Learning Circles Partner Spotlight: The Free Library of Philadelphia

October 19th, 2021 | Blogs


Learning Circles Thrive in Remote Settings

“[The] remote English learning circles were so helpful not only because I can keep learning English but also I can keep in contact with other people when I felt isolated during the pandemic.” –Spring 2021 learning circle participant

Partner Spotlight: Free Library of Philadelphia

The Languages and Learning Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia serves adult learners seeking to improve their language, basic education, world language, and digital literacy skills by connecting them to community resources, offering online courses and tutoring services, and running conversation and learning circles. It was a natural fit for us to partner with World Education’s English Now! so we could offer learning circles to English language learners (ELLs). These learning circles are designed to meet the needs of Philadelphians who have intermediate to high levels of English, an area where we saw a gap in local services.

Last year, we offered three virtual learning circles using the library database course Universal Class as well as the free online learning platform We Speak NYC.  Our virtual learning circles each ran for 9–13 weeks (with 60–90 minute weekly online meetings) and had 12–21 participants.  We used a flipped-classroom approach, with participants completing online lessons and activities on their own during the week and then meeting for weekly sessions, where we explored online learning resources together and discussed challenges, successes, and questions about the content covered in the week’s lesson.

As a facilitator, my role is to encourage participants to share their knowledge and  support their peers in their language learning, flattening the traditional classroom hierarchy.  I really enjoyed the more democratic learning space that flourished with the learning circle format. Other English Now! facilitators reported that the program was a “lighter lift than a traditional English language learning class in terms of planning and preparation.” We expect this will help us as we recruit volunteers to lead the learning circles, making use of the English Now! Implementation Guide and other resources.

All three learning circles that we offered last year were well-received by both participants and facilitators.  A learner said that  “The learning circle expanded my vocabulary and helped me with my interactions in a new language (and with people in general). I’ve made new friends and met new people. I will definitely be back for the next learning circle in the fall.”  Learner comments demonstrate that even in a remote setting, learning circles can build group cohesion and a community of learners.

We are offering remote learning circles to ELLs this fall using Universal Class, back by popular demand, as well as a free course from the University of Pennsylvania made available through Coursera called English for Career Development. Contact us if you would like to learn more!

By Lindsay Southworth

Lindsay is the senior program manager for adult education and language learning at the Languages and Learning Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has been facilitating English Now! learning circles for over a year.

English Now!

English Now! is a project of the EdTech Center at World Education, Inc. and is supported by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. The Free Library of Philadelphia is one of seven programs in this project phase. If you are interested in starting your own English Now! learning circles, please contact priyanka_sharma@worlded.org.

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