The situation: You launched to crickets, underwhelming numbers, or non-rave reviews. You’re now running forensics to determine what to tweak and everything is on the table to be examined. Including your course.

Part 1: Defining & Solving Your Customer Problem
Part 2: Organizing for Attention & Retention

Part 3: Top Problems with Under-Performing Courses & How To Treat Them

How bad is it, Doc? Is she going to make it?

Happy courses are all alike and unhappy courses are unhappy, each in their own way?  I’m not sure this saying is true – even in its original form – but I especially don’t think it’s true for online courses.

When your course is on the gurney, chances are it suffers from one of the Big 3. 

Ok, I totally just made up that name the Big 3, but it’s true that there are three main problems that cause courses to have lackluster reviews. Today I cover the diagnoses, and offer up some treatment plans.


Sick Course Diagnoses: The Big 3

1. Kitchen-Sink-itis

Variant A. The target customer is too broad.

Key Symptoms: You have trouble finding case-studies and example sets that resonate with students because you have to either stay generic or choose an example that does not represent a decent portion of your students.

Variant B. The course itself covers too broad a scope.

Key Symptoms: You’re at 8 modules and counting. The word “comprehensive” is above-the-fold on your sales page. You read interesting articles on the subject and think I should totally include this!  Your goal is to graduate generalists who have a basic familiarity with the subject-matter.

Variant C. You include too much material inside your lessons.

Key Symptoms: You have to rush through material to stick to your time. You don’t stick to your time. There’s an abandoned call trend as the weeks progress. Students gnaw off their own arms in the effort to stay awake.

Treatment & Care: Your course needs to go on an immediate cleanse.

Your goal should be to teach a very specific thing to a very specific group of people. You need to identify exactly what prevents them from performing at this higher level and remedy just that.

Those are two breezy sentences, but go back and read them again. Then go check out Part 1 and this post for some help in breaking this down.

Treat your material like the Oxford Comma – when in doubt, leave it out.

2. Designia (absence of design)

Key Symptoms: You field a lot of repeat questions – on material you definitely covered already. You see mistakes in execution that your content should have prevented. Your content is an organized data-dump: categorized by topic, of course, but other than that, it’s chronological or ordered in the way it came out of your head.

Treatment & Care:
There is organization, and then there is design. Without it, students are left to fend for themselves as to what’s important enough to remember, and must carry all the water to actually retain that information.

Your material should be prioritized and packaged to fight the dual gremlins of attention and retention. Note Gary Vaynerchuk’s recent quote during his interview with Marie Forleo (the image for this post): Saving students time & firing their attentions are the value that you’re providing with your content.

If you’re not, it’s a problem. Check out Part 2 for more on curing this.

3. Telepromptus Deliverus

Key Symptoms: Your slide notes ARE your slides. And you read them to us. Gah.

Treatment & Care: 
Take two of these:
– a free iBook copy of Resonate
– a Slideshare on excellent slide design
– a TED talk on how to structure a great presentation

and call me in the morning.


What’s the common ailment here?  It’s this: You haven’t made it easy enough for your students to learn. Teach smarter, not harder.

Maybe putting it this way helps: Don’t think of it as teaching them, think of it as creating the right conditions for them to learn.