The #1 Problem With Most Online Courses

Know what the biggest problem with most online courses is?

  • It’s not the fact that online courses have a low success rate.
  • It’s not the fact that self-paced courses have a high abandonment rate.
  • It’s not even that online courses are more work than the “gurus” let on.

It's this quote:

“Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
Teach them.
Then tell them what you taught them."

If anyone who claims to be an online course expert gives you this advice, run for the hills.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because ultimately it affects your sales. And your online reputation.  

The idea that telling people what they're going to learn over and over will make an online course effective from a learning standpoint is simply not true.

And the days of people like you and me paying for courses that we don't learn from are over. 

We're entering a new wave of online courses. Can you feel it?

Okay, Let Me Clarify

Am I saying you shouldn't listen to other people who offer to teach you about online courses based on the "tell them" approach? Not exactly.

What I am saying is that different people have different strengths. And there are many different elements to creating an online course, from marketing to content development.

For example, I am not a natural marketer. I’ve had to work really hard at marketing and selling in a way that doesn’t feel pushy, because that's not me. So I’d never attempt to teach you how to use aggressive sales tactics to sell your course.

What I am is an Instructional Designer. I know how to organize course content in a way that is effective and helpful for your learner. So that's what I primarily share with you here at Zen Courses.

That’s also why it makes me cringe to read:

“Tell them what you’re going to teach them.
Teach them.
Then tell them what you taught them."

It's Not About You

What that statement is trying to be about is objectives. In theory, it works like this:

  1. You'd define learning objectives using action verbs, e.g. "After completing this course, you'll be able to create a Facebook Ad." 
  2. You teach content that supports those objectives.
  3. Then you'd remind your learners of the objectives they just completed.

But the problem is that’s not what happens in practice. Identifying your objectives is harder than it sounds, not to mention planning your course content to make sure it supports those objectives.

Questions come up, like "How do I make sure I've covered everything that my students need to know in my Facebook Ad course?"

The other problem is that the "tell them" approach is all about you.

So let’s try this instead:

"Ask them what they want to learn most.
Ask them what they struggle with most.
Create learning solutions centered around their learning needs and challenges."

See how different that feels?  

It’s the difference between creating a course that’s focused on you, versus creating one that’s focused on your learners. Which course would you rather take?

It also happens to be the foundation of Learner-centered Design, or Backwards Design.

If you’d like to learn more about Backwards Design, I’ve written a few articles on the topic. Check them out here and here.

Next Steps

Want to learn advanced learning strategies for your course? Join me on August 3 for a workshop on using Advanced Learning Strategies to organize your course content.

The Live Workshop will cover:

  • Where to start when planning your content
  • How to use Backwards Design to outline your course
  • How to figure out how much content to include
  • How to set Learning Outcomes (and make sure your course supports them)
  • and more

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