What I learned engineering virtual learning experiences for 12 clients in 1 year



I took a hiatus from a career in public education.

Eight years of classroom teaching & designing online courses taught me a thing or two about where the future of learning & community building is going.

I had 12 clients in my first year consulting who moved their products and workshops online.

This is my first blog post. I didn’t even have a real website for a year. I didn’t even realize at first that I was solving a very real pain point for entrepreneurs.

From storytelling startups to K12 training programs, HR recruiting training to virtual music lessons, there are a few take-aways I want to share. This is what I’ve learned from a little under a year designing learning with technology:

  1. The future of learning is accessible.

Every video needs caption, every image needs alt text. Do it right the first time. Good learning design is universal design.

2. Keep all three in mind: Data, Analytics & Insights.

The role of data to inform your design is significant (educators: think formative assessment) as are the trends you gleam and the value you obtain to create an iterative process and develop an exceptional learning experience. Embrace the lean methodology mentality, and you’ll see a stronger impact on your learners and hit your business objectives.

3. Learning is Catalyzed by Relationships (for the most part)

Instead of dwelling in the curriculum content and marketing, ask yourself, “How am I building the relationships my learners’ value?” Peer to peer networks for learning is exploding online everyday. From facebook groups to slack teams, at the end of the day, almost all learning, with or with out technology, is still “human” learning. We are social beings. Think of your learner community as user-generated content for growth.

4. The Beta Test

As Mariah Coz preaches, you need to build your signature course. Don’t build 5 at once!!! Don’t even plan on building a course at all until you’ve built a strong community behind your brand and vision and then they ASK you to solve their problem by building a course. Then, DON’T believe them! Build part of one and see if they’ll pay for that — then build out the rest of it. Your learning design should be crafted out of the needs of your users, not based on your assumptions of what you think it should be. My most successful client didn’t start building their second course until they had 150 paying customers for the first. Slow down, listen to the customers you have, beta-test, identify your assumptions. Maybe you shouldn’t build a course at all.

5. The Webinar

Your webinars can help draw in customers and get you quality feedback on content. They are not to be used for product validation to go build a course. See point #4.

6. Scale Your Face to Face Workshops

The key for consultants who run workshops to scale is to add on a blended experience to their pre-existing face to face experiences and get paid validation for the continued learning when the momentum is highest. Then, scale your e-mail list and brand before offering a fully virtual beta.

7. Identify a Real Problem

An online class for yoga-instructors is not going to fly. A class that solves the problem, “What’s the most flexible way I can keep my hours through the Yoga Alliance Registered Network?” will fly. There’s an opportunity for an online Summer Tune-Up for teachers to keep their hours in that network.

8. Learning Outcomes are Essential (But not if you’re teaching sewing)

Engineering a learning experience across multiple modalities involves just that: engineering. It is the creative application of learning sciences, the art of instruction, empirical evidence, and user experience insights, to the innovation, design, and operation of a learning system, process, an experience. Certain elements (learning outcomes) matter more than others depending on the nature of your business objectives and the content. A collaborative team with expertise in education and instructional design will go a long way.

9. Save Blind Love for Your Humans, Not Your Company

We’ve all met an entrepreneur (or two) who experiences blind love for their baby — their company. A client once told me, “They’re dying for this information. There is nothing out there like this for them.” She wasn’t alone in her beliefs. There were several clients I didn’t take this year because they so strongly believed that if they build quality elearning they would “grow an engaged audience.” That’s not quite the order of operations. In fact, it’s the other way around. Pay attention to your learners, really build empathy and understand the problem you’re solving for before building a learning experience/product. There are multiple ways to build a business that brings together a virtual communities of learners. Sometimes just a slack channel and email list with some weekly activities will suffice. There might not be a market beyond that. Find out if your network is truly desperate for content you have — don’t chance it.

10. The Future of Music Lessons is Virtual

Enough said. Go check out Virtu.Academy and sign-up your kids for summer music lessons with the most inspiring undergraduate students at top music conservatories across the US. They’ll have a blast.

11. 80% Virtual, 20% in person, and no LMS is the Future Learning Design Structure

Creating a custom learning stack of slack, google apps for ed, and Zoom, and in-person project work/challenges is enough to design an impactful relationship-based learning experience with out a central LMS. A company that nailed this (in addition to a great team, vision, & leadership) is MissionU. They were acquired in less than two years by WeWork.

12. It’s Messy, but the Time is Now

UXers, design thinkers, technologists, and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds are clamoring into the digital learning space. Everyone understands a piece of the puzzle to help learners truly develop a grow. In the automation economy, individuals will continue to become coaches, mentors, teachers, influencers, community leaders and the now-how to create a lean experience that scales is needed, and the time is now.

Wow, you’ve read this far? Do you have a learning experience idea you want to tackle? Come to Startup Weekend Education in Denver next week and make it happen! Or, drop me a line at www.bolderlearning.design.

Tara Gilboa