THE 8 PILLARS EVERY LEARNING EXPERIENCE MUST HAVE IN ORDER TO WORK

Welcome to “The 8 Pillars”. This information is designed specifically for people who want to dramatically improve how their business creates a learning & development experience. 

Whether you are just beginning and have absolutely no idea where to start or if you’ve tried your hand at education and just feel you’re not quite… pulling it off.

Maybe you’ve already had a bad experience and you’re determined not to try again until you’ve got all the kinks ironed out.

Basically, if you have ANY concerns whatsoever about creating a brilliant learning experience, whether it’s fear of using technology, fear of low engagement, fear of an unhappy community, fear of bad reviews, fear of dropouts… any kind of fear at all… THIS is the information you’ve been waiting for.

Individually, each of these pillars, when applied, will make your course, membership, academy or training… MORE effective.

The 8 Pillars aren’t just going to significantly improve your success, they’re going to give you confidence that you’ve covered all the bases and have the knowledge you need to get off to a great start.

The 8 Pillars WILL make you a more skilled operator. And you can almost use these pillars as a kind of checklist to analyse what you’re doing and see where you can improve.

Here’s the first pillars:

…so sensitive I can’t even tell you what it is…

Yet.

I’m actually only partially kidding. Don’t worry, I AM going to share this pillars with you, but I’m going to hold it back until the end.

For reasons that will become apparent. I promise.

So, for now, we’re going to jump straight to…

Pillar 2: Content

If your content is rubbish, then you won’t succeed.

To ensure it’s good, create a content plan before you start. It should look a little like this..

  1. You must be an authority, or at least know more than the person you are educating. 

Don’t overstress if perhaps you are not the very best person/team in the world, you can still create incredibly strong content that is very valuable to a large number of people. 

You must ensure that you remain 1 step ahead, continuously developing your knowledge so you go from 8 to 9/10, and open yourself up to new audiences whilst still satisfying your existing.

The key is to ensure your content, or at least your knowledge, continues to outpace your audience.

  1. Understand your target. Narrow it down to your niche. 

Don’t try and be everything to everyone. If everyone is your target, no one is your target. 

What you’ll start to understand is an audience has a specific set of pain points, issues and problems to which they are seeking solutions. This could be a brand not understanding how to sell on Amazon, a barber having no idea about Facebook advertising or a dental practice owner without any experience hiring staff. 

You need to drill down into these specific problems, and then create targeted solutions with your content. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t cover multiple topics with your content, or it isn’t relevant to multiple industries – it’s just being very clear. 

Let’s say you’re an expert at selling on Amazon, so your target would be people with the problem of not understanding the Amazon marketplace. It would not be every Amazon seller.

There are caveats to this, obviously, with some courses/academies solving issues for beginners and highly skilled advertisers – if you’re at 10 on the knowledge scale then this is achievable.

Once you understand who your academy/course is for, you can start mapping out a content plan. 

You need to understand the current level of your audience and then build content that is above that level – no one wants to be taught what they already know.

For example, if your audience understands how to list products on Amazon, perhaps you shouldn’t go through the nitty gritty of how to add an image and bullet points.

  1. You now need to outline the goals.

What is the end goal for your audience, where do they want to be and what would they deem as a success – their dream state.

By focusing on the goal, we can then plan out the fundamental steps required to get to that point.

For example, to create the perfect listing on Amazon the audience would need to have: a great title, punchy bullet points, detailed description, beautiful images and excellent keywords… The list is actually pretty long, but you get the idea.

We’ve broken down some content pillars that are good to follow when thinking about you and your content:

  1. Authority (have results people want to replicate)
  2. Engaging (Interesting, stimulating, insightful)
  3. Trust (honest and genuine, people buy in when they trust)
  4. Quality (Well written, sound quality, high definition, clear visuals)
  5. Consistent (set a bar for the quality, don’t dip)
  6. Likeable (as a brand or an individual) 

Summary

Your content is arguably the most important factor in delivering value to your audience, which is the target for most courses, academies or training.

If you successfully establish yourself as an authority within your identified target niche…

Laying out the pathway for your audience to achieve their goals.

Then consistently delivering on the content pillars…

Your content will leave your audience’s problem, solved.

Pillar 3: Engagement

The average completion rate of a course is 4%.

This shocking figure is driven primarily by low engagement levels from users.

Engagement is a measure that reflects the quantity and quality of someone’s participation. 

It also helps measure learner interaction and cooperation with other users and teachers.

Basically, what’s the potential for a successful learning experience. 

There are 4 types of engagement that must be considered in order to ensure high engagement and a successful learning experience. These are:

  1. Cognitive – a user physically doing something to help them understand the content. This could be drawing out a mini diagram or jotting down some notes.
  2. Emotional – a user connecting with the content, trainers and other users. Are they emotionally invested and do they understand its importance?
  3. Behavioural – do the; complete tasks, attend workshops, consume content… and are they actively participating?
  4. Social – a user bringing their own work/life experiences into the learning, and then sharing this with others and networking.

Why is all of this important though?

Research shows that learner engagement is a strong indicator of predicting performance. 

If, therefore, your members/users are heavily engaged then they are likely to see a lot more success – which in turn contributes towards the success of your academy/course as they get a more positive return on the investment.

Case 1:

You’re training new employees on your sales process, drilling into everything from understanding tools and CRM systems to deliver that perfect cold-call pitch. Highly engaged learning experiences lead to highly successful results, with your new team picking up tools much faster, implementing techniques and smashing sales targets.

Case 2:

You run an Amazon Academy teaching brands how to increase sales on Amazon. If you create a highly engaging experience, brand owners will digest and implement more information. In turn this will lead to them seeing greater success, increasing the likelihood of them renewing their membership for another month/year.

From a users perspective you’re likely to see:

  • Lower dropout rates
  • Higher retention of knowledge
  • Improved performance

From an environmental perspective you’re likely to see:

  • Better culture for learning
  • Promote communication and collaboration
  • Triggered creativity
  • Boosted efficiency
  • Improved personal development

On the flip side, if your users are disengaged you’re likely to see much lower ROI from the experience.

Here are some quick fire tips to ensure your engagement is sky-high:

  1. Free flowing – easy communication between the teacher and the student
  2. Convenience – allow the user to decide where they learn; e.g. mobile, desktop, tablet
  3. Variety – different types of content delivered simply, without technical barriers
  4. Structure – set pathways or milestones for the users to follow or achieve
  5. Community – social functionality like; profiles, groups, commenting and tagging
  6. Milestones – quizzes, certificates, awards

Pillar 4: Community

As humans, we actually have an innate desire to build communities. It’s, therefore, beneficial to foster this desire and support the development of a learning community.

Why is this important you may ask, well… 

Would you prefer your users to stay with you for longer? 

Do you want your users to digest and implement as much of your content as possible?

Is it important that you’re users enjoy being part of your course, academy or training?

Is it beneficial to you that your users find the course or academy valuable?

By creating an environment that encourages social engagement, you continuously add value and ensures that your users stick around.

If you do not build a community you run the risk of; much lower engagement, poor user experiences, high dropout rates and low ROI for both you and your users.

Some tips:

  • User profiles are excellent for putting a “face to a name”, so users feel more connected with each other as well as with teachers. 
  • Platforms like Facebook have thrived because of features like tagging, commenting and groups. These social commonalities go a long way in ensuring your community thrives.
  • Instant Messaging is second nature for most individuals now, aim to create an environment that allows quick messages back and forth between all members (students and teachers). 
  • Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all made up of 1 common feature – news feeds. Users love the feature and it’s something you’re course/academy should incorporate to create a recognisable community for them. Give them that ability to get the latest updates and content from experts they follow.
  • Give users access to the community, whenever and wherever with mobile. It’s what they’re accustomed to, so give them it! Whether that’s messaging a teacher, commenting in a group or browsing their news feed.

The reality is, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.

Take a look at what the world’s biggest communities are doing, then incorporate that into your course/academy.

If it’s good enough for Facebook, it’s good enough for you.

Pillar 5: Events

We’re inherently social beings so we like attending events or being part of them.

Events create something to look forward to, thus encouraging a sense of community and fostering engagement. 

Irrespective of whether or not the event is online or offline, it’s beneficial for your users to feel a part of something in a synchronous experience.

Events can also be part of a blended learning experience. By combining online learning with face-to-face workshops, you’re able to further engage your audience and drive ROI for all parties.

Case:

You host an in-person workshop for brands looking to develop their Amazon Advertising capabilities. All attendees utilise your learning platform on their devices throughout, whilst you work through material using a large monitor. It’s super engaging, you’re connecting with individuals at a deeper level and everyone leaves with a tonne of value. Better yet, users continue the conversation online within a group and on the same platform they used in the workshop. Everyone’s performance on Amazon Advertising improves and they can continue learning on a platform they’re familiar with.

The increased interaction and community development that comes from hosting regular events will be very beneficial for the success of your course/academy. But only if you facilitate the experience correctly. 

If it’s hard work or over complicated for users to participate then you’ll not only see poor attendance but also dissatisfaction, which can lead to dropouts and poor ROI.

We recommend utilising tools specifically built for hosting events, like Eventbrite, Zoom or WebinarJam, in order to ensure that everything runs flawlessly. Remember though, you need something that links well with your whole system, so you can see who’s attending and to what degree they are engaging.

Utilise; news feeds, emails, instant messaging, groups and tags to increase attendance rates and the best possible experience.

Pillar 6: Validation/Demand

altMBA, a workshop established by Seth Godin, has a 96% completion rate.

Remember, the average is 4%.

What do they do differently?

“We begin everything we do and teach at the altMBA with the question, “what is it for?’” – Wes Kao (Director of altMBA).

Before pouring energy and resources into creating a solution, you must start with the customer first – in this case the customer could be your user, employee, student or member. 

By gaining a deep understanding into the what your customer desires/needs, you can build out a product/service that meets their demands. Which is much better than creating a solution to something that may not be a problem, a service that satisfies no desire.

What is your course for? What is your academy for? What is your membership for?

Ideally, this is an exercise you want to be doing before you’ve started, but there is still logic in performing it at any stage.

If you’ve already got an audience or touchpoints with your potential users then you can use tools like SurveyMonkey to build up an understanding of what they want.

No audience? No problem. Here are some things you can do:

  • SearchUdemy, Amazon, Google, BuzzSumo to get an initial sense of demand
  • AskSurveys, Interviews, Forums, Focus Groups to further reinforce the “what”
  • TestLead Magnets, Pre-Selling, Pilots/Betas to test the water and finalise

Case 1:

You have an idea for a new mini course of Facebook Advertising. You spend months building it, pay $000’s on the best mentors and content creators. You launch it to your existing users and spend $1500 on advertising to get new users in. A couple of people sign up, but quickly disengage and leave. 

Case 2:

Alternatively, you thoroughly read questions in a few Facebook groups that focus on advertising. You then privately message a number of members asking them to complete a survey.

Using this data you feel a specific advertising course with specialised teachers might be popular. You create a landing page highlighting what you think the course will include and who will be the mentors, sending traffic to the page and monitoring how many people sign up for early access. 40% of traffic signs up and you feel confident going ahead and creating the course.

Ultimately, if your content isn’t in high demand then it doesn’t matter about everything else, you won’t succeed. Validation prior to launching an academy/course is crucial to ensure you have good grounds to build it in the first place.

Pillar 7: Clear Learning Outcomes

People buy holes, not drills.

Nobody really cares about how good the lighting is on your training video, or whether your shirt was ironed. They don’t even care about the video at all, they care about the result of watching said video.

What will they get? 

Financial independence? Be able to order dinner in French? Higher conversions from sales calls? 

By identifying clear learning outcomes you not only encourage adoption from your audience, but also stimulate engagement throughout the process. You can embed other features in your academy/course to add clarity, such as checkpoints or pathways, or you can gamify the experience with certificates or achievements.

Checkpoints, certificates, achievements, pathways are all clear outcomes that users look to achieve by enrolling into your academy/course. It encourages users to continuously engage, interact and consume any content – as they have set goals that they want to achieve.

Case:

You have 10 members going through an Amazon Brand Development course of yours. By setting pathways with quizzes at the end you’re able to closely monitor progress and dial into who needs more support – thus ensuring a more successful experience. 70% of attendees receive a certificate of completion on the first round and you share some additional material with the remaining members who go on to complete it on the second attempt. 

Look for and utilise features that allow you to clearly define outcomes for users, as this clarity will foster a much more successful learning experience for all.

Pillar 8: Structure / Delivery Method

Creating content is your first step, but curating is equally important. Without the correct structure, your content could be delivered and consumed incorrectly, or not at all.

Here are the exact questions altMBA considered when developing their workshop:

  • 10 people or 10,000 people per session?
  • In person or online?
  • Synchronous or asynchronous?
  • High touch or low touch?
  • Easy or difficult to complete?

In order to create the ultimate learning environment we’ve got to be asking “how do they want to learn”?

Perhaps your audience uses their mobiles frequently, so having an app where they can; consume content, message mentors, tag other students or see the latest update would be perfect for them.

Alternatively, your audience may be high touch, therefore, need regular communication and hands on support. If you can make communication between students and mentors easier, then they’ll benefit highly. Weekly office hours, live Q&A sessions and 1-2-1 screen sharing would be great online solutions – or perhaps you’d focus on offline learning with meetup’s.

The delivery of your content is crucial, as it contributes towards both a) attracting new users and b) extending the lifetime of your current users. Thus, increasing the overall value of your membership/course.

It’s also important to think about the structure of content. For instance, if you’re just using text to explain ‘Facebook Funnels’ then it could be very difficult to digest, so engagement would suffer. On the flipside, if you’re using video with live examples or are able to embed real Facebook images/videos alongside the text then this is likely to be received better.

Ultimately if you’re not delivering the content in a way that the user wants then everything becomes redundant. They may find it inconvenient or challenging to consume, or boring, so simply don’t engage. Create engaging high quality content, then deliver it where you audience want, in a way they want. 

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. I watch videos on my mobile, if I can learn about XYZ all within an app then I’m pretty happy. If you tell me to follow this URL, remember my password, reset my password, then read 2000 words on a rubbish portal, I’m unlikely to get past the 2nd sentence.

Pillar 1: Choose The Right System

Why has this been kept back to the end? Because although this is an important pillar, there is almost no way for me to present this without it looking like I’m doing a straight-up pitch for Opentute.

I’d like to have left this out completely, but it’s such an important component I’ve got to include it.

But, to reiterate, this ISN’T an excuse to pitch Opentute.

If you want to use a different Learning Management System (LMS) and apply these pillars to build a great course, academy or membership, then more power to you. There are a number of great platforms out there (most of them with less functionality at higher prices than Opentute – ahem) but if you’re using a different platform and you’re intending to stick with them, that’s absolutely fine…

As long as your choice of systems is HELPING your membership/course and not HINDERING it.

Let me explain what I mean by this.

In the early days of LMS’s, the technology was designed for internal training or educational institutes like universities. The goal was to deliver material and for the user to consume it. That’s where it stopped. 

Today though, the requirements have changed. Which could be the reason you’re reading this RIGHT NOW, because you’ve realised there is much more to creating a brilliant learning experience than what you initially thought.

In addition to that, LMS’s are being adopted by a much wider variety of use cases than ever before, particularly as the education industry is booming – the U.S. education market was valued at around USD 1,350 billion in the year 2017 and it is expected to reach approximately USD 2,040 billion by 2026.

People are using LMS’s to run training courses and workshops – whether that’s for staff or external paying clients.

Or even to establish memberships, with communities that are looking for continued education, training and support.

We’re even seeing public attractions, like museums, incorporating LMS’s to create a richer experience for customers during their visits – for instance off site learning for school trips.

Alternatively, those that want to take their in-person workshops online afterwards, LMS’s help create that blended learning experience that they seek. Universities and schools are brilliant examples here.

There are all different types of learning experiences happening and the NEEDS of each differ substantially. 

The LMS features needed by each group are different. And this is the challenge for those leading the experience and for the LMS itself; being able to cater for the different requirements of each group.

That means that, from YOUR perspective, when you choose your LMS, you MUST make sure it has the facilities that match your needs. And that’s easier said than done. Because if you’re still in the planning stage, you might not be sure which facilities you need. Once you’ve created a learning experience, you’ll know whether your choice of system and method of delivery was correct or not, but by then you might have forked over a substantial sum of money.

So, what we’ve done is put together a checklist of features that we believe are essential for ALL learning experiences. Whether you’re doing sales training, running a course, educating school children or arranging live workshops…whatever your requirements, your system should be able to handle these as a MINIMUM.

Now before I show you the list, I am going to say one thing. Because what I don’t want to do is go through the list and, after each one, be going, “oh, by the way, Opentute does this really well.” Because that’s going to get really tedious, for me and for you.

So, can I just say now at the start, that Opentute obviously does everything on this list, and more. 

And I didn’t create this feature list simply because Opentute has these features. Otherwise this list would be a lot longer. It’s simply the case that we created Opentute initially because, at the time at least, there wasn’t a reliable LMS that we could find that had all of these features that WE knew we needed.

So if you can find a learning platform that has all of these features and offers you a better price than Opentute, and you want to go with that platform, that’s fine. More power to you. Because the real point of this first pillars is that you must do your due diligence and pick a LMS not because it has a cool name or a flashy website, but because it has the features you need to put on a really great learning experience that delivers what YOU need and what your AUDIENCE needs.

So here we are, the list:

  • Simplified learning experience
  • Community
  • Quick and easy communication
  • Mobile and tablet support
  • Scalability
  • Trial account
  • Transparency on pricing
  • No download system
  • Third party integrations and automations
  • Quizzes and checkpoints 

Most of these are self-explanatory but I’ll run through them briefly so it’s clear why these should be on your essential, bare-minimum requirement list.

For reasons I’ve explained throughout, all learning experiences need to be simple. Simple to setup from an owners perspective and simple to digest as a user. If the interface is not clear and intuitive then it quickly becomes frustrating and painful for all parties. You also do not want to be limited with the accepted content, you MUST be able to add; video, text, images etc with ease. 

Building a communitywithin your learning experience is becoming paramount. Working with a system that incorporates community like features as standard is, therefore, highly desirable. We’re talking; news feeds, tagging, groups, instant messaging, user profiles. Many rely on additional tools like Slack or Facebook, however, this then spreads the experience across multiple platforms, which can disengage users and disjoint the user flow.

Communication is vital within all education. By enabling quick, easy and seamless interactions between student and teacher we’re able to significantly improve the whole experience. 

Most systems will rely on emails, which can become messy when you’re discussing a particular component of a training but have no way to quickly reference it. 

Social platforms have incredible communication capabilities because they’ve focused on creating those 3 pillars; quick, easy, seamless. They’ve done this with tagging, comments and instant messaging. You should expect your system to incorporate social like communication in-house, rather than relying on another platform.

There is an increasing desire from education professionals to improve mobile learning – driven primarily by the demand from end users. Virtually every system out there at the moment was developed with a desktop first mindset. However, in recent years mobile first has become the priority.

Handheld internet devices are now so powerful, people don’t need to go into their office, study, or classroom to boot up their laptop for using the internet. We’re not far from the point, perhaps we’re already there, where people simply can’t be bothered to log-in and learn unless they can do it on their phone, whilst sat on the sofa, commuting or waiting for an appointment.

This is how we live now and EVERYTHING is moving. It doesn’t matter if you KNOW the majority of your users log-in on their laptop, or desktop. Because the paradigm isn’t going to last. Mobile and tablet support is crucial now, and even more so in the future.

And if your system can provide mobile and tablet support, without interrupting the experience, that’s so much better.

It’s up to you as an educator to put your learning experience where your user wants it to be. By enabling your users to learn wherever they are, on whatever device, you remove all barriers and massively enhance the experience.

Scalabilityis another critical feature that you ignore at your peril. It may be that you go for a plan that allows up to 100 users, or 5 courses because you’re just getting started. But what if you scale, you need more users, courses or groups. How do you upgrade, is it automatic? If so, how much is it going to cost you?

You must be thinking long-term with all the features of an LMS, because if you scale, with some systems your price can increase exponentially. Don’t just look at the plan you’re thinking of buying. Look at the next level and what the system MIGHT cost you in the future. It’s really important.

Trial accounts are so important when it comes to any SaaS product. We know this because we’ve tested hundreds of different products for hundreds of different solutions. If a platform is afraid to let you create an account and poke around without first forking over some cash, it might be because they know that once you see what a mess their control panel is, and how confusing it is to set up, you’re going to run to the hills.

And watch out as well for trial accounts that restrict what you can do. I’ve seen trial accounts that only let you use basic features, they don’t show you what their ‘groups’ look like for instance. How can you be expected to test how robust and functional a system is with that kind of restriction?

So look for a trial account that is fully-featured, or as close to a regular account as possible. 

Transparency of pricing is something you must be clear on. Do you know what your chosen plan does and doesn’t include?

You’ve probably seen these sites where the plans are in a table, and there’s like 50 different features, and there are ticks in the boxes to say Plan A includes this, but doesn’t include this, and Plan B has some of the facilities from Plan C, but it’s capped at X number of uses, after that you have to pay a surcharge of so many dollars…

It’s confusing, right? And sometimes companies do this, genuinely, because they want to offer flexibility, and that’s fine. But sometimes it’s a sneaky way of getting people in on a plan that seems really affordable, only to hit you with additional charges you weren’t expecting if you don’t upgrade, and before you know it you’re on a price plan that you really didn’t want.

So, just be careful. Make sure your plan includes what you need, and if it’s not clear, you might be better looking elsewhere.

No downloadable software is a given, be strict here. If you’re being asked to install the software onto your computer, or your users need to perform anything unnecessarily challenging, then you want to avoid it. 

Mobile apps are the exception because they’ve become part and parcel of daily life now, but the cloud is the future and we want everything tidied away nicely in there! Web browsers are clever enough to handle anything sophisticated so this doesn’t mean you need to compromise.

If a provider is asking you to download, I’d simply avoid the headache at all costs. You just don’t need it.

3rd party integrations are becoming more integral to building out your ecosystem. In an ideal world you want all your platforms communicating with each other seamlessly.

Have a payment system setup using Stripe? Got a CRM for your customer information? Utilising survey or event tools like SurveyMonkey and EventBrite?

Automating the communication between your LMS and the other components that make your business run is essential from an operational perspective. Without this you only create additional work for your team, plus increase the likelihood of things going wrong. This can lead to poor user experiences, costly payment errors or losing customer information.

Quizzes, checkpoints and achievements are integral when defining your learning outcomes for users, therefore, they must feature with the LMS you are using. 

These are usually standard in-built features for most systems now. Largely because it’s widely recognised that this functionality is important for all learning, not only to increase engagement but to also track progress and award certificates. 

And THAT… is the final pillars of the 8 Pillars to Establish an Outstanding Platform for Learning & Development Without Frustration or Tech Overwhelm. Was that useful? Do you think that will help you improve your course, academy or membership? Or perhaps get you passed the first hurdle of getting started?

I sincerely hope so.

But before you rush off, I have a free gift for you. In fact I have two free gifts for you.

First of all, you can schedule a demonstration of the portal with me, George (CMO at Opentute). We can breakdown your current situation, what you’re looking to achieve and determine if Opentute is perhaps the solution you need.

Sound good?

Of course it does! But…yeah… I know what you’re thinking… “Come on, what’s my real gift?”

Ok – here it is…. 

Our pricing starts at $1,990 a year and ramps up to $9,990, excluding add-ons. But just for you, we want to put something special together, which you WILL NOT find anywhere on our site.

For a limited time we’ve created a special page, where you can build out your learning platform today, for just $40 per month – then $4 per user. And yes, if you have 1,000 users this might not be the best, but it allows you to take our LMS for the ultimate test drive. Build for 6-months if you wish before going live and don’t sweat about and major costs.
Once you’re ready, you can simply upgrade to whichever plan you deem most suitable.