My business really boomed in 2016, and I’m ready for the next level of success.   All the online marketing pros agree that expanding an email list is a key step toward reaching financial goals in an online business.

So, I did what millions of people do, I bought an online course about building an email list.

OMG!  I was beyond excited!  Not only do I love being a student, the course sounded like exactly what I wanted.  Plus, the student testimonials raved, and the teacher had a list of 100,000 emails.  The course promised her exact process.

The entire course was available immediately online for me to jump right in.  I was pumped!  It was a beautiful snowy winter’s day during the magical transition time at the end of December.  I cozied up on the couch in our middle yurt with a cup of tea, plugged in my headphones, got out my notebook, and started watching the videos.

It didn’t take long to be disappointed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were lots of videos chock full of information about different strategies to build an email list.  There were even bonus videos with screencast how-tos for some of the apps recommended.

But the course basically sucked.

Despite providing lots of information, the instructor didn’t actually teach anything. She followed the approach used by too many online course creators:  tell students a bunch of stuff in lots of videos and call it a course.  Maybe the information about email lists would get results for me, but if I wanted to find out, I was going to have to sift through the whole mess, lay out a strategy for using the information, and devise implementation steps for each tiny piece of the puzzle.

If I was going to have to teach myself how to expand my email list why did I pay the instructor $300?

So, after listening to several videos, I asked for a refund. I felt a little weird about it and had never done anything like that before then.  When I received the refund quickly with no questions asked, I wondered how many others request refunds.

When I emailed for a refund, I was tempted to include an offer to help the instructor improve the effectiveness of the course. Not exactly my style, so I held back. Plus, I made an assumption that her focus was more about making money than about teaching anything useful.  Maybe, maybe not.

But if you are one of my readers, I know you care as much about effective teaching as you do about making a good living, so here are a few tips about how to avoid the mistakes she made.


Teaching Tips:  Here’s How to Make Your Course Not Suck


While I could write a dissertation about what was wrong with the course, I’ll keep it focused on the key issues that you can easily implement.  I’ve talked about many of these in other blog posts, too.  These are the basic building blocks of a great online course.


#1 – Be Absolutely Clear about Course Outcomes and Lesson Objectives

The KEY to successful teaching is clarity about what you want students to be able to do at the end of the course and at the end of each lesson.   News Flash – “understand” and “know about” are not actions.  If you are focused primarily on your students understanding or knowing information, then you are only half teaching (at best).  This was the biggest mistake made by the instructor for the email list building course.

To be fair, her outcome for the course was that we should be able to build an email list.  That is an action and a reasonable course outcome.  She stumbled, however, in the lessons. Each lesson explained about a different strategy and ended with “Your Turn” to go do this strategy.  However, there were no instructions on each action needed to take the strategy.


#2 – Build a Content Sandwich

If I could tell the instructor of the email course one thing it would be this: Build a Content Sandwich.  Please.  Pretty Please.

I have a whole blog entry just on this strategy (with a groovey infographic!) where you can get the details.  But the basic idea is to surround small bits of content with two other important elements:  why is this content important?  And how to use this information.

The email list instructor did a pretty good job with the why.  But the content was anything but bite-sized and there were no small action steps to build skill and competence.

When I said above that I was going to have to teach myself even though she provided the information, I meant that I would have to build my own content sandwiches.  But, hell, that is the teacher’s job!


#3 – Keep Lessons Short

As much as I hate to admit it, I have the attention span of a gnat.  And most of us do.  It is only getting worse in the digital age.   No use fighting it.

How long is short enough?  There’s lots of opinions out there on this topic. TED talks top out at 18 minutes. Some people swear that you need to go for 3 – 5 minutes., I like to keep it to 10-ish minutes.  That is long enough to get into something juicy. If you have a very high production value and/or are expert at visual story-telling, then go for 18 minutes.


#4 – Action, Action, Action

So many teachers think of the action as secondary to their talking.

Students are not paying you for information.

They are paying you to package the information in such a way that they can take action based on the information. 

For example, I didn’t really need to know details about every possible strategy for email list building, like the course presented.  I needed to know enough information to start implementing one or two of the strategies.


#5 – Provide materials to guide the student in action

This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many online courses do not include worksheets, guidebooks, action sheets, or check lists.  Without some type of material to guide the student, they will just flounder.

This is exactly what happened to me in the email course.  I kept wondering – “what do I do next?  Have I completed the step before this?  How do I navigate my way through this strategy?  How do I know I am on the right track?” It was beyond frustrating!  So, I gave up and got my money back.


#6 – Start off with an easy Big Win

If I had an opportunity right at the beginning of the email course to succeed in one small but significant action, I might not have gotten as frustrated.  And I am sure I wouldn’t have asked for a refund.

When you are putting your course together, be sure to start with a bang.  Include something in the first lesson or two that can make the students feel successful, motivated, and excited.

Your course can get massive results.

Effective teaching really isn’t that hard.  But you do have to think beyond the idea of “make a bunch of videos with you talking about the topic.”  If you want to teach instead of just present information, then start using some of these ideas.  Your refund rates will drop, your students’ successes will soar, and your business will blossom.

Looking for more tips on how to get maximum results for your students,