Category Archives for Course Creation

Taking the stress out of online course design

stressed female executive thinking at her computer


One of my main goals in creating the Course Design Formula® has been to relieve the stress many experts and entrepreneurs feel when creating an online course.

Can you relate?

Why creating an online course can be stressful:

Young and timid woman with head in the cloud sitting on bench
  • You have so much expertise on the topic that it's hard to know where to start
  • You aren't sure what to put into your course and what to leave out
  • You want to make the course clear and engaging... but how?
  • You can't figure out where to begin, and how to structure the course
  • Everything is connected so you just end up going around and around in circles!

The way most people go about creating an online course only adds to the stress.

What most people do is jump in right away creating content, without a clear plan as to what content even needs to be in the course to begin with.

It's natural and intuitive to start that way.

You're an expert on a topic and you want to teach people about it, so you start creating content based on your subject matter expertise.

 What's wrong with that?

What's wrong with that is that it doesn't work.

In order to set up a course in a way that's effective, stress-free, and leads to the results you want 

you need to use LEARNING DESIGN EXPERTISE, 

NOT SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTISE.

If you use learning design expertise to set up the course structure, you'll then have an elegant, clear container you can use to share your subject matter expertise.

The container (course structure) will make it clear what needs to be in your course, what should be left out (or put into a different course you can create at another time), and in what order.

White puffy could in a transparent box on white pedestal, blue studio background

     


  And just like that, your stress is gone! Pouf!





When you use learning design expertise, rather than your subject matter expertise, to create the STRUCTURE of your course,

 you ensure that the course is going to engage your course participants

and help them achieve the transformation you want  to provide.


Suddenly it becomes clear:

  • What should be in your course
  • What to leave out
  • Where to start
  • What order to present the material
  • How to create a logical, smooth learning path
Garden with clear path through it

If you're feeling stressed about how to structure your online course, here are a few suggestions:


What if you've already created a course (either on or offline) and now want to revise it?

Circular Ribbons with RETHINK REVISE RESET Word - 3D Rendering


The same rules apply to revising a course as to creating a new one, but it's harder to see those rules at first. 

It's only logical, after all, to revise a course by starting from what you've already created (your existing content) and then thinking about how to make it better, in a kind of editing process.

This is like taking concrete that's already been poured out and hardened, 

and trying to chip away at it to change its shape and form.

It's much easier and less stressful to instead go back to the original intention and purpose behind the course, create the ideal mold for the shape you want the finished product to take, and pour the concrete  all over again.

In this metaphor, the mold represents the course structure and the concrete is your content.


Chipping away at hardened concrete in an attempt to reshape it:

  • takes a lot of work
  • makes it hard to remember what the original goal was
  • is not very successful


Pouring fresh concrete into a new, perfectly shaped mold:

  • is fast, easy, and fun
  • evolves naturally from what the original goal was
  • produces smooth and elegant results

Whether you're creating a new course or revising an existing one (either from online, or off),

 the Course Design Formula® helps you go with the flow

of how people can best achieve the transformation you want your course to provide.

If you want to master the formula so you can use it to create any course you envision, for the rest of your life, the best way to do that is to take the Course Design Formula® Master Course. Enrollment is limited and by private interview only. I'm interviewing now and taking reservations for the June 2021 cohort, so if you're interested, email me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com and we can schedule a time to talk starting in March.

If your focus is on setting up a specific course or online academy, from scratch (or revising an existing one using the "fresh-mold-pouring" method I wrote about above), you can schedule a free strategy session to discuss your project and set up a coaching schedule so you can work with me to get your course designed. Again, I have availability starting in March... this is a process that requires advance planning, so we can create a smooth, enjoyable and stress-free experience for you as a course creator and for your course participants as learners.

Workers at building site are pouring concrete in mold from mixer truck.

You are always welcome and invited to join us in the Course Design Formula® Community Facebook Group, and on Saturdays on Zoom at 9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern for the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting, where we talk about how to use our expertise and our online courses to help ourselves and others survive and thrive in these challenging times. I look forward to seeing you there!


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

Teaching changes the world

Someone cutting the

Education removes the obstacles that prevent people from achieving their dreams.

The difference between failure and success often comes down to learning... whether learning to change one's mindset from "I feel like I can't" to "I know that I can" or learning how to perform a new skill.

Times of accelerated societal change, like the present, call for accelerated learning. This is a time of unprecedented growth in online learning  as we are called on to meet the needs of those we are here to serve.

How will you rise to the occasion to meet this time of need? 

What's the difference you are  here to make in the world?

And.. would you like help doing it?

The Course Design Formula® Master Course starts TODAY

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

4 PM Pacific/ 7 PM Eastern

Course Design Formula® Master Course landing page screenshot

Would you like to be part of it?


If you'd like to join the course,

write to

Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com

to set up a private admissions interview.

You might also enjoy watching my on-demand webinar

which teaches three secrets of online course design

 (secrets we go into in much more depth, in the Master Course).

Screenshot of webinar registration page

Sign up to the Webinar

Secure your place in our free webinar on course design and learn to make your course stand out from the crowd!

Whether the course is right for you at this time or not, I'm here to support you in your online teaching journey. 

How do YOU want to change the world in 2021 and beyond?


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

Reduce cognitive load to make your course more scalable

Man and woman carrying large orange bar graph

As our forced global experiment in online learning is showing, it’s more challenging to create online learning, and more challenging to learn from it, than is the case with classroom-based learning.

But...why?

The reason is that the online learning interface adds cognitive load to the learning experience.

But again… WHY???

Two factors that add cognitive load to online learning are lack of immediate feedback and reduced social presence.

When the instructor is not in the same physical location as the learner, in real time, it’s harder for the instructor to know when learners are getting lost or confused, and it’s harder for learners to get the help they need.

Crossroad signpost saying this way, that way, the other way concept for lost, confusion or decisions


Another factor that is specific to online learning is the extraneous cognitive load added by the need to NAVIGATE the online interface.

It’s not always clear and obvious to learners where to start, where to click, or what to do next.

And taking the time to make it clear and obvious cuts into learning time and is not the most fun and engaging aspect of online learning and teaching, even though it may be necessary.

In general, it’s important to spell everything, including navigation, out  very clearly and specifically when setting up your online course.

Sometimes the only way to know you have NOT done that enough, is to listen to the tech support calls you get once you launch.

It’s not the most fun part of a launch, but hearing directly from your course participants about where they are getting stuck, lost, confused, or facing challenges, is an important part of the E in the “ADDIE” model of online course design.

 (ADDIE stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate).

If you EXPECT to receive this type of feedback and take it in a spirit of discovery about how to continue improving your course, you will compensate for some of the lack of feedback otherwise inherent in online teaching.

So... let’s say you get feedback that students are struggling with course navigation.  A helpful approach is to create upfront guidance on how to navigate every aspect of the course, and make sure to respond to tech support calls as soon as they come in.

Creating a culture of openness to feedback, willingness to make necessary changes, and caring support, is an important aspect of effective teaching...whether online or off.

The thing is, though, that that way of teaching is not scalable.

 It’s doable for 30 students, or maybe even 50, in a cohort. 

It’s NOT manageable (at least, not by a solo edupreneur) for 500 or 1000 students at a time.

Group of experts meeting online

So simplifying course navigation and reducing cognitive load as much as possible 

are critical to making an online course more scalable.

But there’s a catch, because often the things that make a course more engaging, -- such as varying the types of content and including interactive activities -- add to navigational complexity.

A course that’s a series of talking head videos one after the other is very easy to navigate. But it’s also not engaging from a learning point of view. Students can easily go from one video to the next. But there’s not much for them to DO while watching long videos.

But including engaging activities that require a switch from video to PDF downloads to interactive games, adds complexity to the navigation along with adding engagement to the course.

Bulldog trying to get through a cat door


So in other words:

 as a course creator, it’s easy to get stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Sigh.

These dilemmas have business implications, because if you have to be personally available in order to ensure a good learning experience for every learner, then the number of learners you can serve at any one time is limited by your own time, energy, and capacity to address whatever comes up.

As I see it, there are four qualities that an online course business should aim for,  in order to  fulfill the promise of online learning (a promise that many are feeling has NOT been fulfilled, right about now).

Ideally, we want our products and services to be:

  • Service-oriented: helping people make their lives better in some way
  • Serviceable: effectively delivering the promised transformation
  • Sustainable: able to be provided in an ongoing way that does not exhaust time, energy, and resources
  • Scalable: able to be offered to large numbers of people

These factors are CONSTRAINTS…limits or guidelines we must address in order to make an online course business work for both our learners and ourselves.

And the challenge is making all those components work together and stay in balance, all at the same time.

Join the January 2021 cohort

of the Course Design Formula® Master Course

Space is limited.

Enrollment is via private interview only.

Reducing navigational complexity (while maintaining as much engagement and variety within the course as possible) will make a course more scalable.

The challenge is how to do that without also removing engagement and interactivity.

What is the sweet spot where each of the factors is optimized?

My sense is that it’s not necessary to optimize all four factors in the SAME version of a course, as long as we are able to optimize all four factors in our BUSINESS as a whole.

You can offer a high-level mastermind (that is not scalable, but provides tremendous value) to a very small number of select, highly motivated learners.

That course can have a lot of interactivity even at the cost of adding complexity to the navigation,  because you will be available to help shepherd people through.

You can also have a different course, with simpler navigation and little or no personal interaction with you, that is infinitely scalable. 

Chocolate cake with bonbon


 It may not be possible to have our cake (in the form of a highly customized and personal learning experience for our learners) and eat it too (in the form of a highly scalable hands-off online course), all in one course.

 A possible solution is to have multiple courses that serve different purposes for different segments of your target audience.

Two Chocolate Cupcake On A Wooden Board


What are your thoughts? 

Have you grappled with these, or similar, issues in designing your own courses?

Let’s talk about it in the Facebook group,

 or join us at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting to share your thoughts in person.


 Save your spot 

in the January cohort of the Course Design Formula® Master Course

Take the stress and overwhelm out of setting up YOUR online course

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, December 12th,2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Make this summer count

Course Design Formula bottle

In this new reality we're living, with the Covid19 pandemic still very much present, more and more aspects of our lives are taking place online. This is especially true of learning and business.

What used to be called "online learning" is now, quite frankly, just "learning".

In this day and age and for the foreseeable future, i​f you need to teach something to someone, you need to teach it to them online.

That's why it's critical to make your online teaching skills the best they can be. 

Want online teaching skills that stand out from the crowd?
Enroll in the Course Design Formula® Master Course TODAY.
Keep reading to find out how.


The course runs for 14 weeks (with ongoing live group coaching support after that) and includes weekly live class meetings, self-paced action plans, and sharing and feedback with your instructor and peers. Click on each tab below to learn more:

  • live Class Meetings

  • self-Paced Action Plans

  • Sharing and Feedback

Live Class Meetings

Class meets on Tuesdays starting at 4 PM Pacific/ 7 PM Eastern time, starting June 16th, 2020, and runs for 14 weeks.

We will have an hour of lecture to present the week's material, followed by an hour of group discussion.

If you are unable to attend live you can catch up using the replay.

Online students lesson

Are you  ready to enroll right now?

Take the three steps below:

Still have questions?

Write to

Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com

The Course Design Formula Master Course starts June 16th!

Make this YOUR summer to make a powerful difference for the people you're here to serve.


 If you're willing to devote 2 hours a week to class and 2 hours a week to creating your course, you'll be ready to teach online in a way that really makes a difference, by fall.

Write to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com to reserve your spot!

Register for the course

Class starts Tuesday, June 16th  2020

4 PM Pacific/ 7 PM Eastern

cdf main course screenshot

Novel Solutions to a Novel Crisis

Person enjoying online group cal from home

What do you do in a totally unprecedented situation, when there are no answers?

One thing you can do when you don't yet have answers is focus on asking more effective questions.

Another thing to do is to reach out to others to create communities and networks that can provide resources, guidance, and support.

None of us has all the answers, but together, we can move closer to asking the right questions.

That's what our Learn and Get Smarter community has been doing for the past several weeks, and our collective efforts have been yielding powerful results.

At last Saturday's Learn and Get Smarter community meeting we put together our work from earlier meetings to set up a cognitive strategies ("learning how to learn") course.

We decided to call the course

"Novel Solutions to a Novel Crisis."

cognitive strategies course screenshot

Individually and collectively, we were impressed with what we came up with as a group, because none of us alone could have created what we all created together.

I want to extend a very special thank you to everyone who has been part of this process. If you haven't been able to participate so far, come next time and contribute your ideas!

At next week's community meeting we will start to plan and develop the media needed to build the course (media such as PDFs, Word Docs,  interactive elearning activities, and PowerPoints.) 

I hope you can join us to add your wisdom, insights, and perspective!

Join us on Saturday

many people online in a conference call

We'll start planning and developing our actual course media!

To develop the course content, we'll draw on the question banks we came up with in previous weeks, relating to attitude adjustments, practical skills, and learning strategies that can help us cope with this unprecedented situation.

  • Attitude questions

  • skills questions

  • Learning questions

What mindset changes do we need to make?

After exploring helpful mindset adjustments we can make, we realized that mindset change is only PART of what we need to focus on. We decided that our course will not be a mindset course, but it may have some mindset change components in it.

trello mindset course screenshot

The process we are using to develop this "crowdsourced" learning experience, differs in important ways from the process you would use to create your own individual course in your own area of expertise.

The pandemic is an area in which none of us has expertise. Even the experts in global health don't yet have the full range of expertise needed to handle such an unprecedented situation effectively. We are all participants in a global learning experience in which the stakes are as high as they can possibly be, for everyone involved.

Learning is always about adapting to one's environment in ways that promote survival. But the stakes are not usually as clear and as stark as they are now.

As experts in our own fields who are interested in developing transformative online courses, the pandemic provides an opportunity to learn about learning itself (and online learning in particular) in ways we have never seen before.

In your own area of expertise, you can use the Course Design Formula® as a set of guidelines to structure your extensive prior knowledge in ways that help people benefit from what you already know.

But when, as in this situation, no one yet has the right expertise, we must instead rely on unguided discovery learning

We are feeling our way in the dark, and finding out where the limits and edges are by running into them. Working together as a community, we can find those edges faster and bring our collective wisdom and energy to bear on a problem that impacts us all.

Join us next Saturday

to continue this journey of exploration!

Developing a cognitive strategies course

People untangling a ball of yarn together

At last Saturday's community meeting, we discussed the questions can we ask ourselves, that will help us survive and thrive under all conditions, and especially, the conditions we are all dealing with now in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

We decided to use the questions we came up with, to develop a sample cognitive strategies ("learning how to learn") course as a group. That's what we will work on at next week's community meeting.
 

With profound thanks to everyone who attended for their participation and insightful contributions, here are some of the important questions we came up with as a group:

  •  How can we have  balanced healthy lives under any conditions?
  • How can we have thriving businesses that support our lives in a way that is balanced?
  •  How can we allow equal time for ourselves and the people that we're here to serve?

We decided that we will now ask ourselves the following powerful question:

How does my mission continually align with my clients’ desires and what they are willing to pay for? 

How do I ensure this going forward under all conditions?

Finding effective answers to such questions, especially under conditions of uncertainty such as we are facing now, is not an easy task. This is deep work, the work of learning at the most fundamental level.

(Remember that learning means adapting to conditions in ways that promote and optimize well-being and survival).

The stakes are very high: for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the planet as a whole.

Come help us develop effective learning strategies that can help us find answers to these and other important questions.

Join us next Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will start to actually BUILD our group

 cognitive strategy ("learning how to learn") course


In a complex and unprecedented situation where no one has all the answers (or sometimes, ANY answers), working collectively can help us find solutions we would not have been able to find on our own.

I'm creating a Google doc with the questions we came up with at last week's meeting, and will share it via email with those on the Learn and Get Smarter email list. We can keep adding questions to consider, as we think of them.

You may enjoy this enlightening article from Harvard Business Review, on how businesses can approach decision making when faced with complex, unpredictable, and unprecedented systems.

People untangling a ball of yarn together

For the next few days, think about  questions to ask yourself in YOUR business, that will help you adapt to a complex and unpredictable environment.

Then come join us next Saturday as we start exploring answers in the form of a cognitive strategies course we can create together!

Designing the different levels of a course

Russian nesting dolls standing in a line

We've talked about the five domains of learning defined by educational researcher and theorist Robert M. Gagné.
Gagné divided learning up into the following major types:

  • Verbal information (declarative knowledge)
  • Attitudes (mindset)
  • Cognitive strategies (learning how to learn)
  • Intellectual skills (how-to)
  • Motor skills (physical movement)

The  Course Design Formula® that I teach in my book and course provides research-based guidance on how to set up a course based on each of these types of learning.

But what if your course contains more than one type of learning?

Many, if not most, courses do.


The way to handle that is to realize that a course has more than one LEVEL, and each level of the course can have its own domain of learning. 

To make this concept easy to visualize, think of those nested wooden dolls where one fits inside the other.

Your course as a whole is the outermost "doll", which holds all the others. So the first thing to do is set up the course as a whole based on its domain of learning. Let's use an example-- an intellectual skills  ("how-to") course about How to Change a Tire.

The next level inside the course is the module level: the large sections or chapters or chunks that hold the lessons. Each module can have its own domain of learning, which might be different from the domain of learning for the course as a whole.  

The first module of our imaginary "How to Change a Tire" course might be called "Things you need" in order to change a tire. At the end of this first module, learners won't yet be able to change a tire. They will be able to state/list/describe the things you need to have in order to be ready to change a tire. So the first module of this how-to course teaches verbal information.

Now let's go inward another level to the lesson level in this module. Let's say the things you need in order to change a tire include several different tools, the right mindset, the ability to read your car's user manual,  and a specific wrist motion. You could create a different lesson inside that first module to teach about each of those things.

The lesson describing the tools would be a verbal information lesson. You  would also have an attitude change lesson, a cognitive strategy lesson teaching how to approach reading a car's user manual, and a motor skills lesson teaching the wrist motion. 

And within each lesson you might have more than one learning object. Learning objects are the individual media items in a course (an individual video, text document, PDF, PowerPoint, etc).

Let's say that in the cognitive strategy lesson about how to read the user manual, you have a text document explaining where to find the manual, a video demonstrating how to find the tire-changing section of the user manual, and a short audio file encouraging learners not to stress about reading the manual. That's three separate learning objects in one lesson, each with its own domain of learning (verbal information, intellectual skills, and attitudes).

Being able to adjust the focus of your design to the course, module, lesson, and learning object level gives you tremendous power and control and flexibility in how to design your course. 

Here are the key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Set up the whole-course level first. That is the outer layer that holds everything else.
  • Then move inward to the module, lesson, and learning object levels, in that order.
  • Design each level based on its OWN domain of learning.

What this means is that you can (as in our example above) have a how-to course with a verbal information module that has a cognitive strategy lesson containing learning objects each with its own domain of learning.

If you are clear and precise about the level you are designing, and always get THAT domain of learning right, your course will fall into place beautifully and just "click".

At our community meeting last Saturday, we used a mindset change (attitudes) format to think about how to adapt to change given the current Coronavirus pandemic. We came up with a lot of very creative and insightful ideas. The question then came up: is this a mindset-change COURSE?

The answer was, no. A mindset change might be an ASPECT or COMPONENT of what is needed in order to adapt to the current situation, but it's not enough in and of itself to be the total answer. We can change our attitudes all we want (and we should), but just doing so will not be enough to cope. We need some practical how-to skills as well... which is what we will be working on for this coming week's community meeting. You can register for the meeting here and help brainstorm what those practical skills might be:

Come join us on Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will design an "intellectual skills" ("How-to") course for adapting to change in the face of the current pandemic.

My suspicion is that practical how to skills, while important, are also not the total picture of what is needed to cope with the current situation. If we were, as a community, to create a "course" about how to cope, my best guess is that it would be a cognitive strategy course... learning how to learn how to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. A mindset change and some practical skills might be PARTS of the strategy, but would not provide the total picture.  

Since we are not experts on this topic, we will use a process of unguided discovery learning to see what we can figure out. We will try the how-to course structure as a way of holding our collective thoughts and ideas.

You may notice that earlier, I said that one should design a course starting from the whole-course level (top down) and THEN fill in the modules and lessons. Yet in our exploration of the current pandemic, we may in fact be designing some of the smaller components of the course first.

That's because in this current crisis, no one on the planet is an expert with complete understanding of how to cope and adapt. This situation throws us all into unguided discovery learning where we are feeling our way in the dark.

We tried the mindset structure to see if it would work to help us think about the problem. It was helpful but we realized it was not the biggest picture. It was not the outermost doll. I think the outermost doll when we get to it will be a cognitive strategy course... and that the mindset and how- to components will be aspects of the strategy needed to learn how to cope.

Come participate in the community meeting on Saturday and let's see where our explorations take us!