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Expanding horizons: Encountering the sacred in online learning

, Union Institute and University, United States

Union Institute and University . Awarded


This interpretive study examines understandings of Sacred experience in the context of online learning in higher education.

Formal and informal online learning is revolutionising education. Meantime, whether or not we as individuals actively seek the Sacred in our lives, humanity continues its age-old search for meaning. In turn, educational literature is addressing spirituality and the Sacred.

This interdisciplinary study is grounded in the expanse of horizon of the prairie-parkland of Western Canada, and moves to the expanding horizons of encountering the Sacred in cyberspace. It examines the integration of spirituality, philosophy, feminist thought, community, distance learning, and educational technology, through the guiding question: "How do I understand encounters with the Sacred in online learning?"

In-depth semi-structured interviews were carried out with four persons of faith who are deeply committed to the possibilities of online learning. The texts of the interviews were interpreted from a Gadamerian-hermeneutical perspective.

The following major issues were identified. The Sacred and Wisdom are experienced in many forms. We meet the Sacred in the in-between places where we create space for transformation to occur. Context and place, and the creation and sustenance of community, are significant in online learning. Patterning or the repetition of ritual, and uncertainty and surprise all contribute to experiences of the Sacred. An appreciation of the aesthetic and an experience of embodiment contribute to the richness of online learning.

As a result of this study, further research is recommended to determine: (1) how continuous, critical discourse is maintained in online community. (2) how embodied learning and identity(ies) are experienced through learning online, while holding ourselves present to the Sacred and to community. (3) how understandings of embodiment, place and space are evolving as we explore the horizons of cyberspace. (4) how diverse understandings of the Sacred, pedagogy, and community influence each other and the experiences and outcomes of online learning.

This study will be of significance to course designers and facilitators who desire a holistic pedagogy in online courses, and those interested in the interdisciplinary study of spirituality and technology.


Barnsley, C.F. Expanding horizons: Encountering the sacred in online learning. Ph.D. thesis, Union Institute and University. Retrieved June 19, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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