The following is a guest post from Teachable creator and coaching expert, Fab Giovanetti. Fab is an award-winning entrepreneur, supporting people making a positive impact through their marketing. She is known as the founder of Creative Impact Group, a collective of hundreds of conscious creatives and experts. She is also the CEO of Alt Marketing School, on a mission to raise a new generation of purpose-driven marketers. In honor of Teachable’s Creator Month, in which we celebrate and share the expertise of creators everywhere, Fab shares her tips for helping students succeed in self-paced online courses.
Digital courses and online courses have become such a key asset for so many creators, which has helped them scale their efforts. Yet, seven years ago, most people had never heard of digital courses. As I started creating digital products, I produced good courses with good content to attract the masses, as there wasn’t as much market saturation. The knowledge and advice were great—delivery and engagement needed refinement—still, the bar being relatively low helped me make many mistakes. I learned a lot about creating a course, especially a self-paced online course, to stand out from the crowd.
I was able to go from good to great and have courses students would rave on and recommend to their friends. Referrals and word of mouth are especially important when launching your course to the masses. It was not about adding more content but making the students feel seen and supported, even when creating a self-paced course.
How to craft a unique self-paced course
“I wish this course had more content,” said no student, ever. With market saturation playing a big part in the conversation, a lot of creators are asking themselves the question: “Can I make my course stand out from the crowd?” If you’re choosing to go down the road of a self-paced course over a cohort-based course, you can still help your students learn and implement their learnings. You have to be smart about it. If you want your students to get success and results, you need to make sure that you map an excellent learning path.
What will make a difference is how you can connect with your students on a deeper level. They come to you because they want to learn from you over anybody else. The topic is relevant, but the options are endless. The content is essential, but it’s not the reason why these people are here.
The experience you provide is what attracts people and drives results—even with a self-paced course.
We need to reiterate the importance of providing meaningful practice and homework throughout your lessons. Especially with content-heavy courses, students will struggle to implement what they are learning after watching your video content. The time commitment is a significant barrier for most students, and one a lot of self-paced courses do not account for.
When it comes to the practice, I recommend making sure that you allow the students to start creating something as they follow along throughout the lesson you’re teaching. Instead of reminding the students of the worksheets at the end of each class, they do their homework throughout.
You will learn how to take breaks throughout your lessons to allow students to pause and answer questions or fill their workbooks throughout. You may have to get comfortable with silence and make more space for people to reflect on the learnings. Help students learn better through a self-paced course by allowing them to practice throughout the lessons to feel they are implementing this as they go.
You might be wanting to create a self-paced course as you are looking to scale your efforts. You don’t want to provide one to one feedback or work in a group coaching environment. Still, this should not take the invaluable aspect of giving feedback to your students out of the equation.
Feedback means getting access to you. I would steer away from reminders via emails or automated check-ins where possible. You want to encourage your students to talk to you and get, obviously, your opinion on their progress. You can even provide them with an incentive.
I see a lot of talented creators, including members at Creative impact, introducing Q&As with their students. You can do it as a drop-in session you can host fortnightly via Zoom, or you can even direct people, for example, to Instagram and host a special live session.
The way you provide this access will also depend on the quality of your course and the objectives you have. Another hands-off way to provide feedback could be encouraging students to submit the final project or the final piece of work and get your video feedback. You will make your self-paced course a lot more valuable, and he adds to it an extra element of magic, which otherwise would be lost.
Take a look at our free actionable worksheet to discover what type of online community is right for your online business.
The community piece can be the trickiest one to implement. Bring a community in and create a safe space for your students. Whether that is a Slack channel or a dedicated community, you can add an element of feedback, accountability and practice all in one place. I wouldn’t recommend resorting to Facebook groups: create a separate space where you can grow and control yourself. You can provide input for practice and prompts for your students to work through and get fellow students’ feedback.
Communities are complex living organisms, so tread carefully if you decide to go down this route. Your community should live and breathe after your course is over. One of the most significant issues with communities is upkeep: It’s easy to go stagnant or quiet. Often students will get confused about how they can get involved after their course is over.
Community is great (heck, I run one myself), but it is the most complex way for you to optimize the self-paced course for students. I would always recommend refining your student journey by introducing more passive elements of practice and feedback and then evaluate whether a community fits your business model and the value proposition of your course.
Less is more
You don’t have to implement everything we covered today; you might choose one of these. If you choose one, do it well. Within these three practices, there is one other lesson that I think is so important. Ideally, you want to give less content and focus on the element of transformation. How can you do that by actually doing less?
Think about having fewer slides, videos, workbooks and focus on the results and the overall journey. An excellent course is led by an excellent teacher. People want to learn from you because they trust you and your opinion and guidance. May this be a reminder that what your students are looking for is transformation. You don’t have to do everything. You have to do one thing well and ensure that it helps and provides value to the student.