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Your central purpose for teaching online

The sun coming up behind a nountain

The members of the Learn and Get Smarter community who have been coming together on Saturdays since the pandemic began, have been exploring ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times, especially with respect to how our businesses can adapt. Since we are a group of educators and entrepreneurs, our focus is on how we can provide transformative online courses that meet the needs of the times. 

At the community meeting on Saturday, July 25th, 2020 we started by reflecting on gratitude, which had been the topic we arrived at the week before. In our consideration of systems thinking, we had reached the profound and surprising revelation that gratitude serves as the engine that drives the interconnecting systems that operate at all levels in our lives. 

Community member Alli Berman, interactive artist and creator of the PuzzleArt™ Therapy  system, had shared that she was grateful for the sun. This turned our thoughts toward the sun and its role as the central actor in the solar system, and the driving energy source for all the systems that operate within it: from the rotational paths of the planets to the production of food.

Our group discussion then delved much deeper into the metaphor of the central "sun" as the organizing principle in any system at any scale. 

You  take on the role of the “sun” (the central operator  or driving force) relative to your business and your course.

Energy can’t be created or destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. When you develop an effective and engaging online course, you are creating a learning system that allows you to transfer the energy you've gathered in your life... allows you to share your expertise in a way that produces benefits for others.

When we teach, we are transferring our energy, our store of resources, to those who are here to learn from us. We are passing on that stored energy in a way that has the potential to continue far beyond our own lifetimes.

What are the benefits that your course, as a learning system, will provide? How will  peoples’ lives be better, as a direct result of taking your course? What are the results that your course will produce? And how can you set your course up to accomplish that?

The Course Design Formula® is a course development system whose purpose is to produce online courses that really teach. In transferring an existing course from in person to online, you have to break the whole system and start over.  The Course Design Formula® shows you how to do that in the least disruptive and most effective way possible.

If you instead try to just transfer an existing offline course to the online space by simply digitizing it (without redesigning it first),  the result will not be engaging, effective, or dymamic. The online version won't teach as effectively as the original face to face version, as many are discovering right about now.

But....what does it mean to "really teach"? 

Educational researcher and theorist Robert M. Gagné defines teaching as "arranging a series of events that promote learning".

What is learning and how can we tell it has occurred?

Gagné says that learning has occured when the teacher observes a change in behavior that persists over time.

(For example, you haven't really adopted a mindset change about healthy eating if you stop eating junk food for a day or a week and then start right back up again).

Robert M Gagne tells us that learning is demonstrated by a change in behavior that is persistent over time

So the central purpose of any system can be seen in observing what it produces. An anecdote that illustrates this concept is mentioned in the movie Annie Hall, to the effect that one might not want to tell someone they are crazy for thinking they are a chicken, if one is benefitting from the "eggs". 

The Covid19 pandemic is smashing the "eggs"  (the benefits) that many of our existing systems provide. How do you know when a system is no longer producing benefits and needs to be scrapped? How do know when the "eggs" are turning rotten and are not worth holding onto?

When systems break or stop working, how can we reformulate them in more adaptive ways?

And how does one change a system without causing major chaos and upheaval?

These are all questions that we're seeing played out on all levels of our lives, from the personal to the political, these days.

The pandemic has forced us all to go into a dark, quiet inner space and reflect on how we want to transform ourselves. 

We've been gifted, whether we wanted to be or not, with a long contemplative period to think about what matters and what we can let go of.

How do you want to reinvent the world for yourself, going forward?

In order to be able to rethink and adapt a system due to new conditions (such as the pandemic) you have to go back and reflect on your central “why”: what is the purpose of your system (whether your business, your course, etc)?


As an educator, your job is not to just pour your own light onto others but rather to support and encourage the growth of their  light, helping them to express their own inner purpose.

Systems come and go and change and evolve and die. But the difference that you make for people will always live on.

Get super clear on your central purpose.

What is the transformation you want to bring into the world? 

Existential question What Is Your Why typed on vintage typewriter with copy space.

Getting really clear on your central purpose will help you operate all the systems in your life at their highest and best, and will strengthen you to withstand and overcome unstable circumstances and obstacles that appear in your path.

So to sum up, here's what our unguided discovery learning has led us to appreciate about what works so far:

  • Gratitude
  • Clarity of purpose
  • Service to others

What’s YOUR mission? What’s the central guiding purpose of your business? What’s the overarching transformation you want your online course to deliver? 

Let’s talk about it in the Facebook group... or send me an email to Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com.

At next week's community meeting on Saturday, August 1st, 2020 we will explore methods of gaining deeper insight into ways to express our guiding purpose through online teaching.

We'll have a special in-depth presentation from one of our very insightful community members, who will teach us a method she uses to help us understand more about our own teaching and learning style and those of our students. You won't want to miss this!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, August 1st, 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.

Discovering the engine of success

colorful paintsplash background with the words

Whether or not you are able to attend the weekly Learn and Get Smarter community meetings in person, I invite you to follow along with our ongoing group process of collaborative discovery as we explore ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times.

As a community focused on creating effective and engaging online courses, we are well-positioned to cope with conditions that allow social connectedness online while maintaining physical distancing in the physical world.

Nowhere is this issue more critical than in the education sector. Like many of you, I watch with concern as parents, teachers, and employers struggle to resolve complex issues balancing physical health and safety, the need to earn a living, and the educational needs of students. 

The challenges, decisions, and dilemmas facing both parents and teachers with respect to in-person learning, are gut-wrenching.

As online educators, we are fortunate that all three of these needs can be met through our chosen work medium. Through teaching online we can protect our own and others' physical health while earning a living and meeting the educational needs of our students.

At the community meeting on Saturday, July 18th, 2020 we started to apply the systems thinking we've been learning about, to our own lives. We started to explore systems we have in place that are working well for us on all levels -- from the physical to the emotional to the intellectual to the spiritual (roughly following along the lines of Maslow's Hierarchy).

Maslow's pyramid of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom.

It quickly became apparent that the SYSTEMS in our lives do not operate independently of each other.

 Rather, systems that we have in place to promote physical health also impact our emotional well-being. Systems that help us learn and grow also contribute to our feelings of self-actualization. And so on.  

In sharing what's working well right now during the pandemic, the  systems that ticked boxes on multiple levels were the ones that were most effective.  

But one thing stood out above everything else, and this was a truly powerful discovery that we made as a group during the meeting. 


The one thing that worked better than anything else

 to help us survive and thrive, 

was

 FEELING GRATITUDE.

We tried an experiment during the meeting, which was to go through the "Rampage of Appreciation" exercise developed by Esther and Jerry Hicks.  The way we did this was to simply look around and find five things  to appreciate in our immediate environment. (You can choose any number, choosing five was arbitrary.) We each shared what our five things were and why we appreciated them.

This was a powerful exercise with meaningful results. We learned that what we appreciate depends on our individual perceptual lens. We learned that what we focus on determines what we see. We learned that one person's sharing of what they appreciate leads to benefits for others as well. 

We decided that during the week ahead we will continue to look for things to appreciate in our immediate environments, and focus on feeling gratitude for what's working well.

That doesn't mean we don't see or acknowledge the many challenging and painful things that many are facing during the pandemic. Those are all too clear and obvious.

What it does mean is that in order to find ways to survive and thrive,  putting our focus on the things that we can be grateful for, is proving EFFECTIVE as the driving engine of the whole "system of systems" that make up our lives.

A highly enlightening book for learning how systems intersect and interact, is Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows. Several of us are reading this book now (or listening on audiobook). I'm finding that this book provides an ongoing stream of enlightening revelations about how things work and connect on multiple levels of life.


An online course is a SYSTEM designed to promote learning. The guiding principle behind instructional design is that the system must be properly constructed in order for learning to result.

The Course Design Formula® is a system for designing online courses, that helps you design yours properly so that learning can FLOW from your mind to your learner's minds, leading to lightbulb moments.

But not all lightbulb moments result from learning that's been intentionally designed. At our community  meetings, we are not designing courses... we are engaging in unguided discovery learning (which is what you do when you are trying to learn about something you are NOT an expert at).

The discovery of the importance of FEELING GRATITUDE as the central engine that drives all other systems in our lives, was a serendipitous and somewhat surprising discovery we made as a group. 

Closeup super excited happy screaming woman with many light idea bulbs above head celebrates success looking up on gray wall background

I invite you to reflect on the systems in your life that are working well for you right now, as well as those that you have the opportunity to improve. You are welcome to download this worksheet to use as a guide (it's a Word document, so save it to your own computer and fill it in in any way you find helpful).

You are welcome to share any insights, reflections, or discoveries you arrive at, in the Course Design Formula® Community Facebook group, and/or by sending me an email at Rebecca@learnandgetsmarter.com. And of course, I hope you'll join us on Saturday, July 25th for the next community meeting, as we continue to explore ways to survive and thrive during these challenging times.

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, July 25th, 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.

Systems to help you thrive

The Kuang Si Falls, sometimes spelled Kuang Xi or known as Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls, is a three levelled waterfall about 29 kilometres south of Luang Prabang. Breathtaking cascades of water make the Kuang Si one of Luang Prabang

In response to the pandemic, we started having weekly meetings for the Learn and Get Smarter community, to brainstorm and support each other in helping our businesses -- and especially our online courses -- survive and thrive during these challenging times.

Over the past several months during these weekly meetings, we've been using the structure of a cognitive strategies course (learning how to learn), as a container to help us organize our collective thoughts. 

Trello board showing brainstorming ideas for our cognitive strategies course

The question we've been focusing on is:

How can we best learn how to survive and thrive, on all levels,

during these challenging times?

What's emerged over time from our group discussions, is that SYSTEMS THINKING is a very helpful cognitive strategy that we can apply to our lives on all levels during these times of chaos, complexity, and disruption.

At the community meeting on July 11th, 2020 we experienced powerful synergy as we shared what's been working well for us during these unprecedented times.

With so much bad news out there these days, it was uplifting and inspiring to hear what's been working WELL for community members during the pandemic.

Looking at our lives from a wholistic perspective, on all levels from the physical to the social/emotional to the financial to the spiritual, some of the positive developments that community members shared include:

  • Developing improved systems for basic physical survival functions like getting groceries through Instacart
  • Having more time for projects such as reading, cleaning, and personal development
  • Seeing family more often than before via regular online meetings
  • Younger family members teaching older ones by sharing digital products through screen sharing
  • Exploring creative ways to interact socially, such as through Air B n B's online experiences
  • Having more efficient business meetings
  • Being able to accomplish more in our businesses, virtually than is possible in person
  • Not polluting the planet through unnecessary car and plane travel

Community member Rob Ruder has taught us about how systems work, and explained different types of feedback loops (balancing loops vs. reinforcing loops) that operate in systems.

Balancing systems establish a fixed amount of capacity that throttles new inflows coming in to the system. A coaching program (which can only allow as many clients as the coach has hours available) is an example of a balancing system. Rob explains that balancing feedback is GOAL oriented. The prime example is the thermostat in a house. You set the thermostat where you want it to be and it controls whether additional heat is added to the house or not in order to maintain the target temperature. Your GOAL is to maintain a specific temperature, and the thermostat's balancing system is designed to do that.

Reinforcing systems allow continual increase  in the amount of new flows coming in to the system. An online course (which can have an unlimited number of students enrolled) is an example of a reinforcing system. Rob points out that reinforcing feedback is GROWTH oriented. Inflows into the system create more in a continually reinforcing feedback loop, which continues until the system runs into a balancing feedback system.

Globally, in terms of increasing production and pollution and so forth, we've had a continually growth-oriented reinforcing system since the end of World War Two, but now have hit  limits of the planetary stock of oxygen vs. CO2 and so on...which triggered a balancing feedback loop in the form of the pandemic.The planet was getting out of balance.... so eventually, a balancing feedback loop imposed itself on the global ecosystem, enforcing behaviors (such as drastic reductions in travel and production) that allow for better maintenance of critical planetary systems such as temperature control.  The pandemic has produced tremendous disruption for individuals and businesses and communities, but may work well for the planet as a whole.

In our own lives, we also see interactions between balancing and reinforcing systems. We like and need the stability that balancing systems help us maintain. But too much stability can lead to stagnation, burnout, and boredom, which impell us toward a desire for disruption and growth.

While it can be painful to have our routines and lives disrupted, there can also be benefits.

We learned the term "purposeful chaos", where disruption serves as a catalyst for growth, helping us challenge ourselves as we find new ways to adapt to the conditions around us.

We decided that next week, we will start to build a community document or template for sharing ideas, methods, systems, tips and tricks that we have each discovered, that help us survive and thrive in these challenging times.

This is an ongoing collaborative  process… come and be part of it!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, July 18th, 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.

Applying systems thinking to your course and business

The concept of rational and irrational thinking of two people. Heads of two people with colourful shapes of abstract brain for concept of idea and teamwork. Two people with different thinking.

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, July 4th, 2020 we learned from community member Rob Ruder about information systems as they relate to systems thinking in general, and online course creation in particular. Rob is the owner of IDIC Designs and an Adjunct Faculty Member in Gonzaga University’s School of Business Administration. His generous sharing of his systems thinking expertise is helping us all learn and get smarter...thank you, Rob!


What is

 systems thinking ?

How does it relate to your course and business?


As a nation, we've been getting a crash course on systems thinking in the form of a wake-up call about systemic racism. Systems thinking allows us to understand how things that might seem like random, unrelated events, may actually be part of an organized SYSTEM.


The movie 13thfor example, provides an eye-opening analysis of how the US prison system perpetuates the use of unpaid labor of African Americans... systematically perpetuating the economics of slavery.

Systems, clearly, can be good or bad... effective and empowering, or oppressive and disempowering. In order to understand the systems that affect all of our lives, we first have to be able to SEE them.

The Covid19 pandemic has disrupted systems at all levels across the entire planet. The healthcare system, the financial system, the education system,  travel and other industries, and many others have been profoundly impacted on a macro level.

And closer to our daily lived experience, our family systems and our daily and weekly ways of managing our lives (which are also systems), have all been thrown into upheaval. 

order and chaos. Chaotic unorganized colored dominoes and ordered. Concept of business model, organization. Left and right hemisphere of the brain.


How can you use systems thinking to optimize your way of working and teaching online?


At our weekly community meetings, we've been exploring how we can survive and thrive in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic. The disruption caused by the pandemic in the way people work, meet, and learn provides  opportunities for online course creators to step up and fill the gaps created by the need to maintain physical distance while conducting business and helping people learn. 

Community member Janice Finglerwhose expertise includes exploration under conditions of uncertainty and risk, has educated us on aspects of the Cynefin framework, according to which there are different types of systems:

  • - ordered (Complicated, Clear)
  • unordered (Complex)
  • unordered (Chaos)

Janice explains that systems tend to release energy and move towards chaos.

Except under certain conditions (such as when we're falling in love, or discovering new things) humans  don't generally find chaotic conditions comfortable. So we put effort into trying to shift the systems we live in towards  efficiency and control.  

For a long time pre-Covid, we might have thought that our world was ordered and efficient - with most things being predictable.

We might have been unaware, too busy to notice, or feeling too small to influence what was actually changing around us, as global systems became hyper-entangled. This allowed the flow of almost anything - faster than before. That might have seemed like a good thing - until the virus hit.  

The pandemic has now disrupted our existing systems, that we had thought were "ordered" and efficient. But while efficiency remains important, adaptability and effectiveness actually serve us better during unpredictable times of change like those we're currently living in.

The conditions created by the pandemic have revealed systemic disparities in health care and wages and justice that impact some groups more than others. The good news amid all of this disruption is that our  human power of conscious choice matters more than ever. We can now see places where the ordered systems we took for granted were not always working to serve people, or the planet itself, in optimal ways. We can work to build better systems to replace them.

At our community meetings, we will continue to explore the implications of these disruptions for our courses and our businesses, and consider ways we can contribute to positive change.

How can systems thinking help you optimize your life, business, and online course, right now?


If you understand everything in your life as part of a SYSTEM, and start thinking about how those systems are (or are not) working, new levels of insight open up. In your personal and family life, you may have had systems that worked well before the pandemic, that have now been disrupted. For many families, their childcare system, or visits to older relatives, are no longer workable.

Are you still living in the chaos caused by the original disruption? Have you moved into a stage of disorganized complexity, or are you starting to cobble together a new system that may be complicated, but shows signs of an emerging new order?

Or do you actually have things dialed in now to where they are simple and clear? 


Was your business impacted, in either good or bad ways, by the disruptions the pandemic caused? Do you have (or can you pivot to create) products and services that solve pain points your clients and customers are experiencing during these uncertain times?

The Course Design Formula® is a system that helps you create online courses in a quick and efficient way. The Course Design Formula® system makes it fast and easy for you to  build effective knowledge transfer and motivational learner engagement into the design of your course.

Alison Heller-Ono, Physical Therapist and Board Certified Professional Ergonomist,  helps businesses and individuals optimize their working environments to promote physical comfort and prevent injuries. When her office-based business was disrupted by office closures due to the pandemic, Alison used the Course Design Formula® to  create an entirely new course offering that helps people work in comfort at home. (Check out Alison's Remote Work@Home Ergonomics Training for Individuals.) Having already mastered the Course Design Formula® system, Alison was able to quickly create a new course to address the needs of the moment for her clients and customers who suddenly found themselves working from home.

What can we learn from the insightful wisdom shared by Rob Ruder and Janice Fingler, and the inspiring example set by Alison Heller-Ono?

Here's my takeaway:

Having a system in place to accomplish a task, makes that task easier. 

What systems do you have in place to make your business run smoothly? What systems have you had to adapt, update, or change completely in the wake of the pandemic?  

eMyth is an organization that has done ground-breaking work in helping entrepreneurs apply systems thinking to their  businesses in practical ways. Check out their guidance for documenting your business systems.  Michael Gerber's book, The eMyth Revisited, is an excellent guide to setting up reliable systems for your business.

Horizontal composition of tooth wheel mechanism with Action Plan, Team, Goal, Strategy and Change concept related words imprinted on metal surface

If you'd like to set up a reliable system for creating an online course, the Course Design Formula® can help you cut through the chaos, complexity and complication to make it clear and obvious what steps you need to take,  in which order. To learn more about the Course Design Formula® you can:

At the Learn and Get Smarter community meeting on Saturday, July 11th, 2020, we will focus on how you can apply systems thinking at all levels of your life and business. We will leverage the power of community to compare notes about systems we've created or discovered that are working well, to make our lives, businesses, and courses run smoothly.

I hope you can join us!

Come to the community meeting

Saturday, July 11th, 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.