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LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally. 

Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.

About Tess Robinson

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Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.

Lessons in Learning from Running in a Pandemic

By Tess Robinson
Posted 15 January 2021

Three years ago I ran my first half marathon with a bunch of my school friends, to raise money for a friend who had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. I was definitely not a runner when I started, so the journey from 0 to 13 miles was an interesting and very challenging one. 

Fast-forward to 2021 and we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. In the UK we’re in our 3rd lockdown and are only allowed out for limited things, one of which being exercise. With the advent of the new year, that same group of school friends decided that we would set ourselves a goal to all run 100k each in January. I’ve been injured for a few months and really wasn’t sure I could do it. It felt like a huge stretch, but buoyed up by my friends’ enthusiasm, I decided to give it a go. Today I am almost at 50k and am well on course to complete the challenge. More importantly, I’m enjoying it and it’s been great for my physical and mental health, at a tough time for everyone.  

You may be thinking, well, that’s all well and good for her, but what’s all this got to do with learning? Well there are actually a lot of parallels. Amongst other things, it’s brought home to me once again the importance of setting goals, having a group to which you’re accountable and who will support your endeavours and the importance of learning from failure. These are my top takeaways: 

1.    Having a (shared) goal– I love to have a goal to work to, I find it very motivating. I have even printed off a star chart and I am really enjoying colouring in a star for each kilometre that I run and seeing my progress visually. In digital learning this is something we can easily insert by way of things like progress bars, badges and visual learning journeys. What’s interesting though is that, although this is a personal challenge, what I find most motivating is that my goal is also shared by a group of others – we’re all in it together. When it comes to learning, there is often an assumption that ‘what’s in it for me’ WIFM is the strongest motivator. However, humans are social animals and a sense of shared destiny and aspiring to a better future can be very powerful, particularly when it comes to behaviour change. The current situation where, in a lot of countries, there’s ongoing enforced social distancing and lack of opportunities to socialise makes this group element even more important when it comes to learning.

2.    Social and peer support– Following on from above, there are people in my group who are army PT instructors and people who have run marathons and I have benefitted hugely from their experience. They have shared their failures and the things that work for them, so that the less experienced among us can avoid some of the pitfalls they have found. We encourage each other via our WhatsApp group (especially when it comes to getting out of the house on a freezing January evening) and help each other move towards our shared goal. Although company culture has a significant role to play in whether this can work in corporate learning, an element of‘ appropriate social’ can help unlock knowledge networks within the organisation. Learning together can also help reinforce company culture and improve motivation and energy levels when everyone is working remotely.

3.    Learning from failure– We are supposed to be running a short distance every day, but I soon found that this aggravated my injury. Rather than run myself to a standstill, I needed to adapt and run every other day instead, so I have more time to recover in between. Some days it goes really well and others just feel like an unbelievable slog. Since that half marathon three years ago, I’ve been able to work out my best time of day to run, what to eat (or not to eat) beforehand, the most comfortable clothes to wear and who I prefer to run with (when we’re allowed to run with a buddy) – it’s all been a big learning curve. Now I feel like I know myself pretty well and I know what works for me, but I have only got to this point by getting it wrong – a lot! With learning, it’s so important to have the opportunity to try things out, to see what works and what doesn’t and to make mistakes in a safe environment.

4.    Performance support – My friends and I all use the app MapMyRun to track our progress. There’s a social element to this as we can all comment on each other’s training, but you can also record times and see how far you’ve come. It tells you how far you’ve run and at what pace as you are running and even nags you when you’re not achieving the target pace you’ve set for yourself. It also allows us to cheer on our friends when we see that they’re making good progress or when they’re flagging.There’s a feel-good factor to helping others achieve their goal too. This performance support and monitoring means that I can just get on with my run and use the stats to improve as I go. Performance support within the organisation means that time is not taken away from the job for learning and that support can be accessed in real time as it’s needed. 

I find it fascinating that a lot of the things that support and motivate me on my running challenge can also be equally effectively applied to organisational learning.As it turns out, getting your trainers on in general is good for learning. A study done at UCLA demonstrated that exercise increases growth factors in the brain, making it easier for the brain to grow new neural connections. Also, a study from neuroscience researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed that the antidepressant effect of running was associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that, funnily enough, is responsible for learning and memory.  
 

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