New connected growth platform inspires learning through small group travel and impact stories


In an age of tremendous innovation, changing societies and globalized relationships, our chance to unleash human potential has never been closer. However, few learning platforms have leveraged these innovations to truly transform the way we approach learning. Instead, most technological solutions tend to adopt transference approaches to learning — converting paper pages into PDFs, positioning content as facts to be memorized, and treating learners as isolated consumers of other people’s ideas — although this contradicts everything we think know about learning.

Most people are motivated by relationships and goals, and grow naturally within communities of interest. It is time for new models of learning that go beyond content (necessary but not sufficient) to position learners as creators of real-world impact within a small supportive community where learners are seen, valued and get acknowledged for the great things they do. This is best done in contexts where learners feel safe, where their stories matter, and where they can inspire each other on how to use their learning to transform their lives.

There needs to be a different way of thinking about unlocking human potential, one that treats knowledge as fundamentally connected to practice, people as rich potential, and any planned innovation as just one component – ​​rather than the sole focus – of an empowering ecosystem. New models of learning are needed and these models should inspire learners, connect them with relatable peers and be part of small groups where they are seen, valued and acknowledged for their efforts. The focus needs to be less on what I need to know and more on where I want to be, what I need to be successful, and who will help me succeed.

A different kind of growth platform

Created during the pandemic, LifeLab Studios, an Arizona State University spinout, is dedicated to fostering personal growth through small-group travel. Backed by 30 years of learning science research, this small team of learning scientists, educators, platform engineers and social entrepreneurs has successfully launched a mobile-first platform for social growth.

“ harnesses the power of relationships, choice and reputation, along with insights from the gaming industry, social media, psychology and our understanding of how people learn,” said Dr. Sasha Barab, co-founder and CEO of LifeLab Studios.

Barab argues, “What is needed are learning systems that are more like how people learn outside of school, and that focus on goals that are important to them as part of small communities where members share and support each other in order to to be successful in life.”

Research in the science of learning has found that people learn better when they are interested, curious, passionate, engaged, and feel safe, welcome, and valued. “However, most learning management systems have put the cart before the horse and neglected the interests, needs, experiences and problems of the learner altogether,” says Barab.

The platform combines our knowledge of human learning, motivation, relationship and innovation to offer a platform that:

  1. Does small group tours where members grow with relatable peers;
  2. Focused on real goals with content that supports member progression.
  3. Appreciates stories from members about how they apply what they learn;

In contrast, an obsession with submitting content and easy-to-rate prompts has led to the ineffective design of many platforms and programs. It’s time to put the learners and their goals first and surround them with the relevant peers and supportive champions investing in their growth.

“A learning system that treats content more important than the learner and what he can do

with what they learn is both ineffective and demeaning; This potentially undermines the motivations, backgrounds, struggles and voices of those the system was designed to serve,” Barab said.

Similar to other sectors transformed by the platform revolution, the growth industry must harness the power of platforms to position learners as consumers and producers, and learn from one another while sharing the lessons learned in a way that creates collective wisdom. Learning systems must leverage connection algorithms and provide engaging feeds designed to connect learners to the ideas, people, and stories that are relevant to them. They must recruit the learner’s authentic motive, support their goals, and highlight their stories as meaningful and authentic knowledge.

Where is used

The platform is used with great success across a variety of industries and organizations including professional bodies, schools, faith communities, juvenile detention centers and as part of recovery. In particular, the founding team is committed to using it among vulnerable populations to increase equity and opportunities for underserved groups.

Professional Organizations: supports personalized small communities for professional development, connecting members with common growth goals within their building or across states. The platform supports human trafficking awareness teachers in California, Texas and Utah to build protective factors for their classrooms and inspire one another with shared practices. also supports new teachers in developing their skills.

Schools and Universities: Secondary schools and colleges use in counseling systems to develop direction and meaning while building social and emotional skills. The platform can easily be integrated into core courses, especially those that target a wide range of skills and where collaborative research is valued. Digital credentials can be awarded for demonstrated ability, local validation, and even as a means of earning college credit at Arizona State University. An innovative high school has developed microcerts that are offered to other schools. is quick and easy to use for short courses—breakthroughs, capstones, electives—and themed events. A Jesuit high school created an Election Day event to encourage students to “practice” democracy, resulting in hundreds of shared stories and school MicroCerts.

Youth Corrections: In partnership with Maricopa County, supports the growth of youth engagement in justice by building critical safeguards to avoid recidivism. As juveniles chart their own skill-building pathways, officers and other juveniles provide feedback as part of an emerging national commitment to juvenile correctional facilities to support positive change. Learners acquire micro-credentials that demonstrate their positive change towards the judge, their family, their employers and themselves.

recreation community: Within the recovery community there is a wealth of research demonstrating the importance of small groups in facilitating personal change. Imagine going to a 12 step meeting, reading the “Big Book” and being able to change your life. Instead,, which complements existing programs and experiences, is used by partners to offer small-group trips focused on overcoming substance abuse, chronic well-being, and general skills focused on living a successful life as part of a networked growth journey.

Faith Communities: Many faith communities use the power of small groups to foster growth. extends this strategy with a diverse collection of faith, purpose and relationship experiences for adults and youth. The platform expands learning and engagement throughout the week as members connect and grow. Learning is personal, where each member has a voice, and collective. Community leaders receive meaningful data on impacts and needs.

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Lifelab Studios is part of a growing movement of triple bottom line studios where there are multiple factors beyond financial return (e.g. social impact, knowledge generation, financial return). Cash LifeLab Studios more to explore.


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