Cael Cohen

Photo by Quinn Corkal, Quinn Aden Photography, Toronto. Hair by Timothy at Loft Hair Lounge Toronto.


Welcome! I'm Cael Cohen, award winning university educator, eLearning expert, philosopher, educational researcher, passionate storyteller, rock drummer and birder. (To avoid confusion, thought you should know that in June 2015, I legally changed my name from "Cael Diane Zorn" to "Cael Cohen."). My specialty is helping undergraduate students and life-long learners transform their lives by becoming better critical thinkers and more confident, thoughtful and reflective reasoners and decision makers. My courses enhance learners' autonomy and ignite independent thinking. Through my teaching assistant training and faculty development workshops, speaking engagements, research, and media appearances, I inspire others to promote deep learning, experiment with improving learning experience and environments, educate for social change, and adopt new technologies. My undergraduate degree is in philosophy from University of Toronto's, Victoria College. I have a Master degree in philosophy from McMaster University. I completed the course work towards a PhD in philosophy at York University, and then transferred to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. I completed and defended my PhD in philosophy of education at OISE in December 2010. Check out my CV.



I have been a university educator for over 20 years. I am currently pioneering in gamification and choose your own adventure course design. In 2007, I was the second university instructor in Canada to provide video podcasts of my lectures. Accounts of my pedagogy, course design and use of teaching technologies have been reported on CBC Radio, CTV News, Toronto Sun, Metro News, 680 News Radio and in other media. I was awarded: United States Distance Learning Association 2008 Silver Award for Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching; York’s President’s University-Wide Teaching Award 2007; and York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. I have nominations for: Schulich School of Business Teaching Excellence Award; Commonwealth of Learning Excellence in Distance Education Teaching 2007-08; and Ontario Council of Universities 2006 Teaching with Technology Award.


Participate in one of my free, public, outdoor, critical thinking workshops in High Park this spring and summer, beginning May 14. (A tiny contribution towards democratizing education.) Hope to see you there!

How to Read for Meaning: Understand Arguments and Ideas Better

Free outdoor public workshop series in High Park beginning May 14. Workshops held once a month on the second Saturday of every month from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, through Labour Day, weather permitting. Bring a blanket, lawn chair, pen, pencil, highlighters, clipboard, your dog, or pillow and learn how to become a better critical thinker. Workshop 1 teaches participants how to mark up a text passage using a step-by-step process with the aim of uncovering, diagramming, and assessing the argument and the author's use of ideas. Workshop materials are free and include: a worksheet containing a short passage, handout outlining the step-by-step process, and a sheet of paper for making notes.


My Open Open-Ended Manifesto for my Growth as an Educator: 

  1. Strive to enable reciprocal and adaptive Enactive learning environments. Relentlessly practice recognizing that learning emerges from self-organized processes that span and interconnect brains, bodies, technologies, and environments. I see learners, learning environments, instructors, technologists, and technologies, as inseparable interactions that enact teaching and learning, not as independent realms. I see learning environments as constantly evolving dynamic systems reaching beyond the confines of design and reciprocally evolving via interactions characterized by non-equilibrium.
  2. Create diverse learning eco-systems. My conception of teaching and learning is holistic and shaped by the metaphors of “ecology” and “eco-systems,” and corresponding notions of interconnectedness. I believe that what students learn is not neutral. Since education always presupposes an interpretative or theoretical framework, drawing on Lorraine Code’s (2006) model of Ecological Thinking, I value an ecological pedagogical model that recognizes relationships within and among institutions of knowledge production, their effects within the social-political structures within them, their negotiated, dialogical inter-workings and social-environmental implications (Code, 2006 & 1995).
  3. Learners have bodies. I aim to not deposit information into the heads of learners and to be mindful that emotions (Boler, 1999) and experience belong in the classroom. Since I do not believe that knowledge flows in only one direction from teacher to student, in my teaching style I shun the “banking” model, where the teacher’s role is “to ‘fill’ the students by making deposits of information which the teacher considers to constitute true knowledge,” and the student’s job is merely to “store the deposits” (Friere, 1972). This model incorrectly posits the teacher as a disembodied, neutral purveyor of an exclusive truth. It also suggests that students live in empty spaces without experience, and are receptacles of the intellectual, private property of the teacher. My belief that learners are not disembodied brains implies the need to respect individual differences between learners and various learning styles.
  4. Encourage deep learning, not surface learning. Affirm and reward process over product. Strive to practice a cognitive apprenticeship model of learning, including actively and consciously coaching, mentoring, modelling, and enabling reflection, while honoring imagination. Always face, head-on, the teaching tension of whether to cover more content or uncover long-term, life-long learning and deep engagement with the material and with the process of learning. Practice mindful-awareness and radical noticing of growth.
  5. Demonize scholarly isolation and exile aggressive competitiveness. Enable the enaction of collaborative teaching and learning; enable the co-determination of self and other. Learning environments and learning take form as a result of emergent and self-organized processes that span and interconnect students, teachers, technologists, software, hardware, objects and other resources. The act of knowing involves the complex interplay of brain, body, world and technology. I do not believe that learning is constructed actively or interactively, a commonly held social constructivist view. I believe social construction needs to be replaced by enactivism. I see learning environments as complex, dynamic and organic networks of social, cultural, and institutional relations within which individuals strive to realize their potential personhood. I am committed to helping individuals navigate the dynamic process by which they develop their subjectivity, and relate to one another and to their environment. Thus, I aim to seize every opportunity to promote collaborative teaching and learning, in addition to mentoring and coaching learners.




My research is grounded in and consistently draws on what is called an Enactive Approach, originally developed by Evan Thompson and Francisco Varela in the early 1990s. Enactivism argues that cognition emerges from a reciprocal relationship between an acting organism and its environment. Enactive approaches share the fundamental belief that mind, body and world are one unitary structure. If you are interested, check out my PhD thesis entitled, Enactive Education: Dynamic Co-Emergence, Complexity, Experience, and the Embodied MindMy PhD Thesis.

Works in Progress: I am currently researching and writing my first book to be entitled, Enactive eLearning: Taking the techne out of technology. I will also be collecting data in summer 2016 and fall/winter 2016-2017 from my new role playing game, choose your own adventure course towards an academic journal article that addresses the ways in which this course design constitutes an enactive approach to eLearning. In this paper, I argue that an enactive approach to eLearning promotes deep learning, educates for social change, enables an ethic of care, and amounts to taking the techne out of technology. Finally, I am also currently researching and co-authoring an academic journal article with Alex Sabaliauskas (Social Service Work, George Brown College, Toronto) entitled "What might social work be, if not social constructionist: Towards an enactive approach to social work practice."

The philosophers who have had the biggest influence on my thinking are: Evan Thompson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, John Dewey, Don Ihde, Megan BolerBrent Davis and Martin Heidegger.

The books that have had the greatest impact on my thinking, philosophy and worldview are:



I grew up north of Toronto in York Region, near a small town called Kettleby. (Shout out to readers from York Region.) I am a Toronto girl at heart, living in the largest city in Canada for my entire adult life. I believe that the meaning of life is growth.  I have been doing philosophy since I was a child, before I knew what philosophy was. I have three prominent personal interests and hobbies: storytelling, rock drumming and bird watching.


I get great pleasure from listening to oral storytelling (recited, not read off of a page), in particular folk tales, tales of wonder and ghost stories. I am fortunate and infinitely grateful to have spent two years as an Apprentice Storyteller with an exceptional, highly skilled group of master storytellers: York Storytellers Guild. I can often be found on a Friday night listening to astonishingly breathtaking stories and ballads being told live at 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling at Innis College Cafe. If you are interested here are the details copied and pasted from the 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling website. Or, check out the live link in the previous sentence.

"Every Friday night since 1978, storytellers and listeners have been gathering in downtown Toronto for an open evening of oral stories. Each Friday night is unique, and everyone is welcome to come and listen, come and tell. On these nights, we come as listeners and as tellers: we may ramble on, recite, relate, recount, retell, or recollect; however, we may never, ever read. You might hear traditional tales, stories of personal experience, literary stories, original stories, ballads, or episodes from history, all told through the human voice.

Time: 8:00 p.m. sharp to 10:00 p.m. more or less
(doors open around 7:30 p.m.)
Don't be late – we get started promptly!

Cost: $5.00

Location: Innis College Café
2 Sussex Avenue, Toronto
(Corner of Sussex and St. George, one block south of Bloor)
TTC: By subway, go to the St. George station, use the St. George exit,
and walk south one block along the west side of St. George.
By bus, take the Wellesley bus to St. George,
and walk one block north along the west side of St. George.

Parking: There are metered parking spots along the west side of St. George
from Bloor down past Harbord, both underground and street-level lots
on the east side of St. George (opposite the Robarts Library), and
street-level parking lots on either side of Huron, north of Bloor.
One-hour street parking on Sussex is free, but that time limit is enforced.
To see nearby paid parking spots on a photo map of the area, click here."

Rock Drumming:

Photo by Stephen Marklew Photography, Toronto

Photo by Stephen Marklew Photography, Toronto

I have been kit drumming for five years, taking two lessons a week for the first four years. I decided to take up drumming because I wanted to make new body memories and express myself physically. Furthermore, I have always loved the drums and thought that drummers are really cool! The photo above makes me look like a much better drummer than I actually am. I am currently recovering from a right shoulder rotator cuff injury which is preventing me playing as much as I would like to.

Bird Watching (Birding):

I have been an avid birder and amateur ornithologist since 1995. My favorite birds are owls, in particular the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. My favorite duck is the Bufflehead. I have a real soft spot for Black-Capped Chickadees and Dark-Eyed Juncos. I have over 300 birds on Birder's Life List. One of my favorite sightings was of a Great Gray Owl during the Great Gray Owl invasion of spring 2005 in Ontario. In winter 2004 to spring 2005, there was what ornithologists call and "invasion" of owls due to a substantial decrease in the vole population in Ontario at that time. I was fortunate enough to have been a close (three feet) from this poor, hungry Great Gray Owl perched on a fence post on Highway 9 near Bathurst Street. This huge and majestic owl landed close to homes and the road looking for food.

Great Gray Owl