70th Edition: Why Most Cohort-Based Courses Are Designed to Fail & The Business Opportunity Most Course Creators Sleep on
I predict those who compete on community will become the top course creators in 2023 & redefine professional development associations in the process.
Most cohort-based courses are designed to fail.
Courses can fail in two ways: either they don’t achieve student outcomes or they’re not financially viable for you as the business owner.
Spoiler alert: they’re both bad and if one is tanking, I guarantee it’s coming for the other. Because you can’t run a course that’s costing you more than it’s making, and no amount of marketing will sustain you long-term if word-of-mouth is you don’t deliver on your promise.
So how do you design a course that achieves student outcomes and puts you on a path to finding a scalable business model?
In today’s edition, I’m sharing my answer based on a trend I’m keen to spread in 2023.
Why Most Courses Are Designed To Fail
A big mistake course creators make when they first build their course is failing to see the ‘forest.’ The forest is the evergreen nature of how you can serve students over time. When you see the forest (i.e., the big picture), you understand that while your course solves a problem for students, your students inherit new problems upon graduation.
For example, imagine a new manager taking a course on management 101. They learn a number of mental models to adopt a manager’s mindset and graduate feeling confident they know how to handle common scenarios.
But now, they have a new problem.
Their first encounter with a common scenario doesn’t go as planned. In fact, it goes horribly wrong. They’re left spiralling about whether they missed a step or the person they interacted with responded uncommonly.
Now that the course is over, they’re not sure who to turn to for feedback. They do their best to revisit their notes but it does nothing to shed clarity on why things went sideways. Frustrated, they slam their laptop shut and declare that the course was a waste of time.
This scenario happens a lot.
And it kills your course marketing and in turn your revenue. Eventually forcing you to call “time of death” on the course you thought would change lives in the same way developing your expertise changed yours.
The Business Opportunity That Most Course Creators Sleep on
Good course creators are outcome-driven. That means they design their courses by identifying student outcomes and working backwards to plan how to solve them. In instructional design, this is called ‘Backward Design.’
But if you’re creating a course, you’re creating a business. And that means you need to zoom out and design your course in the context of the business model you aim to create. This is where the evergreen analogy I mentioned earlier comes in.
Ask yourself, if my course is a starting point for customers to work with me, what’s the next set of problems I could help them with (upon graduation) and how?
Let’s go back to the new manager example. Imagine how much better that scenario would’ve panned out had the manager—after encountering a problem at work—been able to tap into a community of peers for help. That new manager would feel comforted just knowing they have people to turn to for support. Moreover, they would feel immensely better by talking it out, feeling empathy, and getting feedback and encouragement on how to rectify the situation. All of which build up their confidence and instill a belief that they’re capable of becoming a good manager.
Herein lies the answer to a business opportunity that most course creators sleep on: your students benefit from a ‘community of practice’ upon graduating from your course.
Here’s a mental model to illustrate the value of a community of practice:
Communities of Practice (CoPs) Explained
Communities of practice have three core elements: a shared domain (ex. management basics), a community of peers that interact regularly, and a shared practice within the domain (ex. working as a new manager).
Communities of practice can be structured loosely or tightly depending on the needs of the group. For example, using a group of new managers, a community of practice could vary from:
Loose structure: members have ad hoc exchanges based on scenarios and questions that arise in their daily work. The community can hold space for these exchanges through a weekly or bi-weekly meeting and an async community platform.
Tight structure: members commit to a schedule to complete specific assignments and provide feedback to peers. The community adheres to mandatory meetings and uses an async community platform to facilitate exchanges in between.
These are two examples at opposite ends of the spectrum. By no means are they prescriptive. So feel free to go rogue in designing your community of practice. The main thing is to give members what they want and need to address new problems they inherit upon graduating from your course.
How to Start a Community of Practice
Toward the end of your course, encourage students to start thinking about their next step. How are they planning to sustain the skills or practice they’ve begun developing in your course? How will they apply the knowledge they’ve absorbed to unique circumstances they encounter in their daily work or lives?
Present your invite-only community of practice as an option for them to continue making progress. One in which they benefit from the continued support of peers they’ve bonded with, as well as your guidance.
Offer a paid membership (ex. a monthly rate low enough to be reasonable but high enough to signal value) and suggest a commitment of one to three months to begin with. Because behaviour change usually takes thirty days to cement and by committing to a period of growth for a fixed amount of time, members are more likely to sustain their efforts.
Plant Your Community Seeds From Day 1
The best way to tee up a robust community of practice is to plant community seeds from the start of your course. Because if students don’t feel invested in each other’s development during the course, they won’t see any value in joining a long-term initiative.
Planting seeds for community comes down to embodying the role of a community leader. That alone gives you a huge competitive advantage since it lays the foundation for long-term, rewarding peer relationships. Here’s a message I received today during a live session that speaks to this impact:
The more you foster community during the course, the more students will be invested in becoming ‘official’ community members long-term. And that’s as much an investment in your business as it is in their long-term development. Win-win.
My Predictions on Communities of Practice
Today marks a seventy-week publishing streak for this newsletter. So I figured I’d share my grand predictions in that honour. Here are two predictions I have on communities of practice:
Course creators who offer good ones will become the top course creators. More results achieved by students will generate more word-of-mouth referrals and case studies which will amplify marketing efforts and generate more revenue.
They’ll become the new version of professional development associations (Note: I’m talking about non-regulated professions, i.e., not law, medicine, etc.). Rather than pay annual fees to join outdated networking groups or events, career-driven people will be looking for meaningful communities to grow and develop.
I’m excited to see how these predictions pan out.
Share Your Feedback
I would love to hear your thoughts on communities of practice, particularly if you’ve taken a cohort-based course as a student. For instance:
What were the new problems you inherited upon graduation?
How did you solve them?
Would you have been interested in a community of practice facilitated by the course creator?
Comment below with anything you would like to share.
Thank you and have a wonder-full week,
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