Wish your WEA course would last a little bit longer? Now you can make it happen. This course can be used as an add-on to an existing course or programme of learning. Groups will develop the skills, knowledge and structures required to continue shaping their own learning through running autonomous ‘Learning Circles’. Learning circles will meet regularly to work on projects of their own choice and may request tutor-input in the future, where appropriate, and as funds allow.
The WEA in Sweden has a saying: “If you want to go forward, move in circles.” Learning Circles are a major feature of adult education in Sweden and Norway. They are simply a group of adults that get together on a regular basis to learn about a chosen topic together. There is generally no teacher, and there is no need for experts to be present in the group. Together, the group decides what it wants to learn and how it is going to do so. According to Oscar Ollsenn, the founder of Learning Circles, all you needed to form one is: 'a circle of friends who come together to discuss problems or subjects of common interest'.
Scotland has its own tradition of independent learning. John Maclean’s Scottish Labour College taught industrial history to worker activists. By 1918, there were 17 classes and 1500 students in attendance. Although this model used ‘teachers’ and ‘students’, unlike the Scandinavian circles, learning was still independent of schools. Teachers didn’t require special qualifications, only knowledge of their topic--in this case revolutionary organising.
Nowadays, Learning Circles take place in workplaces, schools, colleges and organisations such as trade unions and activist groups. During the seven-month occupation of Glasgow University’s Free Heaterington in 2011, activists organised their own Learning Circles. Groups such as Glasgow’s Living Room Lectures bring people together to discuss topics of their choice in a non-academic, informal way, meeting in living rooms and community centres throughout Glasgow.
The WEA started offering Learning Circle start-up courses when a group of learners from a WEA course asked how they might continue to meet and learn together. As Learning Circles are not a familiar part of Scottish culture, we felt a few sessions might help the group get on its way.
If you’d like to set up your own WEA Learning Circle, or want to find out more about start-up sessions, please email Bex Walker: [email protected]