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What is a Learning Circle?

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What is a Learning Circle?

May 14, 2015   |  By
Jane Maliszewski, Coach

I've been on a roll about Learning Circles...get it circle, roll...?

Learning Circles is a peer coaching method which can be incredibly effective when done correctly. 

You may have experienced one-on-one coaching, maybe executive coaching, leadership, career, or life coaching. All of these are ways in which a professional coach helps an individual discover new insights, make coherent choices, and integrate new behaviors. It can be a very powerful way to make transformative lasting change in your life. 

Peer coaching takes the coaching model of discovery, insight, and action and makes it accessible to a wider range of people. It is a way to promote continuous learning and growth in an organization. That is why I call them Learning Circles. 

The method is adopted from Action Learning, an adult development theory which posits that adults learn by gathering what is known (explicit and tacit), asking questions to create deeper insights, and reflecting on actions. 

Learning circles use the real world issues of the participants as a sort of ‘active case study’ for exploration and action planning. When properly facilitated, Learning Circles create change as well as enable the development of trust, authenticity, and resilience in an organization. 

Here's an example of an issue that one of the participants brought to the Learning Circle. 

"I'm working on a major tech implementation that will change the process that many people use to order parts. The rank and file seems pretty happy with the change. They see that it will make things easier for them.

The problem I'm having is with the senior leadership, especially the director. This will require changes from everyone and the senior level is not walking the talk. The employees see that and they are losing confidence in the system, starting to talk about it as another 'flavor of the month.' This happened a few years ago with another tech system--successfully implemented but ultimately disregarded because the senior leadership never made it a priority."

This participant wanted to explore ideas for what to do to get the senior leadership on board before the project failed. 

After about 12 minutes of clarifying questions and brainstorming possibilities, the person bringing this to the table talked through three ideas she felt might work and committed to action steps to take, reporting back to the circle in two weeks with observations and insights of the impact this plan made. 

Then it was the next participants turn to share a challenge they were facing. 

How often do you have the opportunity to share a pressing issue with a group of colleagues, have them listen to hear the deeper issues you may be missing, and offer helpful insights that may accelerate the resolution of that issue? 

Jane Maliszewski is a longtime friend and associate of KM Institute, who teaches with us frequently on the subject of Change Management.  She is a Coach & Consultant with VAULT Associates, based in the Washington, DC area.  Learn more here:

Photo Credit: © Sepy67 | - Business People Discussing At Meeting Photo

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