How to manage different learning levels in your online course

In my last article, I left you with this question:Is it okay to have more than one type/level of learner in your course?

The answer is…it depends. Here's my take:

It's always a good idea to consider learner levels when designing your course, regardless of how you decide to implement things. That means knowing things like:

  • Is there any prerequisite knowledge/skill necessary to be successful in your program?

  • Who is your target learner and at what level are they entering your program?

  • What level is your content for, i.e. beginner or advanced?

Example A: Knowledge acquisition

If you’re teaching something that focuses on learners acquiring & applying knowledge, then grouping like-levels together often works best.

For instance, let’s say you’re running a coaching program to help entrepreneurs grow their business and you have 'pods' of students working & learning together. In this situation, you’d want beginner and mid-stage business owners to be grouped together; advanced stage business owners would work best in their own pod.

Example B: Process-oriented teaching

On the other hand, if you’re teaching something more technique or process oriented, like music or writing, grouping different learning levels often works well.

For example, when I interviewed saxophonist Bob Reynolds, he shared that he doesn’t separate learning levels at all.

Advanced sax players can skip the lessons that they already know, but often they still do them to learn Bob's technique. Meanwhile, beginners have something to aspire to.

And it works out great.

The Exception to the Rule

There’s one exception: community.

If your online course or program has a community element (Facebook group, Slack channel, etc), mix it up!

Communities are where informal learning happens. This type of learning works best when different levels are in one place and can help each other—which is also great for engagement & motivation.

Final Thoughts

One of the dangers of trying to teach many learning levels in one course is that your content can end up being too broad in scope. Or you'll end up confused about what to include. Both are key indicators that you should simplify.

The key is to be clear about WHO your learner is.

Start out with a single target learner profile. Remember, you can always create a beginner or advanced version later.

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