• You are here:
  • Home »
  • barriers to learning

Category Archives for barriers to learning

Creating deeper connections with yourself and others

people inside social distancing circles reaching out to one another virtually

This week in the Course Design Formula® Master Course, we’re focusing on learner research.

We're exploring the questions we need to ask of ourselves and others, to find out:

  • Who our ideal course participants are
  • What they want and need to learn from us
  • How much they already know about the subject we want to teach

Often, we start out planning to teach skills (a "how-to" course) in our area of expertise... only to discover that our target audience first needs to adopt a mind-set change (via an attitude course) in order to first be READY to learn those skills. 

Why is having the right MINDSET such an important foundation

for learning new skills?

People shut down and stop learning if they feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened.

Under conditions of threat, the body goes into fight or flight mode,

 and the mental and emotional resources required for learning become luxuries we can’t afford.

So as educators,  our first job is to help the people who want to learn from us

 feel supported and safe enough to take the risks required for real learning to take place.

  KINDNESS is one of the most important qualities needed to promote learning.

As Maya Angelou famously said:

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

How do you create a positive climate for learning online?

It's helpful to be clear on your own values as an educator and community leader.

Working at home having a video conference with colleagues

                    Here are some of mine:

  • I see my role as one of inspiring people
  • The only  dumb question is the one that you don’t ask
  • It's important to understand the power of a teachers' words

What do I mean by "the power of a teacher's words?"

As a teacher, your words have the power to inspire and encourage your learners to achieve more...

 far beyond the time they spend with you.



A teacher of mine in a foreign language class once used my name in an example sentence, to make a grammar point. 

The sentence he came up with was, "Rebecca has beautiful clothes".

 It wasn't even a real statement.

 It was a made-up sentence used to teach a point... but ever since then, I have thought of myself as a person who has beautiful clothes (in stark contrast to how I thought of myself before).

The converse is also true: I once worked with an adult learner who thought of herself as unable to read. 

It turns out she could actually read quite well, but had been telling herself she couldn't (and depriving herself of the joys of reading) due to the unkind and harmful words an elementary teacher of hers had used many years ago.

 I didn't teach her to read by teaching her phonics and decoding skills, because she already had those. Instead, I helped her adjust her mindset to a positive one where she was able to think of herself as a person who CAN read... and who  deserved to enjoy doing so.

How do you create a positive classroom climate? How do you turn negatives into positives?

Here are some methods that I find effective:

  • Encourage feedback
  • Encourage asking questions
  • Provide prompt and responsive tech support
  • Be patient
  • Encourage learners to connect with each other as well as with you
  • Promote a spirit of inquiry
  • Focus on learning as a PROCESS, rather than on the creation of a PRODUCT
me in my coaching studio

Sometimes, clients and students may need and want to focus on the creation of a product, over and above the process of learning.

That's where coaching comes in.

In my coaching practice, I do the "heavy lifting" of operating the gears and levers of the Course Design Formula®.

My clients focus on their subject matter expertise, and together we create a product (their elegant online course, or whole academy).

Teaching requires a deeper level of effort and involvement, on the learner's part, than coaching does...

because in teaching, what is being changed and transformed is not a product that the learner creates, but rather, the learner themself.

How are you reaching out to your potential (or actual)  learners, to find out how you can serve them better?

How are you promoting an atmosphere of kindness, caring, support and inspiration in your online community and courses?

And perhaps most important: how are you being kind to, and nurturing, yourself and your creativity,

so you have the energy and focus you need to inspire and support and guide the community you serve?

Let's talk about it in the Facebook Group during the week, and at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday. 

I hope you can join us and share your perspectives, insights, questions, and ideas!

Come to the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting... Saturdays at 9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern on Zoom

We're focusing on how to  use our online teaching practices and online businesses to help ourselves and others survive and thrive during these challenging times. 

Click here to register for the meeting

many people online in a conference call

Bridging the Digital Divide

Unconnected bridge above the Colorado River

A funny thing happened on my way to the Learn and Get Smarter Community meeting last Saturday: the electricity in my neighborhood went out.

Suddenly, instead of logging into the Zoom meeting ahead of time to to be graciously ready to greet the group, I found myself frantically scrambling to log in on my phone.

Logging in on the phone did not provide the same level of access and control that I’m used to having in Zoom meetings. I made another community member the co-host in case I got kicked out of the meeting again, and guess what, I did.

And this time I couldn’t get back on, because now I had no cached internet to show me the meeting ID and password.

(Lesson learned: write down the meeting ID and password of any meeting you’re in, on a piece of paper, in case this happens to you. Have redundant systems in place).

I was able to text a community member on the phone, and she sent me the credentials I needed to get back in to my own meeting.

After a while, the power whirred back on, and I was able to rejoin the meeting in the usual way. But this brief time of not having full access to the tools and resources that make our digital lives run smoothly, yielded many insights.

  • Keep everything charged up. I am thinking that phone and device chargers, including some solar powered ones, would make great holiday gifts for everyone this year.
  • Have redundant systems in place. Especially for those of us who are running online meetings as part of our businesses, think about how you would manage a Zoom class or client meeting if your power went out. Have more than one way to reach people. What’s your backup plan?
  • Create a strong community, and discuss how to handle this type of situation before it happens (and hopefully it never will).

Beyond the immediate practical lessons learned, though, is a much more sobering one. 

In a world where we are living, working, and learning increasingly online, what happens when people don’t have equal access to technology—not just for a few minutes on one day, but all day every day?

The term for unequal and inconsistent access to technology resources is
“Digital Divide”.


“The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a US-based nonprofit organization, has found the term "digital divide" to be problematic, since there are a multiplicity of divides.

Instead, they chose to use the term "digital inclusion," providing a definition: Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

This includes 5 elements:

1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 

2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;

3) access to digital literacy training;

4) quality technical support;

5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration”.

What’s the solution? Digital inclusion and digital literacy:

Learn more about digital inclusion here:


and digital literacy:

What can you and I, personally, do about this right now?

The first step is awareness of the issue.

Until I got thrown out of my own meeting due to a power failure, I had not experienced the profound difference in how it FEELS, to lack access to the digital platforms that are everyone’s main means of connection and interaction at this time. 

It was not a good feeling.

  • I felt helpless, frustrated, and powerless.
  • I couldn’t be the gracious hostess I expect to be, in my own community.
  • I couldn’t be a community leader, and if it hadn’t been for the prompt and kind response of my community members, I couldn’t have participated in the community at all.

I am a digitally literate, digitally included, digitally privileged person. The power outage only lasted a short time. I’m glad it happened though, because it showed me what it must be like for those with little to no digital access and/or skills, who are being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital space often against their wills.

Those of us who have been here on our own volition for a long time, and see living online as a good thing, have a role to play in helping those on the other side of this divide get online and gain greater levels of comfort and enjoyment in being there.

Sometimes the difference between a good and a bad online experience, comes down to having the right tools.

Accessing a Zoom meeting on an iphone is possible, but it’s not the full experience one has accessing the same meeting on a laptop. An old ipad may work, but can lead to poor user experience if it’s not up to speed accessing websites and apps.

We need to keep this in mind as we design our own courses.

How can we make our material as available and accessible as possible, for all our learners, regardless of the devices they are using and their levels of access to technology?

(Sometimes the only way to find out that learners are struggling with digital access issues, is to hear it from them when something doesn’t work…. which is why it’s critical to build continual feedback mechanisms into your course).

computer repair toolbox

From our perspective as online course designers,

 the call for “online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration” speaks volumes. 

Creating effective and engaging online learning material is not just a learning design issue.

 It’s a social equality issue.

I’ll explore this topic in more depth in future blog posts. 

In the meantime, is there someone in your sphere of influence

 who would benefit from greater levels of digital inclusion? 

And if so, what can you do to reach out and help them?

You are invited to continue the conversation in the Facebook group,

 and at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting next Saturday.

I hope you can join in and share your thoughts.

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, November 14th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Overcoming barriers to online learning

cartoon showing people sitting at a bus stop. One of the waiting passengers explains to the other,

The delightful bus stop cartoon that is this week's featured image, is the original creation of community member Matt Champlin.

Matt is an engineer and cartoonist, and led us in a fascinating group exercise last Saturday called the Lightning Decision Jam.

The purpose of the Lightning Decision Jam is to help a group quickly discover the main thing holding them back from achieving a particular goal, and then work collaboratively to find solutions to that problem.

At last Saturday's meeting, we used the activity to explore the following question:

"What's holding us back from our goal of transformational online teaching helping us survive and thrive during these challenging times?"

And the answer that the group arrived at was a powerful one. 

We discovered that what's holding us back in our online teaching

 is the very thing we rely on

 to engage in online teaching to begin with.

What's holding us back is


Frustrated cartoon woman pulling her hair out

Talk about a Catch 22...or as I like to put it:

"Technology! Can't live with it, can't hurl it out the window."

Technology is not new.  The Online Etymology Dictionary gives us the Indo-European root “teks” relating to weaving, fabrication, and the creating of useful implements.

Related words include text,textile, texture, architect, and context.

People have been using tools, creating textiles, fabricating things, and building buildings for thousands of years, and they've always used the technology of their time to do it.

Technology has always been part of education too. An educated person in the time of Hammurabi would need to be able to manage the technology needed to write cuneiform on clay tablets... and we're pretty much back to that now with our use of emojis, but I digress.

While technology per se is not new, the pace of its development has accelerated so rapidly in our lifetimes that people of different generations living in the same household no longer know how to use the same tools.

For some comic relief on this subject, take a look at this video showing how young people growing up with cell phones, reacted when asked to dial a rotary phone.

One reason this video is so charming is that it's a reversal of the situation most of us older folks find ourselves in today.

In the words of  Marc Prensky's seminal 2001 article,we are "digital immigrants" in a high-tech world where people younger than us are "digital natives"... and that in itself poses a challenge for educators who are trying to teach tech-savvy  younger generations using tools that the teachers themselves often find challenging.

Young adult angry woman sitting in an office and holding speech bubble above her head, screaming at the camera.

In his wonderful book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman points out that when objects are poorly designed and don't work right, the people using those objects often tend to blame THEMSELVES rather than the object.

We often jump right to "Why can't I do anything right?!" rather than thinking, "Why is this object so poorly designed that it doesn't work the way it should, for me or anyone else?"

But even if an online course is designed and built right, everything in it is not always going to work right for every learner. 

One of the things that happens when you launch an online course, is tech support calls from learners needing help with everything from logins to passwords to navigation to links not working.

As an online course creator, you must EXPECT that to happen and be prepared for it. All of that navigation and all of those links may work perfectly for YOU, but your learners are located in various locations, with different types of internet service, different bandwidth, using different types of devices, different browsers, having varied skill levels, and so on.

Links and connections that work beautifully in some contexts, or even most, may nevertheless malfunction for some users in some locations on some devices under some conditions.

The key to creating a great learning experience for your course participants is to make sure they know how to reach you (or your support team) for help if they need it, and be sure to create a culture of always asking for and responding to feedback from your course participants.

So what's the solution?

The solution to the tech support calls, is to be prepared for them, and adopt an attitude of service and a philosophy of providing excellent support. If your course is small enough, you can do that all yourself, but if you start to have a large number of students enrolled, some kind of help desk might be needed. The important thing is for each customer to feel heard and supported and be able to get their needs met.

If  technology is working right, but people don't know how to use it,

 the solution is to

 train people on the technology BEFORE expecting them to use it.

This is where implementing the steps needed to effectively teach "how-to" skills, comes in.

 (I explain these steps in my book, Course Design Formula: How to Teach Anything to Anyone Online.)

The solution to the deeper problem of technology as a barrier to,

rather than promoter of, online learning,

 is one we need to explore collaboratively in greater depth.

 That's what we'll be talking about at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, September 19th.

There are many tech barriers that prevent people from learning online. The most serious is complete lack of access to technology to begin with, a factor that relates to social and economic inequalities within societies and around the world.

And there are many other factors beyond that, that prevent people from learning through technology, online.

One of the ways that many people are ABLE to survive and thrive during the pandemic, is THROUGH technology.

But what if that isn't working for them in any of a huge number of possible ways?

a group of people looking surprised

Are you surprised that many people experience technology as a barrier to learning? I was.

I'm used to looking at technology in terms of how it SUPPORTS and PROMOTES online learning (which it also does).

But it's important for all of us as online educators to be aware of how technology can get in the way of learning, so that we can best support our students, clients, and customers in persisting past the challenges they will inevitably encounter along the transformational learning route.

Come to the community meeting on Saturday 

as we continue to work collectively

 to explore this critical issue.

How do YOU feel about technology --do you find that it helps, or hinders, your learning more often than not?

  • Do you like learning how to use new technologies? 
  • Do you enjoy solving tech problems and overcoming tech challenges?
  • Or is that not something you enjoy at all?

Share your experiences, insights and opinions at next week's meeting, in the Facebook group, or by writing to me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.

I once considered myself a non-techy person... but over the years I've come to enjoy learning how to use different tech tools.

I'll write another blog post about the relationship between mindset and technology...which is in itself a major topic as humans go up against bots.  

And remember, the solution to many tech problems is the same one that works for humans when we need to take time out to reboot, recharge, and sleep on it: 

to quote the hilarious TV show, "The IT Crowd":

Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?

Come talk about it at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, September 19th or  in the Facebook group!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, September 19th,  2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call