Truly transformational learning often happens offline, in person, and in small groups. People have an opportunity to spend time together in community and experience new ways of being together. The idea behind Sutra revolves around delivering this kind of experience online. This guide will walk you through the basics of creating your own online experiences that involve meaningful connection and communication with scalable small groups.
Transformational learning requires deep engagement and reflection – part of it is the overall experience, part of it is the content that you provide, and part of it is the content inside the learner. It’s easy to throw some material up on a website and call that a course. It’s hard for that material to have a lasting impact on people’s lives.
The most important part of a meaningful online learning experience is how it supports a reflective process on the part of the learner.
Whereas in an offline workshop you might have someone’s undivided attention for an entire weekend, online you’re lucky if you get a few hours a week. People are busy, and even the best intentioned learner will find it difficult to stay consistently engaged over time.
A key component of a transformational experience online is the container that is created for the interaction. Learners need to feel comfortable opening up. If you are running a multi week course, the most important part of that course is the first week. This is where you establish the group agreements, share expectations, and set the tone and precedent for how the course will progress. If you don’t get it right the first week, it’s unlikely to get better.
Get specific. How many posts do you expect people to submit each week? Do you expect people to reply to each other? Why? Make it clear why it’s important for the group to communicate with each other and help them understand the tone of that communication.
During the first week you want to have an opening call and get momentum going in the online discussion space. First week assignments should revolve around sharing introductions and intentions. Invite people to reflect on each other’s posts and be active in your own participation. Give assignments that everyone can complete and feel good about.
Your first call should aim to create a safe space where people can be vulnerable. Think about approaches that invite participants to open up with a personal story about why they are here. This is a space for the group experience to occur. By sharing and opening up in meaningful ways, the group opens up to learning at a much deeper level.
If your course revolves around sharing, you should also take the time to teach people how to hold space and listen. This is the heart of a transformational learning experience and you shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone knows how to listen without shifting into “advice giving” mode.
Depending on how many people have registered for your course, you might consider breaking up into small groups. You can still run a video call with everyone on one call. But the Sutra discussion space will be better suited for deeper conversations if groups are between 5 and 10 people per group. You want a number that is small enough that each person has a chance to speak and each person can become familiar with everyone else in their group. When group sizes get too large, that intimacy is lost and the conversational container is not the same.
Weekly video calls are a great way to establish deeper connections between people over time. If you have a large group, you might consider running breakout groups during your call so that everybody has a chance to speak. When you run calls, it’s important that you create space for people to speak. Remember, if you just want to lecture, you can deliver that as a video in the course itself. There’s no reason for everybody to get on a video call together to hear you lecture. This is an opportunity for your students to speak and ask questions.
Try to use the weekly video calls to give your learners an opportunity to share. If you do plan to run breakout groups or self organized calls, we highly recommend giving participants some sort of template for their interaction. Without this, the level of conversation tends to remain shallow. Consider something like the Presencing Institute’s Case Clinic template which has been a big inspiration for us in designing group experiences on Sutra.
One of the biggest challenges with group calls is scheduling. If you’re running a multi-week course, remember to schedule all your calls in advance and let people know about the schedule before they register. You might consider making the calls mandatory and requesting that people not register if they cannot commit to the call schedule. While this may seem assertive, it’s important to remember that online cohesion is a fickle friend. Active groups thrive on consistency, commitment, and engagement and a few bad apples can ruin the whole batch. When a certain threshold of people don’t participate, this adversely affects the participation of everyone else. It sets a negative precedent for group participation.
One way to optimize for group engagement is to run participants through a solo process first. If they demonstrate a commitment to going through a one or two hour introductory learning process, then they are more likely to participate in the group process. This also creates a common link between each participant and ensures that everyone has gone through a similar initiatory process. The Sutra course creation course is an example of a simple solo learning experience on Sutra: https://coursecreation.sutra.co
GETTING SET UP ON SUTRA
A well run online experience is part technology, part content, and part process. Our work at Sutra is to help you optimize all three parameters.
A good way to think about learning experiences is that there is the textbook, there is the classroom, and there is the conversation. Sutra provides the software to host your content (the textbook) and your classroom (the online discussion space), and offers you best practices to run both text and video based conversations.
A Sutra “circle” provides a space to host all your learning materials, discussions, and learners in one place. A circle consists of a discussion space, a resource space, and a notes space. A circle can also contain other circles, so you can use to it organize different topics or cohorts of people.
The discussion is the entry point for the circle and the first thing the participant sees when they enter your course. This is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to group engagement and Sutra makes it easy for you to have an active conversational experience that builds over time. The circle discussion gives people an asynchronous space to stay in touch, go deep, and feel supported.
With in person small group interactions, it is often helpful to give people some form of structure for their engagement. This can include something like the Presencing Institute’s Case Clinic process mentioned earlier. This is usually a type of interaction template that makes it clear how people should interact in a one or two hour time span.
One of Sutra’s most powerful features is called a structure. Structures allow you to create a script that can deliver a sequence of posts into the discussion space. This allows you to automate the foundation of your conversational experience so that you can run it across multiple groups over time. The Sutra course creation course is an example of a simple structure designed for a one person circle: https://coursecreation.sutra.co
Resources on Sutra can serve as both a textbook and a knowledge base. If you’re running a training program where you want to dynamically update the content or even have your participants update the material, then you can use resources as a knowledge base.
If you’re running a group or solo learning experience on Sutra, then you would use the resources like a textbook. Resources let you organize content by topics, which can have subpages. You can publish topics as the course progresses. For example, you could have a topic called “Week 1”, with all your material for the week under that topic. Or you could have a topic called “The Elements of Meditation”, and have all your relevant material under that. You can add text, video, and images to deliver rich learning experiences.
Notes are one of the most unique features on Sutra and they’re a powerful way to make the most of your conversation. Active conversations get long over time. Often people share deep insights but after a while those are lost in a long stream of conversation. How do you capture that and make the most of the group’s wisdom and collective understanding?
Sutra lets you collaboratively “note” a message. When you note something you can edit and annotate the message, so if someone shared something really long but you just want to highlight a few sentences, you can do that. And you can add a label to the note. This lets you (and everybody in the conversation) retroactively organize the flow of discussion. You can even capture these notes and process them into resources. This offers an efficient mechanism to capture group insights and potentially make them part of future versions of the group.
If you want to get started creating a learning experience on Sutra, we recommend you enroll in our free Sutra course creation course. The experience should take you less than an hour and will introduce you to all the basics you need to create your own learning experience.
Below you will find a summarized checklist of things to consider when creating your own transformational learning experience.
Enroll here: https://coursecreation.sutra.co