About LAS

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.

What fungal networks can teach us about learning in a hybrid world

By Tess Robinson
Posted 24 September 2021

I watched a great programme on Netflix recently called Fantastic Fungi. I never knew mushrooms could be so fascinating! I was particularly struck by mycelial networks – a mass of branching, thread-like structures underground everywhere. Fungi use these networks to connect trees and plants within an ecosystem and the trees use these to communicate with each other and share nutrients. If you’re a Star Trek or Avatar fan, you may have come across this before - but this is real life, not sci-fi – utterly mind boggling! 

I’m now reading Entangled Life by the wonderful Merlin Sheldrake, having seen him speak about fungi with such passion at a How To Academy talk recently, which is blowing my mind even more. One of the first things he discusses is the concept of the individual and how, as humans, we are not just one being, but each of us is a whole planet, a colony of trillions of organisms – all working symbiotically together. This got me thinking. 

Ten years ago, I was writing about knowledge networks, how they could be facilitated through wikis or blogs and how important they were in organisations. Mycelium put me in mind of this idea of networks of experience and information-sharing in learning. It’s a concept that’s fallen a little out of fashion. We tend now to talk about ‘the learner’ as an individual and we’re obsessed with personalising learning journeys. Whilst there’s a lot of reasons why this is a good thing, I wonder whether we’re starting to forget that we don’t work or learn in isolation from each other, or maybe it’s so ingrained that we just do it without actively thinking about it anymore? 

Things have changed recently though. The move to more hybrid working feels like it’s here to stay and those ingrained knowledge networks, if they do exist, have been interrupted. In L&D we now need to be more mindful of nurturing and feeding these knowledge ecosystems and promoting sharing even at a distance. There are lots of ways to do that and it certainly helps that technology has developed beyond wikis and blogs: 

1. Find out where the knowledge resides – user research is a great way to locate this and the individuals willing to share with their peers. Doing this at the outset of a project will save you a lot of time later and will reduce risk.
2. Blend your learning - include purposeful peer-to-peer interaction opportunities in your blend such as virtual drop-in sessions, interactive virtual classrooms, buddying and team assignments.
3. Facilitate well – all social and knowledge networks benefit from facilitation to get connections and conversations buzzing. Make sure that you are encouraging contributions from all, not just the loudest in the group, by giving people different ways in which to participate.
4. Use AI – the use of AI in learning still has a long way to go but its applications are certainly becoming more interesting. There are now tools that can help analyse and identify talent across an organisation, enabling people to identify coaches, subject matter experts, mentors or experienced peers in their organisation’s network.
5. Reward participation – some consideration needs to be given to your organisational culture when working out what behaviour to reward. In some organisations sharing might be less well embraced than in others so you may need to tread carefully. Rewards could be badges, vouchers, kudos, anything really – the key is that they must be meaningful to your people (refer back to your user research).
6. Share success stories – collect stories of where collaboration has had successful and/or meaningful results and share them as widely as possible to encourage people to use their networks for learning. 

Like fungi, we don’t exist in isolation in organisations, any more than we do in the world, or even within our own bodies. L&D has a vital role to play in nurturing and promoting these networks more actively than ever, to ensure that knowledge and experience continues to be shared and dispersed throughout a hybrid workforce.

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