Learning for Regeneration in the Time of Corona
A collection of online classes for increasing self-understanding and sense-making for these complex times
“We are being shaped by vast and complex forces into becoming new kinds of people. We are in a situation to choose between profoundly differing images of ourselves — as gods of generosity, knowledge, and care, or as devils of greed, ignorance, and spite...Alone together, with imaginations tortured by uncertainty, we must remake ourselves as spiritual, scientific, and ethical beings. At a certain point, humility about what can be known and done dawns on us, and a great learning process begins. Until then there is no way forward; we must let go of yesterday’s frameworks in order to be ready for tomorrow. This crisis can be characterised in many ways, but it cannot be stressed strongly enough that we are in an abrupt educational crisis of a particular kind.” — Zachary Stein
In these times between worlds, I have been on the search of new sources of strength and renewal. There is no going back to “normal” because nothing prior to the pandemic was really normal. As Zachary Stein eloquently explains, we need to remake ourselves as “spiritual, scientific and ethical beings” and emerge from the current crisis to remake our new world with values that support the flourishing of all life.
What I think this requires of us is to (i) hone our sense of self-understanding and (ii) sharpen our external sense-making skills, then (iii) apply ethical frameworks and discernment to identify of the goals to aspire for and the actions that are needed to get there, and finally (iv) equip ourselves with the tools to collectively organize to undertake such actions. I do not think these steps are best pursued in sequence, bur rather as simultaneous, parallel inquiries that evolve and mature through cross-pollination and mutual feedback.
With the foregoing in mind, the following is a collection of online classes that I am currently aware of at the time of writing. This is a living list and I intend to update this as I become aware of additional offerings. I welcome suggestions in the comments section. This list is in no particular order, but as it grows, it may warrant some categorization and reorganization.
So here we go:
- Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time (Apr 6 to May 31; up to $200) — This course led by Shaun Chamberlin and Philip Ackerman-Leist is inspired by the work of the late David Fleming, whose magnus opus Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It consists of four hundred and four interlinked dictionary entries covering varied themes including ethics, science, relationships, culture, policy, art and history. This inspired Charmberlin, Fleming’s long-time collaborator, to select and edit from that volume a more accessible narrative in the form of Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy, which is excellent and sits proudly on my bookshelf. The thrust of this course is to help participants foster community and learn from the works of Fleming his cultural vision for how the human species might respond to the current convergence of multiple global crises that he has called “the Climacteric.”
- Emergence Magazine Community Offerings (ongoing; free) — Emergence Magazine is a sacred publication, currently my favorite multi-media platform on the nexus of ecology, spirituality and society. Their long-form essays are incredible and I was hooked ever since I read Magic and the Machine by David Abram. To complement their long-form essays and multi-media projects. EM is now hosting a variety of new online programs with their staff and contributors, “aimed at providing a space where we can connect through the power of story and reflect on the deeper themes emerging at this time.” The free online sessions include: a monthly book club featuring works by contributors (currently Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass); conversations with with EM writers and filmmakers; a bi-weekly Nature Writing Course; and a four-part facilitated workshop on the theme of vulnerability.
- Earth Regenerators Study Group with Joe Brewer (ongoing; donations) — This study group for “restoring planetary health and avoiding human extinction” is run by Joe Brewer of the Design Institute for Regenerating Earth. Joe’s writings (many on Medium) have been a big inspiration for me since the mid 2010’s when I first chanced upon them, putting to words the invisible forces of late-stage capitalism that I was then only able to intuitively grasp but not necessarily articulate. The course consists of biweekly live webinars and Q&A (90 to 120 min long), online discussion forums and supplementary reading, including chapter releases to Joe’s book-in-making. The next webinar on April 11 is on a prototype for an Earth Regeneration Fund. Past webinars include topics on the role of cultural revolution; land ownership and indigenous wisdom; education and bioregionalism; and human cooperation.
- Ecology, Democracy, Utopia: Introduction to Social Ecology (Apr 13 to Jun 7; $40 to $80) — Hosted by the Institute for Social Ecology, which was founded by the radial ecological political thinker Murray Bookchin, the course introduces students to social ecology — an interdisciplinary body of ideas that examines social and ecological issues from a transformative and holistic perspective. Participants learn the foundations of social ecology and apply these insights to a variety of contemporary political and ecological problems, sharpening their understanding of the world while developing visionary ideas to change it. Through a combination of video lectures, readings, interactive forums, and weekly online discussion sessions, the course explores the following themes: What is Social Ecology?; Understanding Social Hierarchy and Domination; What is Nature?; Capitalism, Critique, Alternatives; Technology, Agriculture, and Society; Politics, Direct Democracy, and the State; From Protest to Social Transformation; and Reconstructive Vision: Reclaiming Utopia.
- Ecosystem Restoration Design (6 months starting May 15; £170 per module and £800 for full course) —Co-presented by Gaia Education, (which boasts the most comprehensive set of online course offerings for whole systems transformation that I have come across) and Ecosystem Restoration Camps. The Ecosystem Restoration Design course consists of five modules: restoring natural zones; restoring agricultural zones; restoring urban ecosystems; business models; and practical project. This looks like an important one to me. While the mainstream green movement (and accordingly green investment dollars) is narrowly focused on carbon emissions reductions, the vital importance of restoring our degraded and endangered ecosystems have, due to their higher level of complexity and messiness, has received insufficient attention. GE’s goals for this course is appropriately ambitious — “Our vision for this course is for it to help create a new tribe of ecosystem restoration practitioners and a catalog of restoration plans to restore patches of land all over the world.”
- Design for Sustainability (year-long; next module starts June 1; £167.50 per module and £1,300 for full course) — The flagship program by Gaia Education, this ambitious and comprehensive year-long program is like a masters for social transformation, consisting of the following five modules: Social Design, Ecological Design, Economic Design, Worldview, and Design Studio. The next module is the Worldview module starting on June 1. Here’s a teaser. The content for Design for Sustainability is based substantially on the work of Daniel Christian Wahl, who wrote and reviewed a significant portion of the curriculum and is the author of the already-classic Designing Regenerative Cultures, and has made all of the book (and a whole lot more) freely accessible in his writings on Medium.
- Think Resilience (self-paced; free to $20) — Think Resilience is an online course by Resilience.org, which is one of my favorite portals for insights and ruminations of our current civilizational predicament and how we need to respond. This course is designed “to help you start doing something about climate change and our other sustainability challenges — starting in your own community.” The self-directed version of the course consists of 22 video lessons (about four hours in total), supplemental reading material, additional resources, section quizzes, and a discussion forum where you can interact with other students. A Certificate of Course Completion is available for participants who pass the final quiz.
- Climate: Inside and Out (self-paced; donations) — the latest of a number of solid online courses that Charles Eisenstein offers on his portal for free, based on his latest book, Climate — A New Story, which I found a fantastic read. In particular, I found his denunciation of the mainstream environmental movement’s perpetuation of carbon reductionism and subscription to carbon fundamentalism (at the expense of whole systems ecological approaches) to right on point. I am confident that for those who think you know our climate science and policy inside and out, Charles will still have something fresh to offer. Charles’ previous other courses, such as Living in the Gift, Metaphysics and Mystery and Unlearning: For Change Agents, are also accessible on his website.
- #freepermaculture (various ongoing; free)— Permaculture is a set of agricultural design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. These principles have been applied in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience. #freepermaculture, founded by Heather Jo Flores, offers free online courses that will help you create ecological gardens and homesteads and connect with a global community of co-learners. The potential massive disruptions to our food supply chains posed by the pandemic underscore just how important community resilience and self-sufficiency in food will be.
- Master Gardener Short Course Series (self-directed; 12 courses, $45 per course) — Run by Oregon State University, there are a dozen course offerings, each taking an estimated 4–6 hours to complete, on topics such as botany, soil, entomology, pesticides, plant pathology, landscaping and more.
- Capra Course (starts July 12 or 12 weeks; $200 to $1,000)This is a good one that I have taken recently. Led by Fritjof Capra, one of giants in systems thinking and integration, Capra Course is based on his seminal textbook The Systems View of Life (coauthored with Pier Luigi Luisi), which is grand new synthesis of his life’s work — integrating the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life into one unified vision. In Dr. Capra’s own words, “This course is the realization of a dream I have had for many years.” The course consists of a combination of video lectures, online discussion forums and supplementary reading and videographic material, but I found the most valuable aspect to be the Capra Course Alumni Network that one joins automatically upon full completion of the course. Topcis covered: The Web of Life; Order and Complexity in the Living World; The Systems View of Evolution; Mind and Consciousness; Science and Spirituality; The Systems View of Health; Life, Mind, and Society; Life and Leadership in Organizations; The Ecological Dimension of Life; Systems Thinking and the State of the World; and Systemic Solutions.
- Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer (various ongoing; free)— SFI is the preeminent research institute on complex systems science. They run free online courses on their Complexity Explorer platform lead by the most cutting edge researchers and educators of their respective fields. This suited for the individual who really wants to roll up their sleeves in understand the technical concepts of complexity and systems science. Courses run throughout the year and archive past course offerings for general availability. Current courses include: Introduction to Complexity; Fractals and Scaling; and Introduction to Dynamical Systems an Chaos.
- U.Academy by Presencing Institute (various start dates; €320 to €1,550)— The Presencing Institute was founded in 2006 by MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer and colleagues in order to create an action research platform at the intersection of science, consciousness, and profound social and organizational change. Over the past two decades, they have developed Theory U as a change framework and led cross-sector leadership, change and innovation initiatives worldwide. U.Academy offers content that seeks to equip leaders, change-makers, teams, and organizations with the skill and tools to initiate and sustain transformational change building on the Theory U framework. Course offerings include Aware Practices in Leadership (Apr 9–29); Digital Leadersip: Activating and Holding Transformative Change(Apr 20–23); Social Presencing Theater: The Art of Making a True Move (Jun 5–7); and Presencing Foundation Program (June 9–11).
- Personal Evolution, Part 1: Cultivating Sovereignty, Part 2: Meeting the Shadow (various dates and membership rates) — Led by the Future Thinkers team, Part 1 supports you in developing more clarity about your direction and purpose in life, making better decisions, and having more agency to live your life on your own terms, while Part 2 focuses on helping you overcoming nihilism, self-sabotage, and compulsive behaviours, and unleashing your authentic energy, creativity, and wisdom to make meaningful progress towards actualizing your full potential.
- Trimtab Space Camp by Buckminster Fuller Institute (ongoing; $100 for non-members) — BFI has been running four-week online bootcamps to explore rapid prototyping, traditional ecological knowledge, biomimicry and other frameworks, using a present-day version of Fuller’s Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science, to help humanity survive the future. The first camp was held from January 15 to February 12, and the second one from March 17 to April 17. Perhaps a little late to join now, bit I’m keeping an eye on these guys in hopes they will hold future Space Camps!
- Ecology: From Cells to Gaia (starts Apr 5; free)— This course (designed for four weeks) on the Coursera platform led by Professor Roberto Cazzolla Gatti presents the principles of evolution and ecology, and will cover how organisms interact with each other and their environment, evolutionary processes, population dynamics, communities, energy flow and ecosystems, human influences on ecosystems, and the integration and scaling of ecological processes through systems ecology. This course will also review major ecological concepts, identify the techniques used by ecologists, provide an overview of local and global environmental issues, and examine individual, group and governmental activities important for protecting natural ecosystems.