In 2015, Peer 2 Peer University and Chicago Public Library developed Learning Circles: lightly--facilitated study groups for learners who want to take online courses together, in-person. Meeting weekly in the library for 6-8 weeks, patrons worked through online courses in subjects ranging from resume writing to public speaking to web design. Retention rates over 6-8 weeks were close to 50%, very high for both online courses and for adult programming at libraries. Learning Circles are now an ongoing feature of CPL's programming, and P2PU has released and open source toolkit for running Learning Circles that communities around the world are starting to use (see p2pu.org for more details).
The development of Learning Circles address a number of issues at the core of the OER movement. These include the disconnect between open access and equal access, the role of nonformal learning environments in promoting OER, and better understanding how technology and social support can leverage OER to create empowering and meaningful learning experiences. In this presentation, the P2PU Learning Lead, Grif Peterson, will discuss the affordances and limitations of OER in the Learning Circle model along the lines of these issues.
Equal Access: Just because resources are freely available, doesn't mean they are equally shared. The P2PU/CPL relationship strived to expand OER and online course dissemination to a wider audience, and this was largely successful. More than half of the Chicago Learning Circle attendees did not have a college degree, and only about half had a computer at their home. 40% had never heard of online courses before, and 65% had never taken an one. The promotional efforts to get new learners in the door and the work required to onboard them into the world of online learning garnered us a number of insights as to how OER can position itself for maximum exposure for first-time online learners.
Nonformal Environments: We will discuss the benefits of teaming up with libraries to disseminate OER, and how such partnerships might be better leveraged in the future to align OER with the extensive programming already offered. Most libraries have an e-learning webpage where expensive, licensed-based learning materials sit and often gather digital dust. Our proposition is that less money should be spent on licensing and more should be spent on making sure online resources are utilized by patrons. This, of course, requires that OER cater to the needs and background of library patrons, something we have found with varying degrees of success.
Support for OER: Through the Learning Circle toolkit, we've developed a methodology and supporting technology that has the potential to increase learner access, retention, and outcomes without a formal teacher. There are a number of lessons from our experience that will be relevant to those who create, disseminate, and use OER. We think these lessons are transferable to a number of domains outside of libraries, including community college and higher education institutions, adult literacy programs, community centers, and online learning providers.
We are looking forward to joining this discussion!