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What is Human-First Course Creation?

Welcome to the very first episode of the Next Level Course Creator podcast! I am seriously SO excited to bring you some deep dives into high level course creation and really candid conversations with many of the online course creators you know and love.

I want to kick off this journey by stating for the record that one of my core beliefs is that education changes lives. I think this truth is pretty universal, right? And also, when I say education, I mean all education. Not just formal, not just what you learn inside of a school building or university. I’m talking online courses, instruction manuals, all types of tutorials, short form video, even people watching … honestly I could go on and on. The simple fact is that we can learn just about anything at any time. And when the conditions are right and we allow ourselves to learn, most of the time, our lives are made better for it.

If you’re here, I’m going to assume you’re a course creator or, at the very least, someone in the online business world who values education and personal growth.

We’re going to grow together through each episode and come out better on the other side and I am here for it.

Today we’re going to take a look at human-first course creation and why this lens allows for greater successes in the overall course experience.

I said it earlier, but I’m going to say it again–as course creators, we have the power to change people’s lives. Education is a powerful force for good, AND ALSO a billion dollar industry. With the explosion of online courses and increasing competition in the industry–not to mention the rhetoric on social media–it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers–conversion rates, launch dates, revenue goals.

We can sometimes forget that behind every course participant that says YES, is a real person with their own unique hopes, dreams, and challenges.

That’s where human-first course creation comes in. This approach recognizes that our students are more than just data points–they’re whole individuals, with their own backgrounds, goals, and experiences. By viewing our courses through this lens, we can create programs that are more engaging and transformative for our students.

With human-first course creation, the focus is on creating a semi-personalized and engaging learning experience that helps the students achieve their goals and grow as individuals. This approach involves understanding the students as whole people, rather than just as faceless entities on the internet, and designing the course to meet their unique needs and preferences.

Some key elements of human-first course creation include:

  • Personalization: Creating a course that is tailored to the individual needs and goals of the students, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

I know at first that might sound really daunting and impossible, but personalization doesn’t mean that you’re creating a different course or curriculum for each student. Rather, it means that you’re offering lots of different avenues for engaging with the content so that the student can choose and create their own experience. Allowing students to maintain their autonomy within a program is major. It’s huge for helping them feel seen and heard, but also just for letting them know you respect their individual experiences and goals.

A big part of personalization is realizing there’s more than one way to go about a skill or a process, which is why curriculum should be ever evolving.

  • Engagement: Making the course interactive and engaging, so that the students are actively involved in the learning process and motivated to continue.

I love talking about engagement, so this could be an entire episode on its own, but for now I’ll say this: the best way to create an engaging course is to provide only the content needed to achieve the goal.

This might feel harsh, but … Cut away the fluff. No one has time for it.

Students join courses so that they can learn how to do something and achieve a specific goal. When we streamline our curriculum, they see results quickly, which keeps them engaged and motivated to continue. This, in turn, creates a ton of benefits for the course creator because now this person is, most likely, completely sold on them and their process and they’re going to tell everyone they know.

Higher levels of engagement mean higher revenue.

  • Support: Providing support and resources to help the students succeed in their learning journey, such as mentorship, feedback, and community support.

The support for each individual program is going to look different depending on the goal and projected outcome, the time and skill level of the course creator, and needs of the students.

Learning as much about your students as possible is pivotal to determining what the learning journey looks like, but it’s also important to be honest with yourself about your own capacity - what do you want to do? What do you have time for? What kind of support can you responsibly offer?

People have an innate need to belong - to be seen and heard and accepted for who they are, so creating a program that is inherently supportive feels really good and safe. We’ll talk a lot about how to do this in future episodes.

  • Whole-person focus: Understanding the students as whole people, with unique backgrounds, experiences, and needs, and designing the course to meet those needs.

This goes right back to number one. By understanding that students are going to join programs at various stages of life with wildly different backgrounds, experiences, and needs, we are more apt to create an experience that allows them to maintain their autonomy. This shows that we respect them as people and understand that it’s not “my way or the highway.” A whole-person focus reminds us that these people are SO MUCH MORE than a notch in the belt of our revenue goals.

And listen, I’m not saying that revenue doesn’t matter, I mean–this is business after all–of course it matters, but never at the expense of a real live human person.

So let’s take a second to recap. Some of the key elements of human-first course creation are: personalization, engagement, support, and a whole-person focus.

Obviously we could go into way more detail on each one of these, and we will in future episodes, but if you’re like … okay, erica, that sounds great, but I already have this established curriculum, how do I put this philosophy into practice?

And that, my friend, is why we’re here.

Human-first course creation is about recognizing our own humanity and doing things in a sustainable and practical way.

So in that spirit, here are 4 practical next steps you might take to shift into a more human-focused approach:

  • Talk to your students. Take the time to understand their perspectives, challenges, and goals. What are they looking to achieve through your course? What are their unique needs and experiences? By putting yourself in their shoes, you can create a course that resonates with them on a deeper level.

  • Prioritize autonomy. When delivering your content, consider your students’ individual needs and preferences. This could mean providing multiple learning styles or formats, personalized feedback and support, offering replays of live events, opening all content and not dripping it, offering audio and transcriptions, etc. By making your course more accessible, you can increase engagement and motivation because students know they can go about consuming the content in a way that feels most beneficial for them at that time.

  • Focus on the whole person. A human-first course doesn’t just address the content - it also considers the students’ overall well-being and growth. This could mean incorporating mindfulness and self-care practices, providing resources and support for other areas of their lives, or fostering a positive and inclusive learning community. By taking a holistic approach, you can help your students not only learn the material, but also grow and thrive as individuals.

  • I’d just like to add a caveat here and state that this should be done with appropriate boundaries in place and that course creators shouldn’t feel the need to offer support that they are not qualified to offer … for instance if you have a client who has some needs on mindset that you can’t fill, rather than trying to coach them through it and possibly doing unintentional harm, you might refer them to a professional. That’s also a way to provide support.

  • Build relationships. The most successful human-first courses are built on strong relationships between the course creator and the participants. Take the time to get to know your students, understand their needs and goals, and provide support and guidance throughout their time in your program. By building these connections, you can create a positive and engaging learning experience that leads to better outcomes for everyone.

More than anything, after all of that what I DON’T want you to feel is overwhelm, uncertainty, guilt, panic, or anything of the sort. As course creators, we have the opportunity to continually analyze our course data and make informed decisions that assist us on our journey toward a human-first approach.

This gets to be a slow and sustainable shift in how we run our programs because course creators are humans, too!

And, I think I’m going to leave you with that!

As you take care of your students, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Til next time!


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