Learning Ecosystems Trilogy: ’Weaving our relational capacity for flourishing futures’

Jordi Díaz Gibson PhD, Trilogy Lead. NetEduProject, PSITIC Blanquerna (URL).

We are thrilled to present the ‘Learning Ecosystems Trilogy’, a collection of three reports that gather the intense international and collaborative research, discussion and practice led by the NetEdu team (PSITIC, Blanquerna- Ramon Llull University) in the last three years (2020-2023). Our key focus in the Trilogy is the urgent need of new educational leaders equipped and empowered to heal, seed and weave human connection and social infrastructure across our learning systems for flourishing futures. This is not about superheroes or superheroines, either about bottom up or top down change, it is about new leaders unfolding across spaces, facilitating and weaving the conditions for our collective emancipation and for a new system to emerge. Our work contributes to ground how ecosystemic leaders -or weavers- are becoming extremely influential in the learning ecosystems’ growth, spanning multiple boundaries, seeding synergies, and empowering people, organizations and whole communities for deeper and wider learning and flourishing.

The Trilogy is formed by these three interlinked reports (NetEdu 2023).

Learning ecosystems are evolving as a new paradigm that is interwoven with a diverse body of previous influential research as Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (1974); Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy; Edgar Morin’s Complexity Theory (2001); Provan, Milward, Kenis and Klijn’s work around Interorganizational Networks and Network Governance (2001); Alan Daly’s research on Social Networks in Education (2010); latest work of VanderWeele on Human Flourishing (2020), and the work led by Dr. Jordi Riera in PSITIC, Blanquerna Ramon Llull University, in the last 20 years around systemic and networked-based education. All these studies share a central idea: hyper-fragmentation and isolation within our educational systems’ silos is drastically reducing our capacities to interact, learn, feel well and evolve individually and collectively, a reality that has been globally visualized and exacerbated by the pandemic. Thus, we are aware that we need to collaborate, co-create, co-design, and several co-, but we don’t have the needed infrastructure and culture in place.

Learning ecosystems are complex and difficult to narrow, and we conceptualize them as the natural environments where people learn and unlearn across life time. So, an initial idea is that we all already live in learning ecosystems with diverse and contextualized characteristics as we inhabit the planet. Thus, learning ecosystems are influenced by many social forces of all diverse contexts, as resources, cultures, laws, policies, traditions, leaderships, organizations, people and relationships, among others. Ultimately, our work takes a social and relational perspective to understand and weave learning ecosystems, underlying that learning and flourishing opportunities are inherently and actively shaped by a wide network of people and stakeholders that are specific from each context.

Thus, this complex social network extends far beyond the traditional frame of family and formal education, including a wide range of influential individuals and organizations. Some of them interact directly with children and adolscents -as schools, highschools, universities, libraries, community centers, theaters, museums, after school programs, sport centers, social networks, digital devices, video games, religious organizations, neighborhood spaces, among others-. Others interact indirectly with them -as educational districts, municipalities, governments, Ed tech companies, among others. All of these stakeholders belong to diverse sectors -including public, private, civil society and combinations of these three-; they are part of multiple systems –education, health, youth, wellbeing, technology etc; including professionals from different disciplines -as education, psychology, tech, sociology, health, architecture, research, and so on-; and finally, all of them are learners. Therefore, the relational capacities within and across the learning ecosystem determine the learning and flourishing possibilities and opportunities offered to all people and communities, especially to the most vulnerable ones. 

Working groups in the Learning Ecosystems’ tool prototype. Greater Accra, Ghana 2022.

In the Learning Ecosystem Trilogy we take a careful and deep look into how leaders across the ecosystem weave this relational capacity in their contexts for deeper and wider learning and flourishing. And we understand the relational capacity of a learning ecosystem as 1- the social connection between all people, and 2- the social infrastructure that weaves the diverse parts of the system. And we will try to explain this idea a little further. Initially, we believe that seeding social connection becomes a central priority in our learning environments for individual and collective flourishing. We can’t learn and flourish in an unsafe relational environment that makes us feel that we don’t belong. As the Office of U.S Surgeon General states (2023), we live in a fragmented society where isolation and loneliness are a dangerous consequence of the imperative of our times, an epidemic that strongly affects health, learning and growth of children, young people, adults, teachers, leaders, parents, elders, whole schools, whole communities and so on. And we know that most vulnerable people and groups are the ones suffering more from this epidemic and its consequences. Thus, social connection is a primitive human need at the core of the survival and evolution of our species, which is why that for flourishing futures we must prioritize ahead of instruction and achievement, the design of safe and flourishing environments that protects and supports us all across spaces and lifetime: students, teachers, educators, parents, etc. – especially the most vulnerable.

Second, is the fact that social connection becomes, beyond a human need to be fulfilled, an invisible but powerful infrastructure that can enable or inhibit learning and flourishing opportunities for people and the planet. This idea suggests that any desired change and transformation in education that we can dare to imagine, such as a new learning reform, method, strategy, tool, mindset, culture, leadership or policy, is directly influenced by the quality of our social connection among the people that are involved in all levels of the system -from design to implementation-. Thus, change is inherently relational and systemic, starting with the inner relationship with ourselves, with relationship with territory and nature, including relationships between students, between student and teacher, between student and all educators that interact in the wider and natural environment; and last but not least, change is interdependent on all social connections between educators, leaders, social workers, health professionals and/or parents, among many others, that are also part of the natural environment where we all live and learn. It is across this invisible social infrastructure -also named as social capital or social fabric- that we all interact, challenge ourselves, exchange resources, access new opportunities, learn, grow and find sense and meaning to our lives. Thus, the better we weave the social infrastructure in our systems and organizations, the greater will be the opportunities and possibilities for all to learn and flourish.

The Learning Ecosystem Trilogy relies on initial descriptive studies emerged in the last decade where we have collectively explored and framed the learning ecosystems paradigm and learnt from worldwide experiences –UNESCO, Jacobs Foundation, WISE, Dream a Dream India, Global Education Futures, The Weaving Lab, Learning Planet, Remake learning, Education Reimagined, among others-. The Trilogy opens the door to a new level of development of studies in the field, presenting new experiential research-practice that aims to support leaders that are not aligned or even familiar to the ecosystemic approach to unfold the relational capacity in their communities and organizations for flourishing futures. Thus, the work presents the experience of more than 500 world wide education leaders playing and experimenting with new tools and frameworks, facing contextual resistances and contributing to understand real needs and elevate new thinking around our purpose. The Trilogy is formed by three complementary action-research reports where we explore crucial questions around how to weave Learning Ecosystems, claiming to inspire new leaders across the system -macro, meso and micro- to accelerate the development of our flourishing futures. 

The Trilogy is a direct call to governments, policy and decision makers to support, train and give wings to these new type of leaders to weave the relational and collective capacities in our learning ecosystems, taking care and empowering them is strategically fundamental for our flourishing futures. And finally, we deeply hope that this work offers all amazing weavers in the world a whisper of experiential inspiration, with new frameworks, guidelines, tools and processes, all of them to be discussed, adapted and lifted with new meaning and purpose to design and lead flourishing learning ecosystems worldwide. They truly are one of the philosopher stones for our flourishing futures.

Trilogy Presentation next November 23rd 2023, from 4 to 5.30 CET. Hosted by the Weaving Lab, the session will be facilitated by Robyn Whittaker (NetEdu team) and Jordi Díaz Gibson (NetEdu Lead), and other team members will be in attendance to contribute to the thinking. Nadia Chayney (The Time Zone Research Lab) and Pavel Lucksha (Global Education Futures) will engage as reflective thinking partners to the team. Please respond to this survey if you plan to attend, or would like to contribute your thoughts to this ongoing work. In the session we will open and share the published reports, and will also present a Learning Journey where we want to deeply discuss the work with all of you.


The Learning Ecosystem Trilogy is a reality thanks to UNESCO, Jacobs Foundation, the Government of Spain and the Ministry of Education of Ghana that have supported and funded the action research developed. Special and deep thanks to Valtencir Mendes and Borhene from UNESCO; Ross Hall, Nora Marketos, Romana Kropilova and Donika Dimovska from Jacobs Foundation, thanks for trusting us to lead this amazing learning journey. 

The shared learning journey has been rich and complex, deeply impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic and post pandemic forces, but full of inspiration and meaning. It has been a complete honor to share this journey with a team of amazing human beings, extending our collaboration across more than 1000 thoughtful and committed educators and leaders from the five continents. They all meaningfully enriched every single thought and piece of this Trilogy. 

NetEdu Team and Authors of the Trilogy Reports 

Jordi Díaz-Gibson (Ramon Llull University); Robyn Whittaker (Kaleidoscope Lights); Mireia Civís (Ramon Llull University); Yi-Wha Liou (National Taipei University); Dale Allen (DXtera Institute); Peter Fagerström (Educraftor); Enikö Zala-Mezö (Zurich University of Teacher Education); Akwasi Addae-Boahene (T-TEL Ghana); Eric Ananga (T-TEL); Avril Kudzi (Jacobs Foundation); Lana Jelenjev (The Hum); Anna de Montserrat, Annabel Fontanet, Mireia Lerena, Míriam Cos and Estel Torruella (Ramon Llull University).

Practical wisdom from the NetEdu Workshop on Cultivating trust in learning ecosystems

Last Tuesday January 19th 2021 we celebrated our NetEdu Workshop on TRUST as a fundamental seed to be cultivated in learning ecosystems. It was lovely to see and listen to you all, and was amazing to share the learning space with more than 40 leaders and educators from the 5 continents that are really devoting their energy on making educational systems more human, relational and interwoven. The term ‘Learning Ecosystem‘ is gaining a powerful attention across the world -and this will increase in 2021- as a crucial approach to transform education and enhance learning opportunities for all, empower every student as a changemaker, weave caring and meaningful relationships within and across school boarders, enable school-community collaboration, grow individual and collective well-being and foster planet sustainability. But the huge expectations on the concept and named outcomes contrast with the low research based knoledge and understanding we have around how we can weave these human ecosystems and try to enhance all these relevant and ambicious challenges. And this is why the NetEdu Community and all these faces are so important!

Meditating and connecting to our collective purpose

However, there is already a big consensus around the idea of TRUST being the glue of learning ecosystems, but we strugle when we are willing to land in schools, districts and cities and start weaving meaningful relationships based on individual and collective TRUST. And this was the purpose of our session, to capture our collective experience and expertise to enlight the dialogue with practical wisdom. For this, we had the wonderful close testimony from three leadership teams from diverse countries that are using our tools to collect data around TRUST in their educational ecosystem levels and build TRUST as a crucial seed and sistemic outcome. Down here I will share some of the highlights of the session shared by members and facilitators, not as a conclusion but as a starting point to continue our glocal conversation and learning journey around how are we building trust in worldwide learning ecosystems.

One of the words that best captured the very rich and deep discussion that we had was “together“. Trust is built when we engage around shared hopes and dreams, and are able and willing to work together to achieve them. It can be expressed through words with a “com-“prefix, that indicate togetherness, such as “Com-passion” (shared struggle) and “Com-fort”(shared strength). Trust is also built when there is integration and “togetherness” individually across heart, mind and spirit, and organizationally and systemically across different systems levels and objectives, for instance education department, district, school leaders, educators, learners and community levels. 

In this sense, being integrated within ourselves also allows for healthy mirroring to occur. It is now known that the phenomenon of  mirroring is a neurological, biological and emotional occurence. We work well together when we are able to mirror back to each other what is happening in our system. Students thrive in environments where teachers and leaders are able to mirror to them what agency looks like. It is therefore so important for us to attend to these levels of teacher and leader wellbeing, so that these environments of healthy mirroring can occur – and not to focus solely on what is happening at the learner level. When leadership and educator levels are well, and are integrated across heart, mind and spirit, environments are created where not only learners, but everybody within that system can thrive. 

Social Network analysis helps visualize emotional and intangible exchanges in the ecosystem

We also discussed how trust struggles to emerge because of the lack of “familiarity” with an organization, with someone or with her or his work: familiarity is connected to empathy and compassion, and may emerge from an authentic interest in the other person and from testing ways to connect with his or her work. This last point is particularly salient for trustful interactions in inter-organizational contexts, where people may have a preconception of how distinct their different organizations and actions are. In this sense, a “silo structure” and individualistic culture, where there is low transversality and low empathy, dramatically decreases trust across the whole organization.

Therefore, the ability to listen emphatically becomes a proxy for benevolence. To develop a trusting environment, we need first to insist on developing an authentic disposition towards students’ wellbeing. A caring teacher, for example listens empathically, knows how to express and make sure that the student felt that she/he is genuinely interested in her/his well-being. We also believe that teachers and staff should always be able to step back, emphatically, and distinguish what the student “is” from how she/he may behave or have learned. Institutionalized spaces and dispositions to express feelings and emotions are a key element. For this we need to work on rebuilding the relationship we all may have with mistakes, distinguishing the error from the person who commits it, and this happy-error culture needs to travel from classes to teachers labs. In this sense, trust in a school or community setting is a situation where the individual is empowered and not judged by his or her actions. The lack of judgment was also central in the discussion as a cross-sectional trust driver.

However, measuring trust in order to inform the conversation and enact was also a relevant piece in our conversation. Colleagues from Barcelona shared the metaphore placed by Kaplan in 1964. As we guess from the image below, an illuminated area is an area where it is possible, even simple, to find something and obtain quantitative data. The light provided by the research itself means that the data found can be presented as objective, even indisputable. The dark street is the rest of the space, and these are the areas where obtaining data would be complex, perhaps impossible in relation to the means available. Thus, collecting data on trust in practice can be sometimes imprecise but extremely meaningful and useful to strengthen the community and weave the ecosystem. And this was highlighted by leaders as a core value of the research-practice partnership lived and experienced with diverse tools co-developed in the NetEdu community.

Regarding school leader’s relationships with teachers and other staff, we shared that it is essential for school leaders to replicate these relational features in their interactions: coherence is fundamental to promote a caring and trusting environment. Also, for this latter kind of relationship, we need to rethink the idea of control as a support on teachers’ activities, for example, shouldn’t be an external judgement but collaborative and adaptive support in order to foster trust: their formulation and implementation may be co-constructed and adaptable to ground dynamics. In this sense, we discussed the differences between the trust-terms Solidarity and Support. Solidarity is connected to community and a sense of belonging, and is an ongoing process, while support can be momentary as a feeling of “someone having your back”, as the school leader or the colleges.

Regarding the city level ecosystem, we came into the idea of the need of supporting the multiplicity and interconnection of diverse formal and informal networks that conform the whole ecosystem, identifying weaving opportunities and duplicities and favouring the flow of resources exchange. The strategies discussed to generate trust across levels were mainly based to create a relational climate in the network of diverse organizations and professionals based on horizontal and supportive relationships, considerng purpose and previous learnings of the participants, and facilitating universal learning conditions where everyone feels part of the whole and feels supported to participate. It was also relevant the intent of building new learning across all actors through spaces of metacognition, sensemaking and deep reflection; thus favoring the increase of professional capital among teachers and educators, and being faithful in each session to coherence and symmetry priciples: what we want to happen in our organizations and classrooms, we make it happen first with the global network. Thus, four systemic strategies were shared to be developed at this macro level of the ecosystem ecosystemic: leverage Systems thinking and networks to create a shared vision; focus on collective intelligence and co-ideation; personalize and contextualize; and co-design solutions to create the enabling conditions for change.

Finally, we were all invited to continue our deep conversation in our local contexts and organizations. A second invitation was to encourage all of you to consider whether your work on trust could be captured in a blog post and shared across our community and beyond (contact us if you have an idea for that;-). In our view it’s vital that all of us are encouraged to continue to experiment with the ideas around cultivating trust in learning ecosystems and specifically wrestle with applying and learning from them. We will end with special thanks to all the energizers of the session: Juan David and Diego Pinzon, school leaders from Montemorel School in Cundinamarca, Colombia; David Vannasdall, superintendent weaving the Arcadia Unified School District of 12 schools from California, United States; and Tatiana Soler, Victoria Ibañez and Imma Adell, co-leaders of the City School network Networks for Change weaving around 300 schools in Barcelona, Spain. And of course, special thanks to our beautiful trust builders and co-facilitators in the session, Alan Daly, Gitte Miller, Martin Scanlan and Juan David Pinzón.

NetEdu Workshop: Cultivating trust in learning ecosystems

Hello friends from the NetEdu Community,

In our collective journey of transitioning from standardized educational systems to human and caring learning ecosystems, we are happy to share with all of you the date and focus of the next NetEdu Workshop that will happen on January 19th 2021 from 5 pm to 7.15 pm CET time (by Zoom). This time the workshop discussion will be focusing on a hot area for the global project: How leaders cultivate the seeds of learning and caring ecosystems, and specifically we will focus on trust building as a key seed for ecosystemic growth. For this we will have three leaders as panelists that have used our NetEdu tools from diverse ecosystem levels from around the world:

– Juan David Pinzon, school leader and principal from Cundinamarca, Colombia –Montemorel School
– David Vannasdall, superintendent, district leader from California, United States -the Arcadia Unified School District
– Tatiana Soler, Victoria Ibañez and Imma Adell, School network leaders from Barcelona, Spain –Networks for Change-.

We will have a deep dive on trust drivers and consraints, its relevance, its measurement and its meaning, with crossed discussion from the leaders ground, we will also have breakout rooms, a fish bowl and of course, many surprises to come. As we usually do, building community will be a goal for us so you all can invite your close networks and aligned partners in your local or global contexts. We also share with you our latest blog post also focused on trust as a pillar of learning ecosystems: A question of trust: the case of the Arcadia Unified School District.

If you are interested in joinng the session please contact Jordi Díaz-Gibson (jorge@blanquerna.url.edu)

Warm regards,