Podcast 188: What You Should Know About Choosing An Online Herb School
All herb schools are different, in their focus and their style. When you’re choosing an online herb school, whether for a short course or a long program, here are some key questions to consider:
- How can you ask questions to the teachers & admins?
- Is there a free course you can take first?
- What’s the teaching method (text, audio, recorded video, live sessions, etc), & does it match your learning style?
- How are the teachers accessible – what kind of contact do you get with them?
- Do you get to keep the materials when the course ends?
- How many ‘hours’ is the course, and how are those hours counted?
- Is there a student community you can participate in, and how does it work?
- Will you be “certified” on completion? (Beware: this is a trick question!)
- How will this fit in to your learning spiral: is this brand new material, or a new view on something you’ve learned before? (Learning herbalism is not a single linear path.)
These answers will be different for every school, and there’s no one “right” answer! It all depends on how you prefer to learn and engage with your teachers. Knowing to ask these questions in advance will help you make better-informed comparisons between different offerings, and find the ones that work best for you.
As you may know, we teach herbalism online! We hope that if you’re choosing an online herb school, you’ll consider ours. When you sign up for any of our courses – including our FREE Herbal Study Tips and Four Keys to Holistic Herbalism courses – you get access to twice-a-week live Q&A sessions, integrated discussion threads on every lesson, and a vibrant student community. Our courses are centered on video lessons you can watch at your own pace, and once you’ve bought a course you retain access to it (and any future updates!), forever.
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. Also just for the record, Elsie dog is here. Gloria kitten is here with us.
he’s not really a kitten anymore. We just call her that. She’s actually like 10 years old.
She’s the oldest cat in the house, but she’s always been super tiny. So, she’s Gloria kitten to me forever.
Yeah, it’s true.
But they’re here with us. They’re silent partners of the podcast, so…
Yes. Furry friends of the pod.
Yeah. Today’s topic. We are once again taking a brief intermission in our herbs A to Z series. And today we’re going to be talking about an online herb school.
Yeah. This is something that we get a lot of questions about. And like the larger we also. Like we, as an herb school, people write to us and say oh, how should I make my choices? But also, we know that this is a problem for everybody. It’s a challenge. It’s hard to kind of find the place where you’re going to fit when it is a virtual place. So, we want to talk about ways to make that process easier.
Yeah. So, you know, for transparency purposes right up front, we do run an online herb school.
And it’s really good.
We think it’s pretty good, you know.
We work really hard to make it really good.
Yeah. So, you know, we have our opinions about what’s important and what matters. And a lot of this is going to be us presenting those to you and giving you our thoughts about them. And but this isn’t all like an advertisement for us. There are lots of herb schools now. And not everybody’s looking for the same things from their online herb school experience.
And not everybody has the same learning style. So the same program is just not going to fit every single learner, no matter how great it is. And there are a lot of really great programs out there. So, we have sort of nine points here that we’re going to go through, that are based on things that you need to find out to make sure that the program you’re considering is going to be right for you. The answers about whether or not it’s right for you will be different for every person, because everybody learns a little differently and has a different style. But if you get this information ahead of time, it’s going to help you make a better decision.
Yeah. So just for completion, we’re going to give you our reclaimer here and remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalist and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean that you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean that your current state of health is somehow your fault. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.
Yeah. All right. So listen, it can be hard to choose an herb school. This has always been true, even when your options were limited by geography.
Right. Even when the only option was like an in person program. And hopefully there was some program that was within driving distance of you. And it was usually like some kind of weekend once a month kind of gig.
Sure. Or correspondence courses through the mail. So lots of models have existed for herb school over the years. But online herb schools are in the world now, let us tell you.
How Do I Get My Questions Answered?
Yeah. And they all have websites. But listen, not everybody is trained to build a website. It’s not like a super intuitive thing necessarily. And so sometimes the information that you want to be able to make your choice isn’t on the website. And that’s not necessarily… It’s just like well, everybody at the school is busy. And they tried to put the stuff they thought was most important onto the website. It might not be the stuff that answers the questions that you have. And you know what, that leads us right off into our first tip here, which is ask a lot of questions, a lot of questions. You are looking to learn something, right? And so you need to feel comfortable being able to ask questions. Today someone wrote asking for information. And they finished the email saying I’m sorry for asking so many questions. And I was like no way. Ask them all. Ask so many questions. Because one of the most important things as you learn is getting answers to your questions. And if you’re just going to have a very one way relationship with the material. They’re just going to give it to you, and that’s sort of like the end of the story. There’s no one for you to talk to about what you’re learning or how you might apply that to your specific situation. Then that might not work for you. So, make sure that you can have that kind of a conversation, and that it’s comfortable, and friendly, and complete, and thorough right off the bat before you give anybody any money, right?
Yeah. Right. You know, if we kind of imagine the in-person model of a school. And you could imagine there like going to visit, to drop in on an open house or something like that. To meet people who’ve gone there and see what their impressions were having gone through that program. So, that same kind of thing you can ask about. You can say like okay, well who are the teachers here? What are the things you’re most interested in? Are there folks who’ve taken this program already that have made comments. Or are there reviews that I can read or other things like that. And again, some of this might be just readily available right up front on a program’s website or something. But it’s also okay and encouraged to ask that kind of thing.
And honestly, even if you’re looking at their website. And you’re like oh, I kind of don’t really have any questions. My advice is make some questions up. Just come up with a question that is… Like I don’t mean disrespectfully make questions up. But come up with a question about like I’m interested in your approach to herbalism. Do you focus on clinical skills or do you focus on gardening skills. I don’t know. Anything that you can think of just for the experience of asking a question and seeing what that process is like.
Yeah. Not necessarily a good place to be like hey, here’s my health history. And do you have any good herbs for hypertension in an elderly person? Like that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about questions particular to the learning experience, the materials available, contact time with instructors. And some other things that I think will probably become clearer to you as we go through the rest of our suggestions here for choosing your school. Yeah.
Yeah. But at any rate don’t ever feel inhibited about asking questions. And if you do ask questions, and you’re made to feel bad about that or any of those things. Then that is a sign for you that that might not be the place for you. You should receive enthusiastic replies to your questions, that are also really helpful and easy for you to understand the answers.
Can I Test a Course Out First?
Yeah. if you were looking at several different schools, you could even write the same questions to each of them. And get their answers and see how they compare directly. So, that’s all a great place to start. Another big suggestion. Number two is enroll in a free course, or a free class, or get some material that’s going to be like the rest of the material from this program, right? So, if that’s like a sample recording of some of their instruction. If that’s some written material that exemplifies the kind of stuff that you would be getting access to in there. That kind of stuff.
Yeah. If you’re considering an online program that doesn’t offer any kind of free course at all, honestly, just cross that school right off your list. I mean unless there’s some really good reason. But online schools are all so different, that you really need to find out if you feel comfortable with the teaching style, the presentation style, the personality of the instructors, the system within which you’ll be learning. And here I mean both the herbal system – like is it Western herbalism? Is it traditional Chinese medicine? Is it Ayurveda? – but also specifically here the technology that that school uses to present material. Because again, everybody has different learning styles. And so you want to make sure that the technology that the school is using to present information feels comfortable for you and easy for you to navigate.
Yeah. And actually like literally accessible. I mean we’ve had a couple of students who were like hey, I’d love to take your course, but I really just don’t have reliable internet access. And we’ve tried to negotiate ways to get them some material. But it’s not exactly the best fit for a system that’s kind of built around video streaming.
Right. In our particular case, one way that we manage that problem is that we do have audio files of all of the videos. And the audio files are downloadable. So, you can still get all the content. But if you really needed to see the step by step stuff or whatever, and you lived in a place that it was really hard to get reliable internet, then that might not be the best method for you.
Yeah. So, you know again, just these kind of practical considerations about how is this learning experience actually going to be delivered to me? Can my computer handle it?
Yeah. Or like is it just a giant PDF that I’m going to scroll through? For some people that’s going to be really comforting, because they like to read a lot. But for other people maybe it’s not comfortable to stare at the screen for a really long time. And you would rather lay down on the floor, or stretch, or knit, or something and listen to your lesson. Just everybody has a different style. So, you just want to make sure that however, whatever technology is in place to get you the material is going to work for you.
Yeah. And that’ll often involve some kind of online system, where there may be text lessons. There may be audio. There may be other things that you kind of progress through. Or it might be a setup, where there’s going to be live call ins. A lot of them are on zoom now. Some folks use other platforms for that. But during your free course or your free class experience, you want to really test out all the pieces, right? Try out every part of the interface to make sure that you like it, and that it has the things that you’re looking for. It’s a really good idea to ask some herbalism questions about the material that’s presented in there. And you’re interested in what the answers are. And whether they answer your question well, and make sense to you, and are helpful in all of that. But also what’s the turnaround time, you know?
Yeah. Does it take a really long time to get an answer back? Do you feel like you’re sending a question into a black hole. You need to know that the pace of the answers meets your expectation for that.
Yeah. And, you know, be reasonable, please.
Yeah. But you know, for us we try. And we’re really very successful, unless there’s like a holiday or something, to respond to written questions within a day. And, you know, maybe not within an hour, but within a day. And so, you know, I think that’s a pretty decent turnaround time. And for some people they might not be able to turn things around that fast, but it might be fast enough for you. So, that’s totally fine.
Right. It’s also good to know am I going to be able to have a conversation, something ongoing, like follow up questions. Whether that’s asynchronous. Like there’s a discussion thread attached to the lesson, or there’s a community board where you can post questions and get responses from the teachers or even other students. But to know that it’s not only going to be like I send my questions off to someone, and then maybe they get addressed in a Q & A session that I might attend.
Or I might not be able to attend.
So, in our school we have a bunch of free courses. And even our free courses give you complete access to our live twice a week Q & A sessions. And so if you are taking any of our free courses, you can ask questions in the discussion threads. You get complete access to our community groups., You get access to our live Q & A, so that you can ask us questions personally, right there in person. And the entire archive of all of our past Q & A’s. We archive every Q & A, because for some people they can’t attend in person. So, we want to make sure you can still get the information. And think about also if there are live Q & A sessions about time zones. So, we of a special Q & A session for the EU time zones, and then other countries that fall into that. It’s GMT plus five, six, and seven. Or minus. Maybe it’s… I can’t remember which direction it goes in. Anyway, the opposite of the US. Whichever direction that is. But so if you want to be able to attend those things, make sure that they fit into your time zone. Anyway, so we have those. And honestly, we particularly recommend the herbal study tips course. Because that course… I mean, I like all of our free courses actually. But that one in particular will help you, no matter what school you ultimately choose. Because it’s just a whole lot of suggestions of how to make it easier to learn the herbal material that you are interacting with. How to remember all the material more easily.
And these suggestions are based around practices and habits, rather than like buy this cool thing, and that will make you study. That hasn’t been our experience of something super successful, right? It’s more about habit, about the way you approach the material, or the ways actually, more than one.
And not just flashcards either, although for some people flashcards are super helpful. But there are lots of ways to make internalizing herbal information easier. And so anyway, we tried to get through as many different ones as possible in that course.
Does it Match My Learning Style?
Yeah, for sure. So, you know, we’ve said a couple times here to consider your learning style. And that’s going to be our point number three here on this one. Because again, every school is going to present information in different ways. And every student’s going to receive that information in different ways. Some schools offer all of their material as like PDF downloads, or kind of like a private blog, or private website that you can access through passwords or however else. And so in these cases, you’re kind of like getting text lessons, like an online book or several of them in a sequence. So, if you’re a person who learns really well by reading, then this could be a really great match for you, right? Other schools are going to offer things that are audio based. And so if you learn well by listening, or maybe you’re someone who’s trying to do a lot of your learning on your commute, on the subway, or as you drive, or whatever else. Having audio lessons could be just perfect.
Right? And then some schools have supplemental videos or maybe they teach by live webinars. And again, this is not an exhaustive list. There’s lots of other presentation methods that that can happen. So, the question to ask here is, is this material being presented in a way that supports your learning style? And for you, you might say well, I don’t know what my learning style is. Where do I even start? Think about times when you’ve had a class or you’ve had training, where you’ve felt like you just got it. It made sense to you. It stuck. It sank in pretty well. And consider not just like the people teaching, but how were they giving you that information? And I think that’s a good way to begin trying to sort out which ways work best for you, if you’re not already sure, you know?
Yeah. I think also that making sure that the way that it’s presented is very engaging and maybe even entertaining for you. And so that’s going to be different for every person also. If you’re a person who… You know, you’re very visual, and you want to be engaged in a very visual way. Then a video based course might be best for you, because you can be seeing stuff on the screen, and seeing as it changes, and really visualizing all of that. Whereas if you’re the kind of person who likes to curl up with a cozy book, then something that has a lot of printed material might be most engaging for you. But think about the things that capture your interest. The other thing you can think about is what kind of presentation style captivates you so much, that you start to think about it while you’re doing other things. And this also has a lot to do with learning style. You can think about when you read, do you think about what you read later, while you’re doing the dishes? Or if you watch something… Even if we’re just talking about watching a movie, you know, You don’t only have to be thinking about learning materials. But like what is the sort of stuff that you think about most later, when you’re not actively doing the activity. And that can help you learn what sorts of things stick most easily in your mind?
Nice. Yeah. One of our thoughts here is that it’s hard for everybody to set aside time to learn. And so it’s important to find a school or a teacher who’s presenting information in a way that’s not only accessible to you, but is accessible in such a way that you’re not wasting energy, gearing yourself up to make yourself study. You know what I mean? Yes, you’re studying. But it should be enjoyable or engaging as much as possible, so that you’re more likely to want to do it when you have the time.
Yeah. So that it’s not like a chore that you have to do, so that you can gain the information. But so that it’s something that you legitimately look forward to. Because it’s going to be easier for you to set aside the time to do it, if that’s the case.
Yeah. And we’re not necessarily talking about like it should be gamified. You should be getting experience points every time you complete…
Gems for whatever.
Maybe, you know. I don’t know of any schools doing that. But maybe, and hey, if it works for you, it does. At our school just an example, we try to present material for lots of different learning styles, you know? So, the majority of our material is in video. We’ve been adding close captioning to our videos, so that it’s both more accessible. That’s super important. But also, it’s like another channel of information coming in. Lots of folks I know, especially if they’re trying to learn something or drive material inwards, they’ll turn on the captions anyway. You know, even if you are hearing.
Right. Or like listen, maybe you get to study when your kids are asleep, having their nap or something. Or they went to bed, and now it’s your time to study. And you want to turn the volume down really, really low. But then it’s hard to hear. And having the captioning on just makes it easier to listen to that. So, this creates accessibility in many, many, many realms.
Yeah, for sure. We also like to give audio files as well, basically one audio file for each video. So that you can get that same material in that different format. Take it with you, learn as you go. Learn while you commute. All that kind of thing. And we also make some little quick guides for each chapter. This is some texts. It gives you some visual cues to help you as you’re reviewing. It’s also a way to kind of glance back and say oh, right, right. They talked about that. It took 10 minutes to explain, but now I have that concept in mind. I can read one sentence and bring that right back.
Right. A lot of people like to use the quick guides as a way to help them structure their note taking. Some people feel really comfortable taking notes, and some people, that’s not their favorite way to learn. But then as an adult, they’re learning new material. And they’re like ah, I clearly should write some of this down. And if note taking never was super comfortable for you, then it can be easier if you have a sort of construct that you can work with already.
Yeah. Right. So, our particular videos are prerecorded. And that also means that you can access them at any time. When a course is based solely around we’re going do this material at this time on this day. You’ve got to be there. Well you’ve got to be there. And so it’s really important, I think, in a situation like that to say well, is there an archive of those, if I’m not available to be there right at that time. And how long am I going to have access to it? And other questions along those lines, you know. We do some live sessions each week as well. We have at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week, we have these live Q & A sessions. So, those are a hundred percent interactive. We’re just responding to the questions for the people who are right there in the room.
In a virtual room.
Right. We do record them. For folks who can’t attend that night, they’re able to check on them later. And also that’s like a growing archive of a whole array of topics that didn’t quite have a home yet in the course material itself.
Or a lot of times it is like the synthesis of material from this course, and material from that course, and material from this course over here. And then it all comes together to answer somebody’s sort of complex question.
Yeah. So, that’s the way that we’ve been trying to address that overall question of what’s an individual’s learning style, and how can we how can we serve multiple learning styles simultaneously?
Yeah. Listen, and also that is helpful, not just because different people have different learning styles. But also because one person may have multiple learning styles. And if you can engage more than one of them. If you have information that you see, and then information that you hear, and information that you physically engaged with. Because maybe you took notes, or did a drawing, or did an experiment in your kitchen or whatever.
Right. Yeah. Like it’s a medicine making lesson, and you’re watching it. But it’s like on the counter, and you’re over here in the kitchen. You’re actually doing the thing.
Right. You’re sort of like watching the first step and then doing it, watching the second step and then doing it. Even for one person, if you’re engaging all those different channels, it becomes so much easier to internalize information.
Yeah. This is a good point, because like the whole let’s say the strong argument of learning styles has been, I think, challenged in some persuasive ways. To say like it’s not that it’s in your genes, or it’s innate to you that you only learn through visual channels, or through kinesthetic channels, or whatever else. I think there’s an argument to be made, that a lot of this is where you’ve had good, positive learning experiences in the past, that that channel kind of gets strengthened.
But in any case, I think your point here is really good. That accessing info through multiple channels for anybody is a good idea. Yeah.
How Accessible are the Teachers?
All right. So, our fourth tip here in choosing an online herb school is, are the teachers accessible to you? So it’s really, really convenient to learn online, because it’s there. You know, you don’t have to go anywhere. It comes to you. But you might also feel that it’s important to have direct access to your teachers. And we definitely feel that way. Maybe you want that in the form of a live webinar presentation, as opposed to a PDF or prerecorded material. Or maybe you want to learn the lecture-y part at your own pace with some sort of prerecorded or prewritten material, and then have live Q & A time with your instructors. So that the time that you’re spending with them can be a hundred percent interactive, instead of just listening to the lectures and writing stuff down. Maybe you want some in person time, like live mentorship. Or maybe that isn’t as important to you.
And you may even feel differently about different types of material, right? You might feel like look, for plant ID, for botany, I really want to get out there in the field. I’m not totally confident right now starting from zero with a guidebook, and a plant ID manual, and that kind of thing. But maybe for material that’s more about concepts of herbal energetics or about a particular pathology in the body or something. You’re like okay, I can learn that in a more like preformed manner, and then have some time to ask questions directly, or get some follow up on particular questions I’ve got. Yeah, right.
So, the question that you really need to kind of solidify for yourself is what is most important for you with regard to accessing teacher time? What do you need to get to be able to feel like you are getting that interactive aspect of the learning. And then whatever that is… If it is I want a weekly check in. I don’t care if I see a teacher in person. I am fine if it’s just emails, whatever. Whatever that is, then just make sure that the program that you’re looking at is going to provide that for you.
How Long May I Access the Materials?
Yeah. Right. Okay. So, another question to ask is once you’ve had access to some material, how long do you get to have that access? Do you get to keep it, let’s say.
Oh my God, this is so important. This is super important.
Yeah. So, we’ve noticed that a number of online schools kind of rent material to you in a sense. You have a limited amount of time to complete your program. And if you fail to do so or fail to just get through everything in that amount of time, then you’re going to lose access to it. And then maybe you need to pay that fee again in order to get back in there.
Or even if you do complete the program in that certain amount of time, you still lose access to it. So, if you want to review it, it’s not going to be there for you in that particular type of model that a lot of schools use.
Yeah. And so you might say well, you know what? That’s all right. I’ve got the next few months blocked out. I’m going to dedicate a lot of time. I’ve worked out my schedule, everything. This is going to be fine for me.
And maybe you even find it motivating to have that oh, no, it’s going to go away. Like uh-oh.
Yeah. I certainly wrote a lot of my college papers at the last minute. And there’s something about a deadline. I totally get it. You know, that can give you a little bit of a push to actually make it happen.
Man, I don’t know though. Because what I hear from students, and what I also think about for myself – also being a person who would push things off to the last minute – is that then you’re stuck with like this enormous amount of material, that you’re trying to rush through at the last minute. And it’s not really going to stick. And you know you can’t review it. And so that also… I don’t know. Every person is going to be different on this. So, you really need to know what is going to work out for you best.
Yeah. So, you know, you might prefer a school that gives you some lifetime access to your material. We prefer this, okay. We’ll be very upfront about our preference on that one. Because look, you can’t learn it all the first time you engage with that material. If you think okay, I’m going to watch video course. It’s 60 hours. I’ve planned out 10 hours a week for the next six weeks. That’s great. But you did not pick up everything that was put down the first time you run through it. Honestly, this is one of the things that really made us super enthusiastic about building our online school. Because over a decade or more of teaching in-person apprenticeships and other programs like that, we would notice over and over again that we would say things. People would hear them. They would remember it for that weekend. And then the next weekend, 60% of it was gone. And it’s not a fault of any individual. It’s not because…
It’s just the way human brains work. You can’t take it all in the first time. And even if you did, even if you do take it all in the first time, the other thing is that as you progress in your learning, your perspective shifts.
So, if you go back and review material a couple years later, you will find different stuff in it. Because the first time you watched it, you had this set of priorities or this type of perspective or context or whatever. And now it’s been a while, you’ve got a little more experience. You’re looking back at it. And you’re realizing wow, that could apply in many other ways that I didn’t think about the first time I watched this. Because maybe I didn’t know about them yet, or they weren’t relevant to my life yet, or whatever.
Yeah. Or to what you’re doing with your herbalism, right? And even if you’ve been around for 10 years or more. Like I’ve had this experience a lot, where I love to look at like herbalism 101 material from a lot of other practitioners. Or listen to a here’s my lecture on making tea, you know. And where I’m at, it’s because I’m looking at the way they’re presenting, the way they’re teaching, how they’re forming metaphors, and like putting ideas together in a flow. And so I’m coming at it from like a teacher’s perspective.
Listen, actually there was just a conversation on a mailing list that I’m on. And it’s a closed mailing list of like a bunch of the original group of teachers that used to teach at all the conferences and stuff like that. And folks who have been doing this were really, really long time. And there was this huge discussion about working with lemon balm. And everybody was talking about like well, this is how I tincture lemon balm. And this is how I tincture it totally differently. And actually I would never tincture lemon balm. Instead, I want to make a tea. And I want to do it this way, because I’m really interested in the volatile oil content. And actually no, I don’t care about the volatiles at all. I’m focusing on these other constituents. And these are all people who… I’m one of the younger people in this group. And I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years now. These are people who have like 30 and 40 years of experience, who are like eagerly gobbling up everybody’s different ways of working with this one plant, in this really basic like medicine making 101 kind of thing. Just because, well, okay. Because lemon balm is a little bit elusive, so it is a really interesting plant to do this with. But just because everybody’s so fascinated about that. So, really the ability to review, the ability to go back to things and think about it, because on one hand maybe you’re taking a respiratory health course. And at the time when you’re learning about COPD, you don’t know anybody who’s dealing with that. So, it doesn’t really stick. But three years later maybe you do know somebody who needs help with it. You’re not going to remember all the stuff you watched three years ago, when it really wasn’t relevant to you. It’s normal to need review. So, that’s one reason. But then the other reason is also it’s like joyous to be able to dig back into something. And say well, where can I push the boundaries of my knowledge? How can I expand that a little bit? I want to go back and deep dive into some of this stuff that I had set aside for a while. Anyway.
So, yeah. So, if you’re looking for that kind of access, then make sure that that’s being provided by the course that you’re going to sign up for. The other question here is if you’re going to have access to some material that’s been presented, is it going to get updated in the future, right? Maybe this teacher does a new presentation each year on how to work with nettles. And so your question could be well, am I going to get access to those updates. Or will I need to pay again or pay like a partial fee? What will that look like, you know? So just so you know in advance, make sure you ask about it.
Yeah. There are some schools that provide updates. And some schools… I mean I’m thinking about one in particular that has a printed program that has been going for decades. It’s the same program. Just they keep making more copies of it. It really hasn’t changed at all in all that time. And there might be reasons that you are really interested in that. Because you’re looking for the kind of more historical aspect about the sort of Renaissance of herbalism in this country. Or you might be wanting the cutting edge stuff. And so it’s important for you to find out if there will be updates. And if so, will you have to pay extra to get them.
Yeah. As a small aside our particular policy is that if you buy a course, you have access to it forever. And as we add material, if we redo some of the material in there, you continue to have access to that automatically.
Yeah. Anytime that we update a course… Which we do a lot. Sometimes somebody asks a really awesome question in Q & A. And we’re like ah, we should make a whole video about that. And then we add it in the course. And so people who are already enrolled in that course, even if they’ve been enrolled in it for a really long time, it just automatically gets added to their account. And then we send out emails to say hey, there’s something new. But also there’s like a popup when you log in that says oh, here’s what’s new this week, whatever.
Right. Yeah. And you know part of our reason for that is that might sometimes include content updates. Like if I learn thing about a plant that I didn’t know before. And I think it’s an important safety question. Or if it’s a particular key element that people should understand about it in order to work with it better. Then I really want people to have that
Yeah. We want them to like see that fast. Yeah.
How Many Hours are in the Course/Program?
Okay. So, you know, another question to ask here would be how many “hours” is the course that I’m signing up for? And this one, look, this is tricky. This is tricky. Every school counts it a little bit differently, to say this piece of our program counts for 40 hours, and that piece counts for 120. So…
And the reason that this is important, is because if you’re trying to evaluate two different programs. And one program says it’s a thousand hours. And one program says it’s 150 hours. You think oh well, that’s the number of hours. I guess this is the value of that. But the problem is that if each school is counting the hours differently, then that comparison is not apples to apples. That’s not bad. It just means you have to find out what they’re using to calculate the hours.
Yeah. So, some examples here. Some schools might be presenting material just as texts. And then the way that they’re going to calculate this is to estimate the number of hours it should take you to read it. And then say that the course is that many hours, right? Other schools might count instructor time, as well as the amount of time that you spend doing homework. So, that could be that this could even be an in-person course or like a hybrid course, right? So, the idea is we estimate, or we tally the amount of time that you’re actually live with the instructor, or if there’s recorded video or whatever.
The amount of time that the instructor is instructing.
Speaking, right. But then we’re also going to add on an estimate for the amount of time it should take you to do assigned homework, and experimentation, and that kind of thing.
Some schools count it like a university counts it. And we fall into this category. In this kind of a model the idea is that you should only be paying for the amount of time that an instructor is actually instructing. So, if you’re doing homework, that’s your own time. You shouldn’t be paying for that time. And I mean you are making tradeoffs in your life to make time for the homework. But you shouldn’t be paying us for the time that you spend doing your homework. We don’t think that’s fair. Plus every student works at a different pace. So, if we’re trying to estimate how much homework time it is. And then we’re going to try to include that into the number of hours that you’re in theory receiving from this program. Well, some students review things many times. And some students spend a lot of time experimenting. And some students don’t have very much time, so they don’t take as much time with those things.
Right. There can also be accessibility questions here as well. Especially if this is one of those models where it’s like you sign on. You have a limited amount of time to complete the material. We give you six months, because we think it should take X hours. And that should be easy to accomplish in six months. But if someone needs to review it multiple times. If they just progress slowly through it for whatever reason. Then they might not be able to achieve what was expected. Just because that was like the assumption, or the default, or the “normal” expectation, you know?
Right. So for us we feel like we only want to count the number of actual hours of instructional videos that you’re receiving. If we are presenting something to you, you can pay us for that. But if you are doing your homework, you should not be paying us for that. So, we typically tell students to expect something between one to three hours of homework or experimenting for every one hour of instruction. That will vary from person to person. And of course that’s voluntary. That’s up to you to decide what fits into your life, and what is most comfortable. But that’s how we do it. But the thing is that calculating hours, it is a little bit challenging.
Yeah. Right. It’s true. And there’s no necessarily one right way forever for everybody in all circumstances. But the point here is that if you’re going to compare a couple of different programs, then you should know what it is you’re comparing. So, if they both say they’re a hundred hours, well one might mean that they’re going to give you some texts. And they think it’ll take you a hundred hours to read it. Another one might say this is a hundred hours. And that’s 10 hours of audio, one hour of a webinar, and then we expect 89 hours of homework time for you, right? Or whatever. The numbers could be a little bit different, but you know, something along those lines. For us and schools that follow our model here, if we say a hundred hours, that means there are a hundred hours of instructional video content. We’re not counting the audio files. Additionally we’re not counting the time it would take to read through text files, or to do homework assignments, or medicine making experiments, or time in the field, or other things like that. So, I think the key is if you’re writing to a program. And they say all right, this is 120 hour program. You want to ask how much of that is direct live time? How much of that is prerecorded material? How much of that is estimates about reading times or about homework time expenditure. I’d say those three categories ought to cover it.
Right. And they should give you those answers immediately on the first response. If a school makes you go back and forth and doesn’t really give you the answer until the fourth or fifth email. And makes you really keep saying yeah, but can you just give me the breakdown of the hours? Then that’s a red flag.
Is There a School Community?
Yeah. All right. So, another question to ask is, is there some kind of a community attached to this school? Because you’re online, right? So, you’re going to expect that you’re kind of on your own, right? But there are absolutely ways to break out of isolation, and one person in a room toiling away to achieve knowledge. Maybe you love that honestly, and that’s cool for you. But community is valuable for a lot of reasons.
I mean, there might not be any herbalist where you live, right?
That’s a really, really big one. Yeah. You know, one reason to choose an online school is there’s no in-person schools near me. And so trying to replicate some of that community experience is really important. And from what I can tell, most online schools do offer some kind of a way for students to interact with each other. There are different, different ways.
Yeah. Some schools have like a private Facebook group, for example. And if you’re a person who loves Facebook, then that’s probably going to work great for you. But if you’re a person who tries to avoid social media, then that’s not going to be ideal.
Yeah. We chose not to do that ourselves, because of actually some of our own experiences of having really helpful, productive Facebook groups. And being like I’m going to check in on this once a day. And then realizing wait a minute. I spent five minutes there and 30 minutes looking at other random memes.
Yeah. That I didn’t need to be. I would’ve rather used that 30 minutes some other way. We just find social media to be… I mean, it’s fun as a distraction. But I would rather allow it to be a distraction, and not like cross my wires of trying to be productive in a distracting place. Everybody feels a little differently about that.
Yeah. And if you’ve been like oh, I’ve got my feed curated. I’m totally getting this to do what I want. Awesome. That’s great.
In our school we have a student community space that’s integrated right into the school platform. So, you can hang out with other students right in the same place where you engage with your learning materials. And the community space is very easy. You just start typing stuff. You can post pictures. You can say I don’t know what this plant is or whatever. And you can tag something as a swap. Like oops, I bought way too much lemon balm. I don’t know. Does anybody need some? Or there are a couple of programs that do have like private groups that are only for people in the program, so that you can really focus on a little bit more detailed questions, or you can share information that might not be appropriate for like all of the public to see.
Yeah, this is likely to be something, we think it should be something, that you have access to if you’re enrolled in a free course as well. To get a sense of what that’s like, and to be able to see that part of the offerings.
And when you enroll in a free course at any school you’re considering, make sure to take advantage of the whatever community space they offer. And see if you post a question, is there some kind of response to it?
Is it lively?
Yeah. How robust is this community? Are people watching it. Are people participating. Are interesting things being talked about, or things that are relevant to you. If you ask a question, do people have thoughts for you that make you feel good, make you feel welcomed, make you feel like you’re with your people? Yeah.
What About Certification/Accreditation?
All right. Next thing to ask, will I be certified if I complete this program?
I hope not. For me this is a real red flag. If an online school says you will be a certified herbalist or a master herbalist, please understand that these terms are meaningless actually.
In like legal regulatory professionalism senses, these terms are not controlled. They’re not regulated. They don’t…
They’re made up.
No one is checking on your list of certified herbalists or master herbalists.
Yeah, no. I mean saying that makes you feel like you’ll be official in some sort of way. And I think that that’s the reason they say it, is because it gives you some sort of feeling of confidence or being reassured that you will have some kind of official credibility. But you will not.
Not because these programs are bad or whatever, but because that’s not available in the United States to anybody. So, that does get into the weeds about like certification laws in the United States, and how that’s just not done for herbalism here. And so here’s what you can look for instead. How about a certificate? Yes. You should receive a certificate or some kind of documentation for the number of hours of coursework that you completed, recognizing that hours are not always hours. But however they’re documenting it, okay. We want to have that marked down, and like the material, the general topic areas as well. So, it’s a certificate, but you’re not certified in the way of now I’m official. Now I’m approved. Now I’m proven. But the point here is that this can document that you did the work. And that’s the goal of it, right?
Right. You know, also it’s good to look for a school that will help you prepare for and apply to become a registered herbalist with the AHG. And it’s good to do that, even if you don’t think that you want to be a registered herbalist. And the reason is that in order to apply to be a registered herbalist, you have meet certain criteria. And there are recommendations that you have to have, and mentorship, and clinical supervision, and all kind of other things. And so if a school is going to help you prepare and apply, then that means that that school has done the work required so that their preparation will be accepted when you apply. Or at least it means it’s more likely.
Yeah. And it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that this particular school or teacher is going to give you literally everything required to achieve the RH goal. They could say well, I can give you this many hours of instruction in this type of material. And we can document it in a way that that is going to make it easy for you when you’re doing your RH application. That’s the kind of thing you’re looking for. Now listen, this is not us saying to you that the registered herbalist from the AHG is the new certification.
That this is the way to be official. That this is the way to be real, right? No, not necessarily.
It’s just that it’s the only professional recognition that we have in the U.S. It is peer reviewed, and it does confer some benefits. For example, if you are an RH, and you see clinical clients – That was redundant – and you see clients as an herbalist. Then you are legally permitted to take health savings funds, health saving account funds. We can’t accept insurance. But the mechanism for health savings accounts – whoever it is that governs that thing – has agreed that if you are an RH, you can be paid from those accounts. So, that’s actually cool. That’s not relevant to you, if you are not going to be a clinical herbalist. But if you are, okay. That’s a good reason to do it. But it’s not a certification. It Is not a license. It is just a professional recognition.
Yeah. And again, even if you weren’t to pursue it, just having kept track of what you’ve learned, the time you’ve put in, there’s some value to that as well. Our policy on this one is that you receive a certificate to document your hours for every course. And we have a free tool that helps you to organize all your requirements in order to apply to be a registered herbalist. We’re also helping folks prepare. If people go through our family program, community herbalism, and clinical program, that meets and exceeds the educational and clinical requirements for application. So…
Yeah. Again, you know, still none of it is certification or licensure. And even if you decide not to pursue being a registered herbalist, still knowing that the school is prepared to help you with that task means that okay, that’s a certain level of kind of quality from the school that you can expect.
Yeah. Investment in that process, and also investment in trying to raise standards for professional herbalism in the country. It’s like a big mission of AHG and a large part of the drive. You know, actually speaking about that, the other question here is like well, can the whole school be accredited? And then I should find that, because those are obviously going to be the best one.
Right. We get that question actually. People will write and say well, is your school accredited?
Yeah. So, there are very few herb schools that are accredited in this country. And the major reason is because accreditation, first of all, can cost $30,000 to $50,000 every single year. And it also doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything to the school itself.
Or to the student.
New Speaker (00:51:51):
Yeah. Or to the student. The other thing here is that this is not available equally in every state. The schools that I’m aware of that have accreditation, there are particular ways that they can achieve that through their state. Either like an occupational board or something like this that allow this for these types of schools.
Like as a vocational school. There are really only three or four schools I can think of that have accreditation. And one of them is through a vocational board. One of them is through a university that basically bought the herb school.
Right. So, they’re kind of incorporated into that institution. So, in any case if you’re an independent herb school, $30,000 to $50,000 a year is a huge cost that would ultimately just get passed along to the students in higher tuition. And so again, almost no schools do that. We don’t do that. And like you were saying, being accredited doesn’t necessarily mean the school is amazing. Not being accredited doesn’t mean at all that the school is bad. It goes in both directions there. So instead, what you want to do, is you want to learn about the instructors, right? It should be accessible and available to get a resume or a curriculum vitae for the instructors of the school to know who they are. What they’ve been up to? How long have they been doing this? Have you published anything? Like what else is going on for you? So for us commonwealthherbs.com. You go to the about page, and you can see both of our resumes there. But you know, in general you’re looking for that kind of stuff, but also stuff they’ve written, publications, podcast episodes, interviews. Yeah.
Places that they’ve spoken. Like have they spoken at conferences or whatever. And listen, if a teacher has not spoken at a conference, that doesn’t mean they’re not good. I mean, we haven’t spoken at a conference since…
It’s been a while.
2015, I think. Oh no, we have, but…
Yeah. But not as much as we used to, simply because we got really busy, and travel became difficult. So, don’t assume that just because a teacher has not spoken at a conference, that that means not good. It’s just that that’s one of the things that you could look at. And then you could get maybe a recording of that or something.
Right. And I want to say, I mean, there are some herb schools and programs out there that are offered by folks who are just getting started. And that’s still totally valuable. We can learn together. So, you know, it is not to say that you have to find the school with the oldest teacher possible.
Right. There’s a lot of ways you can get information about the instructors. And so any of these things. Even like just checking them out on social media. And what do they post? What do their priorities seem to be? Do I feel good when I look at their stuff, you know?
Does This Fit in My Herbal Learning Spiral?
Yeah. And that’s really what it’s all about, is like what are they offering? Herbalism is not one thing. Herbalism is as many things as there are herbalist. And so like what is the nature of this person’s teaching? Where do they come from? How do they present that material? What does their ego look like?
Is this changing? I don’t know. But herbalist have had a reputation forever for being distinct personalities.
Yeah. And like you know, whatever. Maybe everybody is a distinct personality. But what you need is a personality, a teacher who makes you feel good. Who makes you feel really empowered to work with the information that you’re learning. Somebody who’s a teacher, who’s not trying to be a guru, right? If a teacher says that their way is the only way. Or if a teacher has a speech and a presentation style that you feel like you’re put down or that you’re not empowered to…
Like you’re not actually bringing anything to this encounter, you know? I mean, over the time that we’ve been teaching, I’ve learned so much from students, including about stuff I thought I knew better at first. You know what I mean? It’s really important, I think, in a learning experience to have that awareness of bidirectional information flow, or multi-directional on the part of everybody involved. When it’s just like I have all of the knowledge, and you receive all of it from me.
And also you should tell me I’m great, while we’re doing it, you know.
Yeah. That’s going to shape and bend the information experience. But then also that tends to influence the way that you carry that knowledge forward to other people. So, be aware about that. And recognize that in most cases we do take on some of the habits or biases of our teachers, whether we’re trying to or not. And so like the first step is to be aware of them, and to be on guard, and recognize what those are.
Listen, I also want to kind of add to this segment or this little part here, that nobody’s perfect. No teacher’s going to get everything right. Everybody is going to make mistakes. Teachers will let you down. And I think that’s just part of being human. And so if you can find a teacher who plans for that. Who says listen, you know, if I screw something up, this is how I’m going to handle it. This is like I have thought this through. I know that at some point I’m probably going to say something dumb. I’m going to say something that hurts somebody’s feelings. I’m going to come in on a bad day, and then not be fully focused on my presentation, and say something callously or not the way that I should. And so if a teacher does that, that is not necessarily like oh, well I can never learn from them again.
You get one chance to do it perfectly. And if you don’t nail it forever, then I’m abandoning you and burning all your stuff.
Right. I mean and it really depends too on what kind of thing. Like if there’s something really egregious. If a teacher says something racist or whatever, like obviously please just turn around and run.
Yeah. There are red lines, right?
Yeah. There are absolutely red lines. But the other thing is that teachers should have a plan for oh man, I really screwed that up. And this is how I’m going to recover from that for me and for you. This is how I’m going to make that right. This is how I’m going to engage with you to make it better. So, that’s not always a super easy thing to kind of figure out ahead of time. Sometimes you don’t really know what a teacher’s going to do until it happens. But that can just be something for you to be thinking about. Like if I say to a teacher hey, the way you said that wasn’t good for me. Or hey you know, whatever, like that hurt my feelings, or I felt uncomfortable at that, or something. And they blow you off. Okay, that’s a red flag. And if they’re like oh man, you know what. You’re right. I was flat on my face for that. I really did not do okay. And I’m really sorry about that. And I’d like to make it better for you. Okay. Then that’s really excellent.
Yeah. All right. Last point we wanted y’all to know, when you’re thinking about choosing an online herb school is that herb schools generally are not super transferable. And this does go back to that question about like how do we count our hours. How do we count our curriculum as basic or intermediate or advanced. Those terms mean really different things to different teachers. So, everybody has different curricula and different standards. And so if you’ve taken…
Well, and like different priorities too.
You know, for some teachers this thing is super important, and they’re just not maybe going to say so much about this other thing. Because it’s not super relevant to their own practice. That’s okay.
Yeah. So, that means that if you’ve taken something called an intermediate course at one school, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to go to another school and start with their advanced course. So, just be aware of that in advance, and that’s okay, right? Our perspective on this is that herbal learning is a spiral. That you’re never going to be at the end. Like you go from point a to point B, and now you’re done. This is one of the things we really like the most about it. That you can’t get bored. There’s always another plant. There’s always another perspective on a plant that you know, even that you know very well. So you can listen to a hundred different teachers talk to you about yarrow. And teacher number one hundred is going to have some new things for you to hear about it.
Yeah. Sometimes students expect this to be like a linear path. But because herbal herbalism is not standardized, it’s just not linear. You might finish every single thing that one school has to offer. And then you might go to another school and basically start at the beginning. And in our culture, we find this pretty weird. But actually I contend that it’s pretty great, right? Every time you go around the circle, you are in a little bit of a different spot. You will learn differently, even if you’re engaging with the same material. Because you have a different perspective. And a different teacher is going to present it a different way or might have a different relationship with that material, probably does have a different relationship with that material.
Yeah. They have their own tricks that work the best for them. Or they have this particular approach and focus in what they do or how they do it, that’s not the same as what you learned previously. So, get it. Gobble that up. The human tendency here is to default to say that well, I already learned this, so I don’t need to pay any more attention. I’m just waiting until you get to the new thing. Or I’m just waiting until you give me approval for having gone through your new, basic material, so that I can get onto the good stuff.
Yeah. Like we tend to cling to whatever we learned first and regard that as the right thing. And then if we hear a different version of it, there is… And again, this is not like a personality failing or something. This is a tendency of human brains. That if we get that first information challenged, or if we find a new perspective on it, it is not apparently easy to accept the new information.
Yeah. This doesn’t serve us very well, when we’re trying to learn herbalism. It’s better instead to think of every teacher presenting you with exciting new facets of some material, right? And then each time you learn a new approach, or a new facet, a new detail, you’re adding another tool to your skillset, or you’re adding some more nuance to your knowledge. You’re going to work with lots of different things and lots of different kinds of people as an herbalist. And because of that you’re going to need multiple different types of approaches to every kind of problem. The same approach doesn’t work for everyone. And that extends not just to like which plant we choose or which format we present it in, like tincture versus tea or powder or whatever else. But also how do I even explain to this person what I’m hoping this herb will accomplish in their body when they work with it? Meeting people where they are in that way is super important to being successful here.
Right. So, every time you have a new teacher, even if you are hearing information that you’re like well, I already know all about yarrow. Hearing new ways to present that information is going to make you a better herbalist. Because you will need to present the information in many different ways over your lifetime with the plants.
Yeah. So much of herbalism is teaching in the end.
Yeah. Even if you are not an actual herb teacher, who presents classes as a profession or whatever. You still are an herb teacher. That’s just the reality of working with people. We have to teach about what we’re talking about. Like oh, I want to make this tea for you. Well, okay. We’ve got to tell them what it’s going to do, right? And learning different ways to present that to different people. You know, it’s like my dad loves fixing cars. And my mom loves to sew. So, if I’m going to talk about something to my dad, I’m going to make an analogy that has to do with fixing cars. And if I’m going to talk about something to my mom, I’m going to make an analogy that has to do about sewing. And if I didn’t know anything about fixing cars or sewing, it would be hard for me to make analogies that would work for them.
Right. Yeah. So, you know, if you find yourself at a point where your educational path is starting to spiral, don’t despair. Rejoice. You’re gaining flexibility. You’re gaining depth of skill. The first teacher you had, they weren’t right. And they weren’t wrong. They were sharing. So, if the second teacher you have does things differently, this is not necessarily a challenge to what you learned before. It’s like a broadening of your skill set. Okay. There are cases where it is a challenge, right? Where someone says I have these feelings about comfrey. And then someone else comes along later and says I have these very different, very strong feelings about comfrey. At some point you have to make a choice. But we think it’s actually good for people to get the arguments from both sides, or all the sides, the many different sides. And yeah, sort it out on your own. We’ll totally give you our opinion. But if you pick another one down the line well, you’re a free agent in this world. I mean I’m not here to jump on that, right?
You need to do what works for you in your own body. And you don’t need to do what I think works for you in your own body. You’re the one in your body. You’re the one who knows how things are feeling and what is going on for you. And so hearing a lot of different ways to present information is going to allow you to say ah, this is the one that really resonates inside my body. And that might not be the one that resonates inside of the body of every person that you help with herbs over the course of your life.
Yeah. All right.
Well, that was nine tips
Yeah. So, these are the things that we find to be important, and that we care about, and that have shaped the way that we construct our programs and our learning experiences for our students. And again, the goal here was to give you some thoughts about like, what should I care about or what should I wonder about when I’m trying to pick one or another?
What kinds of questions should I ask, so that I get the information that I need to make a choice that’s going to serve me really well.
All right. So, that’s it for us for now. We’ll be back again soon with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you.
It’s going to be meadowsweet and fennel, yeah.
Yeah. So until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And get out there and learn some herbalism, will you?
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