Course Lab: Lessons from Successful Online Course Creators
Unlock Your Best Music Performance (ft. Mark Morley-Fletcher)
July 30, 2021
Mark Morley-Fletcher set out to solve a problem for himself and, in the process, developed a goldmine of techniques that he had to share with other musicians. Turns out, other course creators can also learn from his seamless hybrid of evergreen and bootcamp with 1,000 students and counting.
Episode summary: Believe it or not, many highly skilled musicians suffer from performance anxiety. Or they can play well in practice but fall short of their potential when they play for others. This was the problem that Mark Morley-Fletcher set out to solve for himself and, in the process, developed a hugely popular, successful, and innovative course that any course creator can learn from as well.

     In this episode, hosts Danny Iny and Abe Crystal interview Mark about his course “Unlock Your Performance.” Mark's course combines elements of evergreen and boot camp to create a seamless hybrid with 1,000 students and counting.

In this episode we discuss:

“Because the biggest challenge, I think, for a lot of course creators, is people will often find ways not to do things. It's really easy to kind of get excited about going through the material and then not do the hard stuff of putting it into practice.” – Mark Morley-Fletcher

Guest bio:
Mark Morley-Fletcher is a jazz guitarist and educator who specializes in training the frequently overlooked skills and mindsets that are a huge part of rapid improvement and outstanding performances. He is particularly interested in how musicians can benefit from techniques used by peak performers in sport and other fields to perform more consistently and enjoyably. He has helped over a thousand musicians at all levels and across all instruments reach new heights through his courses on Performance Psychology and Effective Practice.

Resources or websites mentioned in this episode:


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Episode transcription: Unlock Your Best Music Performance (ft. Mark Morley-Fletcher)

[00:00:00] : Mirasee.

see the biggest challenge, I think for a lot of course creators and certainly the one that I've had is people will often find ways not to do things. It's really easy to kind of get excited about going through the material and then not do the hard stuff of putting into practice. Hello and welcome to course lab, the show that teaches course creators like you how to make better online courses. I'm a crystal co founder of resume, a course platform and I'm here with my co host, Danny B, the founder and Ceo of Mercy. In each episode we showcase of course and course creator who's doing something really interesting with their course And our guest today is Mark Morally Fleischer. Mark is a jazz guitarist who spent performing for more than 30 years. He teaches the psychology of performance to musicians. Mark, welcome to Corsica. Thanks jake. Great to be here. So mark, can you give us the 30,000 ft view of yourself, your background in teaching and how you came to this world of online courses. And then tell us a little bit about the specific course that you've been developing for musicians and how that's been going. Sure I've been a musician for, as you say, for for a long time performing all sorts of different things, but very much on the side. I'm a scientist by training. I had an office job for a long time and love to get out and play gigs in the evening. And I would find that I got very frustrated by not being able to play as well actually in performance as I could in practice. And I just assumed that this was the way it was. And I stumbled my way through that for decades or more of kind of just beating my head against a brick wall and making things better. And I found myself after I quit the office job, wondering what to do, going on a tennis course of all things, which looked at using performance psychology. So sports psychology techniques to, to improve your tennis playing. And I could not believe the impact that it had in just a three day course on how much my actual playing improved. But more importantly, in many ways, how much I actually started enjoying playing tennis much more rather than getting frustrated. So I thought there's got to be something here that I can do in music. Why didn't I know about this before I went around to look for where I could get that training in music and I just couldn't find anything that fitted the bill. So that started me off research and yet trying things out, bring things over from tennis, drawing on my experience, getting something that worked. And it made such a big difference. I thought, well I've got to see if I can help some other people with this. Just started teaching something reasonably informally to see where it went. And again, the results were better than I expected to the point where I thought, well I've got to try and make something of this and that's how I got into the online world. It was not a desire to teach online, rather it was having something to teach and discovering that it was just much more practical to do it and I could help a lot more people online. I mean, it sounds like a challenging topic in some ways to get musicians to think and perform differently. What were some of the challenges you encountered in helping people with this topic and what were some of the solutions and techniques you've come up with in terms of the delivery of your course that have been really effective. So I mean I'd break the challenges down into two things I guess. And the first one is, is really that a lot of people don't think about this, they possibly think, well, you know, I'm just the way I am, this isn't something that you can change, how can you work on that, So that's that's kind of what you need to to get through to get started I guess. But the thing after that is well, how do you actually do this? Because what you're dealing with is thoughts going on in your mind that are very nebulous, hard to get a hold on. So I think the biggest challenge I've had and the biggest thing I'm proud of in terms of success is turning a lot of the concepts, which makes sense into practical exercises that people can do and getting them to do them in a way that not only gives them results, but they can see, oh, this is making a difference. Were there approaches you tried that didn't work like you hoped and you had to iterate and improve them actually, surprisingly few I would say. So what I'd seen coming out of the tennis courts was the fact that this wasn't just some concepts out there, there were very specific exercises to put it into practice. There was a group of people who were doing it together who were enthusiastic and that was kind of motivating you to do it. There were instructors kind of watching you because it's much more tempting in tennis and music to just focus on the technique. It's kind of what a lot of people like to do, it's much easier. So having someone standing over you going, no, forget about that, go back to, what are you thinking? How are you doing the exercise That made a huge difference? And this was exactly what I've succeeded to transfer over into the course. I guess I'd look at it as it's not just the concepts, it's can you turn those into practical actions that people are going to do and can you put them in a context where they are actually going to take those actions? Because the biggest challenge, I think for a lot of course creators and certainly the one that I've had is people will often find ways not to do things. It's really easy to kind of get excited about going through the material and then not do the hard stuff of putting into practice. So that's been the big area for me, I think can you tell us about the hybrid structure that you've used to help people to feel more accountability and make more progress? Yeah, absolutely. And I think this came out of when I ran the course for the first time, it was a very hands on pilot approach, really looking to work with people and take them through it in real time. And I was thinking well if this all works, this can easily turn into something that people can do just whenever they like and have the material and do it themselves. But I saw such a huge impact from having people go to get through together as a group, from having me push them and say have you done this yet? And so the way I've done that is essentially to recreate that six week program in a way that anyone can start it at any time. So there is a set of different exercises, different homework that I give people each week for six weeks. And some of it is things for them to do and then send me the results so that I can see that they've done it and I can give them feedback and questions. But also every week there is a performance recording for them to do. So, one of the big problems for this music thing is that a lot of this is about how you react under pressure and when you're just practicing on your own, there's not a lot of pressure there. So one of the ways to increase that is to get people to record themselves and have to share it with the group. So we've got a group forum and these performance recordings, you're making them every week. There's a special thread each month for the people who are doing it that month to go through and post their recording. So there is the pressure of knowing that people are going to see it. There is the community of seeing how other people are getting on. Um and it's a form to to put those concepts into practice. So again, it's it's a format of saying you've got some broad concepts to work with. Here are some practical exercises for how you're going to do it, but also when you've done the exercises here is a bigger piece if you like this bit of homework for you to actually go through and apply the week's lesson. How do you find that when you put it into a proper performance situation? So there's some really interesting dynamic tension here in that you want to create a certain amount of pressure and discomfort to simulate the real pressure of performance, but you also want to make it feel comfortable and safe for people to do it. And yet it's not optional. It's mandatory. It's part of the experience, part of what they have to do. How how is the process of threading that needle playing out in practice as you built and ran the course? Did you have to kind of correct and then overcorrect and then under correct in different directions or did you kind of nail it on the first try? I think it's less of course correcting, but I think it's it's about building that feeling is it's probably the closest I get. So it does require a little bit of individual handling with different people sometimes because some people are totally up for this and we'll jump straight in. Others need more persuading. But the thing that makes the biggest difference I think first I'd say is the overall set up. This is definitely a topic that people are sensitive around and it doesn't get talked about much, but you've got a forum where everyone is in the same boat, they've all decided they want to work on this. So I just make a point of explaining that this is a very friendly place. But the biggest thing is, and it took a while to get this going is that people can go into the forum and they can see all the past monthly friends of people going through posting their recordings and they can see people getting up there sometimes getting it right sometimes making mistakes. They can see the positive comments and support from other people going through from the week one through two weeks six. They can see the improvement that people get when they do this. And one of the things I'm happiest about is to get the really positive comments from people coming out at week six saying they're so glad that they've done it. And it was such a huge part of the course and the number of people who say they're going to keep doing this now that they've started, I find that very satisfying. So it sounds like a key piece of this too is how you're facilitating the community, right, that it needs to be an environment where people are not just passively reading what others have done and posted, but that everyone is sharing and also supporting each other. She talked to us more about how have you fostered that type of supportive and engaged community because that's not easy to do. Yeah, it's been an effort. I've been very active all the time to get things going. Another part of it is even though it doesn't necessarily do anything for the course on the first things that I asked people to do when they join the course is to go into the community introduce themselves and also to just comment on another person's introduction, So trying to get people in there and interacting as soon as possible, a lot of it was around me going and starting a few discussions replying to things and I still go in and reply to everyone's introduction, but I think it's really started to take off when people can see it modeled in the past threads, so that the more it's, it's picked up momentum, the more people have kind of seen this looks like the culture, I'm going to keep doing it and I think one of the things that possibly contributes to this, but I think is one of the biggest learning things about it is to get to this point, I've seen people getting as much learning from interacting with other people in the community is from me giving them feedback all the time. So one of the big realizations is that people will post their videos there and say, oh I was so tense and nervous, I made so many mistakes and they'll get comments back on it from people saying, oh but you look fine and I didn't notice the mistakes. I see that on both sides and that for me is one of the biggest learning experiences I think of people going through this is the chance to see someone else doing the same thing as them and recognizing it's one thing for me to say, people don't notice mistakes, people don't see how nervous you are, but for them to actually experience it, either when they put a video out there or when they've seen someone else in the community doing that is is one of the most powerful things. I think people are getting from this. The hybrid structure is really, really interesting the way that you're able to engage people in these boot camps to get them involved in accountability and community. The being able to foster a supportive community with meaningful pure feedback sounds like it's a really, really critical piece of this and has also allowed it to scale beyond what you can personally facilitate yourself. Is there anything else other lessons learned from working with your students with this community and see how it's grown over time that might be helpful to share with other course traders. So one thing is an unexpected side effect of this hybrid structure. It's the fact that it allows people to take things at different paces because they can start at a given date. They really want to work on their performance and the time doesn't fit them. So just being able to start whenever it's really helpful. But the other thing I found useful is it allows people to go through the course at different speeds because some people choose to just jump in and they go through the lessons and they go through the boot camp at the same time. So they're essentially learning everything and then putting it into practice every week for six weeks. Whereas others will take the chance to go through all the lessons first and go through that slowly absorb it and then when they come and do the six week boot camp, all they're doing is the exercises. So people with lots of time can really blaze through it and go very in depth and people with much more going on less time to give to it can still get through and get stuff out of it. I think it's worth saying though that this was not how I planned it, it's evolved, it happened because I couldn't see it giving people the value that they deserved if I didn't do it this way. And it's been very much a case of trying something and keeping on with the things that have worked and tweeting things where they, where they needed it and and seeing what people are saying, how they're using it and and adjusting or not adjusting in that way. I certainly couldn't claim that this was my vision and I just designed it and it all got there to be much more messy and iterative than that. I really appreciate your pointing that out because it's very easy to hear the story of someone who's built this super successful chorus and over 1000 students enrolled and it's such an elegant design and we forget often in listening that it didn't spring forth into the universe, whole cloth, so to speak, right? It was an iterative design and development and that's what leads to such an elegant and effective structure. I'm still working on it and iterating and I'm sure there are things that don't work as well that I will discover and hopefully fix all things that I I know aren't perfect and I haven't worked out how to do yet. It's the comments and the feedback from people in the group that really helps. So I mean in one way, you know, the forum is there for them to interact and for them to get more out of the course. But that also is one of the things that makes it much, much easier for me to see what's working and what isn't and adjust because otherwise I might simply not be aware of some of these things that I could improve or that need improving the structure you come up with is really, really interesting and I don't recall seeing anything quite like it. So I think it's gonna be very, very valuable. I just wonder if it's worth if people are interested in talking about the kind of the practical structure of how it works at all or is well, yeah, do you want to walk us through it? Yeah. So it's a very simple set up and I'm sure it could be made smarter, but there hasn't been any obvious need for it. So I haven't changed it. So all I have really is a traditional course website with all the lessons in their attached to that is a forum and there is an option for people whenever they want to just stick in their email address that they signed up with and that starts an email auto responded that drips out six weeks of tasks over six weeks and they get to emails a week. The first one just gives them, the task tells them when they're deadline is to put the performance recording in the forum and send their homework to me. And the one in the middle of the week is just a reminder. You've got a couple of days left, but also an extra kind of have you thought about this or have you been reflecting on that keeps people engaged and very clear on what to do and it means that all I have to do is the important work of when they send me their homework. I can reply to that when they post in the forum. I can see that I don't have to be keeping track of when to send out assignments and who's doing what and this sort of thing. Very cool. Like I said before, it's simple yet very effective. It's very elegant, awesome. Abe do you want to do the read at? I think it's you for this one. Is it me? Okay. Mark Morley fletcher is a jazz guitarist and educator who teaches musicians to play better by improving their mindset. You can find him at play in the zone dot com. That's play in the zone dot com Now, stick around for my favorite part of the show where I live and I will pull out the very best insights in practical takeaways for you to take and apply to your own course. All right Danny. It is time for the debrief and this is a really interesting one. So yeah, what was what was jumping out for you? There's a lot in there kind of all tied together. One of the big challenges that online course creators have as they look to scale the experience is kind of this oscillation between. Do I go very like, you know, rich, interactive dynamic cohort based, which feels like it wouldn't be scalable, or do I go in this very sterile? You know, just a bunch of information and videos and a membership site and they're on their own kind of because that seems like that's how you can get a lot more people in. And he's really threaded the needle nicely in that people log in, they get access to all the videos, they can go through it completely at their own pace, but they can register themselves for essentially a cohort based experience and many people do, and because he has the volume of people coming through the course, there's always enough people to make it interesting. I thought that was a really elegant structure. Yeah. And that is a good sort of caveat to mention to people, I guess is that this model works best with a certain level or flow of students, right. If he only had, you know, a couple of people signing up per month, you wouldn't really get that sense of community in each of the six week boot camps. But you know, that caveat outside the structure is really, really interesting. I would suspect that it's not the evergreen component of the course that really gets that much use, I would guess, you know, without seeing behind the scenes of his completion data that most people are doing the work, doing the assignments, contributing to the community as part of one of the boot camps when they're getting the weekly assignments and the emails. But from a marketing perspective, it's pretty compelling to be able to say, hey look, you can sign up and get full access to all these great lessons immediately and then people can discover as they get into it that I thought I was just going to do it on my own. But I really need the support of this boot camp in the community to make progress. And so that support was really drives the learning and the participation is there. But you have the strength of the evergreen experience on the marketing side, it's a good point. It's an important needle for course entrepreneurs to thread because their course creators are educators, but they're also entrepreneurs. They need to sell the course and often we kind of bump into these dilemma is essentially where there's an architectural component of the course, where you're like, you know, I know that this is the best way for me to structure it for them to learn and get results and actually get the experience and outcomes they want, but it's not what they think they want going in, right? So case in point, do you want to have to follow a schedule versus, you know, you can get it whenever you want. Most people prefer to have more freedom, even if you and I both know, and most, of course creators, no, that isn't going to get them the actual results. Of course creators often kind of stand firm and it's like, well, I don't care what you want, this is what I know is better, I'm the expert, trust me, but of course that can come at a cost from a marketing standpoint or you feel like you're compromising your giving up and it's like, okay, fine, I'll give it to you the way you want it, even though I know it's not going to get a result. And Mark has done a really interesting job of threading that needle, giving people the freedom they want to be able to take that first step, but then also having the structure in place to then get them the result in a scale and time frame that's convenient for them. Yeah, it's also really helpful model, potentially for someone who wants to offer this type of cohort based support to students, but not be in the position of saying like, hey, I'm going to launch new cohort offering every month, right? Like that could be very difficult to sustain, of trying to sort of promote a live cohort based offering. Like, hey, we've got a new group starting june 1st, hey, we've got a new group starting july 1st. Like you can't really promote that without creating a lot of fatigue in your audience or however you're reaching people. Whereas like the way Marcus structured it, you can just have people coming in and signing up for evergreen course off of his website and he could promote it periodically in other ways as well. But then the structure is there, you know, once people join the course, it threads the needle pretty well in multiple ways. It's also worth pointing out that he has with a fairly large volume of people, Right? So if he's got over 1000 people coming through on an annual basis, he's got 80-100 every month. So the volume is quite substantial, but you don't need necessarily such a large volume to make something like this work a couple dozen every month. That could be enough for a cohort, depending on the structure you're going for. It could also be, if you add a layer onto this in terms of peer interaction, maybe you put people in pods or in triads or in small groups or that sort of thing, right? Not like all elaborate setup, but just a way of managing the experience. At that point, the scaling becomes Much easier because you can have two pods, you can have 20 pots and you know, it kind of scales up and down depending on the volume. Yeah, agreed. And I guess kind of the second piece of the puzzle in mark setup was just sort of effective community facilitation that it's not just giving people assignments to do, but then gained them to really share their progress, including some kind of uncomfortable things, like showing themselves performing in the community so that that people are really able to support each other. And what I picked up from what he was saying is it wasn't so much about like giving really critical feedback, saying like, hey, you need to improve a B and C to make your performance better. It was almost more like enthusiasm and surely, like people being able to hear from their peers, like that was great, I loved your performance, that was energizing and so on and thereby giving people the confidence, the uplift and their mindset that they can go out and perform better in the real world. The real key here is that it's a simulation of what they're ultimately going to experience and we both know that learning about the thing is one thing, but actually experiencing it is another, and the more you can simulate what it's actually going to look and feel like the more compelling it's going to be in terms of your ability to internalize what you want them to internalize. So he did a really interesting job with that frankel. Any final thoughts sir insights. Well, the other thing that I thought was interesting was the way he kind of balanced asking people to do hard things but then really tying into not just that in order to achieve their objectives, they have to do the hard things, but really they signed up for the hardness. The hardness is part of what is going to lead to the learning and transformation. And that created a kind of commitment and consistency for people to do what they're supposed to do for them to post. And that creates a feedback loop for him to then improve the program. So I think I said this a couple times during the conversation but it was very elegant structure. You can see the advanced scientific training in terms of architect and physical systems. Yeah, for sure. Cool. Thanks for the great points. I am good on the debrief if you are. I am too. Should I do the read at course. Lab is the nearest CfM original production. Thank you for listening to course Lab again. I'm Danny Any pharmacy and my co host is Eight Crystal. This episode, of course Lab was produced by Cynthia lamb. Michy, Lance and Jeff Govert Son assembled the episode Danny Any, that's me is our executive producer. Big thanks to Mark morley fletcher for taking the time to share his successes and challenges regarding his course. You can find out more about his classes at play in the zone dot com. That's play in the zone dot com. Don't forget to tune in to Morris's new podcast. Making it in each episode, a successful entrepreneur will share what making it means to them and what they learned along the way, and to make sure you don't miss the great stuff we've got coming in this season, of course Lab, make sure to subscribe on Apple podcast or Spotify or wherever you're listening right now, and if you like the show, please leave us a starred review. It's the best way to help us get these ideas to more people. Thank you and we'll see you next time. Mm mhm mm I'm not sure there's anything else that immediately comes to one. No, that was great. Thank you. That was really valuable. It's a very elegant structure that you've put together, so I'm really glad we get to showcase this to our listeners.