meet the course criteria?

  • Free (free enrolment and free access to all course materials)
  • English-medium (or whichever language you choose)
  • Creative Commons license (rather than copyrighted)
  • Either open enrollment or a start date that suits your schedule
  • Not too long (we recommend 5-8 week long courses)
  • Low weekly commitment (varies if learners commit to doing additional work)
  • No additional software required aside from browser and a word processor

Relevance to your community

  • Is the subject matter interesting and relevant to the learners you anticipate working with?
  • Are there prerequisites that will prevent many people from taking this course?
  • Is the subject matter interesting for you to facilitate/study alongside learners?

Quality of Instruction

  • Does the mode of instruction seem engaging and effective?
  • Are the course materials and the platform intuitive to use?
  • Is there a clear sense of expertise present in the course materials?

Coherent as a Learning Circle

  • Will learners easily be able to give feedback to one another given the content?
  • Do the activities make sense being done together as group work?
  • Can you clearly imagine your role facilitating this course in-person?

Opportunities for feedback

  • Do the assessments seem to reinforce course materials?
  • Is there an active online community/access to mentors?
  • Is there a clear way to get in touch with someone on the website if you run into technical difficulties?

Find a quiet space

Try and find a space that you can use consistently for 90-120 minutes each week.

Essentials

  • Easily accessible space
  • Consistent access to power
  • Consistent access to free internet
  • Accomodation for any physical and/or learning disabilities in the group
  • Restroom availability

Desirables

  • A large wall for projecting on
  • Natural light (studies show that people learn better with it)
  • Modular seating arrangements
  • Near public transport / free parking

Make sure

  • Have the times been booked for each week?
  • Do you have access to any keys that you need?
  • Do you know the wifi network name and password?
  • Do you know where chairs, tables, and additional supplies are stored?
  • Are you aware of any rules determining what time you must finish by each week?

Gather supplies

There are few things you should have ready before Learning Circles begin.

  • Laptops for all participants (if they don’t have their own)
  • Headphones for participants (if they don’t have their own)
  • Internet browser (such as Google Chrome) and word processor such as Google Docs, Pages, or Microsoft Word
  • Any additional software the course might require (this is rare)
  • A projector and relevant HDMI or Mini DisplayPort adapter
  • A projector screen (if there is no wall to project onto in your space)
  • Adequate number of powerstrips and adapters
  • Phone/camera (to record and share materials)
  • Notebook and a pen
  • Name tags (use them until you are sure everybody is familiar with each other)
  • A few extra applications (for walk-ins)
  • Snacks (if possible/appropriate)

Identify learners

Learning Circles work best with small, enthusiastic groups of people - ideally between 4 and 10 learners. We recommend that you start these promotion activities 4 weeks before your Circle starts.

1. Establish a web presence

Create and share a public event on your blog, Facebook or an online event registration site such as Eventbrite so you can publicize your Learning Circle electronically.

If you are using our software, you’ll have your very own Learning Circle webpage that you can share far and wide.

2. Prepare the application

The purpose of the application is to get a little background on the learners, not to create a selective admission process. If there are prerequisites for the course you are facilitating, then you should make that clear in your messaging . There is a short application available for download that you can either print out for learners or share electronically.

If you are using our software, learners can sign up directly on your Learning Circle website and you can monitor signups from your facilitator dashboard.

The application includes

  • Name and email address/phone number (so you can contact them).
  • Goals (so you know what they are looking to get out of it).
  • How they’ll help their peers (to get them thinking about peer learning).
  • Quick digital skills self-assessment (so you can see the range of digital comfort in the course). We find that scoring 15 or higher makes you a good candidate for a Learning Circle.
  • Whether they have a laptop and headphones (if they don’t have a laptop and you can’t provide extras, then these people will not be able to attend unless they can figure out a way to borrow one. Headphones are useful but not essential in some courses).

3. Customize the flyer

Eye-catching flyers and posters are an excellent way to promote your Learning Circle, both digitally and in print. There is a basic flyer that you can download, or feel free to get creative and make your own! Just remember to include the following information:

  • Name of the course
  • Date, time, and venue of the meetings
  • How many weeks the course will run for
  • Anything participants should bring with them
  • Any prerequisites
  • A contact number, weblink, or email address where people can find out more

Print the poster and put it in noticeable places around your venue, such as entrances, information or library circulation desks, computer terminals, or near other resources related to the course you are running. You can also share the flyer with organisations, community groups, local coffee shops, or bookstores - any place where potential learners may wander!

4. Reach out to your communities

Now that your materials are ready, you can start identifying learners. Nobody understands your networks better than you do, so you’ll know the best way to reach them. We’ve provided templates that you can use to get started in a number of different mediums.

Email

Got a mailing list? If so, you might want to use this message to find potential learners. If you don't have a Learning Circle website, make sure you attach the application!

Are you interested in taking a free and open online course, but don’t want to study alone? Why not join our Learning Circle, and study face-to-face with your peers?

From _______ (date) ________ to _______ (date) _______ we’ll be meeting in _______ (venue) _______ to work together through a course on ________ (subject) _______ in a supportive, peer-oriented group. We won’t have a teacher - we’ll be teaching each other!

There are no prerequisites for the course, but access to a laptop and some experience of using the Web would be helpful.

For more information, visit _______ (link to website) _______ or send an email to ________ (your email) _______ and we will send you a link to an application and more information.

Facebook

Does your community use Facebook? If so, try this post as a first step. Remember, people get a lot of information via social media, so to be really impactful, post reminders to Facebook about once per day. Remember to tag any individuals, projects, locations or groups who you think might be interested in joining your Learning Circle.

Interested in ______(course subject)_______? Don’t want to do it alone? Join a #learningcircle at ______(venue)_______ to meet each week and work through an online course together. The Learning Circle starts ______(start date)______. For more information and to apply online: _______ (link to website) _______.

Twitter

If your community uses Twitter for sharing information, then you can use the two template Tweets below to get started. To really get noticed, you should tweet these messages at least 3 times per day, and come up with a hashtag so people can search for the messages. Remember to add the link to your Learining Circle website, too!

Learn ______(course subject)_______ together at ______(venue)_______. #learningcircles start _______(start date)________. Sign up: _______ (link to website) _______.

In #______(city)_______? Want to learn together? Join #learningcircles at ______(venue)_______. Sign up: _______ (link to website) _______.

5. Reach out to other community groups

Depending on the topic of your Learning Circle, you should consider reaching out to other local organizations who share an interest in the subject. For example, local historical societies will have members who are interested in history courses and youth groups might be interested in courses that train young people who are looking for jobs. Check out the email template on the following page.

If your Learning Circle is taking place in a venue that has a schedule, public calendar, or newsletter, ask the administrators if you can add a notice about the Learning Circle - these are very good ways of reaching potential participants. Likewise, if your venue uses social media ask them to post and tweet on your behalf.

Dear ____________

We thought you might be interested in a learning project taking place in your community. We are going to be hosting a Learning Circle - a free, peer-led study group for learners who want to take online courses together in a public space.

Each week, learners will meet for approximately 90 minutes to work through learning materials about _______(subject)_______ together.

The Circle will run from _____(start time)_______ to _____(end time)______ on the following dates: _____(dates)_____ in the following venue: _____(venue)_____.

Interested people can learn more and sign up at _______ (link to website) _______. Please pass this message on to anyone in your community who you think might be interested, and get in touch if you have any questions.

Regards

____________________

6. Confirm with the learners

As learners apply, you should confirm whether or not they will be part of the group. If their skill level seems too low, suggest that they turn to their local library or other community learning space where digital literacy is taught. Remember, everyone is a beginner sometime, so be sure to be encouraging and supportive when you direct people elsewhere. Below, we’ve created a sample acceptance and decline message that you can use when you respond to applicants.

If you are using our software, you can log on to your dashboard to view applications and get in touch with applicants.

Sample Acceptance message

Dear _______________

Thanks for getting in touch and wanting to join the Learning Circle about ______(subject)_______ starting ______(date)_____. From the signup information you shared, you look like you’ll be a perfect fit for the Learning Circle. We look forward to having you join us.

We’ll be sending more information about the Learning Circle soon.

Sample Decline message

Dear _______________

Thanks for getting in touch and wanting to join the Learning Circle on _______(subject)_______ starting ______(date)______. From the signup information you shared, it looks like your digital skills aren't quite high enough to benefit from the Learning Circle. You might want to consider approaching your local library branch, community center, or _______(specific resource in your community)_______ to find out where you can boost your digital skills so you can participate in the future.

Good luck with your online learning adventure!

“What was the best thing about your Learning Circle?”
“It was very intimate and I enjoyed our weekly sessions. I learned lot more than I knew about public speaking. I feel it helped my confidence level to be a better public speaker.” “I met others to talk over obstacles; provided a weekly structure to stay on task.”
image of people in a learning circle

Founded in 2009, Peer 2 Peer University is a non-profit organization that facilitates learning outside of institutional walls. Designing and leveraging open education tools and resources, P2PU strives to cultivate a high-quality, low-cost model for lifelong learning.

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