Learning Circles: Funding, Professional Development, and Other Resources
Posted by David Rosen on April 04, 2022 in categoryMember TipscategoryBlended Learning

David J. Rosen
President, Newsome Associates, Boston, MA
ProLiteracy Board Member

The focus of this article is potential funding, training, and other resources for adult foundational education* programs or adult schools that would like to pilot, improve, or expand learning circles.


Learning circles are a non-formal education mode that consist of small groups of adult learners with the same education goal(s) or interest(s), who appreciate the peer support of other adult learners while also pursuing their learning goal(s) independently using a free online course or other free online learning materials. Learners may access learning circles with an internet-accessible computer or, in some cases, a smartphone or electronic tablet, depending on what the online course or curriculum supports. Learning circles are facilitated by trained volunteers or teachers. They typically last anywhere from three to fifteen weeks.


An increasing number of adult foundational education programs or schools, public libraries, and other community organizations use learning circles for a variety of purposes, such as serving immigrants or refugees on waiting lists for ESOL/ESL classes or meeting the needs of adults who cannot regularly attend several hours of classes each week but who can meet once a week for 90 minutes to two hours in-person or online. Learning circles have been offered for adults who are preparing for a GED or HiSET exam, or for the U.S. Citizenship test and interview, or for getting a job. They could be offered for other purposes, such as acquiring digital literacy skills, for example, for telehealth sessions. They might also be used to supplement regular classes, for a sub-group of students who are preparing for work in a particular industry such as transportation, hospitality, or health care. For example, a learning circle might focus on work-related terms in English for immigrants or refugees preparing for work as home health care workers. Learning circles have also been used to supplement classes for students who want more time on learning tasks. In some cases, learning circles have been used to support the use of a learning app, such as Learning Upgrade, Cell-Ed, or other award-winning adult foundational education apps. Since March 2020 some learning circles have been offered entirely online, but the original learning circle design is a blended model of independent online instruction and an in-person weekly session.


Below is a list of funding, training, and other learning sources for programs or schools that want to get started with learning circles, or that want to expand or improve upon the ones they offer, for example, to improve their learning circle facilitator training. It includes learning circle guides and online training for learning circle coordinators and/or facilitators.


I have been directly involved in supporting and facilitating learning circles since the beginning of a P2PU and World Education EdTech Center collaboration six years ago to pilot and scale these up; I would be glad to try to answer your questions by email. I believe that learning circles, because they are non-formal, offer a wide range of flexibility, are inexpensive to offer and, most important, are a way for a program or school to expand adult foundational education services for those who, for many different reasons, cannot enroll in regular classes. 


Some possible funding sources for blended or entirely online learning circles:


Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Grants up to $10,000 are awarded to programs that provide adult basic education, GED or high school equivalency preparation, English language acquisition. The 2022 application deadline was February 17. Applications are typically opened in January of each year. 


ProLiteracy’s Literacy Opportunity Fund

Grants are awarded quarterly throughout the year. Literacy organizations are eligible to apply once annually, by one of the following deadlines: January 3, April 1, July 1, and October 1. Average grants are between $3,000 and $6,000.


ProLiteracy’s Mobile Learning Fund

The Mobile Learning Fund provides adult literacy programs and their students with online learning materials to help adults improve their reading skills. Subscriptions and licenses available through the Mobile Learning Fund include the following programs: 

  • New Readers Press Online Learning – a pre-high school equivalency (HSE), TABE, and HSE test preparation tool
  • Learning Upgrade – an app proven to teach English, HSE, math, and basic skills faster than traditional methods (also the grand prize winner of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE)
  • EnGen – a digital solution that teaches English to adult learners
  • Leamos – an online program that teaches basic Spanish reading and writing to native Spanish speakers and prepares them to move on to English language learning
  • News for You Online – a digital news source with easy-to-read stories that builds learners’ reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and English skills
  • These online learning resources might be ideal for your English language, basic Spanish, and literacy level or ABE/pre-HSE learners in learning circles.

Professional development and training resources for learning circle coordinators or facilitators include the following:


ProLiteracy courses on learning circles

·      Introduction to Learning Circles

·      Learning Circles for Administrators and Site Coordinators

·      Learning Circles for Facilitators



English Now! Learning Circles Implementation Guide 


P2PU Learning Circles Facilitator Handbook 


Links to discussions, articles, blogs, webinars, and other resources for learning about learning circles:


Learn here about learning circles, a 2019 LINCS discussion with, to date, 35 comments and nearly 5,500 views 


English Now! Learning Circles sponsored by World Education’s EdTech Center 

English Now! Learning Circles Partner Profile: Genesis Center, Providence, RI 

Learning Circles Partner Spotlight: The Free Library of Philadelphia, a World Education blog article  

English Now! Learning Circles June 2021 Webinar slides 


Six Tips for Hosting Virtual English Now! Learning Circles, a blog article by Priyanka Sharma, World Education EdTech Center 


8 Tips for Implementing Learning Circles in Any Program 


Providence Public Library English Now! Program 


Providence Public Library article on their use of Learning Circles 

Citizenship Circles in Rhode Island, a P2PU webinar 

Distance Education Strategies & Solutions: Learning Circles in a Virtual Environment, a joint initiative between ProLiteracy & the EdTech Center at World Education. This webinar focuses on entirely remote (online) learning circles 

Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU), the creator of the learning circle concept providing support to libraries and other organizations across the U.S. and in many other countries and Knowledge Base


Learning about Learning Circles, an open online course


App-to-Speed Learning Circles for ABE Learners, a blog article by David J. Rosen 


App-to-Speed Learning Circles in Public Libraries, a blog article by David J. Rosen

App-to-Speed Learning Circles in Adult ESOL Programs, a blog article by David J. Rosen 


*Adult foundational education refers to basic skills and knowledge that adults need for work, further education, helping their families, functioning effectively in their communities and as citizens in a representative democracy. It includes: 

  • English language skills for immigrants and refugees (ESL/ESOL) 
  • Basic literacy for adults who cannot read and write well, or at all
  • Numeracy
  • Adult secondary education leading to an adult high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate
  • Preparation for post-secondary education
  • Employability skills
  • Other lifelong and lifewide skills such as: digital literacy; family literacy; financial literacy; health literacy; literacy for self-advocacy, civic engagement, and social justice; and possibly other lifewide skills

Adult foundational education may be offered by community-based programs, public schools, community colleges, volunteer tutoring programs, public libraries, corrections institutions, adult public charter schools, employers, labor unions, faith-based organizations and other kinds of organizations and institutions. 



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