Learning Center group

Engaging Adult Learners on Waiting Lists Using Learning Circles

David J. Rosen & Priyanka Sharma

“I am getting better at reading my e-mail, and using English at work. Last week I didn’t need any help with translating at my job. Also, I was able to talk with the IRS and give simple information (in English).”
~ Mahdi, English Now! participant from Portland Adult Education, Maine

The English Now! Pilot Project implemented and refined the P2PU Learning Circle model for providing low-cost, effective, and sustainable English language learning opportunities for adults on waiting lists for ESOL classes. Funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, this pilot project was led by World Education, Inc. in partnership with P2PU, with David Rosen as the project evaluator, and five New England programs:

  • Portland Adult Education, a public adult education program in Portland, Maine;
  • The Immigrant Learning Center, a community-based adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program in Malden, Massachusetts;
  • YMCA International Learning Center, a community-based ESOL program in Boston;
  • Notre Dame Education Center, a community-based ESOL program in South Boston; and
  • Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative at the Providence Public Library.

Over the course of the project, the five pilot programs each offered three rounds of weekly, face-to-face, facilitated Learning Circle (LC) meetings that included online learning. Learning circle duration was between 8 – 12 weeks. Typically, the face-to-face meeting was two hours, with about half of that time spent in a computer lab or on individual laptops to access an online ESOL course or other online ESOL learning resources like: USA Learns, Burlington English, Voice of America’s VOA Learning English, and Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (ESL Lab).

“… I found USA Learns very useful to navigate the outside world – renting an apartment, paying taxes, learning about work. The conversation part in the learning circles helped me a lot to prepare for the ESOL 3 class. I picked up a lot of vocabulary and confidence from that. I got confident about researching online. It was enjoyable, especially working together in a face to face setting.”
~ Shaun, English Now! participant from Immigrant Learning Center, Malden, MA

The ESOL programs used LCs in various ways: As an onboarding tool to get potential learners off waiting lists into classes and comfortable with the program, and to enable program staff to see if they were ready to make a commitment to their learning; as a way to do low-cost, individually-paced online learning with one-night-a-week, face-to-face support; and to connect with potential learners who, for a variety of reasons, could not access a traditional class-based program.

Learner at computer

This project had some unanticipated outcomes. Several programs, the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI) and Notre Dame Education Center, for example, found that LC participants who later attended ESOL classes were better prepared for those classes than other students, even if they entered a class mid-cycle. LC participants in Portland learned when ESOL classes would be offered, and then had sufficient time to negotiate with their employers for time off to enroll in a class. RIFLI ended up offering other kinds of LCs as well as ESOL, such as preparation for the U.S. citizenship test, digital literacy, public speaking, and writing for library patrons in general. Over the course of the project, we learned that the P2PU Learning Circles model could be adapted for use by adult ESOL programs for learners on waiting lists for English classes. We are pleased that all of the pilot programs found the LCs valuable enough to continue to offer them indefinitely after the project concluded in May 2018.

Learning circles are a free and open-source project of P2PU, and you can start a learning circle in your neighborhood by visiting p2pu.org. We are currently planning a national scale-up of the project. For more information about the English Now! Project, contact the project director, Priyanka Sharma <priyanka_sharma@worlded.org>.

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Priyanka Sharma

Priyanka Sharma

Priyanka Sharma is Coordinator of the National College Transition Network (NCTN) at World Education, Inc. Her areas of expertise include transition to postsecondary education and training for non­traditional students, professional development for educators, and technical assistance for program development on best practices and strategies around college and career readiness.