The 80/20 Rule for Creating Awesome Online Courses

80-20-rule-sqYou’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle). It’s the idea that:

80% of results come from 20% of the effort

The 80/20 rule been applied to entrepreneurship, time management, sales, software development, economics … almost every topic imaginable.

But what about when you are creating courses?

What’s the 80% that gets 20% of the results?

How We Learn

All the research on how people learn – from neuroscience to psychology to learning theory … it all points to one thing:

People learn way more and way better when actively engaged with learning – through hands-on practice and application – than when they passively consume content.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I’ve talked about the myth that content is king for learning before, and you’ve experienced it in your own life:

  • Sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about the history of WWII? Zzzzzz.
  • Playing a game of Axis and Allies with friends? Not so zzzzzz.

And yet, most courses still get this wrong.

Most courses on the market today are suffering from the content curse.

Content-Cursed Courses

You can easily identify a course that suffers from the content curse when you look at the sales page. The “what you will get” section of a content-cursed course reads like all the worst high school lectures, rolled up into one:

Videos. eBooks. Emails. Case studies. Readings. Presentations. Expert interviews.

Content, content and more content. Maybe the occasional Q&A or worksheet thrown in, but when you actually look at what’s actually being offered, you’ll be lucky if that makes up even 20% of the overall course experience.

It gets worse when you realize that even the guides, courses and products on “how to make money teaching online” are espousing this same approach: figure out what you’re going to teach, create your content, write your sales copy, profit.

The problem begins because entrepreneurs approach teaching with the wrong mindset: they think their job is to teach and share knowledge, rather than to facilitate learning.

But the consequences of getting it wrong are real. Your ability to create premium products dives, because you can’t show premium results. Your brand equity tanks because students feel they didn’t see the promised results. And you stay firmly entrenched in the quagmire of ‘average,’ alongside the masses of  online info product producers – you just won’t stand out from the crowd.

Oh, and You’re Also Wasting Your Time

As if that wasn’t bad enough, because we believe that good content is the same as “good teaching,” we waste countless hours producing mountains of content.

What’s more time consuming: writing a 75 page eBook? Or creating a 75 page workbook that’s 20% long form content, and 80% actionable, hands-on activities?

Video is no better. You have to come up with your visuals and record a script (or prep your presentation, if it’s live), do the actual video recording (usually multiple takes), edit it all together, package it up…

And after all that, you still just end up transferring knowledge, which as we saw last time, is a surefire way to keep your students from getting the best possible results.

80% of the effort.

20% of the results.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

So what’s the solution?

In Brilliance by Design, Vicki Halsey says that you can “rebalance the learning equation” by using a 70/30 split. Below is the table from the book; the first column describes what we normally do; the second column is what we should be doing:

Rebalancing the Learning Equation from Brilliance By Design
70% you talk/teach70% they talk/do
70% what you are going to teach70% how you are going to teach it
70% of time you teach skills70% of time learners practice/build skills

Of course, the table as a whole is a bit wordy, and really each line makes the same point. So that’s why I’ve simplified it down for you, into one simple statement:

The 80/20 rule for creating awesome online courses:

[Tweet “For best results, have learners spend 80% of their time working on activities and 20% consuming content.”]

Do that, and you’ll cut your content creation time by 80%. You’ll fix your teaching mindset and see revenues rise. And your students will get superlative results.

All by just focusing on the 20% effort that gets 80% of the results.