~ by Anchen Texter, DEI Trainer & Consultant
Comfort and safety are feelings you might not associate with online courses, but these two values are at the core of empathic course design.
Every day, our bodies shift from the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and replenish) to the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and back again as we go from home to work, or from a relaxing situation to a stressful one. When we feel comfortable and safe, we’re engaging the parasympathetic system that allows for digestion, relaxation, and rejuvenation. This state is ideal for learning new things, especially ideas that challenge our beliefs, because we have the time and space to compare and contrast the old ideas versus the new ones.
When we’re in the sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, our bodies are concerned with survival, and not new ideas. We revert to automatic actions and established thought pathways that don’t leave room for receiving new information or examining old ideas.
You can employ your parasympathetic system to benefit learning by making sure that you feel safe and comfortable before attending to online coursework. That might mean turning off your phone, closing the door, having a snack or water available, or curling up in your favorite chair. When you feel comfortable, then you’ll be able to focus and get the most from your coursework.
When I began creating the Befriending series, I knew it was as important to create courses that felt comfortable and safe to engage with as it was to present valuable information in a variety of ways.
These Befriending series of courses are designed so that you can go at your own pace through the units each week, and use the forum as a place to ask questions that may come up in the curriculum. The weekly live webinars (Zooms) are also a place to ask questions and go deeper into the material through facilitated experiential practices.
To ensure that as many students as possible can attend the live Zooms, a poll is sent out to all students the week before the course starts to find the most agreeable time for all. If it turns out that a student cannot or doesn’t want to attend the live sessions, they are recorded and posted in the forum by the next day so that student can still participate in their own time and way. Students can also send in questions for discussion on the Zoom if they won’t be there in person.
The curriculum is delivered in a variety of ways: visually in written word, pdf’s, personal journaling invitations, and the forum; in auditory recordings of practices and in the live webinars; and in the kinesthetic movement of trying out the practices we learn in the course and on the live webinars.
If a student doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their video with everyone on the Zooms, they can turn off their video. If they don’t have a camera, there’s an option to call in from a phone. If someone has a question they’d like to keep private, they can send a personal message to the instructor.
These online courses are designed so that students can be in a place of comfort and safety while doing the life-changing work of learning about emotions and practicing emotion regulation techniques.
Learn more about Anchen’s online courses at Empathy Academy.