Tag Archives for " Learning Design "

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!

Designing the different levels of a course

Russian nesting dolls standing in a line

We've talked about the five domains of learning defined by educational researcher and theorist Robert M. Gagné.
Gagné divided learning up into the following major types:

  • Verbal information (declarative knowledge)
  • Attitudes (mindset)
  • Cognitive strategies (learning how to learn)
  • Intellectual skills (how-to)
  • Motor skills (physical movement)

The  Course Design Formula® that I teach in my book and course provides research-based guidance on how to set up a course based on each of these types of learning.

But what if your course contains more than one type of learning?

Many, if not most, courses do.


The way to handle that is to realize that a course has more than one LEVEL, and each level of the course can have its own domain of learning. 

To make this concept easy to visualize, think of those nested wooden dolls where one fits inside the other.

Your course as a whole is the outermost "doll", which holds all the others. So the first thing to do is set up the course as a whole based on its domain of learning. Let's use an example-- an intellectual skills  ("how-to") course about How to Change a Tire.

The next level inside the course is the module level: the large sections or chapters or chunks that hold the lessons. Each module can have its own domain of learning, which might be different from the domain of learning for the course as a whole.  

The first module of our imaginary "How to Change a Tire" course might be called "Things you need" in order to change a tire. At the end of this first module, learners won't yet be able to change a tire. They will be able to state/list/describe the things you need to have in order to be ready to change a tire. So the first module of this how-to course teaches verbal information.

Now let's go inward another level to the lesson level in this module. Let's say the things you need in order to change a tire include several different tools, the right mindset, the ability to read your car's user manual,  and a specific wrist motion. You could create a different lesson inside that first module to teach about each of those things.

The lesson describing the tools would be a verbal information lesson. You  would also have an attitude change lesson, a cognitive strategy lesson teaching how to approach reading a car's user manual, and a motor skills lesson teaching the wrist motion. 

And within each lesson you might have more than one learning object. Learning objects are the individual media items in a course (an individual video, text document, PDF, PowerPoint, etc).

Let's say that in the cognitive strategy lesson about how to read the user manual, you have a text document explaining where to find the manual, a video demonstrating how to find the tire-changing section of the user manual, and a short audio file encouraging learners not to stress about reading the manual. That's three separate learning objects in one lesson, each with its own domain of learning (verbal information, intellectual skills, and attitudes).

Being able to adjust the focus of your design to the course, module, lesson, and learning object level gives you tremendous power and control and flexibility in how to design your course. 

Here are the key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Set up the whole-course level first. That is the outer layer that holds everything else.
  • Then move inward to the module, lesson, and learning object levels, in that order.
  • Design each level based on its OWN domain of learning.

What this means is that you can (as in our example above) have a how-to course with a verbal information module that has a cognitive strategy lesson containing learning objects each with its own domain of learning.

If you are clear and precise about the level you are designing, and always get THAT domain of learning right, your course will fall into place beautifully and just "click".

At our community meeting last Saturday, we used a mindset change (attitudes) format to think about how to adapt to change given the current Coronavirus pandemic. We came up with a lot of very creative and insightful ideas. The question then came up: is this a mindset-change COURSE?

The answer was, no. A mindset change might be an ASPECT or COMPONENT of what is needed in order to adapt to the current situation, but it's not enough in and of itself to be the total answer. We can change our attitudes all we want (and we should), but just doing so will not be enough to cope. We need some practical how-to skills as well... which is what we will be working on for this coming week's community meeting. You can register for the meeting here and help brainstorm what those practical skills might be:

Come join us on Saturday!

many people online in a conference call

We will design an "intellectual skills" ("How-to") course for adapting to change in the face of the current pandemic.

My suspicion is that practical how to skills, while important, are also not the total picture of what is needed to cope with the current situation. If we were, as a community, to create a "course" about how to cope, my best guess is that it would be a cognitive strategy course... learning how to learn how to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. A mindset change and some practical skills might be PARTS of the strategy, but would not provide the total picture.  

Since we are not experts on this topic, we will use a process of unguided discovery learning to see what we can figure out. We will try the how-to course structure as a way of holding our collective thoughts and ideas.

You may notice that earlier, I said that one should design a course starting from the whole-course level (top down) and THEN fill in the modules and lessons. Yet in our exploration of the current pandemic, we may in fact be designing some of the smaller components of the course first.

That's because in this current crisis, no one on the planet is an expert with complete understanding of how to cope and adapt. This situation throws us all into unguided discovery learning where we are feeling our way in the dark.

We tried the mindset structure to see if it would work to help us think about the problem. It was helpful but we realized it was not the biggest picture. It was not the outermost doll. I think the outermost doll when we get to it will be a cognitive strategy course... and that the mindset and how- to components will be aspects of the strategy needed to learn how to cope.

Come participate in the community meeting on Saturday and let's see where our explorations take us! 


Engaging the senses in online learning

composition of human face and technological elements to serve as background in works on mind, reason, intelligence and imagination

As the world goes through a sudden, enforced global experiment in living online, we've all come face to face with what the online interface can, and can't do well.

The online interface CAN (thankfully) connect us in ways that allow us to interact with each other, conduct many kinds of work, and counteract physical distance with social and emotional closeness.  Thank goodness for all of that!

It's more challenging, though, to get the online interface to give us the rich sensory experience that life in the physical world provides. We can't physically experience taste, smell, or touch through a computer screen. 

But there are things we can do to punch up the sensory richness of online learning activities, to include more of the whole person who is sitting on the other side of the screen.

Plugging more sensory modalities into your online course will help the learning come alive!

Electric plug and power socket as brain organ as symbol of brainstorming, creation, learning process, cognition, perception, success innovation, use your brain

Would you like to learn how to add fun, creative activities to your online course that will make the learning more engaging and interactive for your course participants?  

This Saturday, March 28th, 2020 at 9 AM Pacific/12 Noon Eastern, during our community meeting on Zoom, we'll do a short, fun, interactive exercise that will expand your thinking about the types of activities you can include in your online class.

(I've set the community meeting up as a weekly event for the next several months, but right now we are only talking about the meeting for Saturday, March 28th, 2020 at 9 AM Pacific/12 Noon Eastern.)

Come to the meeting!

many people online in a conference call

Register here to receive the meeting link and password.

In the meantime, if you're eager to get started making your lessons highly motivating and engaging, read chapters 11 and 12 of my book, Course Design Formula: How to Teach Anything to Anyone Online.

Course Design Formula™ Book

We'll also have time at the meeting to discuss any course design issues, challenges, and concerns you are working on.

If there's a topic you'd like to be sure we cover, please email me in advance at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.

Hope to see you on Saturday.... you can register here!


Creating Community Online

People connected by online learning even though they can't shake hands in person

How are you feeling right now?

What changes have you had to make to adapt to the coronavirus threat?

Do you find yourself suddenly needing to take programs, meetings, clases, processes that work well in the physical world, and put them online?

Would you like some guidance and help in figuring out how to do that, effectively and fast?

At a time when staying separate in physical spaces  protects our physical health, meeting together in online spaces can protect our social, emotional, financial, and even spiritual health.

In these unprecedented times, where things are unfolding fast and in unpredictable ways, community support and helpful guidance can ease the burden we may otherwise be carrying alone.

That's why, starting this week,I’m inviting the Learn and Get Smarter community to come together, to meet face to face (on Zoom).

I’m hosting a live group meeting  this Saturday, March 21st, at 9 AM Pacific/ Noon Eastern time.

If you live in a different country, you can use this international time zone converter to find the time to log on.

The purpose of this meeting is to start to get to know each other as a community  focused on creating effective learning online in ways that make the best use of all our resources: time, brainpower, energy, and ideas.

What challenges are you facing now in terms of taking great offline learning experiences, and getting them online?
How can I support you in getting that done?

I'd like to start having weekly office hours/workshops where you can share your course design challenges and we can find creative solutions together.

If this sounds like something that would be helpful and interesting to you, please register for the meeting (below).

After you register, you'll receive a confirmation email with the meeting link.

If you have a course design challenge or situation you'd like to discuss, you are welcome to email it to me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.


Here's the link to register for the meeting this Saturday.

(After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.)



We'll be meeting live on Zoom, which is a fantastic platform for online meetings and live course sessions.

You may already be an expert at using Zoom, or you may not have used it before.

 (If that's the case, it's very easy to use. All you have to do is go to the link you'll receive in the email after you register, at the designated time).

Here's an article that Zoom just shared from their blog, on some really fun and creative ways to create a sense of community and connection in online meetings.

 I hope you enjoy it!

arrow pointing towards call to action from the right

Zoom shares some great ideas for creating connection online

Check out this wonderful post on Zoom's blog, about fun ways to create connection and community at a distance. 


My goals for this first meeting are for the community to get to know each other, and for me to learn the kinds of course design challenges that you are facing right now, and how I can be of service to you at this challenging time.


If there is interest and the group finds this format helpful, we can continue the meetings weekly in order to create ongoing synergy, community, and support.

How do you feel about this? Do you like this idea? Do you have any comments, suggestions, or requests?


Email me at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com to let me know how I can help.

Tiny House, Huge Impact

A young couple live in a van. She is lying down and reading a book on the bed. He is working on a laptop in the space next to the bed.

In my book, Course Design Formula®: How to Teach Anything to Anyone Online, I use the process of building a house as a metaphor for the process of building a course.

Watching the fascinating series, Tiny House Nation,  on Netflix recently, I realized that building an online course is not just like building ANY house.

Building an online course is, specifically, like building a TINY house.

The reason for that is that the limits of working memory are very small. Working memory is the aspect of cognitive processing needed to take in and learn new information.  

Research (and experience) have shown that we can only hold about 5 to 7 separate things in our minds at the same time. (That's one reason telephone numbers have 7 digits). 

Trying to absorb more than a very limited amount of new information at the same time, quickly becomes overwhelming, causing the learner to tune out and stop learning.

The reason an online course is like a TINY house, is that the limits of working memory are very narrow.

So when designing an online course, it’s important to work within very tight design limitations, because you  have a very small amount of cognitive processing space to work with.

What makes Tiny House Nation so fascinating is the process the builders and craftsmen use to make  very small spaces work so elegantly  for the specific needs of the people who will be living there.

The builders conduct extensive interviews and  create customized structures (such as staircases with built-in storage cabinets, or a butcher block table that transforms into a ladder). The customized structures make use of the small space and enable the home’s occupants to fit  the things that are most important to them into their available living quarters.

The key to living well in a tiny space, is customized LIVING DESIGN.

The key to  creating an effective and engaging online course, is customized LEARNING DESIGN.

Interior of a van that a young couple live in. The shot is focused on the kitchen counter, pull-out drawers, and bed. Ther is wood paneling on the sides and roof.

If you haven't already seen Tiny House Nation, or have missed some episodes, check it out!

Watching host John Weisbarth and design expert Zack Giffin solve seemingly impossible challenges, is awe-inspiring!


Here are just a few of the things they have made work in tiny homes:

  • An indoor rock-climbing wall for kids
  • A grand piano
  • Comfortable sleeping space for six people
  • And much, much more!

Customized course design will help you create effective lessons that stay within the limits of working memory, keeping your course participants actively engaged and learning.

If this idea sounds intriguing, you are welcome to schedule time with me to talk about your specific project goals.

Expert instructional design lets you pack a lot of learning into a little space!

Book your free strategy session

Let's explore the unique design challenges

 your course presents.