Workplace Coral

Workplace Coral

A Learning Community in the Age of COVID

Siobhan Riordan in conversation with Dr. Gladius Kulothungan

Original peoples of the world have a teaching about coral that is relevant to the Age of COVID. Singularly a piece of coral is very brittle and breaks easily.  However, when pieces of coral join together, it becomes incredibly strong. That’s why they survive for so long in the world’s oceans, because they are connected together. If we want to find that sustainability and strength through this time of agility in organisations, we need to find a structure that brings people together to manage uncharted territories.

As the terrain of post COVID begins to emerge, a number of facets about the new normal are becoming clear.  Sixty-five percent of workers would like to continue working from home full-time after the pandemic, and 31% want a hybrid work environment (Courtney 2021).  Leadership is taking on a different complexion in and across organizations.

Coupled with this is the increasingly multigenerational workforce.  Now that Millenials and Generation Z professionals are entering leadership roles, they expect a more personalised and customised learning pathway (McKinsey).  To appeal to them will require organizations to truly personalize career experiences.  The stepwise, architected process of learning traditionally associated with leadership development is no longer relevant.  The agile, flexible organisation demands a different approach where learning can be immediately applied.

Responding to these new demands, the word agility seems to be flying around as a key strategy to navigate unchartered territory.  We are in a terrain that none of us have ever navigated before.

There is a model of development that excels in this landscape, creating connection and collaboration in the unfamiliar: the Learning Community Model.   A Learning Community brings together a group of learners that have a goal or a task to be achieved, but don’t know how to get there.

In a Learning Community it is safe to not know the answers.  The dynamic is driven by everyone agreeing to collectively discover the answers together.  A Learning Community brings people who are faced with similar challenges together. They share, explore, test and reflect on different experiences and concepts that can help move closer to the goals of the group. What could be better than coming together with other people who are also thinking along the same lines and sharing ideas, throwing in wonderings, unpicking experiences, and seeing where they land and how other people respond to it?

A Learning Community is an excellent mechanism because it creates a dynamic that opens up people in new ways. A Learning Community demands that you put your ego in the background, and engage with an open heart and mind. Engaging and exploring together helps to build trust between one another. Through that openness and trust, comes the respect to collaborate and pursue common goals.  Competition gives way to collaboration through the relaxed, informal yet focused atmosphere of addressing shared interests.

Out of connection and collaboration comes a resource that money simply can’t buy – social capital.  Social capital is the benefits derived from sociability. Social capital can be described most simply as the aspects of social context (the “social” bit) that have productive benefits (the “capital” bit). Social capital arises from the human capacity to consider others, to think and act generously and cooperatively. It relates to social relationships and social structures. It involves people knowing one another and having positive relationships based on trust, respect, kindness, and reciprocity (Tristan Claridge 2018).

According to the OECD, social capital is the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships: a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity.  The formation, process, outputs, and outcomes of a Learning Community generate social capital.  This is because they provide the inspiration to connect, collaborate and create.  It is these characteristics that lead to the generation of social capital. 

Learning Community Characteristics


A Learning Community is a high impact educational practice where a group of people who share common learning goals, engage collaboratively to achieve them. Participants become both teacher and learner.


Learning Communities counteract isolation by connecting learners, allowing them to be deeply involved in mutually searching for understanding, meaning, and solutions.


Learning Communities are organized around a common theme, question or career goal.  Learning focuses on the practical and is shared from both successful and unsuccessful experiences to create collective knowledge.

 The Learning Community provides a structure that facilitates the hybrid office; a person-centred space for immediate applied learning; and a framework for generating social capital in the workplace.  Combined together, the Learning Community offers a new paradigm for development in the Age of COVID.

About the Authors

Siobhan Riordan Cert., M.A. PGCert.

Learning Communities Network Director

Siobhan Riordan

Siobhan was a Senior Lecturer and Principal Research Fellow at the University of East London for 17 years.  She led the development of the first BA in Social Enterprise in the world and the first postgraduate programme in Women’s Leadership in the UK. Siobhan has over 25 years’ experience working with grassroots communities, non-governmental organisations and public services designing both vocational and accredited learning programs from Level 2 through to Level 6. She has worked with local and national government, the police and health services throughout the UK.  She has worked internationally in both the USA and Europe.  She is a trained Psychosexual Therapist and Group Facilitator and brings a unique and multidisciplinary approach to learning and development.

Dr. Gladius Kulothungan B.Sc, B.E, Ph.D FCMI(UK)

Programme Manager/Senior Lecturer at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Gladius teaches, researches, and facilitates business and social innovation and entrepreneurship and management in the UK, Europe and Asia. He has been a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London and a visiting lecturer at Roskilde University, Denmark. He is a Fellow of the Innovation Centre at University of Greenwich.  He currently manages the MBA Program and teaching at the DBA, PG & UG levels.

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