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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