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A Society of Learners

shambhala-online-ad-jShambhala Online Launches New Course Environment
by Dixie Good, Director of Shambhala Online

The number of miles between you and your local Shambhala center should not stand in the way of a full-fledged experience of the teachings.

Over the last few years, Shambhala Online (SO) has hosted hundreds of live, interactive teaching programs and talks. Using web conferencing — and, more recently, streaming video — senior teachers communicate in real time with people all around the global mandala. While live programs and events will always be a mainstay of Shambhala Online, a new way of connecting with Shambhala teachings is emerging. It’s got SOLE.

Shambhala Online Learning Environment (SOLE) offers a way for individuals and groups to participate in multi-week Way of Shambhala programs in the context of a dynamic learning community. High-quality video recordings of talks by a senior teacher form the backbone of each course. From there, participants engage in online discussions, do weekly assignments involving meditation practice and contemplation, meet with a partner for dyad (one-to-one) work, and respond to reflection prompts before proceeding to the next talk. The online courses are designed particularly for those who live far from a major center, or for groups with limited access to teachers. Anyone fortunate enough to have a computer and an internet connection can make this work: the number of miles between a person and the local Shambhala center should not stand in the way of a full-fledged experience of the teachings.

Acharya Adam Lobel introduces the Basic Goodness series in this 9-minute video.

The View: Uncovering Wisdom Together
Two of the biggest challenges in online learning are, 1) engaging the learner to participate actively; and 2) creating a sense of community and cohesion among participants. Too many online courses encourage passive learning: a “sit and get” experience that assumes the learner is an empty, isolated vessel waiting to be filled with expert knowledge. In Shambhala, humans are seen to possess innate wisdom, wisdom that is discovered, or uncovered, along the path through study, practice and interactions with others. Learning is a social activity, say the social constructivists and neuroscientists. We learn best from and with each other. Expressing and exploring our understanding in conversation with others deepens the learning. The Way of Shambhala curriculum brilliantly incorporates the latest research about how humans learn, with its emphasis on dialogue, discussion, dyads and reflection. How then, can we create these experiences among a scattering of online learners?

Screenshot 2013-12-03 02.01.36The Path: Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning
People find their way to Shambhala Online through many paths, for different reasons, but all share common ground — that spark of inquisitiveness, and the desire to connect with one’s true nature and with each other. With participants in both hemispheres and many continents, the key is to synchronize the learning enough to create a community of learners, rather than scores of individuals walking the path alone. That’s why SO course sessions have a well-defined beginning and ending; a six-week course must be completed within eight weeks. Ideally, participants move through the modules at the same pace, more or less, making for richer discussions and more shared experience. Two facilitators communicate with participants, encourage common pacing, and help people find dyad partners. Participants are expected to connect with each other via discussion forums and dyads each week. The teacher offers a live session to bring everyone together, turn on the webcams and explore the topics in real time.

The Fruition: Creating Enlightened Digital Society
Yes, it’s ambitious. As lofty and impossible as it seems, enlightened digital society is arising already. It only takes two people communicating genuinely to create enlightened society. In mid-November 2013, SO launched its new learning environment with “Who Am I? The Basic Goodness of Being Human,” the first course in the Basic Goodness series, featuring talks by Kalapa Acharya Adam Lobel. Included in this digital community are small groups and a group of 25 from Sonora in Northern California; individuals from Alaska and Arizona, Poland, Iran and Brazil — even Canada!

Participants from the robust Sonora group in Northern California gather for the online talk.

Participants from the robust Sonora group in Northern California gather to view and discuss the online talk.

Here are three recent posts involving six course participants that speak to, and about, this society.

“You make a good point about the importance of joining a sangha. The online format is a great opportunity for those of us with a desire to join a sangha but [have] other constraints that have limited our options in the past. It is great to be a part of a community that spans such a vast distance.”

And from a separate exchange…
“I can relate to the apprehension – since beginning the Shambhala path, I have encountered much more fear than I ever thought I could tolerate. Sometimes it amazes me that I continue on! It is a challenging and meaningful exploration so far – and it helps quite a lot to have the support of people like all of us working together.”

And finally…
“I just wanted to say I know what it is like to lose touch with my heart and deepest intentions. In my experience being steeped in the Shambhala teachings in the context of a supportive community, even if a virtual one, can be incredibly supportive.”

As the Sakyong writes in The Shambhala Principle (p. 147), “two humans touching their goodness, feeling vulnerable yet powerful, and unafraid to share it” create enlightened society. It’s happening now – so common, so precious, so human, so good. May we all continue to connect with the many beings, near and far, along the way.

Who Am I? The Basic Goodness of Being Human and Contentment in Everyday Life are currently offered via ShambhalaOnline.org. The full Way of Shambhala curriculum, including the Basic Goodness series and the In Everyday Life series, will be available by spring 2014. For more information, visit ShambhalaOnline.org

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Dixie-GoodDixie Good spent 15 years helping education organizations embrace technologies for learning. She earned an M.S. in Future Studies and enjoys learning, learners and learning organizations. She is Director of Shambhala Online.

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