Category Archives for Working memory

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 screenshot


If you're interested in being notified first when the course is ready, 

drop me a note to

 Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com

 and put

"Streamlined course creation" 

in the subject line. 


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