Tag Archives for " Pandemic "

The Role of Trauma in Teaching and Learning

globe-like sphere breaking apart

Here in the US, we are getting ready for Thanksgiving, and for many families this may be their first time gathering together indoors in as long as two years.

It feels joyful to anticipate such an event (and also stressful, and also potentially sad).

Some people don’t have families to go to. Some are too far from home to travel. Some are not on good terms with family members, or need to keep playing it safe and stay away from people.

And then there are all those empty places at far too many tables, where those lost to the pandemic should have been.

The planet has been through a collective trauma and is still going through it.

Community, connection, thankfulness are among our most important tools in dealing with trauma, but how does that work when EVERYONE has been traumatized, to some degree, and when the systems that support our lives are continuing to experience severe and prolonged stress?

How does trauma relate to teaching and learning?

Trauma is caused by extreme situations that affect us deeply and for which we are not able to adequately prepare.

A car crash or house fire that are traumatic to the driver or residents, are just part a normal days’ work to the police or fire crews that respond to the scene.

One of the many differences in how the driver or homeowner experiences such an event, as compared to professionals who handle these types of situations every day, is that the professionals have extensive training in how to respond.


One way to define learning is to see it as a process of adapting to one’s environment in ways that promote survival. 

Because traumas threaten our survival, they are powerful teachers, for both good and ill.

Trauma teaches at a biochemical level that can leave an imprint on the body that lasts for multiple generations.

That makes sense.

A biochemical marker passed down to future generations could provide crucial seconds of advanced alarm and alert, 

allowing time to escape from a harmful situation or predator. 

What does all this mean for us

 as online teachers and online learners

  • As we start to emerge from this collective trauma, it’s important that we be patient and understanding.
  •  Be extra nice to yourself, your clients and students, and everyone around you.
  • Everyone is under a tremendous amount of stress right now.
  • We’ve all been under pressure to adapt to extreme, unpredictable, and constantly changing conditions, for a long period of time.


We need to recognize that

we really HAVE been exposed to

 an ongoing global trauma.

When in the midst of dealing with extreme situations, an adaptive response is to simply push on through and deal with it.

We go into coping mode. Noticing how we feel is a luxury we can’t afford. 

When things calm down enough for us to begin to come out of this coping mode and return to what feel like more normal activities (such as, say, a family holiday gathering), we may not realize that the world we think we are returning to is not the same world we left behind.

Planet earth with a large crack.

We may try to do the same things we’ve always done, and notice that it doesn’t work anymore. 

We’ve forgotten the intricate steps that keep the dance of interaction with other human beings in a shared physical space, moving smoothly.

 Little things may take on  significance beyond their literal meaning. 

Snapping that family photo, raising one’s glass to make a toast, who gets to say the blessing, who sits next to whom… these may assume a weight and meaning greater than they had before... so that if one accidentally gets left out of the photo, or misses the toast, or is seated at the far end of the table, it becomes a big deal, or even leads to a fight.

 (Don’t ask me how I know these things, lol).

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Those of us in the online course creation space are among the luckiest people on the planet, in these challenging times, I feel.

 The pandemic has pushed business towards us, rather than taken it away.

If people were not convinced of the importance of online learning before the pandemic, they certainly are now.

We have important and meaningful work to do, and we have the ability and tools to make a significant positive difference in the world.

Working online keeps us safe and out of harm’s way.

Afro-caribbean woman working from home during the Covid lockdown

And yet, as we return to the beginnings of what hopefully will someday be a much more normal way of life, 

we too are subject to the impact of collective trauma,

and precisely BECAUSE we’ve been so lucky and protected by the nature of our work, we may not realize that.

It’s only when starting to return to a more normal way of life, that the pain of all that’s been lost, changed,

or missed over the past 2 years,

 begins to sink in.

My message in this blog post is to be prepared for that.

I wasn’t. I went to a family gathering that we hadn’t been able to have for two years, and little tiny things (Was the salad ready? Who got included in the toast? Who got to snap a picture with whom, first?) took on a huge significance.

If you don’t realize this can happen, you and your loved ones may mistakenly think you are having a fight with each other, about what’s happening now. You’re not. 

You are having a fight with the pandemic, and with the two years of family gatherings you lost, and with being overwhelmed by the enormity of everyday things:

  • The power of connection.
  • The ability to sit with your own relatives and friends.
  • The ability to trust the continuity and safety of the world beyond your screen.

It’s not yet clear, and won’t be for some time, exactly what lessons the pandemic has taught us. 

What is clear is that trauma produces an extreme kind of learning which is often not applicable to non-traumatic situations (PTSD is an example of that).

Like soldiers returning from war, or prisoners getting out of jail, we have to relearn how to function in less traumatic conditions.

Hispanic couple having barbeque battle

My message for all of us is simply: be kind.

Be extra patient with yourself and your loved ones.

Be prepared for little things to take on much more meaning than you thought they would.

Don’t get into a fight with your family because the salad wasn’t ready, or someone sat next to someone else instead of you.

 Or if you do get into a fight about such things (because sometimes we do), look beyond the surface to understand why none of us is acting quite normal these days.

It’s not you. It’s not them. It’s the pandemic.

As we climb out of the (metaphorical) bunkers we’ve been living in, the (metaphorical) light may hurt our eyes at first. We have to learn how to adapt and re-acclimatize to a new reality... and we don’t even know what that new reality is going to be yet.

walk way and hand holder beside forward to the light exit or light of hope.

The good thing is, we are all in this together. 

And as online teachers it is our job to lead the way in helping our students, clients, and communities adjust to whatever is coming next.

red wound heart with bandage on white background

Trauma can’t always be avoided. Pandemics seem to be a natural part of life for biological beings like us.

 Forest fires happen.

 Lightning sometimes does strike twice.

But if we can learn to recognize when we and others around us HAVE been traumatized, we can adopt some first aid measures to take care of ourselves. 

Kindness and understanding are the most important tools to have in our emotional first aid tool kits.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for you... for this wonderful community of mission-driven, service-oriented experts who have worked so hard to create ways to help the people you serve learn and get smarter.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you. Thank you for all you do.

Thank You Word Cloud On Wall

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

The current pandemic and learning

Social distancing, keep distance in public society people to protect from COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak spreading concept, businessman, woman keep distance away by drawing circle with virus pathogens

At the most fundamental, biological, level, learning is the process of adapting to one's environment in ways that promote survival. 

Which means that all of humanity is currently facing a learning task of tremendous proportions.

One of the things I've heard most often during the past week, is that we can't know how to adapt, because we are dealing with an unprecedented situation that has many unknown factors. As a society, we have no prior knowledge of how to deal with this pandemic.

In our community discussion last Saturday, we came to the realization that while we don't have the answers, we do have an important question:


What is the most helpful MINDSET we can adopt,

 as individuals and as communities,

to cope with the tremendous learning challenge we all now face?

We decided that this coming Saturday,

we will use the format and structure of a mindset change course to guide our discussion of these issues.

Following the format of a mindset-change course, here's what we will discuss:

Orange Colored Pencil Standing Out From The Crowd
  • What  unhelpful or ineffective attitudes and behaviors have contributed to the current crisis?
  • What attitudes and behaviors will be more helpful and effective, going forward?
  • What is our personal and collective motivation for adopting the helpful attitudes we discover?
  • Can we find some role models of successful adaptation to a crisis of these proportions?
  • How can we  provide each other with long term ongoing support to reinforce the helpful attitudes we discover?


Come join the discussion on Saturday. 

I'll limit it to two hours

(if we need more time, we can continue the following week).

Learn how to set up a mindset change course by creating one together as a community.

Let's brainstorm and create synergy as we focus on discovering helpful, effective ways to contribute to positive change in the face of this crisis. 

I can't think of  a deeper, or more relevant, definition of "learning" than that. Hope to see you at the meeting!

 Saturday April 4, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Register here to receive the meeting link and password.