The current waitlist for adult education (AE) services in Massachusetts has over 17,000 ESOL and nearly 2,500 ABE applicants waiting for a class, as documented in SMARTT. These numbers do not include those adults who are too discouraged by the long wait and do not apply. One strategy to increase access to services for individuals on a waitlist or other referral source is to integrate distance learning into AE programming. Furthermore, research shows that students learning at a distance benefit from being part of a learning community.

Peer to Peer University (P2PU) is piloting English Now!, a learning circles project implemented in collaboration with the EdTech Center at World Education. English Now!** is working with five AE programs: YMCA International Learning Center – Boston, The Immigrant Learning Center, Notre Dame Education Center – Boston, the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative, and Portland Adult Education in Maine as they try out this exciting model with their English language learners.

Q: What are learning circles?

A: They are “lightly-facilitated study groups for people who want to take free online courses together at a library or community center meeting once a week for six to eight weeks. Facilitators are not expected to be content experts - their role is to be skilled in facilitating peer learning groups.”

Learning circles can be beneficial for everybody. They also offer a solution to the isolation some students feel when learning online:

Students learn they can be independent learners anywhere, anytime.

P2PU students can go to the top of your waitlist. You will know the students’ study habits already and students will be able to participate and join blended learning classes as openings occur.

Q: How do you get started?

A: P2PU provides you with a kit that includes a handbook for guidance on how to get started. The kit also has facilitator tips.

Q: What’s the cost?

A: Nothing! Zero! Nada! You can access all the P2PU tools, including a facilitator guide, a learning circle team organizer dashboard interface to help manage the learning circle and a global network to support you. The software is open source and, unless otherwise noted, all the materials are licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Q: What is the time commitment?

A: Learning circles usually meet face-to-face for 90 minutes per week for six to eight weeks with between four and15 participants, though this model is flexible. Facilitating a learning circle will require two to three hours per week of adult support. Participants are asked to put in an equal amount of time, or more, outside of the learning circle in an online curriculum product. The online resources used in the pilot are USA Learns, NewsELA, DuoLingo and Burlington English but there are many other free resources such as Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment, CommonLit, Phet, Khan Academy and other Open Educational Resources (OERs) available. This six minute video with adult educators and students shows Johan Uvin, former Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, of the U.S. Department of Education, discussing the value of OERs to support adult learners.

Q:  More questions on P2PU learning circles?

A:  You will find answers to some frequently asked questions here.


*This article originally appeared in the September 8, 2017, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education mailing.

**English Now! and the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI) presented on their experience with the learning circle model at the recent Ideal Consortium Institute attended by Wyvonne Stevens-Carter, Program Specialist and Digital Literacy and Distance Learning liaison to SABES and Eunice Snay, Manager of the SABES PD Center for Distance Learning and Technology Support from Massachusetts. 

PD Center: 
Digital Literacy