Online learning…and online LIVING

Father multi-tasking with young son (2 yrs) at kitchen table. Dad is drinking coffee and working on his computer.

An important consideration in moving learning from the offline to the online space, has to do with affordances and constraints.

Affordances are the things we can do WELL in a situation, while constraints are the things we can’t do well there… or can’t do at all.

The pandemic has forced us to move not only our learning but also our LIVES online.

 What this means is that the affordances and constraints of the online space now impact our overall health and wellbeing in every area of our lives.

At last Saturday’s Learn and Get Smarter community meeting, a poignant question was asked:


What have you lost as a result of the pandemic?

While each community member mentioned their own specific losses, some common threads emerged:

Collectively, we have lost a lot in the sensory realm of physical touch, and in the social-emotional arena of in-person connectedness with family, friends, and colleagues.

We have lost out in the area of our interaction with the physical world in 3 dimensional spaces.

We have lost serendipity and surprise, newness and discovery and, enjoyable real world sensory experiences of all kinds.

Conceptual image of legs in boots on the autumn leaves. Feet shoes walking in nature


Having already broken two toes of my own in years past, I have a “no bare feet” rule in my apartment that has saved me from many more. If I'm not in bed or in the shower, I must have shoes on my feet. I also wrap my bedposts in bubble wrap.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


The feeling of leaves crunching under your feet as you walk uphill on uneven terrain, for example, is something you can’t experience in your living room.

Instead, living inside our own homes for so long has led to an epidemic of broken toes as people collide with the edges of their furniture or literally run into the wall.

my actual bedpost wrapped in bubble wrap (to protect toes)

The repeating theme of loss of a variety of sensory experiences due to the pandemic, is striking. I noticed that at my last dental cleaning (one of the the few excursions I make into the outside world), how  strange and overwhelming it felt to have two people hovering over me in close proximity.

Sensations I’d never even paid attention to in the past, like the feeling of a drill smoothing the edge of a tooth, or the rotary toothbrush removing plaque, felt irritating and  intense.

Our sensory systems are not getting the steady stream of daily input they were designed for, from regular interactions in the outside world.

Our brains use our senses to gather information about the world. This information gathering process is meant to happen:

  • in three dimensions
  • in real time
  •  in a social context
  • out in nature
  • with the influence of gravity
  •  and friction
  •  and other forces

 in ways that can only be experienced when we are in movement with respect to the physical world. 

Due to the pandemic,

  constraints that apply to teaching motor skills online

and integrating multiple intelligences into online learning,

 now impact every aspect of our actual daily lives.


Turning to what the pandemic experience has afforded us in terms of gains,  community members mentioned that they have:

  •  developed independence
  •  become more resilient
  •  learned new skills because we’ve had to 
  • developed more focus
  •  and of course, grown our online teaching practices.

 (We are indeed lucky that the field of online teaching is one that has been POSITIVELY impacted by the pandemic, while so many other professions have not. )

But in order to be effective educators, we also have to be healthy, happy, fully realized human beings. 

Sensory deprivation, social isolation, and working 18 hour days while staring at a computer screen, are not sustainable practices that help us function at our best.

And if we don't function at our best, we can't support our families and course participants in functioning at their best, either.

What's the solution?

The answer the group came up with was unexpected, surprising, and delightful: 

We need to have more fun!

That certainly makes sense,  even from an online teaching perspective. 

One of our goals as educators is to increase learner motivation and engagement

 in our online courses and programs.

If you think of  your entire LIFE as the classroom you were born into, 

it’s important to increase our own motivation and engagement in every aspect of living, as well.

And since so much of our daily living is now happening online,

we need to make our online lives as engaging as our online courses.

The pandemic has removed some of the motivating, engaging experiences that pre-pandemic life afforded us.

  • Eating in restaurants with friends
  • spending time singing  in crowds
  •  visiting loved ones in far flung places

… these are things we can’t do right now, and for the foreseeable future.

It hurts, but we need to find ways to adjust and adapt.

How can the Course Design Formula® help us take advantage of the affordances of online living,

 and overcome the often crushing constraints that have been applied to our lives?

We know the formula works to take offline LEARNING and put it online. 

Can it help us optimize LIVING in the online space, as well?


The first thing I learned in developing the formula, is that it's not effective to just take something that works well in the physical classroom, and put it online.

 In developing the formula, I discovered that what works best is a highly structured, focused process of learning design.

Can we apply these principles to our current forced situation of online LIVING, to come up with an optimized version of LIVING design?

Can we use principles from the Course Design Formula® to build better online lives?

The first step in the formula is to be very clear about our learning goal. 

If our goal is to replace some of the sensory experiences we’ve lost in the outer world, we can start by focusing on learning modalities (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) and multiple intelligences (especially those not seen as often in the online space, such as nature intelligence).

 How can we be more intentional about building tactile, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and nature intelligence into our online lives?

We tried a fun experiment at the community meeting: we tried all using the Zoom virtual background that shows a windswept beach , and putting on the virtual goggles that Zoom provides.

When several people did this, we noticed our involuntary sensory responses that brought up things we associate, through past experience, with literally being at the beach:

Asian businessman stepping from office to beach
  • the smell of the sea,
  • the feel of the breeze
  • the sound of seagulls and children playing in the distance,
  •  the feel of the sand on our skin.

 One thing to note is that we are all adults, with extensive stored memory banks of sensory information based on actual interactions in the physical world. 

I worry about the effect of the pandemic on children who do not have memory banks of sensory experience to draw on. 

If you have young children, how are the constraints of the pandemic affecting them?

I imagine that more time spent at home with parents might be a positive, but the lack of developmentally-appropriate opportunities for

 sensory-motor learning and  connection with peers and outside activities is a definite loss.

A very creative way to increase sensory input suggested by one community member, was to wear a belly dancing skirt while working (though not while in a formal meeting perhaps!) 

The weight and sound of the metal decorations provide added feedback when one shifts in one’s chair, and provide a reminder of a fun kinesthetic activity.

I consulted  Virginia Fesunoff, owner and Director of Sales and Marketing for Saroyan Mastercrafts,  a leading manufacturer of cymbals, for some recommendations about how to find belly dancing accoutrements (and classes). 

Here are the suggestions she generously provided for us to explore more ways to build fun, creativity, and movement into our lives:

 Whether belly dancing, salsa, or something else, finding ways to move to music can be a source of fun and enjoyment.


For the holidays, I was the lucky (and surprised) recipient of a bubble machine (who even knew such a thing existed). 

I take it out on my patio and enjoy the fun and wonder of watching bubbles emerge.


Before the pandemic, our social, emotional, and physical experiences in the outside world tended to happen naturally.

Now that we are living more online, we have to be more conscious and intentional about building these types of activities into our lives.

The same is true for our online courses.

A highly effective, engaging, and transformational online course doesn’t just happen: it has to be designed.

It seems that the same may be true of a highly effective, engaging and transformational online LIFE.

How are YOU being focused and intentional about designing your daily life in this new reality, to support your health and well being on all levels?

As an online educator, you are the living heart of a community  of others who rely on you.

You have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others.

What are you doing to build more fun, social connection, movement, and time in nature, into your life?


Come talk about  it in the Facebook group, or at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting next Saturday.


As a community, we can work together to build a library of creative ideas and resources

to help ourselves and each other survive and thrive in these challenging times.



Come to the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting... Saturdays at 9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern on Zoom

We're focusing on how to  use our online teaching practices and online businesses to help ourselves and others survive and thrive during these challenging times. 

Click here to register for the meeting

many people online in a conference call