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Ensuring Learner Success

Happy people jumping for joy

How can you ensure learner success in your online course?

Just as in a physical classroom, there is no 100% guaranteed way to be SURE that EVERYONE who signs up for an online course, will complete everything in it and get optimal results.  

Some of that depends on the learner: their motivation, persistence, level of engagement, prior knowledge, and many other factors.

But let's look at the elements that we CAN control as we design and build our courses, and do our very best to optimize those.

  • Learning Design

  • Lesson Clarity

  • Engagement

Learning Design

Have a clear learning goal for the course as a whole.

Structure the course based on how people learn the EXACT type of material needed to reach that goal.

Make sure that everything in the course  contributes to achieving the course learning goal.

How can you make  your course work for EACH learner, when each learner is so unique?

The most important contributor to learner success, beyond your course design, is the learners themselves.
A question I've been pondering lately is: how can we, as online course designers, create a CUSTOMIZED learning experience for each learner, when people vary so much in their personalities, motivations, prior knowledge, and ways of approaching a task?


It's relatively easy to  create a customized experience and ensure that each of your learners is engaged, learning, happy, and getting what they need out of the course, when your course is small.

The key there is to build FEEDBACK MECHANISMS into the course at every step of the way, so that your course participants know they can always reach you and that you will hear and respond to their challenges, issues, and concerns.

But many people create online courses with the goal of having an evergreen, "set it and forget it" way to "teach while you sleep".  That goal is the gold standard of online course design... but is it effective in terms of getting learners real results?

The ONLINE LEARNING situation makes it relatively easy to use digital media to create an evergreen "set it and forget it" course that puts money in your bank account while you sleep.  

However, the requirements of HUMAN LEARNING often demand real-time (or at least, semi-synchronous)  interaction and monitoring from an actual human (ie, YOU).  Ensuring that  learning gets  into each of your learners' minds in the way that works best for them requires ongoing,  dynamic participation from an instructor who is awake.

How does one reconcile these two things?

If you put your course online and then "set it and forget it", how can you be sure that each of your course participants is getting real results? 


Triumphant business people standing in front of rays of light

The best way is to ASK them, of course.  You can build feedback and assessment mechanisms into your course using quizzes, surveys, polls, live group coaching sessions, office hours, forms, and many other methods.

Creating a culture of feedback, and being open to hearing it, is critical.

It is also important to respond to user feedback so that your course participants feel they are not just putting information out there, but also getting  meaningful responses back from you.

Silhouettes of people with colorful speech bubbles

It's important to talk to your future course participants before, during, and after the time you spend working with them in your online course.

  • Talk to them before creating a course to be sure you are creating a course they want and need. 
  • Talk to them while creating your course in order to beta test and pilot and get feedback on whether your course design addresses their needs.
  •  Especially talk to them while TEACHING your course, and then 
  • Talk to them afterwards to find out how the course went for them and how they are using what they learned, now that the course is over.

As I mentioned above, it's relatively easy, or at least, possible,  to talk to your students, receive and respond to feedback,  and help each learner get the most out of your course, when your course is relatively small.

My Course Design Formula® Master Course, for example, is like a boutique bistro restaurant that serves custom-catered "meals"  (by which I mean, delectable learning experiences) to a small group of highly select students.

 I can provide a tailored, individualized experience for a small group of students at a time. I can't (at least, not yet) provide that level of customization for an unlimited number students at a time. That's one of the goals I'm working towards, but in the meantime, I just want to enroll a small group of highly dedicated students for the next cohort, which starts January 12th, 2021. 

Class size will be limited, so if one of your goals is to create a powerful, transformative online course that does justice to your unique  expertise, it's not too early to start thinking NOW about whether you'd like one of the few spots in that very select group.

There's a lot of pressure on online course creators to grow and scale their courses. Growing and scaling a course is relatively easy if the course mainly provides information in a digital format. But if your course teaches complex processes that learners must APPLY to their own  unique situations  in practical, performance-based ways, then a higher degree of direct interaction and guidance from you as the instructor will be needed in order to ensure your learners get results.

One of the challenges that I see happening in many "set it and forget it" style online courses is that learner success (and therefore, learner attention) drop off around module 3 or 4. That's where the need to actually APPLY what's been presented in the course so far, begins to come in. How many online courses have you bought where you see THIS pattern happen:

  • Welcome! Everyone is excited about the course!
  •  The basic information is presented. Everyone gets it. All is well.
  • Things start getting hard, it's time to actually DO things the instructor tells you to do
  • You stop paying attention to the course
  • You never look at the course again
  • You feel guilty for having spent money on something that didn't get you the results promised
  • You start to wonder if you're actually good at learning things
  • You start to wonder if online courses really work

I've been thinking a lot about the above scenario, which I've seen happen far too many times in too many online courses. If that's happened to you (it has to me, and to pretty much everyone I know), here are some things to consider:

  • It's not your fault. You sincerely wanted to learn the material.
  • It's not the instructor's fault. Their course may actually be well designed.
  • It's the fault of a mismatch between the AFFORDANCES of the online learning space, and the CONSTRAINTS of human learning.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that the online learning space makes it fast, easy, and tempting to create learning materials that can be sold to an unlimited number of people.

But the way human beings learn requires personal guidance, fine-tuning, and hand-holding, often at an individual level, especially if the learning is complex and needs to be applied in practical ways.

From a business-model point of view, the online learning space makes it possible to earn a lot of money, as many have done and are doing, by creating a product that can be sold to many people at one time and that requires little to no maintenance, supervision, or upkeep once it's been set up.

From a learning-model point of view, however, learning something new in a way that works for YOU as a learner, may require in-depth focus, attention, wisdom, guidance, understanding, and personal interaction.

 This is more true for some learners than others, and more true at some points along the learning journey than others.

I'm working my way towards developing a  new, integrated business + learning model focusing on the touch-points that require  in-depth and customized focus from the instructor.

My goal is to help all of us optimize both the impact and the reach of our online courses.

I'm working towards creating a high-level understanding of how each of us can structure the entire "universe" of our course offerings (our "whole cow") in ways that optimize the "set it and forget it" aspects for things that DON'T require in-depth guidance from the instructor, and also optimize the "high learning impact" aspects for parts of the learning curve that DO.


Come to the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting (we're BACK after taking last week off due to a conference) and let's talk about what's on YOUR mind with respect to creating online courses that YOUR course participants will learn from, and love!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern

many people online in a conference call

Who are you here to serve?

Group of people on peak mountain climbing helping team work , travel trekking success business concept

In honor of Father's Day, which just passed, I'd like to send a note of appreciation to all members of the Learn and Get Smarter community who are Dads.

Fathers are powerful teachers, not only in their own children's lives but for the community as a whole, and I'd like to share some wisdom that I learned from my own father, that is relevant to the endeavor we are all engaged in: creating effective and engaging online courses that really teach, at a deep level.

My father had a reservoir of stories and anecdotes, many of which were passed down from HIS father in the form of wisdom tales, and I'd like to share one with you now. It goes like this (and please keep in mind that this is intended purely as a humorous teaching story, and not as a theological treatise or commentary of any kind).

Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a man who, unlike all of you, did not lead an exemplary life. He wasn't like you at all, because he wasn't kind, he wasn't caring, and he didn't do good things to help others. So, unfortunately, after he passed away he ended up in... well, let's just put it politely by saying, he didn't get to go to a very nice place.

Instead,  he found himself in the nether regions being greeted by a guide who offered to give him a tour of the facilities.  

The man, however, was very surprised by what he saw there! He was expecting to see all kinds of punishments... but instead he saw a lush banquet table piled to the brim with delectable goodies.

How could this be? People were seated on both sides of the table, and in front of them was every kind of delicacy imaginable!

"I'm confused", the man said to his tour guide. "I thought that being down here was supposed to be a punishment?"

"Look closer," his guide admonished, and when he did, the man saw  that the people at the table had been given extra long forks... forks that were longer than their own arms.

Even though all sorts of delicious food was right in front of them, the people were not able get it into their mouths.

"Would you like to see what it's like upstairs?" his kind guide  asked. "You can't stay there, but you can get a quick glimpse of what you're missing."

The man was very curious, so he jumped at the chance to see what the reward of a virtuous life would have been like.  When they got there for the tour, though, he was even more surprised.

At first glance, it looked JUST like what he'd seen downstairs! He saw the same banquet table, piled high with the same delectable treats! And he even saw... the same long forks!

"Now wait just one minute," the man exclaimed in confusion. "How is this any different than what we just saw downstairs?"

"Look closer" his wise guide told him.  

And when the man looked closer, he realized in a flash what the difference was.

Here, the people were not trying (and failing) to feed themselves using those extra long forks.

Instead, they were using the long forks to feed each other across the table."

And that one difference in perspective, the perspective of focusing on serving others, was what made all the difference .


At the Learn and Get Smarter community meetings, and in this blog, we've considered how our own missions and businesses can contribute to overcoming inequities and creating a better world for all.

When I think of the people who make up this learning and teaching community, one thing stands out:

 This is a community focused on using online courses as a way of serving others. 

The courses we are working so hard to create, are our own "long forks". 

At last week's community meeting, we touched on the issue of leadership as an important factor that determines whether individuals, families, communities, nations, and our planet as a whole, can survive and thrive.

The pandemic throws these issues into high relief, creating a learning opportunity--a learning NECESSITY--for our planet as a whole.

When leadership at any level is focused in self-serving ways (trying to feed ITSELF with those long forks), not only is the result unsatisfying, but everyone ends up feeling terrible.

Enlightened leadership, on the other hand, is focused on SERVICE.


Service can include:

  • Promoting physical health and well-being for oneself and others
  • Strengthening positive relationships between individuals and among groups
  • Developing business practices that support the good of all
  • Creating opportunities for others to learn and grow
  • Building communities that enhance the well-being of all their members
  • Working towards local and global economies that sustainably meet everyone's needs

Online learning is at the epicenter of the shakeup that is happening in the pandemic's wake. Creating online learning that truly serves the communities we are called to work with, is not just a job, a profession, or a role.

Transformative online teaching is a calling, and if you're reading this, you have heard, and answered, that call.

In the Course Design Formula® Master Course this week, we will be delving into market research. One can think of market research as a way of learning more about the people we are here to serve, and how we can best serve them. Who are they? What are they dealing with? What help do they need that we are able to provide?

Whether you are in the course, or are able to come to the community meeting next Saturday, or not, let's all take some time this week to reflect on the people sitting across from us at the long banquet table of life. What can we provide them with, to make their lives better? How can we promote perspectives of service in our courses, our businesses, and in the world?

We'll continue to explore these ideas together, at the community meeting next Saturday. I hope you can join us and share your thoughts.

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, June 27th, 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.

Group of Multiethnic Diverse World People

Lean Forward

Puzzles with business woman

How do you deal with an unprecedented situation for which you have no pre-existing mental frameworks... no appropriate prior knowledge?

That's the challenge our entire planet has been facing for the past several months.

How are YOU facing it? How are you holding up?

If you're like most of us, you may have been finding this time incredibly stressful on every level.

And yet, you may also be finding this challenging time a catalyst for creativity and growth.

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting last Saturday, we  asked ourselves:

How can we be creative with our businesses and courses?
How can we find solutions instead of complaining?

One solution we discussed at the meeting was to "lean forward"... both physically and literally... so as to create a sense of energy and momentum (such as when appearing on screen in a Zoom meeting), and metaphorically by leaning forward into the future with energy and purpose.

We've been exploring the value of chaotic conditions, conditions of disruption, as a catalyst for developing new ways of doing things.

Considering the area of education in particular, we looked at educational resources that are especially available to us now.

We explored ways this can this time can provide  opportunities to improve learning for ourselves, our families, our businesses, our communities, and our societies.

Some ideas we explored at the meeting included:

  • learning from family
  • learning online
  • self-paced learning
  • following one's own interests in depth
  • finding out what kids' interests are and then teaching them about that
  • learning through practical hands-on experiences (real life learning, apprenticeships)
  • real life lessons.... learning by failure as well as success (safe to fail experiments--small consequences from failure)
  • practical hands on learning: kids can have their own business, for example
  • pairing up introverts and extroverts/ talkers and non-talkers 
  • pairing up people with others who need help

We are adapting to the current conditions through:

  • using what we've got to the fullest
  • replacing our old routines and rituals with new ones
  • pairing up people with others who need help (delivery systems pair up people who need jobs with people who need food)

The Course Design Formula Master Course starts June 16th!

Write to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com to reserve your spot!


If you're ready to start turning creative solutions in YOUR business into an online course for the people you're here to serve,

Learn and Get Smarter is here to help. 

The next cohort of the Course Design Formula® Master Course is starting soon.

Write to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com NOW to reserve your place!

How are YOU "leaning forward" in YOUR business?


An entrepreneur solves problems that are causing people pain.


Right now, the entire planet is in pain.

What solutions can we come up with, in our areas of expertise, to help alleviate that pain,

in alignment with our mission?


Your mission this week (should you feel inspired to accept it) is to look for examples that you find effective, of creative solutions that are working to keep people healthy, employed, connected, and fed.

Here's an example that I think is both creative and  inspiring:

Air B n B has come up with the idea of "experiences" that people can reserve online (rather than reserving physical accomodation in homes). Air B n B hosts are inviting others into their homes virtually, since they can't invite them physically.

Check it out here: 

https://www.airbnb.com/s/experiences

At next week's community meeting we will explore models of creative entrepreneurship and inspired social solutions.

How is YOUR business adjusting and adapting? Has your mission changed, pivoted, or remained the same?

How is your business and your mission contributing to the public good?

Let's continue to inspire ourselves and each other as we build community, collaboration and connection to strengthen our social and emotional capital in these challenging times.

Come to the community meeting on May 30th and keep the momentum going as we continue to explore ways to  optimize our impact as thought leaders,  educators and entrepreneurs.

Wise Women's Meeting

Register for the meeting

Saturday, May 30th  2020

9 AM Pacific/ 12 noon Eastern

Many people portrait on a tablet screen