Popular Education Methods Series: What is Popular Education, and When Should You Use It?

In the last post I outlined some topics we would tackle, and it seems like a great place to start is: “what is popular education and why use it?” Better yet, why don’t we also give away some free curriculum on that very topic.

So lets get into it! I will give you a brief, working definition of pop-ed, and then in true pop-ed form, I will provide you an intro activity TESA used at the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, and we can explore some of the participants responses and questions and responses to what pop-ed is, and how to use it.  There was a wealth of knowledge and experience in the room, so my hope is to both give you a window into the discussions that took place, and a curriculum tool that you should feel free to utilize.

There are others who have defined pop-ed better than I ever will, and if you want to dive deeper, I recommend starting with Paulo Freire and bell hooks. Their writings could easily catalyze a lifetime of inquiry on the topic.  For the sake of this blog though, I would say that popular education is a combination of a power analysis and a method to empower learners’ experiences, realities, and learning goals. To be effective, both teacher and learner must apply these lenses, and in turn, be ready to take on both the role of teacher and learner. I do strongly believe that without the power analysis, popular education becomes a collection of participatory or interactive techniques. There is nothing wrong with participatory methods, but it is important not to confuse them with pop-ed.

So, for the workshop and participant responses. Below you will find an outline of the workshop (use this as a facilitators guide if you want to use the workshop). Additionally, we have provided the walk around panels, including those the participants developed, and in bold below each header, you can find the participants’ thoughts and responses. If you do use this activity, feel free to add, change, or adjust the content of the walkaround panels to suit your needs. Hopefully you will find both the content and the workshop materials helpful – enjoy!

Sample Workshop:

TESA at the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy: Popular Education Workshop

120 Minutes

Intro (10 Minutes)

  • Instructors introduce themselves and the activity.
    • Talk about how today’s workshop will both explore pop-ed through content, but more than anything through design and structure. Want to utilize the resources in the room and pool our collective knowledge to build knowledge and tools (essense of pop-ed)
    • Talk about why it is so important for coops to use pop-ed internally and externally
  • Use this time to give an overview of pop-ed and provide some basic examples of how it has been utilized.
    • You can also use this time to have the participants build a working definition of pop-ed, popcorn style.
  • Next have participants go around the room and say their name + 1 thing they are excited about for today’s workshop

Build-Up Activity (35 Minutes)

Journaling (5 Minutes)

Ask the individuals to spend 5 minutes journalling on the following questions:

  1. What does popular education mean to you?
  2. Why is it a valuable tool and resource for co-ops?
  3. What are you hoping to learn today?

Paired Discussion (7-10 Minutes)

Move the individuals into pairs, and have them discuss/record the following items:

  1. First off, please share out your journaling.
  2. Next, discuss and record: what has your experience been with pop-ed?
    1. Has it been positive and helpful? Why or why not?
    2. If you have limited experience with pop-ed, how would you like to apply pop-ed and why?

Groups of Four (10-15 Minutes)

Move the pairs into groups of four, and have them discuss/record the following items:

  1. Please share out what you discussed and found in your paired discussion
  2. Discuss and record:
    1. How do you want to apply pop-ed going forward?
    2. What kind of projects or work will you use it in?
    3. What will be your goal of using pop-ed?
  3. Finally, give everyone a piece of butcher paper, and ask each group to come up with one question they want answered by the group related to pop-ed. Have them write it in big letters at the top of the page.

Take these papers and tape them up around the room.

Walkaround (40 Minutes)

Have folks pair off again. Or, depending on the size of the class, have folks get into groups of 3 or 4.

Let them know they will be spending the next 30 minutes doing the walk-around activity in their pairs.  Provide them with markers, and let them know about the method and technique of walkarounds.

Depending on size of group, you may want to remove some panels for the participant created panels.

Guided Group Discussion (25 Minutes)

Depending on time and group size, you may just want to do this as a whole group.

Have folks return to their groups of four, or have the pairs find a new pair.

Pass around the discussion guide below, and let them know they should chat for 15 minutes about the questions.

Outro (5+ min depending on group size)

Bring everyone together and thank them for their participation.

Have everyone go around and say:

  • 1 thing they learned today
  • 1 thing they want to learn more about

Let them know where the evaluations are.

Small Group Guided Discussion Worksheet (15 Minutes)

For the next 15 minutes, your group should facilitate a conversation to discuss the questions below. You don’t need to get through all of them, and you should feel free to skip around and address them in any order. Before you begin, please select one member to take notes (these can be in the form of bullet points, no need for full sentences). If you have any questions, please raise your hand and one of us will come and assist you.

  1. What panels or discussions stuck out to you during the walk­around activity?
  1. Were there any specific popular education techniques or philosophies that struck

you as something that you’d want to use in your own work?

  1. Have you used popular education already in your co­op work already? How has it

been successful? How has it been difficult or unsuccessful?

  1. Note: please share with the group why you think it was successful or


  1. What are some best practices that emerged for you during the walkaround activity?
  1. Are there any commitments you can make to try to adopt, expand, or improve upon

the use of popular education in your co­op work? Within your organization as a whole?


Support Our Work

TESA is proud to lead the development of games, tools, and programs for social change. You can support our work while having fun: buy our games about changing the world. TESA can also work with you to build a game, program, or tool for your cause!