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The Manson Learning Network


Weird word, amazing sight. It’s like an avian Pink Floyd laser show. If you don’t know what a murmuration is check out this Dutch video (scan the QR code to the right with your phone’s camera). So how do thousands or tens of thousands of birds – starlings, actually – manage to fly so precisely without causing mid-air mayhem? It’s not group telepathy, or biomagnetism, or any kind of vocal communication – these flocks are surprisingly quiet.

Actually, it’s a much simpler explanation: an individual starling pays relentless attention to the six or seven birds closest to it, giving and receiving signals that fine-tune individual behavior while simultaneously adapting to the larger group behavior. Obviously, such coordination requires all the members to understand the signals and the responses. It’s kind of a group “neural network.” And when a flock is networked like that, it’s capable of amazing feats.

Scan for a cool video!


For all of its rich history, Manson has been a company that learns, adapts, and achieves in the face of challenge and change. How else could the company have thrived for so long? But, if this year, 2020, has taught us anything, it’s that Manson needs to be even smarter and more adaptable than ever to keep pace with the velocity of change, expected and unexpected. It’s a credit to Manson leadership that they foresaw this need and this year began creating the Manson Learning Network. Though it will take some time to get all the components in place, ultimately the MLN will serve as that “neural network” to establish the knowledge and skill pathways that promote a Manson … murmuration.

I joined Manson in March this year to lead development of the MLN. For more years than I’m willing to admit, I’ve been helping organizations learn, perform, and excel. I’ve enjoyed devising solutions to a wide-range of organizational learning problems in several business sectors including defense, construction, environmental, and education. Now I’m eager to apply those experiences to the learning programs here at Manson. But the real strength on the MLN team will come from some familiar and talented long-time Manson employees. Dwight Henson has been developing training and teaching rigging at Manson for nine years, and now will focus his skills in instructional technology development. Complementing the technology side, after 14 years, Carey Shannon has moved from her role as safety specialist and EHS trainer into a broader role as MLN curriculum developer and trainer. Together this team has already begun to impact our collective corporate knowledge with their creation of the Safety Management System (SMS) Orientation Training for our hopper dredge crews, the COVID-19 Return to Work Training, and rolling out soon will be Cybersecurity Training and revitalized Manson University mini-modules.


The MLN is guided by four essential values ensuring that it lives up to its mission statement: empowering people to peak performance. The essence of these values drive us to achieve three goals. First, Manson’s people are the focal point, and our future system will serve their professional development while inspiring their personal growth. Second, all of the MLN’s learning programs will strive for connection to the jobs we do; creating immediate relevance and consistent reinforcement for a successful learning process. And third, recognizing and capitalizing on the fact that learning can happen in infinite ways, the MLN will constantly seek new and practical means to learn as individuals and groups to create a Manson learning network.


This year has forced a lot of change on our Company. But if you’ve noticed, change these days seems to be the rule rather than the exception. As a company, one of our critical learning objectives is how to be great at adapting to change. In 2021, the MLN will bring change to the ways we learn at Manson. We will shift to learning from “mini-modules” versus bulky classes, we will focus on performance improvement not just knowing stuff, and we will leverage an array of learning technologies in a way that does not create barriers, but enhances learning. Please check in with us regularly as we get established and as we grow. You can find many resources now on our SharePoint site, and many more to come in the future. We’d also like to hear from you: what are your needs, your ideas, your past experiences with great learning? Let’s talk, and let’s work together to drive peak performance.


Two heads are better than one, they say. And, as the starlings’ murmuration show, thousands of heads working together can do stunning things. In a way, that’s our mission at the Manson Learning Network: bringing all of our heads together to do stunning things. We invite you to participate in Manson learning events, and even to help create them. Every one of us has something to offer to the learning enterprise, like the starling flocks, so please share your ideas. We’re looking forward to flying alongside you.

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