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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

Bridging the Digital Divide

Unconnected bridge above the Colorado River

A funny thing happened on my way to the Learn and Get Smarter Community meeting last Saturday: the electricity in my neighborhood went out.

Suddenly, instead of logging into the Zoom meeting ahead of time to to be graciously ready to greet the group, I found myself frantically scrambling to log in on my phone.

Logging in on the phone did not provide the same level of access and control that I’m used to having in Zoom meetings. I made another community member the co-host in case I got kicked out of the meeting again, and guess what, I did.

And this time I couldn’t get back on, because now I had no cached internet to show me the meeting ID and password.

(Lesson learned: write down the meeting ID and password of any meeting you’re in, on a piece of paper, in case this happens to you. Have redundant systems in place).

I was able to text a community member on the phone, and she sent me the credentials I needed to get back in to my own meeting.

After a while, the power whirred back on, and I was able to rejoin the meeting in the usual way. But this brief time of not having full access to the tools and resources that make our digital lives run smoothly, yielded many insights.

  • Keep everything charged up. I am thinking that phone and device chargers, including some solar powered ones, would make great holiday gifts for everyone this year.
  • Have redundant systems in place. Especially for those of us who are running online meetings as part of our businesses, think about how you would manage a Zoom class or client meeting if your power went out. Have more than one way to reach people. What’s your backup plan?
  • Create a strong community, and discuss how to handle this type of situation before it happens (and hopefully it never will).

Beyond the immediate practical lessons learned, though, is a much more sobering one. 

In a world where we are living, working, and learning increasingly online, what happens when people don’t have equal access to technology—not just for a few minutes on one day, but all day every day?

The term for unequal and inconsistent access to technology resources is
“Digital Divide”.


“The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a US-based nonprofit organization, has found the term "digital divide" to be problematic, since there are a multiplicity of divides.

Instead, they chose to use the term "digital inclusion," providing a definition: Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

This includes 5 elements:

1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 

2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;

3) access to digital literacy training;

4) quality technical support;

5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration”.

What’s the solution? Digital inclusion and digital literacy:

Learn more about digital inclusion here:


and digital literacy:

What can you and I, personally, do about this right now?

The first step is awareness of the issue.

Until I got thrown out of my own meeting due to a power failure, I had not experienced the profound difference in how it FEELS, to lack access to the digital platforms that are everyone’s main means of connection and interaction at this time. 

It was not a good feeling.

  • I felt helpless, frustrated, and powerless.
  • I couldn’t be the gracious hostess I expect to be, in my own community.
  • I couldn’t be a community leader, and if it hadn’t been for the prompt and kind response of my community members, I couldn’t have participated in the community at all.

I am a digitally literate, digitally included, digitally privileged person. The power outage only lasted a short time. I’m glad it happened though, because it showed me what it must be like for those with little to no digital access and/or skills, who are being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital space often against their wills.

Those of us who have been here on our own volition for a long time, and see living online as a good thing, have a role to play in helping those on the other side of this divide get online and gain greater levels of comfort and enjoyment in being there.

Sometimes the difference between a good and a bad online experience, comes down to having the right tools.

Accessing a Zoom meeting on an iphone is possible, but it’s not the full experience one has accessing the same meeting on a laptop. An old ipad may work, but can lead to poor user experience if it’s not up to speed accessing websites and apps.

We need to keep this in mind as we design our own courses.

How can we make our material as available and accessible as possible, for all our learners, regardless of the devices they are using and their levels of access to technology?

(Sometimes the only way to find out that learners are struggling with digital access issues, is to hear it from them when something doesn’t work…. which is why it’s critical to build continual feedback mechanisms into your course).

computer repair toolbox

From our perspective as online course designers,

 the call for “online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration” speaks volumes. 

Creating effective and engaging online learning material is not just a learning design issue.

 It’s a social equality issue.

I’ll explore this topic in more depth in future blog posts. 

In the meantime, is there someone in your sphere of influence

 who would benefit from greater levels of digital inclusion? 

And if so, what can you do to reach out and help them?

You are invited to 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, November 14th, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call