Category Archives for Learning

Use the Course Design Formula® to customize learning

whimsical illustration of a lightbulb with a brain in it popping out of a box

I developed the Course Design Formula® to help you optimize the way you teach online, in the courses you create.

Learners can also use the formula to enhance the way they learn online, from courses they take.

Why is this important?

Let’s use an analogy from the world of health and medicine. When you go to the doctor, you may be given some kind of medical treatment. But the actual healing work that makes the treatment effective, has to come from you, from inside your own body. The medical treatment provides an outside catalyst or impetus to get the healing process started, but the true work of healing has to come from within.

In order to teach effectively, we have to set up a series of events that, step by step, lead to long term behavior change in the learner. But it’s up to the learner to make the decision to actually TAKE those steps, and implement the changes that demonstrate real learning has taken place.

Decoding and understanding problem, face to face explanation concept

As teachers, we can and should do our best to make our online courses effective, engaging, and fun. The Course Design Formula® will help you do that for the courses you teach.

But even if you’ve created an outstanding course, there’s no way to make it work perfectly for every single learner.

(In situations where complete individual customization is an absolute requirement, one-on-one coaching may serve you and your customer better than a course.)


Let’s say you’ve done a great job of optimizing your course, using the Course Design Formula®:

  • Your course has a single, clearly defined learning goal that takes the learner from Point A to Point B.
  • You’re clear on the domain of learning for the course as a whole.
  • You’ve set  up your module structure  properly to deliver the promised transformation.
  • You've built in motivational factors that appeal to what motivates your target audience.

    Many of your students come to class enthusiastically, do all the work on schedule, and are getting amazing results.

But what about the other students?

What about the ones who aren’t attending class… who signed up and paid for your course, and maybe (or maybe not even) attended a few sessions, and then vanished into cyberspace never to be heard from again, no matter how many email reminders you sent them?

How can you help THEM learn and get smarter using the Course Design Formula®?

It’s hard to impossible to get inside someone else’s head. The very fact that a student is NOT coming to class, or responding to your email, means you have no way beyond pure conjecture (which isn’t very effective) to actually know what their reasons may be, for not participating fully in your course.

You could spend every waking minute creating unlimited customized versions of your course to address the needs of every single learner, but you’d never be able to make it perfect for everyone.

That’s why I adhere to the adage “Done is better than perfect”.

Perfect is not an option. 

Once you've done your best to optimize your course,

the only options you have are done, and not done.

Remember when I said that if completely individualized customization is a requirement, then one-on-one coaching is the solution?  True...but  coaching is not scalable either. From a business model perspective, you as a teacher can only coach for as many hours as you have available. An online course on the other hand can be sold to an unlimited number of students.

That’s good in terms of making money for the course creator, but unless the course is custom-tailored to each student’s learning goals, preferences, and needs, it may not work ideally for the learner.

As an online instructor, if you have a large number of course participants, there's no way you can customize, adjust and adapt the course to each individual student's unique learning needs.

You know who CAN achieve that level of customization though? Each student individually.

The solution is for EACH STUDENT to become their own self-coach, 

customizing their learning journey through your course

(and any other online course they take) in ways that work specifically well for them.

This realization about how to make your course

 both scalable AND highly effective for each individual learner,

marries your business model to best practices for highly effective learning.

Colorful silhouettes of business people with icons suggesting conference, seminar or meeting


Research has shown that learners remember new material better when they are allowed and encouraged to find their OWN unique ways to process it for storage in long-term memory.

You may have experienced for yourself that when you want to be sure to remember something, for example the name of a person you've just met, it helps to relate it to something you already know.

For example, if you meet a new person named Sarah, who happens to look like your friend Sarah from college, mentally strengthening that association will make it easier for you to remember that this new acquaintance's name is Sarah, the next time you meet.

That same association wouldn't work for the colleague standing next to you, though, who didn't know your friend Sarah in college.

Your colleague might use a different method of remembering this new friend's name, such as noticing that you met this new Sarah while standing in front of the Saran Wrap at the supermarket. You and your colleague are each using your OWN method of what Gagné calls "Semantic encoding",  to store and process the information about your new acquaintance's name.

worker searching for something on warehouse shelves


So, the process of taking in new information and processing it for storage in long term memory, is called semantic encoding.

 Imagine a busy warehouse with packages (of new information) being pushed through a narrow doorway (of short term memory) into a tight processing space.

In that tight processing space, each packet of new information needs to be unpacked, sorted, labeled and stored on the right shelf in the vast warehouse of long term memory, so that it can be found and retrieved again when needed.

If you've ever crammed for a test, done well on it, and then promptly forgotten everything you'd learned, you are familiar with what happens when those packets of information don't get properly stored on the long-term memory shelves.

It's possible to do well on a test or otherwise parrot back information, without having truly learned it in the deepest sense of the word.

If you've truly learned something, you can recall and use it later... even much later.

What makes many online courses less effective than they could be, is that not enough attention is paid by either the instructor or the learner, to this process of semantic encoding.

As a learner in an online course, it's not your job to be an expert in how THEIR course is designed. That part is the instructor's job.

But you ARE an expert (the world's FOREMOST expert) on how YOU, personally, learn best.

 No one else. ..including the instructor... knows as much as you do about how you can best take in, process, and store, information.


The instructor may feel their job is done once they've presented the instruction. In our warehouse metaphor, that's equivalent to dropping the information packages off at the warehouse door.

The learner may feel they've done their job once they've gotten the information package through that doorway (into short term memory).

That's equivalent to bringing the package into the intake area of the warehouse, without actually opening the package, seeing what's in it, relating it to everything else that's already in the warehouse, labeling and tagging it for future retrieval, and storing it on a shelf in the long term storage area.


whimsical illustration of a lightbulb with a brain in it popping out of a box

As you can see, there are a lot more steps involved in actually learning something, than just presenting information (on the teacher's part) or superficially taking in information (on the learner's part).

The Course Design Formula® was designed to help course creators optimize the way they teach, to facilitate learning.

The formula can also work to help learners optimize the way they learn, to get more out of any course by creating a customized learning experience tailored to their own unique learning preferences and style.  

We'll explore this topic more in future blog posts. I'm creating a cognitive strategies course (learning how to learn) that each student can use to customize and optimize their own learning in any online course they take.

While you as an instructor can't customize  your course for every single student, you CAN make it easier for every student to optimize their own learning experience as they go through your course.

That's what I'm working on next... creating a way for  course participants to optimize their own learning using the Course Design Formula®.

 I'd love to hear your thoughts, reactions, questions, comments, or concerns.  My goal is to make not only teaching online, but also learning online, a gracious, harmonious and successful experience for everyone through effective learning design.

Now that so much learning, globally, has moved online due to the pandemic, making it a positive and accessible experience for everyone is more important than ever.

Let's 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, October 24th,  2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Learning how to cope with challenging times

egg cracking open with light coming from inside it

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary learning and extraordinary thought. We are all on an accelerated learning curve just trying to cope with what's going on around us every day.

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, June 6th, 2020 we will explore societal and global solutions to the problems we are all facing. Are there models that have worked, to overcome the types of society-wide challenges we face? Are there methods of thinking that can help us bring in new solutions, not only to new pandemic problems (like Coronavirus) but to old endemic ones (like racism)?

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Click on the green button to register for the meeting.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


 We need systems of healthcare, food distribution, financial wellbeing, education, housing, justice, and all other aspects of life, that honor the needs, the rights, and the inherent nobility of every member of society.

We need to let go of old ways of being and doing things that do not work, and that impact us all in negative ways.

Here's a summary of our work in the community meetings over the past several months.

(Click on the screenshots of the Trello boards to enlarge).

1) We used the structure of a mindset change course to brainstorm how to survive and thrive under challenging conditions


trello mindset course screenshot


We discovered that while mindset change is important, it's not ENOUGH to help us cope. 

2) We then explored using the structure of  a "how-to" course, to see if what we need to do is develop new skills 


Would learning new skills be the answer to surviving and thriving under conditions of uncertainty? We discovered that the answer was, once again, no.


We might indeed need to develop new skills. But skills alone are not enough to get us through.


Like having the right mindset, learning new skills might be PART of a strategy we can use to survive and thrive, but they are not the WHOLE strategy.

3) We realized that what is needed is a COGNITIVE STRATEGY.


trello questions screenshot

We needed to find ways to LEARN HOW TO LEARN about what will help us survive and thrive in these unprecedented times. Having the right mindset, and learning new skills, are important PARTS of the cognitive strategy. But we also need more: we need to learn new ways of thinking.

Community members generously shared their expertise about complex ways of thinking, such as mind-mapping, the Cynefin Framework, and Systems Theory. We explored ways of holding different (and sometimes opposing) ideas in relationship to each other. 
We related these ideas to our own experiences of life under  current conditions on all levels, from the personal to the communal to the global.

The result is  a collaboratively-developed cognitive strategy we are working on to empower ourselves and each other to find ways to fulfill our business missions under conditions of uncertainty, especially with respect to teaching online.

One of the highlights of the Saturday morning meetings has been hearing from members of the Learn and Get Smarter community about how they are adapting their products and services to meet the needs of their target audiences in these challenging times.

The creativity and innovation of this group is inspiring to us all!

cognitive strategies course screenshot

We are still exploring this process, especially on the societal and global scales. As societies struggle to reinvent themselves in ways that work better for all their members, we can look for role models that have worked effectively to overcome large scale challenges. For example, we can explore the methods South Korea used to contain the pandemic, and the methods South Africa used to democratize their social structure despite a history of racial oppression and inequality. 

Group of Multiethnic Diverse World People

As a leading-edge thought leader committed to teaching online in transformational ways,  you are a different kind of front-line worker. You are at the forefront of helping people learn and get smarter online, and my mission is to provide products and services that help you do that.  

Come to the community meeting on Saturday June 6th as we explore social and global systems that might work better than those that are crumbling around us now.  

And keep in mind that if you'd like to make this the summer you get your transformational course online to support the people you are here to serve, the Course Design Formula® Master Course starts June 16th. Write to me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com if you would like to learn more.

The current pandemic and learning

Social distancing, keep distance in public society people to protect from COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak spreading concept, businessman, woman keep distance away by drawing circle with virus pathogens

At the most fundamental, biological, level, learning is the process of adapting to one's environment in ways that promote survival. 

Which means that all of humanity is currently facing a learning task of tremendous proportions.

One of the things I've heard most often during the past week, is that we can't know how to adapt, because we are dealing with an unprecedented situation that has many unknown factors. As a society, we have no prior knowledge of how to deal with this pandemic.

In our community discussion last Saturday, we came to the realization that while we don't have the answers, we do have an important question:


What is the most helpful MINDSET we can adopt,

 as individuals and as communities,

to cope with the tremendous learning challenge we all now face?

We decided that this coming Saturday,

we will use the format and structure of a mindset change course to guide our discussion of these issues.

Following the format of a mindset-change course, here's what we will discuss:

Orange Colored Pencil Standing Out From The Crowd
  • What  unhelpful or ineffective attitudes and behaviors have contributed to the current crisis?
  • What attitudes and behaviors will be more helpful and effective, going forward?
  • What is our personal and collective motivation for adopting the helpful attitudes we discover?
  • Can we find some role models of successful adaptation to a crisis of these proportions?
  • How can we  provide each other with long term ongoing support to reinforce the helpful attitudes we discover?


Come join the discussion on Saturday. 

I'll limit it to two hours

(if we need more time, we can continue the following week).

Learn how to set up a mindset change course by creating one together as a community.

Let's brainstorm and create synergy as we focus on discovering helpful, effective ways to contribute to positive change in the face of this crisis. 

I can't think of  a deeper, or more relevant, definition of "learning" than that. Hope to see you at the meeting!

 Saturday April 4, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Register here to receive the meeting link and password.

How to make anything easier to learn

Students Wearing Lighted Mind Reading Helmets

As a student, or just a regular person going about your daily life, have you ever tried to learn how to do something, that was presented as being easy... and you just could not for the life of you figure out how to do it?

As a teacher, parent, or coach, have you ever tried to help someone do something, that seems so simple to you.... only to watch in frustration as they struggled to "get it".. and failed?


Whether you're on the teaching or learning end of the equation, this type of experience happens to everyone, at some point in time. And when it does, it feels puzzling, frustrating, and annoying. 


This (whatever you're trying to teach, or learn) is supposed to be easy! Why can't we (or they) figure it out?

When this happens, the problem is often that we are expecting our learners (or ourselves) to take mental leaps we are not yet ready for. We are expecting ourselves, or others, to be able to run before learning how to walk.


Once you realize that, the solution is surprisingly simple. Keep reading to learn how to fix this annoying problem, FAST!


Learn the Course Design Formula® !

Create courses that are engaging and easy to learn from.

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Bloom's Taxonomy gives us a way to understand the levels or stages of learning that have to happen, in sequential order, before someone can perform a complex task using concepts or information that are new to them.


The stages of learning are divided into two groups: lower order thinking skills, and higher order thinking skills.

Wh.

lower and higher order thinking skills 1

These skills have to be mastered in step by step order:

  • If you can't REMEMBER what you're supposed to do, nothing else can happen!
  • If you don't UNDERSTAND what you're supposed to do, it all becomes a meaningless jumble
  • If you remember and understand the information, but can't figure out how to APPLY it to your specific situation, you get stuck
  • If you can apply the ideas to your situation, but can't ANALYZE how to adjust and adapt to make it work, everything grinds to a halt
  • If you apply the ideas but then can't EVALUATE whether they worked, you won't know how to proceed
  • BUT... if you can complete all those steps, you are then ready to CREATE something new using the new information you've learned

Think about something you've been trying to learn how to do, or teach someone else how to do, that's been frustrating and hard to grasp. Were you expecting yourself, or others, to use higher order thinking skills before they'd mastered lower skills?

For example: If you ask a learner to write a paper without being sure they remember and understand the subject matter, the paper is not likely to be very good.

If you try to assemble a piece of furniture (create something new) without being able to analyze the instructions to see how they apply to the jumbled mess of parts in front of you, you're likely to end up with .... a jumbled mess of parts.

If you are trying to learn how to dance the salsa, but you can't remember the steps, you won't get very far. But let's say you CAN remember the steps... the way the teacher showed you... but now you have to do them all backwards in order to move with your partner. You'll need to first understand, apply, analyze and evaluate how to reverse the direction you need to move in, before you can create that winning dance routine.

If you're stuck teaching, or learning, something and it feels frustrating, go through each of the stages of Bloom's taxonomy and ask yourself if it's been mastered. If not, go back to that level and get solid on it, before trying to go to the next step.

Let me know how that works for you! I'd love to hear your challenges, reactions, and ideas.

Write to me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com and let's talk!

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy showing lower and higher order thinking skills: remember/understand/ apply/ analyze/evaluate/create

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy