Online courses are broken

So you made an online course...

But now you have a problem.

Your students don't seem to be very engaged in your new course. It's too passive.

You made your videos and gave your students assignments to work on, but you felt like they needed more to be able to really learn the subject matter.

So you set up a Slack group for all of the students to interact and post their assignments to get feedback. Then you started getting overwhelmed with the amount of work it was taking to provide good feedback to all of these students.

Also, people weren't actually completing the entire course, they would get about halfway through, and then just sort of disappear.

So you set up an email system to send out to all of your students to submit their assignments and complete the lessons, and you manually create and send reminder emails to get people to submit their assignments.

This is better, but now you have to juggle multiple tools and remember when to send out the reminder emails. Since tools like Slack and email autoresponders aren't made for this workflow, it's hard for you to keep everything organized.

You also integrate live video calls into your course, and provide feedback on those. So now you have to use another tool to set those up and send reminder emails.

You created this course in order to teach others your craft and build a solid, sustainable business for yourself, but you can't seem to find the balance between helping your students master the craft and drowning in work because of an inefficient workflow.

You've got a problem, and you are not alone.

If you’re a course creator, this process might sound familiar. The online course creation workflow is broken.

You spend all this time and effort creating what is a great course, and you get a flurry of people signing up.

Their enthusiasm is huge at first. Everyone is posting in the Slack group, asking questions, telling you how much they love the course.

But somewhere after the first few weeks, engagement begins to go down. You notice people aren’t finishing the course, or aren’t doing anything with the information they are learning.

They say they’re busy, they aren’t sure how to apply it, they need personalized feedback.

You’re excited because you had the opportunity to teach people something that would genuinely improve their lives and help them further their career by learning an in-demand skill, but they just don’t seem to be engaged and taking action on the content.

We need to revisit how we learn and teach online

The internet gave us this amazing ability to communicate with people from all over the world, regardless of their location or the time they choose to watch our content.

This passive consumption model allowed anybody to reach an unlimited number of people with their content.

But something got lost along the way.

Amid the obsession with conversion funnels, lead magnets, and upsells, we forgot to ask if our courses are actually making a difference in their lives.

We forgot to look past the bonuses and the value that people felt like they were getting, and make sure our courses were actually helping them grow their careers or master a new skill.

We forgot that the path to a successful course, for both our students and ourselves, is actually teaching:

  • Providing feedback

  • Helping them overcome challenges

  • Fostering a community

  • Keeping people accountable

As great as online learning is, there is something to be said for being taught something in person, with a group of your peers, and then applying that knowledge to a real-world project, getting personalized feedback and making adjustments along the way.

When people learn from an online course, and then immediately apply that knowledge to a real-world project that they can take away to use on their portfolio or resume, it makes a huge impact.

But that is difficult to accomplish with a passive, video-based course alone.

Let’s look at how the online learning process happens for most students. This is likely that path that many of your students are taking, and if you’ve taken any online courses in the past, this process might be familiar to you as well:

Programmer working at computers

First, you sign up for the course, super excited and motivated to dive in.

Programmer working at computers

Next, you start following along with the sample project, feeling great about how much you're learning. Maybe you even finish the course.

Artist staring at blank canvas

Then, after the course is over, you immediately forget everything you learned and can't apply it to real-world work.

Man staring at different screens

Finally, you rinse and repeat the same cycle, over and over again, with different courses.

Current online course platforms are fantastic at delivering the actual content, but an efficient system for organizing and executing an effective assignment/feedback loop is missing.

As instructors, it’s our job to make sure that our students get real value from our course by applying the knowledge they gain to their careers.

So, smart course creators noticed this, and started using existing tools to create this type of workflow and learning. Good teachers know that in order for their students to effectively learn, they need to be applying the lessons to real-world projects, and then getting personalized, actionable feedback on those assignments.

But this process is difficult and time-consuming to execute. Having to combine different tools like Slack, Typeform, Zoom, and email gets the job done, but it is a significant time-suck on the part of the instructor trying to keep it all cohesive and organized, when that time would be better spent teaching.

It's also difficult for the students, as they have to interact and bounce back and forth between several tools while trying to learn a new skill.

There is a better way to teach online

In order to learn a complicated, high-value, career-changing skill effectively, we need a few things:

Deliberate Practice

We need to be able to incrementally push our comfort zone further and further by starting at the beginning and practicing things that are slightly above our skill level in an organized, linear way.

Specific Feedback

By incrementally pushing our comfort zone, we will make mistakes. Specific feedback from someone more experienced than ourselves is necessary to learn from these mistakes and increase our skill level.

Relevance

When we apply what we are learning to a real-world project that we are invested in, the knowledge stays in our head much better than if we simply followed along with a pre-determined sample project.

Accountability

Passively consumed courses are easy to stop taking. By staying accountable to someone else to complete things on time and make consistent progress, we increase our chances of completing a course.

As an online course creator, you’ve probably learned a lot of this already through teaching your courses, but, due to the problems discussed above, actually implementing it effectively is really hard.

Why existing tools aren't ideal

The main problem with doing it this way is that none of these tools like Slack, Zoom, Drip, or Typeform were explicitly designed to work in tandem with the others as part of a singular process.

They were all built to be standalone services for their own purposes. They’re great at that, but the cracks start to show when trying to combine them all and use them together.

That means that there are little inefficiencies that need to be worked around, and students and teachers are constantly jumping back and forth between different tools.

If you’ve committed to giving each student specific feedback and you have a lot of students in your course, it can be downright impossible to keep up with.

As it stands, it’s the best option available, but it’s a pain to set up and an even bigger pain to maintain and keep up with.

If every stage of this process was part of the same tool and workflow designed to make it as effective as possible, the experience would be much better for both students and instructors, leading to better learning for the students, and more successful courses for the instructor.

A better solution

As with many problems in the world of tech, I think this one can be solved with the right software. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist yet.

So I'm going to build it.

It's called Cognition.

Cognition is designed to make integrating assignments, feedback, and live interaction into your online course seamless, efficient, and enjoyable.

It works by taking all of the concepts we discussed above and merging them into one cohesive platform with features designed to facilitate an effective feedback loop on the part of both instructor and student.

Here's the process in a nutshell:

Step 1

Enroll Your Students

Enroll students individually or all at once using the email import tool. Cognition will then atuomatically send out a unique registration email to each student to set up their account. You can create as many different courses and cohorts as you want, so if you have multiple cohorts of students going through the course on different schedules, you can separate them out.

Step 2

Set Up Your Course Schedule

Choose the required deadlines for assignments and set up when you'll be conducting live calls. Then choose when you want to automatically send reminders to students to submit assignments and about the time and date of the live call.

Would you rather have your students go through the course at their own pace, and give feedback individually as it is submitted to you? Make your course an on demand course.

Step 3

Student Submits Assignment

Use the form builder to construct exactly how students should submit their assignments. Then you can either link them to that form, or embed it inside the lesson of your online teaching platform. Students watch the lesson, and then submit their assignments to you using the form you built.

Step 4

Conduct a Live Call

When the student submits their assignment, it will be automatically added to the feedback queue in the order it was received for you to review. When it's time to deliver the live call, the queue will be displayed in the interface, and you can deliver the live call using your favorite video conferencing software.

Step 5

Maintenance

Cognition keeps track of who has submitted assignments and what stage everyone is at in the course. You can view all of this data at a glance from the dashboard, or view the data for individual students and cohorts to see where everyone is at.

On Demand Courses

If you don't want to schedule out your course with different cohorts and scheduled live video calls, you can make your course on demand.

This option is best for people whose course is delivered passively, with students being able to take it at their own pace, while still being able to offer personalized feedback.

You will receive a notification whenever a student submits a new assignment, and can go directly to their assignment to leave feedback in text or video form.

The student will then get notified that you've given feedback and can implement it and move on to the next lesson.

This workflow allows students to take the course on their own schedule, while still utilizing a feedback loop that facilitates effective learning.

Cognition is currently in the early stages of design and development. If you’re interested in being a part of solving the online education problem, I'd love to have you on board.

Let's Do This

Who's behind this?

Ken Rogers

My name is Ken Rogers. That's my wife Chelsea and son Joe with me.

I’m a designer and developer on a mission to improve online education.

As someone who has both taken and created multiple courses, I know how frustrating the current online course process can be, and I think there’s a better way.

I dropped out of college early and started taking online courses to kickstart my career in web development.

I have come to greatly appreciate the value of being able to learn something online, for far cheaper than a university, while learning specific content that can directly improve my career.

But along the way, I noticed that it's very hard to truly learn from an online course without an effective system for applying the knowledge to a real world project, and then getting feedback on that work from the instructor.

I think the process could be made far better and more effective for both students and instructors.

That’s why I’m building Cognition.

Cognition is still in the very early stages of ideation and development, and I’m looking for frustrated course creators that want to play a part in helping me create it.

If that’s you, enter your email below and I’ll keep you in the loop about new developments as I design and build Cognition. No spam, pinky promise!