7 Key Takeaways from Teaching a Group Program

If you have a group program—or are thinking about launching one—you probably already know that they are a different beast from self-paced courses or even face-to-face instruction. It’s not just in name, either: Group programs require different considerations and structure (more on that later).

That’s something I learned first-hand after running my own group program, Finish Your Damn Course. Now that I’ve run FYDC twice, I decided to share my key takeaways in hopes that they’ll help you on your journey.

1. Define prerequisites—and uphold them

When you’re in school, every course you take has prerequisite requirements, sometimes it’s a prior course, other times it’s specific knowledge or skills. The premise of prerequisites is simple: here’s the knowledge you need to be successful.

As entrepreneurs, it can be tempting to say ‘my course is for everyone.’ But that’s an easy way out (not to mention bad marketing). As a course creator, it’s your responsibility to determine what foundational knowledge new students need in order to be successful—and filter out those who don’t have it.

I did a good job of that in the first cohort, but in the second run I let in a couple people who were still in the audience-building stage. (To be transparent, I did warn them of the risks.) In the end, they struggled because they weren’t clear on who they were targeting.

That helped me realize my initial decision was correct: having an audience and email list is a prerequisite for Finish Your Damn Course.

Being a stickler about prerequisites helps your learners in the long run because they’re less likely to get overwhelmed or have poor results.

It also gives you an opportunity to create a product for those who don’t meet the prerequisites.

2. Design for the Human Element

You get results when you do the work. We all know this. But there’s a second aspect: trusting the process.

It’s human nature to try to take shortcuts instead of following directions. Why do we do this? In my experience it comes down to three reasons:

  • We don’t like feeling uncomfortable (and a new process is guaranteed to make you uncomfortable)

  • We have poor learning habits (i.e. procrastination, not finishing, etc)

  • We have a lack mindset/ limiting beliefs

In group programs, the people who get the best results are the ones who do the work in a timely fashion, without skipping steps.

As a course creator, you have to design for the human element.

  • Be specific in your marketing so you filter out people who aren’t a good fit or don’t take action

  • Make your content actionable and integrate small wins to encourage momentum

  • Anticipate where people will get stuck and provide resources & encouragement

Motivation is a big one. The affective learning domain (emotions and values) is the X-factor in learning.

Chances are you’re teaching someone a process they don’t already know. There will be times when they get stuck, feel overwhelmed, etc. So consider how you can inject encouragement to help them keep going.

3. Address mindset + habits

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
— Henry Ford

Success comes down to mindset and habits. On top of that, mindset is contagious. A positive one will light a flame under your participants. A negative one will spread as well—in all the ways you don’t want.

As a course creator, it’s your job to protect the learning space for your students. Encourage positive mindset and neutralize negatrons.

Some ways to address mindset is through community, individual check-ins, and short mindset-check videos.

People are people. Treat them as such and you’ll see better results.

(Sidebar: One of the best results for me was seeing students change their mindset—such an amazing feeling!)

To tackle habits, I borrowed an idea from Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman: a habits review before the course began.

The results were mixed but also revealing:

  • The people who did the habits exercise finished the course and got results.

  • The ones who skipped it or only did half, did the same thing in the course.

  • The ones who didn’t do it at all, well, did the same thing in the course.

Now that I know how powerful the habits activity is, it will be a requirement for future cohorts.

4. Have a structure for your live calls

Group calls are part-teaching, part-mentorship. For me, the hardest part about running the group program wasn’t creating the curriculum, or making media, or selling the course. It’s learning how to run the live group calls.

Don’t get me wrong, these calls are great—we get work done, people overcome blocks in real time, students encourage each other. But after the first or second call I realized that I needed to change the structure up to add more value. Here’s some changes I made:

  • Have an agenda (and post it 2 - 4 days before the call)

  • Use a flipped classroom model, i.e. use the calls to get work done, not teach. This encourages students to complete the lessons before the call.

  • Set accountability at the end of the call; have quick check-ins at the beginning of the next call.

  • 90-minutes is the sweet spot for group calls

Your live calls should have a main focus. I found it helpful to break the calls into thirds (10-min check-in and accountability; 60 min work session; 20 min recap/Q&A/wrap-up).

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Most importantly, have a structure and communicate the agenda ahead of time so your students know what they need to have prepared.

5. Add Constraints + Structure

On a recent trip, I had limited access to wifi. So I had to make good use of the time I had. You know what happened? Less social media browsing and more working. I was able to get my tasks done in nearly half the time as usual.

Constraints create action.

One of the challenges with FYDC is the length of the program (12 weeks) encourages procrastination. To add constraints, I’m going to shorten the program length.

If you add constraints, you also need to add more structure.

To accomplish this, I’m toying with the idea of having weekly calls instead of bi-weekly ones. While I don’t like the idea of adding more appointments to my calendar, I found that some students didn’t work on their course until the week of our live calls. Again, this connects to habits, so I may be able to address it there. We’ll see.

6. Solve for common questions

Getting a lot of questions from your students can feel frustrating, especially when you also have a business to run. But common questions indicate learning gaps.

I’m not talking about lazy questions: ones people can google the answer to. I mean the recurring questions about content and concepts in your course. The questions that make you go, ‘Hmm, maybe I need to explain that better.’

You want these questions. They help you identify spots in your course where you need to address learning gaps.

  • Do you need to add more content?

  • Would a simple resource or walkthrough video help?

  • Does the issue come down to poor habits? Is there anything you can do to motivate students?

As a course creator, one of the best things you can do is solve for common questions.

7. You operate in different roles. Each one has different tactics.

Teaching a group program means you will operate in at least three roles: course creator, instructor/facilitator, and mentor/coach.

As a course creator, you’re an engineer. Your job is to build the infrastructure: the road, the signs, eliminate potholes, etc. Your course is the car. It’s your student’s job buy the car and drive it to their desired destination.

As an instructor, your job is to teach information, answer questions, and facilitate the learning experience.

As a mentor/coach, your job is to ask questions, provide guidance, then get out the way.

Too often we only operate in one mode (I’ve certainly been guilty). Honestly, I’m still working through my thoughts on this one, so I’ll have to come back to share more.

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