Persevering When Your Course Gets Tough

Brian Green

Persevering When Your Course Gets Tough cover image

At some point during course creation, odds are you're going to hit the wall. Almost every author does.

It's a terrible feeling. You start questioning whether you'll be able to finish, and whether you should even try to finish.

In my experience, there are three reasons authors hit the wall. Course creation is taking longer than expected. You thought you'd be done last month (or longer). It's getting more difficult to find time and energy to work on the course. Other obligations are demanding more of your attention. You're dissatisfied with the quality of the course material, and wondering whether this means you're not cut out for it. Course creation is taking longer than expected

Don't get discouraged if it's taking longer than expected to create your course. This happens to everyone. Once you've authored 10 courses, you start to get more accurate in your estimation.

Analyze your last few weeks of course creation work. Where are you spending the majority of your time? Are you doing the work that requires your expertise (e.g. revising your material, recording your narration)? Could you hire someone to do the tasks that require less of your expertise (e.g. editing video, uploading material to course platform)?

Other obligations are demanding more of your attention, and it's getting difficult to find time and energy to work on the course.

If many obligations are competing for your attention, you may want to adjust your expectations of yourself. If you can't spend as much time as you want on course creation, try to focus on making incremental progress. Look at your schedule and where you're spending your energy. Are you spending your best hours on course development? Are there ways that you could?

You're dissatisfied with the quality of the course material

If it's your first course, or even one of your first few, you probably won't be satisfied with your course quality. It's just a fact of life. As Ira Glass, creator of the legendary audio program "This American Life" has said, we develop critical taste before we develop the skills necessary to deliver material that meets our expectations. This is part of the reason it's so difficult to get started, and why it's so tempting to give up - because it takes time and work to develop those skills, and we learn by failing.

The first thing to do is to understand the gaps between where your work is and where you want it to be. Make a list of these areas.

Assess whether these are critical areas for student satisfaction. Will the gaps in quality hamper your students learning from the material, or undermine your credibility as an instructor? In most cases, students will tolerate some minor quality deficiencies.

But to validate your assumptions, you should look at feedback on your material. This is one of the reasons I advocate for third-party reviews of all material before you publish - it's important to understand how other people see your material.

Look over feedback from lesson reviews. Categorize the feedback so you can see the major areas for improvement. Do these align with the gaps you perceive in your work? Do your reviewers notice the same things you're noticing? If so, consider ways you can improve that quality. If not, it's possible you're being overcritical with your work.

You could try to improve quality by bringing in some expert advice. If, for example, your slides don't look great, you outsource the work to a graphic designer, or work on building your own skills by taking a course on slide design.

Other techniques

Build breaks into your schedule. Don't just blast through the material from end to end. If you have a vacation planned, or some other sort of celebration, don't put it off, and don't work on your course during breaks. You don't want to end up resenting your course or having your course become a source of conflict with others in your life.

Don't sacrifice self-care. Make sure you eat well, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Make sure you're in position to perform well in everything that you do.

As you finish a lesson, shift gears and blog about the material before moving onto the next lesson.

Create a small rewards system for yourself anytime you hit a milestone. Something like a favorite meal, or a movie night. I used high quality coffee as a motivator for this bootcamp - when I completed a lesson, I treated myself to a nice pour over coffee.

Ship when you're done — rather than waiting to complete all your material before launching, ship completed lessons as soon as possible.

It's OK to Pivot

In some cases, you do end up discovering that now isn't the right time to create an on-demand course - that there isn't enough time to spend on production and post-production. In this case, you could evaluate whether it makes sense to continue offering short workshops for students, or whether you could deliver your course via synchronous lectures so you don't have to spend as much time in the studio and in post-production. Remember, there's no single correct way to offer a course.

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