Whoosh!

(This image from graffiti by Joff Jones located a few blocks away in my neighborhood.)

We’ve heard it all before.

This is going to ruin relationships, isolate people, damage your eyesight, and destroy your ability to remember.

What is the cause of this cruel crime against humanity? 

These dire warnings have all been issued by “experts” about smartphones, computers, and, originally, many centuries ago, about books and writing. And now people, including some of my Feldenkrais® colleagues, are saying the same things about online learning and videoconferencing, especially as relates to training teachers online. 

The naysayers are quick to tell us what is wrong with distance learning and to explain, at length, why online education does not and will not work. The problem is that this negativity runs against the experience of Feldenkrais teachers around the world who rose to the challenges and pivoted from teaching their classes and seeing their students for individual lessons in person to working online. 

The transition from in-person to online learning has not been easy but the fact is that some of us started to make the shift long before the pandemic hit. Whether we made the change because we could not find a venue for teaching classes or we wanted to make lessons available to those who could not come to us and whom we could not travel to, support trainees in the times between segments, coach or supervise colleagues who lived far away,  expand the reach of what we had to offer, or for a myriad of other reasons, we’ve been learning how to make this work. Along the way, we’ve faced the onslaught of criticism from those who were only too willing to say it would not work and to tell us that we should not even bother trying.  

All of us, whether we were new to distance learning or we had been using it for a while, have had to figure how to make this new medium work. That means we’ve been busy understanding the limits of communicating online, applying best practices from educators and facilitators, finding out how to modify the design of our curriculum, discovering what new possibilities e-learning affords, testing our ideas and innovations, listening to our students’ feedback, and learning how to improve the experience for all involved. 

Ignoring the history of our method — which started with Moshe Feldenkrais playing the recordings of lessons he taught and observing his students doing them in order to learn from and improve them — and the valiant efforts of teachers doing their best to meet the needs of their students in these difficult times, the naysayers have railed against the futility of teaching online, some of them going so far as to say that recorded Awareness Through Movement® lessons are a bad idea and to ridicule the idea of working with a student in the context of a guided online individual lesson or virtual FI®

The controversy is not simply about whether we can — or should — teach students online; it also encompasses whether it is possible to train teachers via distance learning. This is a crucial conversation, one involves many stakeholders — the international community of teachers, Feldenkrais trainers and assistant trainers, participants in training programs, and the four Feldenkrais Training Accreditation Boards — and that speaks to how we can continue to develop our profession at a time when we do not (and cannot) know how long the battle against the novel coronavirus will take and how it will impact us.

Having taught ATM® workshops, make-up segments, and postgraduate programs online for the past few years, I have been getting quite an education about the constraints and opportunities of teaching online. When the stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines were imposed, I decided to find out what it would be like to offer A TRAINING SEGMENT ONLINE (ATSO). As an experiment, I offered Feldenkrais teachers and trainees the world over the chance to do an eleven-day segment of the recently graduated Amsterdam 5 program via the internet. Not only did the course sell out but the participants were engaged and enthusiastic about learning in this way.

Granted, the ATSO participants were self-selected and there’s a difference between advanced training online and basic teacher training. That left open significant questions about starting a new training program online, about whether it is possible to teach movement observation or hands-on work — or supervise practicums — from afar, and so on. With training programs being prevented from meeting in person all over the planet, these were not abstract questions or academic arguments; they came in the context of the real-life concerns of trainees who wanted — and still want — to be able to continue or complete their professional development.

Back in March, when the German government imposed strict sheltering in place requirements, my colleague, friend, and fellow Feldenkrais trainer Patrick Gruner had to figure out what was going to happen with the six current teacher trainings he was in the midst of directing and administering. These programs were in various phases along the four-year trajectory of the training process; one of them was about to graduate. 

What to do?

Thankfully, Patrick rose to the occasion, faced the many technical and pedagogical challenges, and figured out how to offer his trainees continuity in their learning process. 

Given my long time interest in teaching online — and my admiration for Patrick’s teaching acumen and his technical abilities — I was curious to find out how it went, what had worked and what hadn’t, and what he’d learned . . . not just about teaching online in the near term, but also about how this would influence how he saw training programs changing in the future. Earlier this week, I interviewed Patrick to find out the answers to these, and other, questions.

What impressed me most about our discussion was Patrick’s commitment and ingenuity. I was struck by how determined he was to find answers to the obstacles he encountered. For instance, getting trainees to ask questions during in-person courses, let alone online — especially if they come from a strict institutional background — is anything but easy. 

The recordings of our conversations are available, so I will not be writing anything about how Herr Gruner handled this. Nor will I be telling you about what he had to say about the advantages of giving feedback to trainees about their filmed hands-on practicums or why he is going to be incorporating online learning into his future programs.

One thing is clear: the world has changed without warning and we have to adapt without knowing how — or for how long — COVID 19 will continue to impact our lives. Technology certainly is not the answer to every question and online teaching is never going to be the same as learning in the same room. What are the limitations? What’s possible? How can we make the best of these terrible circumstances?

To find out what’s possible, I invite you to check what Patrick has to say. I am pretty sure you will find it intriguing and I hope that it is also inspiring. You can listen to or watch our conversation by clicking on either of the links below:

You can then either click on Download to save the file to your computer, tablet, or phone or click on the Play button to stream the recording immediately to the Internet-enabled device of your choice.

There’s absolutely no charge to access these recordings. Mind in Motion Online makes them available as part of our commitment to fostering a community of practice for Feldenkrais trainees, teachers, tutor teachers, assistant trainers, and trainers. That being said, all of us on the MIM team are most grateful for any donation you can make to defray the costs of broadcasting, recording, and making the recordings available. You will be able to make a contribution on the pages where you access the recordings.

On alternate Monday mornings this summer, my former doctoral advisor, Gary Riccio, Ph.D., and I are conducting an online webinar called A feeling for gravity, in parallel with The Human Frame, the 2020 Awareness Through Movement® Summer Camp. 

In these conversations, we explore movement science, neurophysical learning, and the interplay between orientation, balance, and coordination that underpins Moshe’s methodology. The topics range from what we can learn from the results of sensory psychology experiments, from perspectives such as Ecological psychology and cybernetics, and, especially, from applying these abstract, academic notions to improving our personal lives and professional practices. 

Whether you are practicing body-based learning for yourself or with others, whether you are an experienced scientist or you lack a university background, you are invited to join us for the live Zoom meetings. This coming Monday, 20 July, we will be holding a kind of online academic seminar using one of the papers that Gary published in the 1980s, which we’ve made available online. We don’t require you to read it ahead of time but we do encourage it! During the webinar, we will welcome questions and make sure that there’s a chance for you and others to be part of the dialogue. Don’t worry if it is not possible to attend; we will let you know when the recordings are available.

  • To access the recordings of our past webinars, sign up for the upcoming ones, and get your copy of the paper, please sign in at MIMO (Mind in Motion Online) and then click here.
  • If you have yet to sign up for your free MIMO account, please click here.

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