How do we learn together when we cannot meet together?

In the COVID-19 moment that we’re all in, how should we think about our collective work when a big part of learning circles is about encouraging people to meet-up in public spaces?

When I see libraries canceling their public programs, and I hear calls for people to work (and learn) online, I am reminded of three points:

We can’t all "just learn online"

Try our “anyone can learn anything” group activity with your friends or colleagues, especially when one of them says, “we can all just learn and work online now”. Here is every response we’ve heard to that statement over the past three years. My advice is that it is important to remain mindful of the real barriers to online learning, when, inevitably, there will be suggestions or requirements, to move in-person meetings to online spaces.

There are free ways to meet online
Learning circles have always been about finding accessible and inclusive spaces to meet and learn together. We value in-person meetings, but we are not against online learning circles. If that works for your learning circle or if there are reasons not to meet in person, go ahead, by any means, meet online or find another way to learn together that works for your group. The learning circle model works the same way as long as you consider people’s experiences and situations (see above!).

If you’re going to meet online, I want to remind you about platforms that don’t track your data, blast you with ads, or require you to pay. My favorite is Jitsi. It’s so easy to use that you will wish you had known about it years ago. Try it out! Visit and add any meeting name you want like this Voila! A free, open-source video conference link has been created for you and up to 200 people!

This moment is not in the course
Bring in people’s perspective, knowledge, and feelings about COVID-19, or, anything that is happening the world today into your learning circle. At a minimum, it’s a talking point that creates a common connection between people. On another level, it could also influence the entire learning circle’s direction. Maybe there is something that is happening locally that relates to your learning circle. Perhaps there is a project that your learning circle could work towards that meets a local concern. Like all learning circles, localize and personalize learning materials within a local context and existing knowledge.

What do you think?

  • Do you have contingency plans for your learning circles or other public events?
  • How is your organization responding?
  • How do you think P2PU should react to COVID-19?

In my last Introduction to Genomics learning circle meeting on Wednesday, we went through a list of resources about COVID-19 (listed on the learning circle’s etherpad under Wednesday, March 11th) focusing on genomics and experimental aspects in relationship to the course. This is actually out of my area of expertise and I ended up learning a lot by trying to answer questions from participants. The discussion drove a lot of interest and we spent almost the entire 2 hours on this topic instead of the 30 minutes I initially intended.

I have also made an announcement that next learning circle meeting will be online. I am planning to use Jitsi, which I have used in the past, due to its simplicity and the fact that it’s free, with the added benefit of supporting an open-source project. I initially considered using Zoom because of its breakout room feature which fits well with small group activities in my learning circle and which I have experienced as a participant in Data Carpentry’s Instructor Training online workshop. However, I ruled out the idea after checking its cost ($49/month/room) [edit: I confused the room and breakout room features of Zoom; breakout rooms are actually included in the free basic account] and will emulate the room features by having links to different Jitsi rooms posted on the learning circle’s etherpad.

Finally, I am considering starting an online learning circle on COVID-19 using an online course which will open on March 22nd on FutureLearn.

Since I am also part of Data Carpentry, I am sharing here some resources that have been mentioned on their discussion thread:

I hope this helps and am interested in suggestions and feedback on planning for and facilitating virtual learning circles.


Thanks for sharing @svigneau

If you are going to meet online- here are some tips for running a good online meeting

The one thing that stands out to me from the tips and that I’ve used on many online calls, is let people “put up a hand” for a speaking term. This works by typing “hand” into the chat when you want to talk and then waiting for the facilitator to “give them the microphone”.

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Oh, Jitsi sounds great!

I polled the six members of my learning circle and two responded and tied the results. So, I’m not sure yet whether we will be postponing the class or meeting online. But I already have a Slack account for learning circles so I was planning on using that. I see that Jitsi can work with Slack, so that sounds like a great option.

But I’m sure I have one student who would not be comfortable meeting online, though she didn’t show up to the first class, so I’m not sure what’s up there.

Hopefully I’ll make a decision within a day or two. My department will be meeting shortly to discuss what we’re doing.


I’m moving my Refresh your Professional Brand with Your Resume & Cover Letter to which is more of a discussion board. I plan to keep the pace by posting what of the section of the GCFLearn Free we can be working on and some discussion questions to go with the videos and supplementary reading as well as open it up to anyone who has discussion questions. Groups .io doesn’t have ads and is free. I plan to keep the group open until May 1st if people still want to keep the discussion going. This is my first Learning Circle so while I have my syllabus of what we want to accomplish, it’s still a work in progress. Even my website on WordPress is a work in progress. It’s done but I already see ways I can change it for future Learning Circles and will affect who I create future Learning Circles as well.

So for me.


I’m so glad to see this conversation here. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is looking into options for offering some remote social learning opportunities. (Maybe framing it as “now that you have some time…”)

Two questions for the group:

*Problematic as it is, Facebook seems to be where the most people are. Anyone have any experience using Facebook as the “meeting place” for remote learning?

*Any thoughts about asynchronous options? @Mary_Devine it sounds like that’s what you’re doing with the discussion board. Any tips on facilitating in that environment?

Hi Daniel!
I am giving a few rules such as being polite. They will get a warning and they are removed if they don’t treat each other with kindness.

I plan to post what I planned that week and then post some discussion questions and just open it up to the floor if they have any questions. I would like to see the group members answer each other’s questions but if I see nothing, I will answer it but ask if anyone has anything else to add.

To be honest, I’m not sure if any of my current group members will still join but it’s there for them. I know one person wants to join for the next face to face whenever that will be. I have told them all that if they want me to review their resumes or cover letters or have any career related questions, they can email me at any time on my own work email as opposed to the departmental email.

I guess I won’t know how it works out until my participants try it out. If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. Failure sometimes leads to great success.

I am going to check out the other suggestions for future Learning Circles depending on how long we are working remotely. Or I might offer both online and in person Learning Circles.

Good luck Daniel and everyone!!

Thanks @dirk!

I just created the learning circle:

I had to fiddle around to indicate an online meeting place, in this case with a link to a Jitsi meeting. The location on the signup page appears as

At online on Jitsi, GMT -5, Boston.

This was achieved by filling the learning circle creation form as follows:

Where will you meet? *: online on Jitsi
What is the specific meeting spot? *: GMT -5
What is the address of the venue? *:
Do you have a website you want to link to? :

It may have helped, in the learning circle creation form, to:

  • have the “Do you have a website you want to link to?” field in the “Location” tab below the “Where will you meet?” field instead of in the “Customize” tab, since the website is used as hyperlink for the location name
  • have the “What is the specific meeting spot?” field optional, so it doesn’t have to be filled for virtual locations (it took me a while to think of something useful to put there).
  • have this information displayed in the same way on the signup page and on the welcome email, and be able to preview both.

What do you think?

Also, I noticed that the image uploaded below “Care to add an image?” in the “Customize” tab is lost and needs to be re-uploaded each time the form is edited.



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I don’t have a FB account, so I wouldn’t use it for that reason.

I seem to be having troubles with Jitsi. It worked great yesterday morning, and then yesterday afternoon, it seemed to dislike my computer for some reason. Looks like it’s doing the same thing today. sigh

So it appears that Jitsi, and I would assume other video conferencing sites too, is basically frying my computer. So, I guess I’ll forgo it and we’ll stick with Slack.

An update on Jitsi, I was able to use it on my ipad mini! Don’t think I would want to use it for an extended time though, because it still takes a lot out of whatever device I use, but I’m glad I was able to get it to work eventually.

I tend to have older devices, so that’s probably why it doesn’t work quite right on them.

So, for my learning circle, I’m using Slack for the general communications, and Jitsi during class. And my book discussion group will likely also use Jitsi.

@Nico_Koenig @dirk @svigneau @Mary_Devine @Daniel_Hensley @Jordan_Draves

Great topic Nico - haven’t used Jitsi before but I’ll definitely give it a try.

I’m thinking of moving my learning circle online as I’ve already had to postpone it due to illness and other unforeseen events and now it seems a shame not to use the time in isolation for something that will both inform and provide a much needed distraction.

I like - I’ve used it in the past to demo courses I created as assignments when studying instructional design and it worked well. The free plan allows up to 10 participants in a course which I feel is a good size for a learning circle. It comes with all the usual Moodle features to facilitate sharing all kinds of resources and media, as well as discussion forums, polls, assignments, quizzes etc - simply turn on or off as needed. It also has a free web conferencing tool built in which includes features like shared whiteboards, breakout rooms etc.

I find Moodle really intuitive to use, but I know that’s not true for everyone. Still it’s well worth a try since it’s free.

Now I’m thinking maybe I should host an intro to Moodle course lol!

Edited to add: For anyone unfamiliar with Moodle who would like to learn the basics, there is of course a free self-paced course at

Hope everyone is staying safe & well!

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@grif just created a super clear and immediately useful post sharing his experience joining @svigneau’s COVID-19 learning circle.

Take a look ->

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Thank you so much @grif for coming to the learning circle and writing this post, and @Nico_Koenig for sharing it!