Why It’s Critical To Slow Down The First Week Of A Course

by Sean D'Souza

Why It's Critical To Slow Down The First Week Of A Course

When do most people drop out from a course?

The answer may surprise you.

It’s not in the middle of the course, or at the end. Incredibly, it’s right at the start

Right at the start of the course, is when you see (and feel) the most enthusiasm. Everyone’s been held back by those barriers and like athletes they’re eager to rush down the track to the finish line. But the problem is that a course is almost never like a 100-metre dash. It’s almost always like a marathon in which you have to pace yourself.

And so we slow them down

There are many reasons for slowing down the participants, but the biggest reason is to get them familiar with:

1) The software and hardware

2) Where everything can be found

3) Overcome the hurdles they run into

1) Let’s start with the software and hardware

If your course is being done on a forum (or any other similar system), there’s a good chance that a huge chunk of participants are completely at sea with the software. They don’t know how to do a lot of things that may seem simple in retrospect. Every move, from making a new post, to replying to a post, to adding a quote, to putting in a smiley—it all takes a bit of learning.

Even if you’re a pro in another forum, it still takes time for you to orient yourself to a new type of forum.

And that’s only part of the problem

There may be other software or hardware involved. For instance, in the cartooning course, you have to take a picture (that requires either a camera phone, camera or scanner). And then it needs to be uploaded to a picture-sharing site e.g. Flickr, or Facebook etc. And then embedded back into the forum.

And I know, I know—your eyes are glazing over.

And they should, unless you’ve been through this experience and know that all of this usually takes no more than a few minutes (and especially if you have the right software, hardware combination).

In the past, we’d give instructions and expect participants to follow them

Of course some do, and some don’t. And the ones that don’t are usually the ones that are most hassled with technology. So they get confused, they try and fail, try and fail. And by this time the course is well on its way. And then they give up. Which is crappy, because they’ve tried and failed at technology, not the course.

So instead of rushing through it all, we slow it down. The first week, in many courses, is just about orienting yourself with the technology. But of course, that’s only part of the puzzle. The second part is to locate the resources and instructions of the course.

2) Locating the instructions and resources

In any course, you need to have instructions and how-to sections. A how-to section can contain (well, should contain) the following:

- How to upload your photo into the forum

- How to resize the photo

- How to embed files/upload files into the forum

- How to navigate through the forum quickly

- How to link an external photo

- How to embed a URL

- How to mark a post unread.

These are only the technology part of the instructions. There are other instructions too. Like how to post your learning every week. Or how to comment on your group’s work.

And the list goes on and on. Without time to process this, and without specific instructions, the participants feel intense pressure.

And if they can’t find their way around, or can’t do stuff “right”, they give up.

The important point here, is that the participants aren’t expecting a course like yours

Most courses are hack-jobs. They simply have someone called the ‘teacher’. There are videos, there are audio files, there is some learning material. And there may be a forum. And that’s it. There’s no system, no slowing down. Everyone’s charged anything between $200-$20,000 and herded around like cattle. The more expensive courses will make you feel a little better, simply because of the big bucks involved, but if it’s a cheaper course, well, you’re on your own.

And you shouldn’t.

There should always be the factor of care, guidance and protection. And one of those elements of care, guidance and protection is to give everyone time so they find their way around, without feeling like they’re intruding—or worse, acting like buffoons. And this intimidation is only limited to the things we know—like technology and where to find our places and things in the course. There’s also the factor of the unknown.

3) Dealing with the unknown

We don’t know what we don’t know, right? And unless you make space for this chaos, it’s almost impossible to have time. Both for you as the trainer and for the participant as well. Having space and time to deal with chaos that may just pop up, is critical. We didn’t always follow this system, of course.

It took us years, and hosting many courses before we realised that the unknown does pop up. Maybe a participant can’t login. Or maybe there’s something else that’s slowing them down. Having space is critical to resolve these issues.

If a course is well run, dropouts don’t occur at the end, or in the middle

The biggest number of dropouts are almost immediate. If the course is extremely difficult e.g. The Article Writing Course, then the dropout rate is marginal, because the price of the course is high, and the group is expecting to run into a ton of hurdles.

But if it’s a course like the cartooning course, where the price is a lot lower, and the importance of the skill is not quite critical, it’s easier to run into bigger dropout rate.  While we’ve had a maximum of 20% dropout of the Article Writing Course (which is pure hell, I can assure you), the drop out rate in the cartooning course has been as high as 70%. Then the next year down to 50%. And down it comes, year by year, as the systems get put in place.

Learning to slow down the first week is critical, of course

And there are three big ogres you have to tackle, just to keep your participants involved.

1) The software and hardware

2) Where everything can be found

3) Overcome the hurdles they run into

Slow down.
There’s no hurry.

One more week won’t make a difference to your schedule. But for the nervous student, it’s a matter of staying in or bailing out.

P.S. Do you have a question or comment? Write it here and I will respond.


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole Bryant February 26, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Hi Sean!
I’m a big fan of your stuff, as you know! I am releasing my course for stressed and overwhelm women to get their joy back. I have had huge challenges putting the audios, eBooks, and bonuses (one of which is yours) on a membership style site. I finally have a tech guy who is detail oriented, but even with him, I’ve had to play detective about the course details. I have tested, tested, tested, to see if the instructions, details, steps to enrolling are cohesive. It is finally ready to launch (I think) and I am still finding little things which could cause confusion.
I’m sending this article to my tech guy, because you summarized the folly of so many products out there! Someone said to me (and I got it) “A confused mind says NO!” I have done everything I know is possible to keep confusion in my course down, and still have doubts about the delivery.
This has been the most complicated, convoluted process I have ever attempted, even though I have worked in logistical situations as a coordinator for years.
If you ever need an example, contact me. I would love to know if there was a different approach I could have taken and would love to find out if this course is well delivered!
Thanks for all you do! You’re the best! Joy & Blessings, Carole Bryant

Reply

Abe Crystal March 6, 2013 at 5:55 am

Carole. I’m sorry to hear that. Unfortunately membership site software is fundamentally designed around billing and access control… not providing a great learning experience. Give yourself some kudos for spending the time to do what’s right for your participants.

Reply

Sean DSouza February 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Heh, heh. I know what you mean.

I still have to write the book on online courses. It’s a systematic, detailed process. And I keep it as simple as possible for me and the person doing the course.

Reply

Abe Crystal March 6, 2013 at 5:48 am

Fascinating to read this. As someone who works on an online course platform I have an incredibly biased perspective :), but everything you say resonsates!

I love the idea of slowing down… (as David Allen says, sometimes you have to slow down to speed up!)

Would love to read more reflections on challenges & solutions for facilitating online courses effectively.

Reply

Sean DSouza March 13, 2013 at 3:35 am

I will have a whole book out on the way to conduct an online course. We’ve had immense success in getting people to the finish line. Our finish rates are probably better or equal to the best in any teaching system.

Reply

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