How Learn Biomimicry Is Using Disco to Teach Nature-Inspired Innovation at a Global Scale

Disco’s Customer Stories highlights the world-changing impact customers are making with their respective learning communities.

Overview

Learn Biomimicry believes we have a lot to learn about human and career design from nature. We can use nature-inspired innovations to achieve goals, and Learn Biomimicry’s foundational courses help learners do just that.

In just under three years, this community has quickly grown to nearly 2,000 people. Scalability is a top priority for CEO Alistair Daynes, who we sat down with to learn more about Learn Biomimicry, their goals for scaling, and how Disco is enabling them to grow without losing that special, intimate learning experience.

Let’s begin with how Learn Biomimicry started.

Learn Biomimicry started on the first of January 2020. Claire — who was one of our co-founders, who sadly passed away just in March, actually — and Jess, our product designer, had been working individually on similar educational products for the last ten years. We happened to all meet in the most beautiful part of South Africa, and the idea for Learn Biomimicry began. And that officially started on the first of January 2020. Since then, we’ve brought in about 1,700 learners through our foundational courses. We're really excited to see it grow.

Our first intention was to create a foundational base for people to learn biomimicry and make it affordable, accessible, and applicable. We focus on the practice of biomimicry, which involves asking nature “how did you do this?” We learn a lot from nature that we can apply to human design. It’s nature-inspired innovation.

So what’s your mission? It sounds like there’s a lot biomimicry can help solve.

We have a lot of incredible goals, especially sustainable development goals, but no focus on how to actually get there. A lot of organizations and individuals feel a deep anxiety but also feel like they aren’t able to really take action. We believe there are solutions to sustainability — and it all starts by asking nature.

In short: If you were to look at sustainability and ask “where do we start?” You should start by asking a forest. In a forest, there is no unemployment. Life is cyclical. There’s no waste. Forests are generous by design. It’s time to learn from nature and apply it to our organizations, cities, businesses, and the way we live and work.

“We learn a lot from nature that we can apply to human design. It’s nature-inspired innovation.”

That’s an incredible mission. What does the typical Learn Biomimicry community member look like?

First and foremost, biomimicry isn’t new. People have been practicing it for years without even necessarily knowing there was a term for it. If you look to indigenous wisdom, there's immense knowledge and natural wisdom that already exists that is largely untapped. It’s unspoken of in today's world. Biomimicry is applicable to everyone. It's not just biologists who can practice biomimicry; for example, if you're an architect, an engineer, a business leader, or an educator, you can take a lot from nature. 

Biomimicry is incredibly diverse and for lack of a better word, pervasive. It can creep into every different facet of life. 

There are generally two general ballparks of practicing biomimicry:

  1. Biomimicry as a methodology for life
  2. Biomimicry as a methodology for your career; a practice that goes in addition to your career, akin to design thinking

Fascinating. Talk us through your course design — it looks like there are a few different types of offerings members can participate in.

The way we think about learning is that there are two general knowledge pools. 

You've got foundational knowledge, which is generally very calm and it doesn't change very much. Our courses cover three aspects:

  • First, an introduction to biomimicry, focusing on the why, what, and how of biomimicry
  • Next, biomimicry life's principles, which is an overview of the underlying principles found within nature 
  • Lastly, a biomimicry masterclass, which looks at biomimicry thinking and how biomimicry relates to systems

So that foundational pool of knowledge is a self-paced online course, and it doesn't change very much.

As a sidebar: What attracted us to Disco is that we believe the world is so fast and constantly changing. Cohort-based learning is really the way in which to learn; in a way that is peer to peer, in a way that is project based, and in a way that is mentored.  Those three aspects are really what attracted us to Disco, because it's one platform that can do all of this. 

But now for the second pool. It’s the cascading waterfall of knowledge, like sticking your head under a waterfall and trying to drink it. There's a lot going on. Imagine a lecturer trying to keep up pace: Even if they updated their course material on a yearly basis, they might not ever be able to keep up to speed with the rate of information and new knowledge that is found. Instead, we believe that knowledge pods or cohorts are a fantastic way to learn, especially if you're a working professional, and you don't have a lot of time but you're still looking to learn and bring new skills into the world like biomimicry. 

For those folks, we offer the biomimicry practitioner program as well as the biomimicry educator program. They run for six months and they run concurrently together, so you have educators learning alongside practitioners. It has been an absolute hit and we've loved the journey thus far.

“What attracted us to Disco is that we believe the world is so fast and constantly changing. Cohort-based learning is really the way in which to learn; in a way that is peer to peer, in a way that is project based, and in a way that is mentored.”

So your learners must participate at a global scale.

That's correct. We have individuals from all around the world. At the moment, we've got 41 different countries where biomimicry learners have come from. All six continents are covered, and the only outstanding continent is Antarctica. 

Quick shoutout to anyone who happens to be in Antarctica — Come learn biomimicry with us!

We’ll make sure we include the shoutout! So what’s ultimately the goal of members in your programs? What do they want to achieve in their lives and careers with this newfound understanding of biomimicry?

Generally, those within the biomimicry community arrive with a project in which they're looking to apply biomimicry to, so the first part of the course is really about framing their problem and breaking it down by principles and saying, ‘Okay, what really is the challenge? What are the functions that you're looking to solve for?’ Through that, you can then quiet your cleverness and ask nature and say, ‘These are the functions that I'm looking to solve for.’ 

In general, the project can either be an innovation, or it can be sustainability based problem solving but, generally, it's actually a bit of both. The two actually overlap really well together. You can be both innovative and sustainable, and individuals lie on a spectrum somewhere in between the two.

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And how often are you running those six-month cohorts?

We run them four times a year, generally March, May, and September. We like to keep them small, and this is another reason we love Disco because it allows for something pretty intimate. We prefer a dinner party as opposed to a house party.

How big is this “dinner party”?

Each cohort is capped at 12 people right now.

“This is another reason we love Disco because it allows for something pretty intimate. We prefer a dinner party as opposed to a house party.”

That’s so intimate. Do you have a team? Who’s helping these Learn Biomimicry courses come to life?

We've got a fantastic team of biomimics that are globally distributed. Learn Biomimicry was distributed from day one, and that really ensures that we're able to work with some of the leading practitioners, educators, and professionals within biomimicry and ensure they can mentor or be part of this apprenticeship journey for our learners. 

There are no shortcuts in life, but if there was one, it would be to have a mentor. We've got incredible mentors here. They are hugely passionate about nature, plus they’re incredibly skilled and professional. They’re there from day one to walk your longest journey of practicing biomimicry. 

Sometimes, it's not easy to be innovative. It's not easy to practice biomimicry. It’s actually pretty hard to be sustainable or to be innovative all the time. We see it as a sort of evolution. A mentor is really there to assist you along the way and help you stay on track. It’s kind of like meditation: We can all see the value, but it's really difficult to consistently practice meditation on a daily basis.

On our team, we've got Jess, who’s the product director. She's an incredible instructional designer and she really knows nature and really knows education, so this just comes naturally to her. We've got Rebecca, who assists Jess and is working on building and evolving these courses and programs on a monthly basis. Finally, we've got five mentors that are based around the USA as well as in Europe. I’m Alistair, and I run operations and oversee business strategy. Whatever the problem is, I look to solve it. I’m focused on growing the organization. Something really beautiful happens when you don’t think of building a business and making a positive impact on the world as mutually exclusive.

1,700 learners. That’s pretty incredible for just under three years now. How do you think about community? What happens when someone is in the course or becomes an alumni?

Originally, we thought community would be this problem that we would build for later. When we began, we had a learning management system that didn't really focus on community; rather, it focused on self-paced courses. It wasn’t necessarily understanding that peer-to-peer engagement is where a lot of the benefits can lie, like linking mentors to learners. It was only really when we moved to Disco that we managed to put our community first. 

That's what's so exciting: Having a platform that allows direct messaging with individuals within the learning management system. Disco truly is an all-in-one, in the sense that you can plug and play. It's not defined or locked into offering just one thing. You can really customize it and use it as it goes.

Before we hear more about your Disco experience, can you tell us what marketing for Learn Biomimicry looks like?

We don’t do much. I think we could always do more. Fortunately, the way we see it is that we've got affiliate partners. We grow our engagement working with other organizations that are looking to use our foundational courses to train or upskill either people within their organization or possibly even their own set of learners. 

Our largest educational partner is the Biomimicry Institute. They've been exceptional. Since day one, they've helped us from when it was just an idea to a fully fledged business. They're akin to NASA, to say, in the sense that they're a for-good business. They’re a non-profit, and they really just want to see us succeed. They've been instrumental in our own success, as well as the 20+ affiliate partners that we have. Additionally, we write thought-leading pieces, which attracts individuals to our blog. 

Finally — lots of word of mouth.

Let’s talk about scaling. Bigger cohorts? More cohorts? More courses? 

Scaling Learn Biomimicry is my number-one priority. 

We believe that everyone should have the ability to learn from nature. Biomimicry offers this methodology of how you learn from nature and apply it to your own project, career, or organization. Scalability is something that everyone wants, but it's incredibly hard to achieve, so the way in which we've gone about it is to ensure that our courses are part- time, affordable, and accessible to everyone. They’re also permissionless, so you don't need to have studied a particular degree. There's no checklist to get in. We believe that the future is permissionless; this is for those that are really interested in learning and applying biomimicry and just want to take it to another level. Not just understanding what it is or how it might work, but really learning how you practice it in the real world.

Our approach to scaling Learn Biomimicry is not doing everything, but just doing one thing right and doing it really, really well. We keep an eagle-eye focus on our learners and on their ability to practice biomimicry. We're locked on this path. 

Self-paced courses are incredibly scalable and will scale over time. You don't need permission to start. You can start on your own time on your own terms. They’re accessible anytime and forever — at just $299, you get a full foundational course pack.

With the practitioner and educator programs, small is beautiful. There is something really special about these small cohorts. We really want to try and keep that. We're not looking to scale this to 100 or 500 learners all at one time, even though that might be a possibility in the future. What we feel really works at the moment is keeping it small and intimate and scaling that over time.

Our real goal, right now, is to offer world-class education online.

Will you scale your team, as well?

Scaling the team is a really important part. We have this ability to also train individuals within our courses that could then feed back into the organization, especially those who are extraordinary practitioners or educators. From a marketing and sales sense, we’re really young. But we really do believe that small is beautiful, and keeping it simple solves a lot of problems. We want to be small, nimble, and agile and use our network to our advantage. This also allows us to have fun along the way with our members in a way you can’t with massive 500 or 1000-people organizations. We like it with less than 50 individuals.

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You’ve already said so many great things about Disco, but let’s dig deeper. What LMS did you start using first?

We launched on Kajabi and it was a great starting point because it solved a lot of questions; it was one decision that answered many like: What website platform should you use? How should you deal with your email? How should you do your SEO? And, most importantly, what is the learning management system that you use? So we began with Kajabi in early 2020.

What made you consider a new platform? Tell us the challenges you were hoping to solve.

We did a sprint with each learning management system and we basically determined, within a week, how we could answer this really, really hard problem of which learning management system to use. There were three key things we were looking:

  1. Simplicity: Including other systems and integrations while reducing administrative load
  2. Scalability: Allowing us to lower the cost per user through automations like being able to duplicate programs
  3. Quality: Improving the learner experience as well as the mentor experience

Good design is invisible. Disco is so intuitive that it's kind of like using an iPhone; you don't need an instruction manual. I think that was what clinched it for us, when we were testing about five different learning management systems all within one week, was that balance between simplicity, quality, and the scalability behind it.

In addition to course duplication, what are some of the features of Disco that you love?

I think the most important feature is not necessarily one feature, but rather this ability to be innovative. 

I remember reading how Disco believes that innovation happens at the edge. This platform has allowed us to really be creative with our learning journey. We've been able to plug in a living map, which no other platform just has built in.

For us, it's the custom app, allowing modular and nested learning to be built. It's not prescriptive in the sense of like, ‘This is what learning should be.’ It really gives the power to the creator or the educator to play with it and create what they think the best learning journey is, and Disco will get out of your way to make that happen. It has just been so easy to use. Having specific integrations such as assignment uploads, which is critical for us running a cohort-based course and managing that on the back end is so simple.

Would you say it has saved you operational hours? 

Disco has saved us countless hours — not just now, but well into the future. We migrated our courses within a week, and it was so easy to move over. We’re having next to no challenges.

The time saved has helped us double the number of cohorts that we run without needing to hire any new staff or team members. That’s basically saving the time of an employee.

“Good design is invisible. Disco is so intuitive that it's kind of like using an iPhone; you don't need an instruction manual.”

Tell us about the migration process from Kajabi to Disco.

We've got a backup on our Google Drive, and we basically just downloaded to the desktop and uploaded them over the course of a week. It has been super easy and painless, really. Not needing an instruction manual for learning how the system works and just knowing what to do intuitively is the beauty of good design.

Do you think Disco has had a positive impact on the learner experience?

We're still in the process of building our courses to really launch and run our programs from Disco. We have migrated our whole alumni base over to Disco. It was incredibly easy. It was like everyone just knew how it worked and were able to interact with each other. The first event we ran went off without a hitch. We’ve had zero issues so far.

So what ultimately made Disco the solution for Learn Biomimicry?

We really started envisioning the business in six months, in one and a half years, in five years — we did an opportunistic view as well as a pessimistic view of what might cause us to fail. Beyond the simplicity, the scalability, and the quality, there was this really intuitive and super flow. It had the calendar integration of Kajabi but the event management for running cohort-based courses that no other learning management platform had. 

We really feel that's where the future of learning lies: Leveraging the best of the internet and the best of people and bringing them together on one platform. That's what Disco did so well. Eventually, that was the clincher, but it was quite an easy decision in the end.

Join Learn Biomimicry on the Disco platform to for an intuitive, scalable solution for learning

Disco is the learning and community management system that seamlessly hosts your community as well as the learning experiences you provide members with learning experience that enhance their lives and careers. 

We firmly believe that learning and community must coexist if the future of learning will continue to thrive, and communities like Learn Biomimicry are examples of that same ethos. 

Give Disco a free try for 14 days to see why customers like Learn Biomimicry use Disco to build, operate, scale, and monetize their learning community.

Published
December 1, 2022
Category
Customer Stories ->