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The MAGIC of coaching: what makes it work?

Young woman flexing muscles in front of large superhero shadow on pink background


In previous blog posts, I’ve shared how I structure the coaching aspect of my business, and what happens during a coaching session.

Now let’s explore the most interesting thing about coaching, which is:

 WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES IT WORK?


What I mean by “coaching”:

Working with clients individually to provide “done-with-you” course design and course creation services.


What I mean by “makes it work”:

The client ends up with a course design that fulfills their vision, goals, and expectations for what they were hoping to produce.

It's the  immediacy and specificity of the coaching situation

 that make it so highly effective.

Coaching is completely customized to the client’s unique course design situation: 

their specific target audience, subject matter, and goals.


The importance of CONTEXT

Clients often have course-design questions such as:

  • “Is this ENOUGH guided practice?” 
  • “What’s the BEST app to use?”
  •  “HOW should I provide independent performance?”

The answers can only come from understanding the whole CONTEXT:

  • Enough guided practice for teaching WHAT, to WHOM, under what CONDITIONS?
  • The best app to use for WHICH content, in WHICH situation?
  • Independent performance for WHOM, based on their having already learned WHAT?

The structure of a coaching session optimizes the ability to answer these types of questions.

Designing an effective and engaging online course requires BOTH subject matter expertise AND course design expertise, and coaching provides a customized context for making that happen. 

The client operates their subject matter expertise and I operate my course design expertise. 

Two people moving a heavy couch together


We are like two people moving a large heavy item of furniture (the course content) 

to place it in the ideal setting (the course structure).

It's difficult or impossible to move a couch up three flights of stairs and around a corner all by yourself,

but if you have someone helping you by holding up the other end, the job gets much easier.

That said, there are times when coaching is NOT the best solution to a client's course design situation or needs.

 If  you don't have an immediate, specific need to create a specific course, or don't yet have a defined course topic or  target audience, it may make more sense to take the Course Design Formula® Master Course rather than coaching.

The Master Course provides space, time, and a community of peers, allowing each participant to develop their online teaching skills while also clarifying the specific transformation they want to deliver, and for whom.

Let's say coaching IS the right answer: What makes it work?

Coaching is completely customized to the client’s unique course design situation:

their specific target audience, subject matter, and goals.

We start by creating  a high level vision for what the client wants their course (or their whole online academy) to achieve.

That gives  us a “North Star” to guide by, so that everything we design or create aligns correctly with the client’s highest vision and goals.

We then work our way down through a customized process I’ve created, to get clear on the specific transformation the client wants their course to provide.

Once we know that, we determine the specific domain of learning that will deliver that transformation most effectively.

We then use the Course Design Formula® to structure the course based on best practices for delivering instruction in that learning domain. 

Getting the domain of learning right

is essential for creating an effective and engaging course.


When you have the domain of learning right,

 the effect is smooth and easy -- like a knife through butter. 


When you have the domain of learning wrong, 

 the effect is unpleasant and grating, like nails on a chalkboard.

(Yes, having the wrong domain of learning really is that unpleasant, it actually hurts).

Young braided hair african american girl over isolated background covering ears with fingers with annoyed expression for the noise of loud  screeching

Coaching allows us to quickly adjust the course design to fit the client's deepest vision for it.

We can listen for any discordant notes,  quickly discover anything that doesn't fit the client's vision for what they want to create, and adjust it right away.


Coaching is highly effective and impactful. It gets optimum results for clients, fast. That’s because coaching:

  • Has high SOCIAL PRESENCE
  • Provides direct live GUIDED PRACTICE
  • Allows for supervised INDEPENDENT PERFORMANCE
  • Offers immediate FEEDBACK
  • Supports effective ASSESSMENT by both client and coach
  • Encourages monitored ITERATION for continual improvement

The Coaching Conundrum

When the goal is to CREATE SOMETHING NEW (the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy) it is very helpful to have one to one direct support in alignment with the 2 sigma problem discovered by Bloom (yes, the same Bloom.. this is another aspect of his research).

The coaching conundrum though is that as Bloom points out in his 2 sigma article, coaching is expensive for the client and resource intensive for the coach. 

Coaching takes a lot of INPUT of time and energy from the coach. The reason it works so well for the client is that it’s completely focused on the client’s unique situation and goals. That by definition makes it not at all scalable. The scale it works at is the scale of one to one.

Businessmen walking on top of complex maze

So coaching solves one problem 

(how to provide a customized solution tailored to each client’s specific needs)

 that reveals another problem: how to design a scalable business.

"AHA!" you may say... and in fact, many people DO say... "this is where online courses come in! 

You create online courses to scale your coaching practice."

There are ways in which this can in fact, work.

BUT...even in online courses, there is often a need for one-on-one direct live support

to help learners APPLY the teaching in the course to their own specific situation. 

Coaching is highly effective.

Courses are highly scalable.

To be both highly scalable AND highly effective, courses often need to include at least some direct one-to-one coaching

BUT... coaching is not scalable, which then puts a constraint on how scalable an online course can be and still remain optimally effective.

Have you grappled with these issues in your online course business?

We are going to take a deep dive into exploring this "wicked problem" at the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, October 23rd, 2021. 

I hope you can join us as we brainstorm and synergize how to provide an optimized learning experience for as many people as possible!

If you'd like to share your thoughts with me before then, drop me a note to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.

I can't wait to hear YOUR experiences, insights, and reflections on coaching, courses, and how they can work together in your business to help people learn and get smarter!

The biggest barrier to scaling an online course, effectively

Held back metaphor as a large anchor holding or oppressing an air balloon and restricting movement

One of the amazing affordances (things you can do easily and well) of online learning, is the ability to reach an unlimited number of learners...to teach people asynchronously, at scale.

The gold standard of success for online courses is the idea that we can teach people all over the world, while we sleep, making unlimited income while having an exponential impact.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? And in fact, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it, successfully. So... what's the catch?

The catch is that in order to actually WORK  (in order to actually teach people effectively), any instruction has to overcome a major constraint: the narrow limits of working memory.

Learners can only hold a very small number of things in mind at any single time. This is true for in-person learning as well as online learning. But when learning takes place live in person in the physical world, the instructor receives many clues that indicate when learners are getting stuck, overwhelmed, confused, and need help.

It's harder for instructors to pick up those cues in an online course (and impossible to pick them up if we are trying to "teach while we sleep!"). We must be awake, in at least a metaphorical sense, and paying close attention to our learners, in order to know when they are feeling lost, confused, overwhelmed, and need extra help.

You can --and certainly should--  build mechanisms into an online course to ensure you receive consistent feedback from your learners, and are able to respond to their needs. But doing so also limits how scalable your course can be.

If you wake up from a good night's sleep to a large pile of support tickets or emails asking questions about a point in your course that was not clear, you may spend all day addressing those.

That may still work in a course with 20 students, or 100. But it becomes unmanageable if your course has 1000 students... limiting your ability to scale your course and teach effectively at the same time.

cartoon woman screaming "aaaah!"

What's a course creator to do?

Designing your online course in ways that manage, eliminate, and optimize cognitive load, is critical.

 I've just written an article on cognitive load for the Thinkific blog, and I'd be thrilled if you could take a look, read it, learn from it, and share it with everyone you know.

The sooner we get the word out about how to make online courses more effective and easier to learn from, the sooner we can light up the planet, one mind at a time!

Making your course easier to understand without the need for a lot of hand-holding from you, the instructor, is much more easily said than done.

Applying good learning design best practices is critical, and that's what the Course Design Formula® makes it as fast and easy as possible for you to do.

But even once you've done that, there's also the issue of simplifying the navigation and removing as many barriers to technology usage, as possible.

One of the biggest sources of tech support calls in many online courses, involves challenges learners face in downloading and filling in fillable PDF files, for example. 

PDF files can be useful and engaging in an online course, but the challenges some users face in accessing, downloading, saving and filling them in (depending on their device, browser, and other factors), can also make PDFs labor intensive to manage from the instructor's point of view, and sometimes frustrating from the learner's perspective.

What's the solution?


Right now, I'm developing an exciting new course that will help you streamline the creation of any of your own courses.

It's a supplement to (and not a substitute for) the Course Design Formula® Master Course, where you get the full scope of training needed to become a transformational online teacher. 

This new course is  a short, targeted guide to outlining your course, planning your lessons, and selecting your media.

 My goal is to make it evergreen, self-paced, and scalable... especially suitable for organizations that want to train their staff to set up online courses quickly and well.

Streamlined Course Creation
Hosted by  Rebecca Cuevas
About this webinar In this webinar, I’m going to formally introduce myself and tell you the story of how I got here. We’ll dive into what it takes to set up a highly effective and engaging online course, and I’ll share with you a system that can help you get YOUR course set up faster than you ever thought possible. What you’ll learn How to structure your course to promote learning How to plan effective lessons How to make your course stand out from the crowd Stay to the end to receive a special offer I make only to attendees of this webinar!


Michelangelo famously said that it was easy to create the Statue of David:

"Just look at the block of marble and then remove everything that ISN'T David."

That's easy for a genius of Michelangelo's caliber to say.

But for the rest of us, deciding what "isn't David" (what DOESN'T need to be in our online course) is not always easy.

In order to create a course that is both highly effective and highly scalable, I'm working on removing anything that makes navigating the course or downloading documents within the course, a challenge.

My goal is to optimize learner engagement and self-efficacy while keeping tech support calls to a minimum.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Michelangelo's David in the Piazza della Signoria Florence Italy

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