Learning circle update

What’s a learning circle? What do you do in it? What’s the difference with other learning structures?

Imagine the learning we all deserve. Yes. For me that means, a safe and fun space  to map out and work towards my own learning targets via my own real projects and with the support and input offered by others. An ideal structure in which the depth and potential of collaboration can truly flourish and where deep motivation and maximum relevance are center stage.

The percolab initiative Équipage set up an open learning circle in Montreal in early October 2011 and within a month 15 people made the 3 month minimum commitment for 4 hours per week. It’s a mixed group (freelancers, employees, entrepreneurs, individuals in transition) united by a desire to move forward their heart felt initiatives with a shared conviction that there are new and emerging structures and practices that better respond to our complex world in transition.

Different moments in the course of one learning circle meeting


Équipage learning circles are built on some basic principles

  • action based reflective learning ensures pertinent and engaging learning
  • self managed learning opens a space for learner freedom and responsibility
  • social learning (with others) facilitates significant and rapid learning
  • explicit learning intentions helps guide and amplify learning
  • holistic approaches, taking into account a person’s mental models and personal paradigms, are necessary for transformation
  • creativity and play are key ingredients for learning to be joyful and fun
  • presence and authenticity are necessary for generative conversations that power learning
  • commitment over time is required for deep transformative learning
  • positive, optimistic approaches enhance learner confidence and risk-taking
  • chaordic structures provide just the right flexibility for the magic to work


The key roles ensuring the functioning of the circle are taken on by the members, on a voluntary basis: host, circle keeper, scribe/decision pusher, time keeper. Additionally there is a process gardener/coach role to ensure the successful functioning of it all.

Learning Contract

The learning contract kickstarts the process. Each person is free to structure it as they wish. Mine includes the following elements:

  • Where I am: my deep motivations and my current personal/professional landscape
  • Learning I want to focus on (digital culture, methodologies/skills I use, theoretical base, my personal habits)
  • My connections/relations I want to nurture and enhance
  • My projects I want to move forward
  • Personal practice commitments I want to maintain and expand

Sharing my learning contract with the circle

I was so eager to share my contract with the circle but the experience was more intense than I had planned. As I was drawing it up on the wall in front of everyone I realized I was I daring to « expose » myself  and share my dreams. Yikes – the practice of such interconnected ways of functioning can be tougher than the theory of it. But, what a gift I was given. The group gave me such caring and helpful feedback – constructive insights, specific offers of support and potential areas of collaboration. It was quite overwhelming in fact. My lesson of the day, the more you open up and are generous of yourself, the more it comes back to you.

Feedback on my learning contract from the circle


Once the learning contract is clarified, then its time to jump into the projects and commitments – yours that you are leading and those of others that you are contributing to. The learning circle structure supports the organic process of moving that all forward, but leaves the space for the individuals to make it happen themselves. I’ll share more about this in a future post.

So what are members saying?

Some are reassured how the circle experience helps them finally feel serene or zen. While others are delighted that the circle got things bubbling. One member stayed up writing until 3am after a circle, the wheels were churning that much. Basically it’s a simple structure providing a happy place to focus, experiment and move forward with a community.

Want to know more? Thinking of joining (in English or French)? Feel free to contact me, Samantha Slade at sam@percolab.com

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Équipage – action – réflexion – création

percolab est une organisation apprenante fascinée – et même un peu obsédée, nous l’avouons – par l’apprentissage sous toutes ses formes, particulièrement lorsqu’il est soutenu par des méthodes qui permettent d’aller au plus profond de nous-mêmes et qui donnent force au sentiment du « oui, je peux faire ». Nous croyons aussi à la force du « nous » qui se retrouve au centre des approches collaboratives. Depuis des années, nous expérimentons des pratiques qu’on pourrait étiqueter de participatives, humaines ou encore « non-conventionnelles ».

Nos réflexions sur l’apprentissage en mode collectif et individualisé – un couple étonnant – a profité immensément de l’apport d’Étienne Collignon, directeur et fondateur de Team Factory et membre de SOL France (Paris, France) et de Philippe Volle, directeur de In’Tech Info (Paris, France) qui ont eu la générosité de partager leurs réseaux avec nous et de nous inviter à leurs activités. Nous avons discuté, exploré, réfléchi sur les différents modèles avec nos amis et conspirateurs québécois –  Jean-Sébastien et Philippe de  GrisVert, Art Campbell, Guillaume et Vincent, Monique, Simon et Patrick de Communautique – et d’autres amis-es rencontrés dans nos aller et venues transatlantiques – Theo Mensen, Imfusio, pour n’en nommer que quelques-uns . L’expédition d’apprentissage que nous avons fait en février 2011 à Team Academy en Finlande nous a permis d’approfondir une approche pédagogique innovante, qui fonctionne depuis presque 20 ans. Il nous fallait passer à l’action. Maintenant.

Un premier cercle d’apprentissage Équipage débute dans quelques jours… Curieux? Le cercle se rencontre mardi le 4 octobre 2011 chez ECTO (880 rue Roy est, espace 300, Montréal), de 16 h 30 à 20 h 30. Venez découvrir et vivre l’expérience!

Pour en connaître un peu plus sur le projet Équipage qui se met en place, consultez notre invitation.

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Are you a change maker?

A simple enough question, one I’ve asked myself many times, the difficult as always is in the answer!

From a personal perspective to be changemaker you need to be able to visualise, plan for and demonstrate that change is or will occur and that really it has a positive social impact. And there are many ways in which that can be done. From simple tools which look at impact measurement to very complex matrices which look at the investment, outputs, outcomes and impact and give me a headache.

I recently attended a session with the Social Enterprise London on measuring social impact and found to my surprise there is a simple mechanism which can be used at any stage of a project.

The Map IT process takes you through the journey of the project from activities and outputs through to short term outcomes and longer term impact. The hardest being the end goal, but taking a step by step approach I found this became easier. This is something which you may wish to review – do I start with what I’m doing and see what change/impact will occur or do I start with where I want to impact and work towards what activities need to be done?

What resources do you have (or will acquire) to complete the activities e.g. trainers

What are the products, projects or processes that allow you to fulfil your objectives? e.g. a training programme

What is produced as a direct result of these actions? Generally depict completion of activity e.g. 15 participants complete training programme

Short Term Outcomes
What benefit or change is accomplished, in the short term, as a direct result of the output

Long term Outcomes/Impact
What your organisation is able to achieve and is attributed to your organisation over the long-term as a result of combined outcomes

This simple mapping process is of course a start, but it allows you to have a quick insight into what impact your projects or activities could have and importantly for me why. I applied this process recently to a DesignJam challenge – at first the others on my group thought I was mad, but then they could see that our project was going to have an larger impact and it strengthened our resolve, our drive and refined our brief.

So, if you’re a changemakers you need to have walked through a simple model of seeing the end impact, knowing roughly where the impact will occur.

The other challenge is ‘well would this change happen anyway’ – can I prove the activities are really having the impact we expect?  I always remember when writing a business case is that option is always  ‘do nothing’ and then think through what would happen not if we go down plan a or plan b but what happens if we didn’t do anything at all

Take ECTO for example – what if percolab had decided to continue working from home and cafes would ECTO have formed anyway, if not where would all the members be now, what projects and collaboration wouldn’t have formed – this is easy in hindsight, but hindsight and foresight when measuring impact and seeing the change is what we need to do

And sometimes doing nothing seems the easiest option of all, but the real trick is knowing and applying the actions at the right time, to the right people in the right place and all that comes with a mix of intuition, trial and error (risk) and walking through it using something similar to the method above.

Introduction to Social Outcomes and Impact Assessment

A half-day workshop to see how social enterprises impact on social outcomes. Working with public sector organistions especially in today’s economical downturn, we understand that demonstrating success and impact links closes to the outcome of any projects as well as our own projects – equipage, ecto and many more in the future!

Gone are the days when organisations would take the risk ‘build it and they will come’, there is shift, for the better, to understanding the social impact of projects, products and the organisation itself.

Delivered by Social Enterprise London. The course was entitled: ‘introduction to social outcomes and impact assessment‘.

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Nouvelle formation sur la culture numérique

J’aime mon métier! Récement j’ai eu le privilège de concevoir et de donner une toute nouvelle formation aux futurs jeunes ambassadeurs du savoir (JAS), des jeunes adultes avec des parcours non linéaires qui vont aider d’autres jeunes adultes à redevenir ou à demeurer des apprenants actifs. Cette  formation est données dans le cadre d’un projet piloté par l’Institut de coopération pour l’éducation des adultes (ICÉA) et ses partenaires, dont percolab.

Dans cette formation, nous essayons de développer les compétences pour être des utilisateurs confiants et critiques des outils technologiques dans le cadre de leur mandat JAS et dans leur vie en général. Nous venons de donner les deux premiers ateliers d’une série de quatre – sur la présence dans le web et sur les communautés.

Quelques réflexions et quelques découvertes.

Nous avons fait une activité de partage sur le thème de l’outil technologique qui m’est indispensable dans ma vie quotidienne. J’ai présenté  Skype et Gmail pour me rendre compte que c’est bien plus que du « chat » et du courrier électronique. Skype permet le partage d’écrans, les appels vidéos – sans compter la possibilité de couper les frais d’appel interurbain. Skype interagit aussi avec les téléphones traditionnels et notre boîte vocale, etc. Les participants nous ont surpris en présentant une ligne de hockey virtuel et la rédaction dans un forum de littérature, l’intérêt d’un correcteur de français, des sites des Cégeps ou un site d’orientation de carrières, autant d’exemples qui ne sont pas venus de la bouche des formateurs. Ils sont forts! Et pour une formatrice, c’est le bonheur d’être en train d’apprendre.

Nous avons montré notre présence web. Je suis un cas extrême avec mon propre nom de domaine et un espace serveur que je paie à chaque mois (16 $ US) et mon portfolio numérique en ligne dans lequel je me dévoile dans mes réalisations, mes réflexions et même de petites production vidéos… On m’a demandé si le fait de tellement m’étendre sur la place publique m’apporté des ennuis. Que des belles surprises. Des contacts fort intéressants, mon réseau s’est enrichi et ma vie professionnelle aussi. Ce sont des choix être ou pas être dans le web – les aspects de notre vie physique que nous voulons poursuivre dans le monde numérique. Le concept de suicide numérique renforce le fait que nous avons bel et bien des identités dans le web.

Nous avons aidé les participants à entrer dans leur nouvel espace numérique – porté par BuddyPress. Chaque participant a son profil fait sur mesure pour remplacer le journal de bord traditionnel, un blog pour écrirer et pour publier sur le web. Le lendemain nous avons attaqué la question des communautés/réseaux. Avant de nous lancer dans le monde numérique, nous avons passé une heure à faire un tour de table afin de parler des communautés auxquelles chacun appartient. Nous avons réussi à faire cinq tours sur cette question et on aurait pu continuer encore. Des communauté de trois personnes à 25 000 personnes, certaines strictement dans le monde physique, d’autres appuyées par un espace virtuel et d’autres, uniquement virtuelles. Certaines de ces communautés sont plus formelless que d’autres. Le point commun qui nous lie dans une communauté – que ça soit une expérience passée (ex. études, milieu de travail, voyage), une activité que l’on partage ensemble (ex. école, danse, soccer, golf, jeux vidéos etc.), ou une particpation à une association, comité, organisation quelquonque. Peu importe, la communauté nous offre un monde riche d’échange dans les deux sens. On donne, on reçoit.

Avec ces belles histoires dans la tête et dans le coeur, nous avons ouvert, configuré et commencé à utiliser des réseaux en ligne dans notre espace numérique. Le but visé est que la communauté des JAS en formation émerge du groupe, puissent se poursuivre tout au long de la prochaine année, sans que les personnes soient physiquement ensemble. Comme tout communauté, ils se sont donnée une identité « les défricheurs » et une belle image qui les représente. Plus encore ils ont commencé à réfléchir plus loin, voyant le besoin de certains communautés pour tous les JAS, peu importe leur groupe de formation, pour un group spécificique privé et encore publique. Ils ont commencé à expérimenté avec les divers outils – wiki pour co-editer, forum pour discuter, docu-thèque pour partage de fichiers.

La technologie est simplement une extension de ce que nous faisons et ce que nous sommes dans la vraie vie. Avec des outils choisis judicieusement pour un besoin réel, bien installé et bien configuré, l’expérience utilisateur en est facilité. Pour du monde communautaire, c’est tout à fait normal que nous partons avec un système ouvert et libre du web solidaire comme BuddyPress. Et pour ses jeunes ambassadeurs du savoir, c’est essentiel que des outils du monde moderne les soutiennent dans leur démarches et activités.

Est-ce que cette formation a résonné pour eux? Voici leurs mots sur l’expérience

Atelier 1 : Présence web

Atelier sur la présence web – commentaires des participants

Atelier 2 : S’entre-aider – Communautés

Atelier S’entre-aider – communautes : commentaires des participants

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PLAR: the shift to an « asset-based » approach to learning 2

Just back from Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA) annual workshop in Toronto, Canada. In many ways, it is a meeting of educational change makers, and well I love change making.

Should it really be so far fetched to imagine that one day soon, a potential student pondering about applying to a post-secondary program is invited directly on the institution’s web site, not hidden, but right up front, « Thinking of coming to our college? Have related life experience and learning? Click here to complete your self-assessment. » A simple direct process allowing individuals to be exempted from parts of the program based on their diverse and rich life-work-education experience. It still astounds me that we are not there yet.

I would dare to take that dream one step further though (why not?). The actual record (or portfolio) of learning built for such a process of recognising prior learning should not be a snapshot in time but rather continue to grow and evolve, becoming a living document supporting lifelong learning – minimally till the completion of the education program. Basic common sense, no?

To advance such dreams, we need to bridge the e-portfolio community and the prior learning community – and that is slowly taking place. This event is testimony to just that. It is all part of the larger shift towards « asset-based » social policies focusing more on personal assets than personal deficits, helping people recognise their own capabilities, thereby contributing to increased confidence and all round well being.

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Learning Design Applied to Conferences

Have you been truly inspired or experienced deep learning at a professional conference or seminar? Are you looking at these words cynically about now? For me, these moments are unique opportunities, bringing people together, away from our daily work routines, to get informed and inspired from our field, to connect with others and to gather feedback on our work and ideas. From my learning designer standpoint, these are learning events – ideal informal learning opportunities.

The good news is that the traditional formats of these professional pow-wows are evolving: the techniques, the technological tools and the shift towards collective intelligence are making gatherings more meaningful. Traditional academia is pondering on how to improve the conference model, (Spaces of Interaction: An Online Conversation on Improving Traditional Conferences), geek world has developed its own formula known as Barcamps, while Open Space Technology and World cafés are making their way across the world. Twitter backchannels are gaining in popularity for facilitating a parallel dialogue amongst the audience. And simple storytelling techniques are being refined for their communication potential. The architect world has brought us the fun formula known as Pecha Kucha.


Jacques Raynauld, Director of MATI, making use of the projected twitter back-channel going on as he presents, Web 2.0 conference, Montreal, 2009.

But, how to go about making the appropriate match between the needs/context of an event and the format, techniques and technological tools that work it? I have begun a list of questions/thoughts that might help in improving the learning design of events:

1. How much do you want/need to pre-program the event? Perhaps it’s our need for security that makes us automatically tend to want to pre-program events. Sometimes, especially if a wide-open common topic is to be explored, it is more powerful to allow attendees to determine the agenda. Open Space Technology is a technique supporting this approach.

2. Are the participants experts or novices in the field? When uniting many experts it makes sense to tap into the collective intelligence in the room rather than have only a single expert speaking. There are all sorts of techniques to open up to allow this. In Possibilities for Transformational Conferences, Tree Brens outlines various such participatory activities.

3. How much should the specialists be provided a structured framework for their documentation? For example, in a « Conversations event » organised by percolab, we requested that the 8 « presenters » present their work based on the same 8 themes and limit their summary to 1 page. This took multiple iterations for everyone to be on the same track, but the foundation allowed for rich conversations to follow and also provided helpful documentation for the attendees. This is particularly interesting when dealing with international situation whereby cultural and vocabulary differences need to be overcome.

4. How much do the participants know each other – want to know each other? Perhaps participants would like to know who else is attending, where they are from, and maybe even easily find a person attending with a common interest? But from information sharing to building a community there is a leap. Event-based social networking is often lots of energy with little payback (see here). But if this group regularly meets there should be a structured way to harness the learning from the event.

5. How can technology support and amplify the impact of the event? For example a twitter feed, during the event, is not appropriate if attendees are without laptops. However, a pre-event poll (short and sweet) can be a meaningful way to begin conversation with information on audience perception or state of play. I have yet to attend an event that allows those that present to upload their own presentations. Still people collecting them and inevitably creating that bottleneck that causes such delay you almost give up. Personally, all my presentations are on slideshare and I await the day whereby people simply request my link, or wip it into a web cast (such as this one).

6. And finally, a question we don’t always dare to ask: How much is the event contributing to real transformation and tapping into people’s souls? I don’t really know where to begin here, but let’s just throw out some words that come to mind: stories, authenticity, spoken word, music, humanism, vulnerability, imagery poignant…

Would love to hear some positive experiences/stories and ideas.

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