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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