Dan Momyani, aged 20, has just completed an online course at his local public library on how to build websites. Now he is in the process of starting a web development company: “The skills I have learnt in the library will give me an advantage in the market. The public library has put me on the right path,” he said.
Dan is one of 63 students who completed online courses through an EIFL and Peer to Peer University (P2PU) project which is testing Learning Circles in Kenya.
HOW LEARNING CIRCLES WORK
There is a huge volume of free, high-quality courses available online, offering access to valuable knowledge and skills that can help people further their education and careers. However, lack of peer-support, face-to-face tutoring and technical skills are often a barrier to successful online learning, especially for newcomers.
The Learning Circles methodology creates study groups for people who want to take online courses together, in-person. The groups meet regularly while working through their courses. Group members share knowledge, compare progress and motivate each other to learn. In public libraries, librarians act as facilitators, stimulating discussion and helping learners to use online research tools and the library’s educational resources.
JOINING THE ‘DIGITAL REVOLUTION’
Dan is a student at Maseno University, in Nakuru, where he is studying information and communications technology (ICT) management because, he says, he wants to be part of Kenya’s ‘digital revolution’: “Kenya’s digital economy booming - we are among the leaders in Africa. That is where my future is.”
A regular visitor to KNLS Nakuru Public Library, Dan was one of the first people to hear about the Learning Circles. He joined a Learning Circle that was working through an online course in HTML/CSS (website development), made available by Udacity, an educational organization offering massive open online courses (MOOCs).
“The experience was first-rate. We paired up into teams, two to a computer, with those who had better technology skills helping those who needed more guidance. This meant that we could all progress at the same rate. The system was very efficient - we would meet in the library, and we also formed an online group so that we could communicate with each other from home.
“For the course, each of us had to create a website. Although we were working together, we all came up with individual designs. One of the best designs was by a woman who created website for selling baby clothes which she and her friends make.
“The reason that so many of us succeeded was the library’s Learning Circles project,” said Dan.
‘WE WERE SO LUCKY!’
Just six years ago, it would not have been possible for Dan and other young people to take an online course at the public library, because just a handful of Kenya’s 61 public libraries had internet connections or computers for public use. Today, all public libraries in Kenya have public access computers, free internet and skilled staff to guide people in using the technology.
“We were so lucky - there were enough computers and the internet was fast. There was not even one day in the full eight weeks of the Learning Circle where the computers or internet did not work. The library also had other resources - a projector and whiteboard, and books that were helpful to supplement the online learning,” said Dan.
MORE LIBRARIES START LEARNING CIRCLES
This is the first time that the Learning Circles methodology is being used in public libraries in an African country. The 63 learners completed online courses in two public libraries - Buruburu and Nakuru branches of KNLS. Courses learnt were HTML/CSS (website development), resume writing, storytelling for change, data analysis with Excel, and English grammar and style.
Now four KNLS libraries are organizing Learning Circles: in March and April this year, Buruburu and Nakuru public libraries started new Learning Circles, and two more KNLS libraries - Muranga and Narok - have also begun inviting people to join Learning Circles. The libraries are offering a wide variety of online courses, including job application skills such as resume writing and how to succeed in an interview; how to cook healthy meals; fundamentals of public speaking, HTML/CSS and website design.
The plan is to train other public librarians to become facilitators of Learning Circles, and to expand the service throughout Kenya's public library network.