Adam Yukelson
Lead Development & Implementation
U.lab connects online & offline for a global learning experience - U.Lab
Intersection of science, spirituality and social change
120,000 registered; perhaps 20,000 active (but that’s hard to quantify)

U.Lab is a truly experiential program based on the Theory U. This course translates the awareness and consciousness about ourselves onto a systemic level. It brings much needed attention into business, government, and civil society. This will be achieved by truly understanding every aspect of ourselves and how to bring those into every aspect of life.

U.Lab attracts thousands of learners every year with a multi-month journey that uses virtual calls with up to 450 participants, live-streams, and intimate in-person groups. A unique combination of a subject that matters, global connection that overcomes isolation, local hosts, and self-lead learning have helped U.lab create a global community without a strong central structure.

How does U.Lab combine online and offline engagements to create impact?

Online, it’s about helping a community to see itself and to become aware of itself. That’s the primary purpose of our online events. Each month, we host a professionally produced Livestream event and also a Zoom video call. The Livestream broadcasts typically last an hour and include mirroring back to the viewers (our community) and WHO they actually are (numbers, locations, stories from the community, etc.). We also use these sessions to present content and typically include a few moments of mindfulness. It’s unusual and powerful for people to sit in silence together during an online event like this, and many say they experience a powerful physical sense of connectedness to other participants. We also host monthly Zoom sessions that bring together anywhere from 100-450 people for a mix of large group and small breakout-group interactions. 

Offline, in-person events are where the real work happens. People who meet and gather locally in smaller groups which we call Hubs. Their purpose is to meet for a period of time to put into practice the methods that are made available online. Some of these groups consist of strangers that found each other online through our lists or Facebook group. Others are organised by colleagues or friends.

What elements make U.Lab successful in combining online and offline?

First, it’s our view that the subject matter is important. 

Theory U, is a unique method that helps every individual to connect to the more authentic parts of themselves. Moreover, besides being a method, Theory U can be understood as a way of understanding and living life as it invites people to bring their whole selves to the program and to their work. Just the acknowledgement that one’s humanity doesn’t have to be separate from one’s professional identity opens up a new space of possibility in groups.

Second, we often ask ourselves, what becomes possible through online learning and community building that isn’t possible in strictly offline learning and community building? One answer is that it connects people who may not have found each other. Many people who participate in U.Lab report experiencing hope and inspiration from the realization that they’re not alone, specifically, in linking personal and systemic transformation.

Third, is Hubs. In particular, Hub hosts. U.Lab would not have taken off as it did around the world without a passionate and dedicated network of volunteer hosts who opened up their homes, offices, and other gathering spaces for friends, colleagues, and sometimes complete strangers to come together to learn and apply U.Lab methods. 

Finally, U.Lab offers a type of learning environment that is rare in adult life. We invited people to take control of their own learning process. We attempted to remove ourselves as  facilitators from the center of control and attention, and tried to empower local hosts of individual learners to self-direct the process. Putting people into the driver’s seat of their own learning and change process is a powerful move. It is perhaps one of the more effective ways of building a global community without a strong central structure.

What advice would you give other community builders when it comes to combining online and offline?

The online works best when it’s in service to the offline interactions and activities.

As a designer, put yourself in your participants’ shoes. We tend to think the thing we create will be inherently exciting, engaging, and completely intuitive to those who use it. But that’s often not true. Think about your best (and worst) online experiences. Learn from what drew you in or put you off. 

Keep in mind that, in general, people tend not to read in detail, so keep your online instructions clear and to the point.

Don’t underestimate the power of virtual events. People are experiencing platform fatigue. We all have too many platforms, too many communities. Building online and offline communities around globally facilitated events gives people a reason and clear structure to come together locally and also to connect in real time with others globally.