Your online classes aren't working for you

I got an email this morning from Mary over at A-List Blogging (maybe you did, too?). It was titled “6 Reasons Why Blogger Trainings Fail.”

As I read through, I noticed my head nodding up and down. Yup. Yup. Yup. She’s SO right about this stuff.

Here’s just a portion of the email:

Here are the six reasons why most blogging trainings suck:

1. Traffic strategies that don’t get traffic. In other words, the stuff they teach just doesn’t work – it’s outdated information, or not effective. Sometimes, it’s just pure fiction.

2. Insider Secrets are reserved for $10,000 clients. They teach crumbs to most students, and save the real meat-and-potatoes for their high-paying, ultra-super-platinum clients.

3. Strategies that cost money instead of making money. Instead of teaching you how to make money, they just point you to dozens of other paid services.

4. Trainings designed for ex-programmers who speak in code. All of their training and instructions are written in an alphabet soup of acronyms, like HTML, CSS, PHP, PPC, CPM and more. (And here you are without your decoder ring.)

5. Blog building on a 70-hour per week schedule. They teach strategies that work great – just so long as you’re implementing them full-time (with three full-time Virtual Assistants to help you).

6. “Here’s your eBook; now best of luck, you’re on your own.” This one burns me up the most. When you buy *training*, what you need is a TEACHER, not a collection of pre-packaged blog posts!


You can read her full email here.

There’s a huge difference between taking a class in-person and participating in something online.

I started out teaching biz plan writing classes for my local women’s business center years ago. They were 12-weeks of bonding, sharing and learning in a real-life environment. And usually the folks (both women and men) who took the classes completed all (or most) of the homework, proudly displaying their completed biz plans at the end of the course.

Most students also told me the class had been life changing for them. (As a teacher, it just doesn’t get any better than that!)

That kind of stuff rarely happens in an online course. Mostly for the reasons Mary pointed out.

Here are a few more:

1. There’s no teacher/student eye contact. Even when you do get to interact with the instructor in an online environment, it’s usually via a webinar. And all you get to do is type a comment into the chat box (if you’re there when the thing is done live). People underestimate the power of eye contact in building a relationship. And online instructors especially need to think about this stuff if they want their students to engage with them and the course materials. Eye contact keeps us accountable. It’s an unspoken method of saying I’m here. I’m showing up — for you and myself. I’m committed. It’s hard to blow off your instructor once you’ve looked them in the eye.

2. There are too many distractions. Being online is a rabbit hole for most of us. The constant desire to check one’s email or see what’s new on Facebook makes it difficult at best to focus on learning. Only the most disciplined of us will shut down the other windows and concentrate just on the work in front of us. In a real classroom, most of us would be embarrassed to be seen checking our email during a class discussion. (Yes, it does happen, but not as often as it does during an online meeting.) I admit I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. But if we aren’t fully present and focused during a class meeting, nothing that’s said will stick.

3. There’s no requirement to participate. When you sign up for most online courses — whether they’re delivered on-demand or not — nobody asks you to leave if you don’t participate. In fact, nobody even notices or cares if you don’t show up for a discussion. You could be dead on the side of the road for all they know…as long as you paid your fee, you’re in. And if it’s an on-going membership type thing, they’ll happily take your money until you shut it off. Kind of like that gym membership you once had.

4. There’s no small group work or buddy system. In college courses, I always found it slightly annoying when the professor would have us work together on a project. I didn’t fully appreciate then the power of collaborative learning. It was only when I began teaching the biz plan course that I saw exactly why we’d been asked to buddy up. It did so many things in one fell swoop: added another layer of accountability; allowed stronger students to help mentor the weaker ones; pushed folks beyond their comfort zone, allowing them to develop leadership skills, and more.

5. There’s not enough critical thinking. Many online courses promise to teach you someone’s “blueprint” or “roadmap.” Just follow these step-by-step instructions and you, too, will create a 6-figure business in just 90 days! The instructor rarely asks you to think about their process as a starting point. To ask questions like, Will this work for my audience and my business? If we aren’t encouraged to ask questions, we don’t really learn anything. Just as a paint-by-numbers painting won’t get you very far in the art market, a paint-by-numbers marketing system will just help you look like everyone else. NOT the best way to stand out from the crowd. Which isn’t to say that a starter recipe here and there can’t be a useful learning tool. But the instructors need to help their students find their own best way.

I could go on, but you see my point here, don’t you? Learning something — whether online or off — requires the student and the instructor to show up and stay present to the process.

It’s exactly why I created The Digital Dining Room the way that I did. Because I couldn’t just put together some pre-packaged videos and call it a day. And because I was tired of seeing folks give their hard-earned money to programs that they never finished, let alone implemented. (Yep. Been there done that, too.)

My lessons are never pre-recorded. Sure, we record them so if a member can’t be there live, they can catch up later. But we meet together in a Google Hangout and the students are encouraged to participate on-air so we can see each other, put a name with a face and get to know each other as real people.

I also don’t allow students to go more than 30 days on silent mode. Extreme introverts still need to check in with me. And I put them all into study groups to facilitate discussion around each month’s topic.

And finally, we don’t use templates. Yes to guidelines. Yes to starter recipes. And an even bigger yes to asking questions.

The Digital Dining Room (DDR) is my answer to some of the biggest issues with online learning. I’m the first to admit it’s not perfect. I’m still refining and experimenting. But it’s working. 

One member recently told me she’d gotten more accomplished in the last 30 days than she had in the previous 6 months on her own.

Now that’s some powerful learning!

How about you? What’s been your experience with online classes?  Share with us in a comment below. 

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