Course Lab: Lessons from Successful Online Course Creators
How To Streamline Your Course For Optimized Learning (Rebecca Cuevas)
August 9, 2021
You want to create an impactful and engaging online course that transforms the lives of your students, but don’t know where to start. Rebecca Cuevas has discovered a method for making your course design as seamless and easy as possible, using the tools YOU prefer - and today she’s here to show you exactly how it’s done.
Episode summary: How do you create an exciting and dynamic online course that provides a laser-focused and streamlined online learning experience for your students? Rebecca Cuevas is the expert who will help you set up your course so that students can actually learn from it. And even better, she’ll show you a method for designing your course that's fast, easy, and fun!
     In this episode, our hosts Danny Iny and Abe Crystal will take a closer look at Rebecca's course “Streamline Your Course Creation,” which helps online course creators design transformative learning experiences. Rebecca is the recipient of multiple Federal scholarships for international study and brings a creative, multi-cultural perspective to her work. While pursuing her goal to light up the planet, one mind at a time, Rebecca perfected a method that makes course design simple, even for first-time course creators - and today she’s sharing all her top strategies with our listeners. 

In this episode we discuss:

“The difference between a course and some other kind of digital product is that in order for it to work, people have to actually learn from it.” – Rebecca Cuevas

Rebecca Cuevas

Guest Bio: Rebecca Cuevas is the CEO and founder of Learn and Get Smarter where she teaches busy creative experts and entrepreneurs how to create online courses. She’s been an educator her whole career and holds a BA in English from Harvard University, as well as two Masters Degrees in Education.

     For fifteen years, Rebecca designed and delivered award-winning education programs for public utilities in Southern California, impacting over 150,000 students with hands-on learning experiences relating to water and energy conservation. A recipient of multiple Federal scholarships for international study, she brings a creative, multi-cultural perspective to her work in educational consulting, instructional design, and curriculum development.

     Her new course, Streamlined Course Creation, will help you outline YOUR course and plan all your lessons, in as little as a weekend, using learning design best practices.

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Episode transcript: How To Streamline Your Course For Optimized Learning (Rebecca Cuevas):

[00:00:00] : Mirasee. 

See many people are promoting how great online courses are as selling a digital product. But the difference between a course and some other kind of digital products is that in order for it to work, people have to actually learn from it. Hello and welcome to your course lab. The show, the TCS course creators like you how to make better online courses. I made Crystal, the founder of residue and I'm here with my co host Danny, any 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. Our guest today is Rebecca quit us. Rebecca is the Ceo and founder of learn and get smart ink where she teaches busy creative experts and entrepreneurs to create online courses. Rebecca, Welcome to Corsica. Hey, hey Danny, it's wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for having me. Absolute. So we'd love to get started by having you get this kind of the big picture. So what is the 30,000 ft view of your work, your expertise and and how you came to this wild world of online courses? I came to this world of online courses from the world of offline courses And I've been an educator for my entire career. And around 2007 I started every classroom I went into, I was tripping over these digital whiteboards and I started thinking it would be great to take my effective face to face trainings and put them online. But when I tried that, I did what most people do as a first step, which is take something that works well in the offline space and digitize it and put it online. And I discovered that it just really didn't create the same level of engagement that I was expecting and that I want to provide. So I went back to school for a second Masters in instructional technology. My first one is in curriculum development and I struggled really a lot for seven years to still solve that problem. How do you create engagement? How do you create excitement and a dynamic experience while also making it very focused and very streamlined for an online learning experience? And through the process of doing my Masters project as well as all the research and trial and error involved, I discovered what I call the course designed formula, which is my research based process of online course design. I've tested it with hundreds of online course creators creating all different kinds of courses and it works every time when Covid hit. No one was expecting that and I certainly wasn't. But it was such a joy to have something that could actually help people quickly get their courses online when they needed to and take away some of the stress and the overwhelmed that people feel when they're coming from a place of having so much expertise and wondering how do I structure this? Very cool, What's kind of your current primary way that you work with people or what's your core offering and how much does that cost and so on. First of all I have a book, the course designed formula, how to teach anything to anyone online. So that's a great way for people to learn about the ideas and the research and how it can apply to them. And then I also have a community that's free and we meet every saturday morning, we've been meeting during the pandemic to talk about how to survive and thrive during these challenging times and that's been like a think tank. And then for paid offerings, I have private one on one course design coaching and with various packages depending on how much coaching people need. And then I have my master course which is the course designed Formula Master course which I offered to cohorts a year one starting mid june and one starting mid january, this is going to be my fifth cohort and people who have been with me since the pilot, they have stayed in there. So it's just a growing community, a very creative entrepreneurs and experts who are really passionate about teaching well online and I absolutely love that, I love my students, I love the way they synergize and network with each other. And then I wanted to come up with something that would be more scalable. So I wanted to offer something that a lot of people could use at a lower price point, but that would be highly effective. And I also wanted to scale my coaching practice, which as you know, is kind of an oxymoron. I mean how do you, you can't scale yourself right. But I did my best and I think I came up with something that works pretty well, which was to create a very guided practice focused course, evergreen course where learners will feel like I'm right there with them by their side, walking them through, getting their course designed and I modeled it on my three coaching session package. So I know from, you know, having done that with so many clients, I know how much can get done in one work session. I know that it takes three work sessions to basically high level outline of course. So I turned that into a course and I'm really excited about it because now more people can benefit from that without I tried to clone myself and I'm hoping I succeeded. I mean as this world of online courses has grown and gotten more popular and more mainstream, uh the attendant, you know, niche of how do you create a successful of course has also gotten more complex and crowded. So how do you situate yourself within that? What is kind of your niche or focus or differentiation within the world? I'll teach you how to build drama of course. Well, first of all, I love that question. Lots of people are teaching the business side, though nobody as well as you did me. So what I focus on is specifically how to structure the learning journey in the course of many people are promoting how great online courses are as selling a digital product. But the difference between a course and some other kind of digital products is that in order for it to work, people have to actually learn from it. So how I situate myself is that I help you set up your course so that people can actually learn from it. And I also help you do it in a way that's fast and easy and fun for you. I have college professors in my in my training or you know, people who have been teaching offline for years and that was me too. I already knew how to teach, but how do you make it work, you know, really efficiently in the online space, for example, we both came out with books around the same time and I was, you know, loved your book, leverage learning my whole book, my like 400 page book fit into nine pages of your book. So I'd say that, you know, your book gave us the broad perspective to understand where are we in the education landscape. and I feel like what you said has become even more prophetic with what's happened to higher education with Covid. My book goes very deep in a very narrow slice that fits into that. It's pretty meta. You know, you teach an online course about how to create excellent online courses, which of course I ever late. Exactly. But especially given your focus on instructional design and on engineering transformation, you've got to bake all the, all the tips and all the tricks. It's all going to be baked into the design of your course. Tell us about some of the things that you do in the design of your course to make it so effective. Well, you know, one of the really challenging things for online learning is the issue of cognitive load, which is kind of the if you think about it like the friction or drag on the learning that's trying to get into your learners brain. And the trouble is that the online learning interface itself, just by the fact that it's online and not in person, adds a lot of what's called extraneous cognitive load. In other words, it's not difficulty in learning, that's part of the subject matter. It's due difficulty in learning caused by the fact that people may not understand how to navigate or they're trying to download something and it doesn't work right? So since I know where those friction points are now from running live cohorts so many times I decided that I needed to restructure my content in a way that would eliminate navigation challenges while keeping interactivity and the solution that has really been helpful for that is digital flip books. Usually they start life as a power point and then you save your power point as a pdf and then you upload it to a flip book making platform which there's lots of them but the one that I use is flip snack which I absolutely love and I'm very grateful to them for their platform. And what that does is it gives you the ease of navigation of a book, it stays in one place and you just flip the page when you're ready and the interactivity and dynamic qualities of the internet. So it removes the navigational complexity to as low as possible. And yet you can really up the dynamic interactivity, it makes learners more independent. I was racking my brain, how do I guide people through a process where I tell them, you know, if you were in a live coaching, say even live online coaching you would talk and say now do this and then the learner would do something and you say ah ha okay, that's how that works for you. Now, let's do the next step. It's challenging to do that with video. I mean you can say stop the video and do what I just said and then start again when you're ready. The problem that happens with that is video is a medium that's designed to move and if you're telling people to stop the video, you're kind of working against the afford ince's of the medium you've chosen. So I thought, okay, I need something that allows for short videos that stop at the place where I want someone to take action and then when they're ready they go to the next step. So the flip book is perfect for that because I could just put a different short video on each page of the flip book, The way I set it up. The video covers the whole page and the background looks like I'm just on the page talking to you like I'm popping out of the page and some of these videos are 30 seconds, 1.5 minutes, two minutes with very targeted instructions. And the other interesting thing, remember I mentioned the friction that happens when people download stuff which you think would be easy. So instead of providing a lot of downloads which you know I do with love in my heart and I think I'm being gracious and I'm giving people something but then they can't access it often for various reasons. I said instead of that let's have learners use their own note taking methods or mind mapping or whatever technique they're most comfortable with for processing information and I'll guide them through it but they won't have to download anything. There are very few downloads in my course, but not too many. And I ran this by a beta tester who's not techie and she loved it. She said I was so happy that I got to use paper and pencil and do it my own way. And she told me something very interesting. She said that for her she only uses Microsoft word when she's kind of done all her note taking down all her brainstorming and this is a finished product. So asking her to think out of the gate in Microsoft word was very stressful for her. I didn't know that you know that's that's one person's experience but it might be many. So having people use the tools that they're comfortable with with no friction from the online interface and just using the online interface as a way to deliver the instruction has really been interesting. The real test will be to see does this reduce the number of tech support calls? Because basically that cognitive load is what is the bottleneck that limits the scalability. Of course, what I want to solve was how do you make the course interactive, engaging, learner focused and scalable? At the same time, I had solved for the first ones, but I hadn't solved for the scalability and that's where the flip books are helping because they're reducing the complexity of the navigation and keeping A whole lesson in one course player window on a learning management system so you don't have to scroll as much. So in terms of helping people learn in their own way. When I was thinking about how to scale my, my master course, I thought I've got like a high end bistro boutique restaurant where I love to serve everyone exactly what they need cooked to order artisanal and how do I scale that and the ah ha moment that I had was I have to make it self service. So what I've tried to do is create a self service version of that where you cook it up the way that that works for you, but I give you everything you need to make that happen. Great Danny, did you have a whole upon that or I was just reviewing my notes? But no, that was those very comprehensive, so I'm really happy with where we landed. Oh good. Is there anything else that you wanted to share if it's important for us to know? I mean, I think we've got like a really solid episode here, so great to have these amazing platforms and think if IQ, which I'm a think if IQ expert and bazooka which is so great for promoting interaction between learners and also of course flip snack flip bookmaking platform, none of this could happen without all of those supportive structures. So I feel like my specific role is to say how do we navigate between all that to create a learning experience that makes light bulbs go off in people's minds. My mission is to light up the planet one mind at a time. I love that. Thank you. That was really great. Thank you. Thank you Danny, I'm so grateful for the opportunity. All right, I'm gonna do the readout Rebecca cuevas is the Ceo and founder of Learning and get Smarter where she teaches busy creative experts and entrepreneurs to design effective and engaging online courses, you can find her at learn and get smarter dot com that's learn and get smarter dot com. Fabulous! Thank you. 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. Had a really interesting example of course today from Rebecca. What was, what was jumping out for you? I'm really excited about the digital flip book idea for how to serve as the container for all the course materials. I think that's a really interesting idea and a really interesting response to the core challenge of cognitive load that is just inherent with navigating a platform that you may be unfamiliar with. Some kind of really looking at. How do you minimise that friction? I thought that was really cool. I honestly, I don't have much to add. I think this is an area that Rebecca is an expert and she articulated it very well. Yeah, that's certainly something we can pull out as a principle that people should be aware of and should seek to apply and implemented their own courses, that it's not just about the content that you have or how you help people solve problems or gain your understanding or get to a result. It's also how you present that in a way that is not going to be overwhelming and that is going to give them the right structure that they need to actually progress through the material. That's where a lot of courses that are designed by world class experts can actually fall short because they're too complex. They assume too much on the part of the learner and wind up imposing essentially a mental burden that is too high to facilitate effective learning. We talk sometimes about the curse of knowledge and how it's almost easier to design. Of course, if you're less further along in your journey, what's your knowledge is so internalized and so unconscious that you don't notice it anymore. It's hard to remember what it's like to be a beginner in a domain, but Rebecca's worked really hard to unpack that and if to figure out what is it like for someone who is just starting to design their own online course and how do you make the experience not too overwhelming for them. Yeah, I absolutely like the insight that whenever possible, if it's feasible, if it doesn't compromise the learning experience, you want to allow people to work with their own tools, work with the tools that they are comfortable with that way, it's just more intuitive for them. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I think a lot of why she was able to generate these insights, it's not just from her background in education research, but it's because it's like she started with coaching and working with private clients and then developed the insights, the understanding about people's questions and challenges and needs that then informed her course design and especially for people who don't have the breadth of knowledge and background about learning design that Rebecca does. That could be a really, really great way to start because there's nothing like that immersive engagement with specific clients where you're talking directly with them and getting really deep into their questions and challenges that's really going to allow you to design a course much, much more effectively than if you just try to kind of outline it based on general knowledge. I don't have anything else. Should I go straight to the readout? Yeah, comfort. Thank you for listening to course Lab. I'm Danny me founder and Ceo of morrissey here with a crystal co founder of razouk You! This episode of course Lab was produced by Cynthia Lamb Me. She lands assembled the episode Danny any pets me is the executive producer. Big thanks to Rebecca cuevas for taking the time to tell us about her. Course you can learn more about her work at learn and get smarter dot com. That's learn and get smarter dot com. Don't forget to tune into mirrors these new podcast. Making it in each episode, a successful entrepreneur shares what making it means to them and what they have learned along the way and to make sure you don't miss any of the really great episodes coming up on course. Lab subscribe on apple podcasts, 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. We'll see you next time. Yeah. Mm. And of course, knowing that I was going to come on here today, got me to finish everything really fast. It was very motivating. Well, I'm very glad. All right. I'm gonna do the readout. Tell me if I get this right, okay.