Creating courses 3: Engage your customers with the 80/20 Rule of Curriculum

- May 21, 2015 4 MIN READ

Step three when creating a course is finding the Goldilocks spot for your curriculum. Not too much, not too little … you want it just right!

So you’ve decided to turn your expertise into an online course.

It’s the right move for your business. You know exactly what to create, and your Perfect Participants can’t wait to dive in.

Is that all there is to creating a course? Create some content, sell it, and away you go?

Of course not.

You still need to find the Goldilocks spot for your curriculum:

The perfect mix of resources and activities that will educate and engage your buyers, so they get the results they’re craving (and you get the testimonials and rave reviews that your ideas deserve).

Not too much, not too little. Just right.

The 80/20 Rule of Curriculum

If there is one thing that study after study shows, it’s that human beings learn by doing. No amount of reading, watching or listening can replace applied action and practice.

And yet, when sitting down to start planning our course materials, where are we usually told to start? With a content outline.

It makes no sense.

That’s why previously, we defined curriculum as consisting of two parts:

  • Exercises: anything that your participants actively do in the program
  • Resources: anything that participants consume, to do the exercises

Did you catch the nuance there? The only resources that you need to include are those that are necessarily to complete the exercises. This will dramatically reduce the amount of content you need to produce, while dramatically increasing your effectiveness.

This is what I call the 80/20 Rule of Curriculum:

80% of a learner’s time should be spent learning by doing. Only 20% should be learning by consuming.

But what should those exercises be?

What level of mastery?

If we want our Perfect Participants to be able to take action, we need to first be really clear on what those actions are. Whereas previously, you defined the topics that your course needed to include, you now need to translate them into measurable, observable actions.

This is where a framework called Bloom’s Taxonomy can help. According to educational psychologists, there are different types (domains) of learning, and within each, there are different levels of mastery.

Most microbusiness owners who create online courses operate in the cognitive domain, which deals with mental skills and knowledge. The level of mastery, on the other hand, is determined by what actions your Perfect Participants should be able to accomplish. The cognitive domain has six levels of mastery. From lowest mastery to highest, they are:

  1. Remembering — knowing the facts
  2. Understanding — being able to explain the meaning of the facts
  3. Applying — using the facts in different contexts
  4. Analysing — breaking something down into its parts
  5. Evaluating — making judgements about something
  6. Creating — developing something brand new from disparate parts

Your responsibility as the expert is to review each of the topics you included in your Core Promise, and determine what level of mastery is appropriate for each.

A step-by-step approach to mastery

After you have you identified the Levels of Mastery for each of your topics, you’re ready to figure out what steps your Perfect Participant will go through to get there. Simply put, before someone can achieve a certain level of mastery, they must first pass through the lower levels of mastery.

That means, for the cognitive domain:

  • Before you can create, you must be able to evaluate.
  • Before you can evaluate, you must be able to analyze.
  • … and so on

To fully suss this out, I recommend working backwards. Say you were creating a “social media for business” course, and one of the topics was for them to evaluate the best platform to focus on. Since that is an “evaluate” level of mastery, you would work backwards by asking:

In order to evaluate the best social media platform(s), what things would someone need to analyse?

In order to do that analysis, what things (tools, techniques) would they need to apply?

In order to do that application, what things (terms, definitions, concepts) would they need to comprehend?

As a note, while you can usually stop at the comprehend level of mastery I recommend going all the way to the lowest level, remembering. Remembering facts without understanding what they mean is next to useless.

Creating engagement with exercises

Finally, once you have a list of all the various steps your Perfect Participant will need to accomplish on their journey to mastery, you can finalise your curriculum strategy by applying the 80/20 rule.

Start by looking at your steps and asking yourself:

How can naturally I turn these steps into actionable exercises?

Another way to look at this question is to ask what action words (verbs) might describe the exercise that you want them to do. Here are some examples, based on the levels of mastery:

  • Remember and comprehend: cite examples, describe, discuss, explain, paraphrase, summarise
  • Apply: brainstorm, calculate, imitate, implement, interview, modify, practice, use
  • Analyse: categorize, compare, contrast, differentiate, distinguish, outline
  • Evaluate: choose, judge, justify, prioritise, rate, score, select
  • Create: assemble, compose, construct, design, develop, invent, plan, produce

Some steps might naturally blend together into one “master” exercise, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you are thoughtful and intentional about how each exercise you devise will help your Perfect Participants achieve the Core Promise, and thereby, their goals.

Once you have mapped out your exercises, you also know exactly what content and resources to create: only those resources that will directly help your Perfect Participants do the exercises. That’s it. No more, no less — that’s the Goldilocks spot.

With your curriculum strategy now solidly in place, you’re ready to make some sales! See you next week with that post.

What kinds of exercises can you include when creating a course, to engage your participants and get them taking action? Leave a comment, below.