Original Publication
Open Access

Creating a Community of Practice Using Learning Circles: A Unique Design

Published: September 16, 2014 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9896

Included in this publication:

  • Instructor's Guide.docx
  • Faculty Guide for Learning Circles.pdf
  • Syllabus for Learning Circles.pdf
  • Quotes in Large Print.pdf
  • Learning Circle Group Composition & Directions.docx
  • Learning Circle Agreement.pdf
  • Quick Start.doc

To view all publication components, extract (i.e., unzip) them from the downloaded .zip file.

Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


This is a complete guide to preparing and implementing learning circles (LCs) in an adult learning community with a multicultural flavor.

Most of our leadership development programs for faculty over the past 20 years have included LCs/learning communities—especially for programs one or more years in length. This educational group design helps participants develop conversations to link where they came from, where they are now, and where they might go. In our busy world, this intentional process enhances development of a deep form of community for leaders of the 21st century. It goes beyond mere networking for individual gain to fostering an interrelated group that cares about the development of each individual.

Several historical strands have contributed to our LC concept. First, wisdom circles, conversation circles, and simple conversations are approaches that foster conversations where people can listen and speak from the heart as a way to clarify their values; the focus can range from intellectual discussion to processing human feelings. The Swedish study circle and U.S. simplicity circle are similar approaches designed for adult education and social democratic change.

Key features of the LC include a group of peers, sometimes with a senior colleague adviser. There has been increasing interest in convening such groups for safe, confidential conversation for goals such as reminding professionals what brought them into the profession, providing time for reflective/mindful practice, counteracting isolation, and providing peer support. Another common feature is intentionally diverse membership. With such diversity, new solutions and friendships are possible that can fulfill the potential for dialogue, professional and personal replenishment, and wisdom-based change.

The second historical strand for our LCs has come from the use of peer communities to enhance professional learning. A few examples include collaborative counseling practice groups, educators, medical students, faculty peer mentoring, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness. Our long-term goal is for all the leadership development program participants to form a community of practice, a peer group informally bound together by personal connections and understanding, shared expertise, and passion for improving academic health centers and the people they serve. This community of practice can help drive strategy to advance our diverse health professions schools and academic health centers, solve problems of individual members, transfer effective practices, and develop individual and group professional skills.

We have adapted Wenger’s definition of community of practice for the LCs in leadership development:

[G]roups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. . . . Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. . . . They value their collective competence and learn from each other. . . . In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.

The details of our positive feedback from participants are included in the Instructor's Guide.

We estimate that about a quarter of LCs stay in touch after program completion—through periodic update e-mails, teleconferences, and Skype calls. In addition, a number of LCs have organized face-to-face meetings at conferences, each other’s universities, or special weekends.

Several participants have told us about adapting LCs for use in their own teaching. For example, one participant adapted LCs for a course entitled “Gender and Reproductive Health/Maternal Health” in his semi-distance MPH program in a developing country. At the end of the residential session, students prepared a one-page story on gender in their family or community and how that had shaped their gender views. They then sat in LC style and heard these stories from each other, receiving quite personal stories about what they saw happening between their father and mother and the disadvantage to their sisters. According to our participant, the session had a most profound impact and was extremely useful for the class.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this session, learners will be able to:

  1. Understand themselves better, through the storytelling and the deep listening process.
  2. Appreciate at a deep level the commonalities as well as cultural differences among colleagues.
  3. Exhibit new understanding and connection with the other colleagues in the LC community.
  4. Reflect upon what the group is doing and build a trust-based community that supports all socially and emotionally as well as intellectually in this time of unprecedented change.
  5. Describe the LC process, including development of skills in listening and dialogue.
  6. Use appreciative inquiry and dialogue skills, after having experienced them.
  7. Apply the LC process in their own schools for teaching/learning and/or developing a faculty community of practice.

Author Information

  • Samar Ahmed, MD: Ain shams University
  • Page Morahan: Drexel University College of Medicine
  • Ray Wells: FAIMER Institute
  • Diane Magrane: Drexel University College of Medicine
  • Paulo Carvalho: Marilia Medical School
  • Henal Shah: Topiwala National Medical College & BYL Nair Ch. Hospital

None to report.

None to report.


Ahmed S, Morahan P, Wells R, Magrane D, Carvalho P, Shah H. Creating a community of practice using learning circles: a unique design. MedEdPORTAL. 2014;10:9896. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9896