Alternatives for Webinars: Organising a Reading Circle of Scientific Texts

A great alternative for webinars is a reading circle of scientific texts that is open to all. In early 2024, six Finnish research journals organised together a virtual reading circle, coupled with a podcast series, with an interdisciplinary approach to the newest research on youth.

Practitioners in researcher-driven science communication are making great efforts to have evidence-based knowledge more accessible to wider audiences. However, the webinar format is followed everywhere, and alternative forms are welcome. In early 2024, five Finnish scientific journals made a joint effort to organise a reading circle of new research articles on the topic of youth. In the interdisciplinary reading circle, “Youth in the picture of research”, authors of peer-reviewed Finnish-language articles were provided with an opportunity to enter into a dialogue with research-interested audiences.

The journals compiled a list of readings by selecting recent youth-themed articles from their respective publications and addressed them in one-hour evening sessions. The topics included the dreams and dystopias of young people, digital lives of the young, as well as future prospects and wellbeing of younger generations – or, more concretely, the Fridays for Future Movement, gaming and nethnography, as well as experiences of e-learning at school, among other things. The reading circle, coordinated by an organisation in the capital of Helsinki, was entirely virtual to make it as accessible as possible.

The reading circle was a joint effort by a journal in andragogy (Aikuiskasvatus), youth research (Nuorisotutkimus), cultural studies (Kulttuurintutkimus – Kulturstudier), regional science and environmental social science research (Alue & Ympäristö), and political research (, Versus). The project was funded by the Finnish Association for Scholarly Publishing.

Each meeting was formed into a podcast that was published on SoundCloud by the online magazine This way, the reading circle could be used as teaching and learning material on courses related to the topic.

The format

A reading circle can be organised in various ways, including the following:

  • Discussion: Participants read the background literature, and the reading circle focuses on discussion, which is in some way pre-structured. The method resembles the flipped classroom approach, where learners come into the learning space with their pre-acquired knowledge to discuss and elaborate it together.
  • Researcher’s presentation + discussion: A researcher – the author of a recent article – presents the central ideas of an article, followed by a discussion. Ideally, the researcher is asked to formulate questions or statements related to the content, which forms the starting point of the discussion.
  • Researcher’s presentation + expert’s commentary + discussion: A researcher presents their article, which is then commented on by someone with practical experience on the topic (e.g., a professional in the field, an expert from experience, or a representative of a certain age group, region, or community). After the commentary, the floor or screen is opened to general discussion, to which the dialogue or comments by the researcher and expert commentator contribute in a crucial way.
  • Expert’s presentation + researcher’s commentary + discussion: The reading circle begins with an introduction by an expert from experience, followed by commentary from a researcher. The session concludes with a general discussion.

In each of these ways, discussion plays a crucial role in a reading circle. It can be ignited and supported in many ways, such as by providing pre-structured discussions, presenting cases that are concrete and clear-cut to allow commentaries from several different perspectives, employing polling tools and live questionnaires, and pointing out engagement facilitators in the audience who invite others into the discussion.


Finding an optimal time for a reading circle with a multi-stakeholder audience may be impossible. Most often, morning or evening times are the best options for those who are working or studying. Morning reading circles (starting at 8:00) can be organised with a coffee or breakfast theme, while evening gatherings (starting at 17:00) resemble after-work meet-ups. Both types of events need to be relatively compact, as it is assumed that the audience members typically have obligations either at the beginning or the end of the day.

It is not entirely uncommon for only about one-third of those who have pre-registered for a virtual event to actually attend – especially if participants know that the main parts of the event can be watched or listened to afterward.

It is greatly beneficial to lend a voice to those who actually form the research object, in this case, the young people. It may, however, not always be easy to engage informants and people belonging to the communities researched. Pre-meetings with those involved add extra preparation work but increase the possibility of success.

In sum, based on the experiences from this pilot project, reading circles are well-functioning formats that could be used to explore topical issues from the research point of view. They do not only entail the potential of bridging research and practice, but also research and politics, policy, and different professions.

The author is the editor-in-chief of the journal Kulttuurintutkimus – Kulturstudier published by the Society for Cultural Studies in Finland.

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