When Learning is Free: Peer Organized Learning Communities

In the past, I’ve written about study circles, the power of peer learning groups, and the Benjamin Franklin idea of Junto. These are different examples of what I more broadly refer to as peer-organized learning communities. Sometimes they are connected to formal organizations, but they can also just be a group of interested people agreeing to gather and explore a topic of shared interest or to work on a project or tackle an issue that is important to each of them. They can be online, offline or a mix of the two. They can be short-term, long-term or just long enough to tackle a given project. Regardless, peer organized learning communities are wonderful examples of raw, authentic, curiosity-driven learning. They happen all around the world among a diverse assortment of people, and I contend that they are inspiring models of learning. Consider five benefits.

As more people talk about the value of building a personal learning network that they use for ongoing personal and professional development, the idea of peer organized learning communities takes this conversation to the next level in at least four important ways.

Peer organized learning communities recognize the benefits of social groups in the learning process.

While independent learning is useful, so is gathering with a group of others to learn something. This is likely part of why it has continued to show up in diverse models of education throughout history. The digital age only serves as an opportunity to amplify the opportunities for peer learning.

Peer organized learning communities point to the simplicity of learning.

Peer organized learning communities do not take lots of money, a formal organization, or even significant resources to start. You just find a group of people and go with it. There are no rules for how to do this.

Peer organized learning communities remind us of what matters most.

That would be the learning. It isn’t about test scores, diplomas, pleasing a teacher, or following the rules perfectly. It is just about learning, and I contend that forgetting this fact is a cause of many persistent problems in education. Any learning community that forgets this fact is destined to struggle.

Peer organized learning communities nurture agency.

There is something about being part of a small group that you helped start. You are not just following the rules of someone else or going through compliance hoops. You want to learn something. You find people with whom you would like to learn it. Then you gather and start learning. Along the way, you start to recognize even more that you can take learning into your own hands.

Peer organized learning communities increase access & opportunity.

If you experience that aha moment that you can create your own robust learning community around any topic, goal or area of personal interest; then you have just discovered an incredible secret to access and opportunity. When it comes to learning opportunities, they are all around you. Learning communities become something as readily available as the air that you breathe.

Peer organized learning communities remind us about an important truth, that learning communities are plentiful and accessible to all. Learning is not a commodity owned and controlled by a select few in power. It is all around us and, with a little time and effort, any small group of interested people can create a wonderful and rewarding learning community.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation; as well as Founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.