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Your central purpose for teaching online

The sun coming up behind a nountain

The members of the Learn and Get Smarter community who have been coming together on Saturdays since the pandemic began, have been exploring ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times, especially with respect to how our businesses can adapt. Since we are a group of educators and entrepreneurs, our focus is on how we can provide transformative online courses that meet the needs of the times. 

At the community meeting on Saturday, July 25th, 2020 we started by reflecting on gratitude, which had been the topic we arrived at the week before. In our consideration of systems thinking, we had reached the profound and surprising revelation that gratitude serves as the engine that drives the interconnecting systems that operate at all levels in our lives. 

Community member Alli Berman, interactive artist and creator of the PuzzleArt™ Therapy  system, had shared that she was grateful for the sun. This turned our thoughts toward the sun and its role as the central actor in the solar system, and the driving energy source for all the systems that operate within it: from the rotational paths of the planets to the production of food.

Our group discussion then delved much deeper into the metaphor of the central "sun" as the organizing principle in any system at any scale. 

You  take on the role of the “sun” (the central operator  or driving force) relative to your business and your course.

Energy can’t be created or destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. When you develop an effective and engaging online course, you are creating a learning system that allows you to transfer the energy you've gathered in your life... allows you to share your expertise in a way that produces benefits for others.

When we teach, we are transferring our energy, our store of resources, to those who are here to learn from us. We are passing on that stored energy in a way that has the potential to continue far beyond our own lifetimes.

What are the benefits that your course, as a learning system, will provide? How will  peoples’ lives be better, as a direct result of taking your course? What are the results that your course will produce? And how can you set your course up to accomplish that?

The Course Design Formula® is a course development system whose purpose is to produce online courses that really teach. In transferring an existing course from in person to online, you have to break the whole system and start over.  The Course Design Formula® shows you how to do that in the least disruptive and most effective way possible.

If you instead try to just transfer an existing offline course to the online space by simply digitizing it (without redesigning it first),  the result will not be engaging, effective, or dymamic. The online version won't teach as effectively as the original face to face version, as many are discovering right about now.

But....what does it mean to "really teach"? 

Educational researcher and theorist Robert M. Gagné defines teaching as "arranging a series of events that promote learning".

What is learning and how can we tell it has occurred?

Gagné says that learning has occured when the teacher observes a change in behavior that persists over time.

(For example, you haven't really adopted a mindset change about healthy eating if you stop eating junk food for a day or a week and then start right back up again).

Robert M Gagne tells us that learning is demonstrated by a change in behavior that is persistent over time

So the central purpose of any system can be seen in observing what it produces. An anecdote that illustrates this concept is mentioned in the movie Annie Hall, to the effect that one might not want to tell someone they are crazy for thinking they are a chicken, if one is benefitting from the "eggs". 

The Covid19 pandemic is smashing the "eggs"  (the benefits) that many of our existing systems provide. How do you know when a system is no longer producing benefits and needs to be scrapped? How do know when the "eggs" are turning rotten and are not worth holding onto?

When systems break or stop working, how can we reformulate them in more adaptive ways?

And how does one change a system without causing major chaos and upheaval?

These are all questions that we're seeing played out on all levels of our lives, from the personal to the political, these days.

The pandemic has forced us all to go into a dark, quiet inner space and reflect on how we want to transform ourselves. 

We've been gifted, whether we wanted to be or not, with a long contemplative period to think about what matters and what we can let go of.

How do you want to reinvent the world for yourself, going forward?

In order to be able to rethink and adapt a system due to new conditions (such as the pandemic) you have to go back and reflect on your central “why”: what is the purpose of your system (whether your business, your course, etc)?


As an educator, your job is not to just pour your own light onto others but rather to support and encourage the growth of their  light, helping them to express their own inner purpose.

Systems come and go and change and evolve and die. But the difference that you make for people will always live on.

Get super clear on your central purpose.

What is the transformation you want to bring into the world? 

Existential question What Is Your Why typed on vintage typewriter with copy space.

Getting really clear on your central purpose will help you operate all the systems in your life at their highest and best, and will strengthen you to withstand and overcome unstable circumstances and obstacles that appear in your path.

So to sum up, here's what our unguided discovery learning has led us to appreciate about what works so far:

  • Gratitude
  • Clarity of purpose
  • Service to others

What’s YOUR mission? What’s the central guiding purpose of your business? What’s the overarching transformation you want your online course to deliver? 

Let’s talk about it in the Facebook group... or send me an email to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.

At next week's community meeting on Saturday, August 1st, 2020 we will explore methods of gaining deeper insight into ways to express our guiding purpose through online teaching.

We'll have a special in-depth presentation from one of our very insightful community members, who will teach us a method she uses to help us understand more about our own teaching and learning style and those of our students. You won't want to miss this!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, August 1st, 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.

Discovering the engine of success

colorful paintsplash background with the words

Whether or not you are able to attend the weekly Learn and Get Smarter community meetings in person, I invite you to follow along with our ongoing group process of collaborative discovery as we explore ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times.

As a community focused on creating effective and engaging online courses, we are well-positioned to cope with conditions that allow social connectedness online while maintaining physical distancing in the physical world.

Nowhere is this issue more critical than in the education sector. Like many of you, I watch with concern as parents, teachers, and employers struggle to resolve complex issues balancing physical health and safety, the need to earn a living, and the educational needs of students. 

The challenges, decisions, and dilemmas facing both parents and teachers with respect to in-person learning, are gut-wrenching.

As online educators, we are fortunate that all three of these needs can be met through our chosen work medium. Through teaching online we can protect our own and others' physical health while earning a living and meeting the educational needs of our students.

At the community meeting on Saturday, July 18th, 2020 we started to apply the systems thinking we've been learning about, to our own lives. We started to explore systems we have in place that are working well for us on all levels -- from the physical to the emotional to the intellectual to the spiritual (roughly following along the lines of Maslow's Hierarchy).

Maslow's pyramid of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom.

It quickly became apparent that the SYSTEMS in our lives do not operate independently of each other.

 Rather, systems that we have in place to promote physical health also impact our emotional well-being. Systems that help us learn and grow also contribute to our feelings of self-actualization. And so on.  

In sharing what's working well right now during the pandemic, the  systems that ticked boxes on multiple levels were the ones that were most effective.  

But one thing stood out above everything else, and this was a truly powerful discovery that we made as a group during the meeting. 


The one thing that worked better than anything else

 to help us survive and thrive, 

was

 FEELING GRATITUDE.

We tried an experiment during the meeting, which was to go through the "Rampage of Appreciation" exercise developed by Esther and Jerry Hicks.  The way we did this was to simply look around and find five things  to appreciate in our immediate environment. (You can choose any number, choosing five was arbitrary.) We each shared what our five things were and why we appreciated them.

This was a powerful exercise with meaningful results. We learned that what we appreciate depends on our individual perceptual lens. We learned that what we focus on determines what we see. We learned that one person's sharing of what they appreciate leads to benefits for others as well. 

We decided that during the week ahead we will continue to look for things to appreciate in our immediate environments, and focus on feeling gratitude for what's working well.

That doesn't mean we don't see or acknowledge the many challenging and painful things that many are facing during the pandemic. Those are all too clear and obvious.

What it does mean is that in order to find ways to survive and thrive,  putting our focus on the things that we can be grateful for, is proving EFFECTIVE as the driving engine of the whole "system of systems" that make up our lives.

A highly enlightening book for learning how systems intersect and interact, is Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows. Several of us are reading this book now (or listening on audiobook). I'm finding that this book provides an ongoing stream of enlightening revelations about how things work and connect on multiple levels of life.


An online course is a SYSTEM designed to promote learning. The guiding principle behind instructional design is that the system must be properly constructed in order for learning to result.

The Course Design Formula® is a system for designing online courses, that helps you design yours properly so that learning can FLOW from your mind to your learner's minds, leading to lightbulb moments.

But not all lightbulb moments result from learning that's been intentionally designed. At our community  meetings, we are not designing courses... we are engaging in unguided discovery learning (which is what you do when you are trying to learn about something you are NOT an expert at).

The discovery of the importance of FEELING GRATITUDE as the central engine that drives all other systems in our lives, was a serendipitous and somewhat surprising discovery we made as a group. 

Closeup super excited happy screaming woman with many light idea bulbs above head celebrates success looking up on gray wall background

I invite you to reflect on the systems in your life that are working well for you right now, as well as those that you have the opportunity to improve. You are welcome to download this worksheet to use as a guide (it's a Word document, so save it to your own computer and fill it in in any way you find helpful).

You are welcome to share any insights, reflections, or discoveries you arrive at, in the Course Design Formula® Community Facebook group, and/or by sending me an email at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com. And of course, I hope you'll join us on Saturday, July 25th for the next community meeting, as we continue to explore ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times.

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, July 25th, 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.

It’s Complicated

Set of icons vector development, simple and complex way of development, optimization of the process, complex and simple

Most of us, I think, would agree that the current situation can best be defined as a "hot mess".

But what KIND of a hot mess? Are we living in complete chaos?

It certainly feels that way at times...yet as our discussions at the weekly Learn and Get Smarter community meetings show, many of us are starting to find our way out of the initial chaos the pandemic has caused literally every single person on the face of the earth.

We've been sharing coping strategies, serendipitous discoveries, and powerful pivots that have forced us all to engage in learning opportunities we never would have otherwise considered.

(Yours truly, for example, is learning how to unclog  a sink drain. Which for anyone who has ever known me, is truly mind-boggling).

Learning is the process of adapting to one's environment in ways that promote survival, and the Covid19 pandemic is probably the most challenging learning situation our planet has faced, ever.

Coping effectively is literally a matter of life and death on every level, from the physical to the financial to the societal. 

But what, exactly, are we coping with? Is it in fact chaos?

At last Saturday's community meeting Janice Fingler ​ treated us to a  presentation on the Cynefin framework, originated by Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge.

Janice shared her in-depth expertise on dealing with extreme uncertainty in high-stakes situations. 

To learn more about Janice's fascinating work, visit her website at https://jfingler.com/.  Although initially targeted towards project managers in the mining industry, Janice is now opening up her services to help experts in other fields grow their readiness to respond to changing risk.

She does that by deploying the strategies and approaches used by gold explorers...these strategies help anyone living "in the wilds" (as we all are, these days)  make more confident decisions.

 She has graciously allowed me to share the following example illustration of some aspects of the Cynefin framework, that she created for the meeting, with all of us:

A diagram of the Cynefin Framework

Janice explained that conditions of chaos tend to be unstable and don't last long, modulating into systems that are either complex, complicated, or clear and obvious.  

In the wake of the initial chaos caused by the pandemic, many things that once seemed clear and obvious no longer do. 

It seemed like we had stability in clear and obvious routines, supply chains, systems, and ways of doing things. But we’re finding that many no longer work, no longer serve us, or no longer even exist following the blast of chaos the pandemic produced.

As we emerge from chaos, many of us are now experiencing the world around us as complex. We are working hard on finding ways to create new levels of order that include the types of complicated structures needed to facilitate problem solving under conditions of uncertainty and risk.

The journey towards order, that we crave as humans, isn’t so simple and direct now. The challenge of Covid19 has actually given us a gift, of teaching us that we need to embrace the disordered, non-linear and unpredictable world we actually live in and will continue to live in – rather than the more simplistic and straightforward "reality" we thought we lived in.   

We then talked about family-level solutions we are exploring in our own lives, whether for taking care of the very young, the very old, or finding new ways to work while also restructuring family interactions.

Some questions we asked include:

  • How can we take care of our own needs while also taking care of others?
  • How can we  start implementing systems that deal with the new demands, and also protect our work space and time?
  • Is there any way we can outsource some of the work?
  • Are there ways in which this new reality is GOOD for our business?
  • If so what are those ways and how can we optimize them?

We'll explore that last question in depth at next week's community meeting.

Come share YOUR insights and expertise as we continue to reflect on cognitive strategies we can apply to help us learn and get smarter in the face of uncertainty and risk.

The Cynefin framework is certainly a powerful  tool for doing that, and Janice's presentation deepened our ability to think outside the box in these uncertain times, helping us move closer to turning challenges into opportunities.

Join us on Saturday, May 16th, 2020


9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern


Join us at next week's community meeting to continue the conversation!

many people online in a conference call

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!

Developing strategies to learn how to survive and thrive

A group of people helping each other survive and thrive

At our community meeting last week, we used the structure of a "how to" course to think about how to survive and thrive under conditions of extreme uncertainty, specifically, the current conditions due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

We decided that the "target audience" for the course we are creating together, will be us, ourselves... this Learn and Get Smarter community of experts and entrepreneurs who are focused on creating quality online courses.

Since we are designing the course for ourselves, we will be able to test its usefulness to us, once we have it developed.

At next week's meeting (on Saturday, April 18th, at 9 AM Pacific/ 12 noon Eastern) we will put the work we've done over the past two weeks together, to create a cognitive strategy course.  The learning goal for the course will be to help us think about what we need to learn (and how best to learn it) in order to cope with the current pandemic on all levels of our lives and society.

We decided to focus on using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as an organizing framework for thinking about how to survive and thrive at each level.

If you have my book, you can read about how to structure a cognitive strategy course on pages 156-157 of the paperback.

During the meeting, we will use the work we've done over the past several weeks, to figure out what the cognitive strategy (or strategies) should be. We've looked at both mindset changes and practical skills that will be helpful.... now it's time to put this all together in an effective and engaging way.

Come join us next Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will design a

 cognitive strategy ("learning how to learn") course

for adapting to change

 in the face of the current pandemic.

As these meetings evolve, my goal is to help you understand the different types of course design structures you can use to support different types of learning.

As a community, we are gaining hands-on practice and experience in building something new together, from the ground up.

When you design a course in your own area of expertise, you are, by definition, an expert.

The Course Design Formula® can help you overcome the "expert blind spot" that makes it hard for experts to see what non-experts (your future course participants) must understand in order to benefit from participating in your course.

During our Saturday community meetings, we are using aspects of the Course Design Formula® in a different way, though. 

In this case, we are dealing with a situation where no one in the world yet has the expertise fully needed to deal with a novel and unprecedented situation. We are living in what I refer to as the "fractal zone"...an area of swirling chaos and uncertainty, that is part and parcel of chaos theory.

In fact, chaos theory may be a useful organizing principle to help us think about these chaotic conditions and uncertain times.

Abstract Living Coral Reef Colorful Sea Swirl Spiral Pattern Trendy Colors Bright Pastel Orange Teal Light Blue Fractal Fine Art Nautilus Sea Shell

This Saturday, we will work on developing cognitive strategies for dealing with the uncertainty and risk inherent in chaos. Our goal is to optimize our own and each others' abilities to survive and thrive in unpredictable complex conditions.

Come join in the conversation and share in the synergy!