Practical Utopias: How We Ourselves Used Disco to Power a Forward-thinking Learning Community

Here are a few key insights on how we used Disco to bring together a global learning community with Margaret Atwood and power a seamless and transformative learning experience that our ‘practical utopians’ loved.

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What would you like the future to look like?

“There isn't ‘the future' that we're doomed to enact. There are all kinds of possible futures. And which one we're going to get is going to depend on what we do now.”  — Margaret Atwood

If we want to make change or create something new so we can bring about a better future for all, we have to be able to imagine what's possible. Not sci-fi epics, fiction or fantasies, but real, better living plans that could actually work.

That's just what a diverse, global learning community of trailblazers and difference-makers collectively did in Practical Utopias: An Exploration of the Possible, a forward-thinking virtual learning experience led by world renowned author, teacher, and environmental activist Margaret Atwood and powered by Disco.

At Disco, we believe that learning + community are two of the greatest levers to catalyze meaningful change, so collaborating with Margaret on such an ambitious and visionary project was an honour and a privilege, and something right up our alley!

Read on for a few key insights on how we ourselves used Disco to save oodles of operational time and effectively design and deliver seamless and transformative learning experiences at scale that our ‘practical utopians' loved.

Two learning experiences at once: Fully guided and self-guided

Practical Utopias was an ambitious undertaking.

Not only did we build a global learning community on Disco, but we also ran two distinct learning experiences concurrently:

  • Fellows learning experience: We curated a learning community of 200 Fellows from all walks of life ranging in age from 18 to 75+ and representing over 40 countries across 6 continents to collaborate together in an immersive, project-based learning experience. Over the course of eight weeks from September to November 2022, Fellows collaborated as a member of one of eight teams and engaged in a highly ambitious, collective world-building process guided by a professional facilitator and supported by an illustrator to help visualize their imagined worlds. You can view their outputs by joining the Practical Utopias learning community as a free member here and you can also read Margaret's vision for a practical utopia in The New York Times.
  • Participant learning experience: So that as many people as possible could engage with Practical Utopias, we also offered the self-guided Participant experience that gave learners the flexibility to show up however much or as little as they wanted to. Nearly 100 Participants enrolled and had access to all the learning sessions with Margaret and Special Guests — both live streams and recordings — and all the course materials. This gave them the option to simply follow along with the content or even self-organize their own group to co-design a practical utopia.

Especially being a very small team, we appreciated how Disco's robust learning experience creation features made it easy to design and operate both experiences simultaneously.

Disco provided us with the building blocks to design two distinct learning formats within the same learning community. This helped us leverage the tremendous work we put into curriculum development and scale our learning community for greater impact.

Grouping learners together

Teamwork and peer-to-peer connection were integral to the design of Practical Utopias, particularly for the Fellows' learning experience.

We leaned heavily on Disco's groups feature to support the eight teams of Fellows. The groups feature allowed us to readily organize Fellows into time-zone based teams, schedule and host live events only visible to team members, get insights on attendance for team events and learner feedback on these, plus facilitate group work and group communication with dedicated team channels.

While Practical Utopians learned directly from Margaret and special guests, they learned the most from each other as Disco enabled us to go beyond content and videos and truly deliver a community-powered learning experience. Everyone was a learner and everyone was a teacher.

Learning together as a global community

Across the Fellows and Participant learning experiences, our small team hosted 90+ live virtual learning sessions within 8 weeks across 5 different time zones!

Disco allowed us to automate many of the most time consuming aspects of virtual event management so we could focus on our learners:

  • We used Disco's Zoom integration which allowed us to seamlessly connect multiple Zoom rooms. This allowed us to run multiple live virtual events at the same time for different teams and trust that the right people were being guided to where they needed to be.
  • Disco automatically created a task in the Curriculum personalized for each of our nearly 1200 learners prompting them to add events to their own calendars at a click of a button — and Disco took care of converting all these events into our learners' time zones. Learners were only prompted to add the events relevant to them, so didn't have to worry about sorting signal from noise or experience calendar confusion. This handy feature was invaluable in streamlining and personalizing learner onboarding at scale. We can't imagine how much of our time time would have gone into this and the mistakes we would have made if had to do this manually!
  • Disco took care of notifying our learners of new events or event updates, so learners always had the latest information they needed to make the most of their learning experience.
  • Disco also took care of tracking attendance and gathering feedback, which it consolidated for us in post-event reports. This helped us get invaluable insights on a per event basis and also understand the unique event experience for each of our 8 teams so we could make focused and relevant improvements or adjustments as needed to optimize our learners' experiences.
  • When the event was over, with only a couple quick clicks, we uploaded recordings to the event area on Disco so it was easy for learners to find. The platform also notified learners when the recording was available, so even if a learner wasn't able to attend a live session, they could catch up at first opportunity.

All in all, Disco helped us save countless hours of work in setting up, running, and wrapping-up our live virtual learning sessions while delivering more a personalized live learning experience for each of our nearly 1200 learners.

Disco gave us the confidence to run multiple virtual events at the same time, knowing that learners would receive the right information at the right once in a lifetime time specific to their personal learning journey.

What Practical Utopians had to say about their learning experiences

So how did this all come together from the learners' perspective?

Here's what some of our Practical Utopians had to say:

  • “Thank you Disco for a fantastic experience! The world needs more people radically imagining what the future could be and collaborating toward it, which is what this felt like to me! And your emphasis of learning was enriching.” —Eduardo Briceño, Founding Fellow
  • “A better future requires vision. And that vision shouldn't belong to one individual. We need more opportunities like Practical Utopias that bring together diverse minds and hearts and build messy and collaborative and beautiful visions for the future. Our survival may just depend on it.” —Brendon Goodmurphy, Founding Fellow
  • “This program is dangerously addictive - if you like learning, it can happen that you don't want to stop and spend your time with an ever growing community of co-learners! Further, it might happen that you cannot hide into comforting black holes of pessimism and sarcasm anymore because - if you want - you can always find people with ideas and actions to do better.” —Romina Martin, Founding Fellow
  • “Stop thinking about your to-do list and start dreaming, in real terms, of the future you want for your future self, your kids, the place you could truly make possible with ingenuity. This made it feel possible and great conversation fodder with friends about things that really matter.” —Stephanie Davis, Participant
  • “Totally worth the time commitment. I learned so much and even as only a participant, I had so much to share with my friends; ideas, books and articles.” —Rae Yates, Participant

Ultimately, delivering an extraordinary learner experience was paramount, and that's just what Disco enabled us to do at scale.

Want to explore the possible too?

You'll soon have an opportunity to enroll in an on-demand version of Practical Utopias, so you too can boldly grapple with some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today — the serious climate change, crisis and social inequalities being foremost — and shape the future.

We're continuing to leverage Disco's robust learning experience creation features to deliver a third version of this learning experience: an on-demand one which will be available soon.

We invite you to join the Practical Utopias learning community as a free member here to check out the Founding Fellows' extraordinary outputs for inspiration and be the first to know when the on-demand learning experience becomes available.

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