To build a profitable online course around a core concept, you want to make sure it’s performance boosting and people get the results that you promise. They go about course design all wrong, because there’s a huge distinction between information, knowledge and understanding that most people do not appreciate.

In part 2 here, of our Earn Your Worth series, we’re talking about being ‘worth it’ actually means in practice for building a profitable online course around your core concept.


In the previous article, part 1, we were looking at the notion of creating a movement around a core concept to position an offer around, something that attracts intrigue, provides a transformation that people want, improves performance in some way.

The most profitable online course ideas stem from a core concept that helps someone do something new, different, better or faster. If you want to build a performance boosting course you can’t go about it from a content first perspective.

Most experts who go about creating a course, especially an online course, are really mostly building an information product. Even if they create something that’s has some live interaction or a group program, they can end up essentially just transferring knowledge. And that doesn’t guarantee any change in behaviour or performance.

The reason why it turns out that way is because they start with content and don’t always go beyond a list of topics.

Most experts go about course creation all wrong. They pick a topic. And then they create an outline, a curriculum that’s just a list of lessons and maybe a discussion forum bolted on.

But please hear this and take it on board: there’s a huge distinction between information, knowledge and understanding that most people do not appreciate. To build a profitable online course, what’s so often missing is a focus on education and transformation. People don’t learn by knowing more, they learn by learn by gathering information, making meaning of it and applying that knowledge to perform better. And to deliver real value, you need a richer context than just content.

When you build a course around your core concept, you want to make sure it performs and people get the results that you promise. In part 2 here, of our Earn Your Worth series, we’re talking about what ‘worth it’ actually means in practice to help you build a course that delivers real value.

So first, let’s look at …


What we mean by a performance boosting course


A performance boosting course is one that delivers the result, the transformation that people want – and what you promise in marketing your course’s core concept.

Planning a profitable online course means making sure your learners get results, and that means you as the instructional designer need to look beyond the content. That’s how you create bigger profits than your competitors who are selling information products or even education-based courses. Information and education in the sense of talking about a topic will not necessarily lead to someone being able to achieve results.

For instance, if you’re promising a mind-blowing offer, and your core concept is landing with your target market, you want the results to be mind-blowing as well.

This means you’ll need to give your clients the necessary tools to get from A – where they are now – to B, where they want to be. And that’s about performance, not just know more, but do something better to get better results, be it mindset, profit, weight loss, fitness, reduced anxiety, happier kids, happier relationship, or something else they want to achieve.

In your course, you’ll need to provide the bridge – and the best way to do this is by setting them a task to do, then giving them a chance to reflect on and discuss it, explore the experience of what happens, and improve each time they apply the new ideas or techniques.

You’ll need to give them activities that help them construct meaning from what you teach. And you’ll need to help them contextualize your process to fit their particular environment or business or their life, depending on what you help them with.

Application of learning and feedback – whether self-reflection, peer discussion or tutor feedback, or a combination of all three – provides experiential learning. This is where the big aha moments and the best learning experience happen, as well as boosting performance. And this of course is more likely to foster fabulous reviews and testimonials for your course or program.

When people are supported and given feedback, that’s how they’ll improve performance. The course content and the course activities coupled with a feedback loop is how people create transformation. They’re able to connect the dots and make sustainable changes in how they think, behave and perform in certain situations.


Packaging your expert system into an effective educational design


Packaging your expert system into an effective educational design is paramount for increasing performance.

In turning your expertise into REAL education – remember, that means beyond just communicating information or having people gather more knowledge –  you will need to think carefully about how you design for performance gains. You can’t just pour a load of information onto a page and call it a course. Every piece of content, every resource, every activity, every task, needs purpose, structure, engagement and support.

So first, create your curriculum outline as a series of steps, not just a series of topics. Think carefully about how the steps flow, does this support your learners or is it in a sequence that they will find hard.

Imagine you’re teaching someone to drive. What’s the first step, second step, third step… what do they need to know before they turn the engine on, what about once they’re actually on the road – scary thought, brings me back to memories of teaching my son to drive!

What are some of the critical things that will keep them on the straight and narrow, keep them out of harm’s way, keep them focused on the task in hand without distractions or having to think of too many things all at once.

What are the hard rules they need, and the not so important things you could add later (as a bonus ‘advanced’ lesson). Even if those things, like how the clutch works with the engine and wheels, even if they’re super interesting to you as the expert, that detail too early on is just going to confuse or overwhelm (or even frighten) your new driver.

Once you have your series of steps, your course outline – some call it a storyboard or mindmap if not linear, here’s how to design each lesson.

#1 Take one meaningful topic – a single idea or strand – that sits underneath your core concept, the result that they want. Think of it like the first milestone on the success pathway on your roadmap.

#2 Set a clear objective, outcome and measure

– see learning design article or listen to the podcast episode 67 where I went through Nailing A Simple Online Learning Design and Evaluation Plan for Your Course or Program

# 3 Identify a purposeful task and resources to support it

#4 Create some kind of interaction or dialogue

#5 Add a means to track progress.

Here’s an example. There’s a tonne of techniques you can learn from me about how to get more clients to grow your business, and another tonne of reasons why some things will work for you and some things won’t. But it’s hard to sell ‘strategy’, so our core concept is about working smarter not harder. The problem is people are exhausted and overwhelmed by all the marketing hype about digital transformation, they don’t have a clear path, so our solution is leverage and a digital roadmap.

The actual solution depends on what else you have going on. But to your audience, it feels like you’re offering them a shortcut, a way to “shorten your learning curve” – which was the actual wording in one of the marketing campaigns we ran early on. Of course, there are also cowboys that promise the world and don’t deliver, but these shortcuts are why products or courses that promise to give you the “secrets” to “crack the code” work well. (Yes, I’ve fallen for that hype for sure – useful info, but just didn’t really move me forward.)

One of my clients, his course is all about hacks to help early career professionals think, act and perform at executive level – it’s a shortcut. The kind of things he teaches took him a decade to learn, and you know the saying:

“I wish someone has taught me these things when I was an early career professional, it would have saved me a tonne of time and frustration and got me a promotion way faster”

– that’s the performance boost the course delivers – great marketing.

We joke that his courses are like plugging into the Matrix – you get a fast shot in the arm, well the neck, and you’re good to go. He’s just run a pilot, and his students LOVED it. He’s an absolute mentor for them, and it’s delivered huge the value for them.

And of course, he’s not charging nearly enough, it’s a pilot for sure, but if he wants to earn what he’s worth, then he needs to raise his fees as the course runs mainstream. And there’s definitely a B2B opportunity in there, as organizations would also really value being able to get their new managers up to executive level performance fast.

Have you ever felt like the more knowledge of the problem and possible solutions you gather, the more overwhelmed, confused and stressed you feel? Well, you can bet your clients feel the exact same way too.

What they need most is to understand how the information you give them fits into the overall objective of what they want to achieve. They want to see how to progress from step 1 to step 2 to step 3 etc to achieve the end goal.

So at least think about whether your topics need to be covered:

  • in sequence, a linear design, or

  • students can start where they have the most need – like a pick and mix, modular design;  or

  • if they start with an activity and use the content and resources to support the task you ask them to do, an action learning design.

Three principles for performance boosting course design


#1 Focus on helping people DO something better

When courses come out on paper, they almost always turn into a ‘list of topics’ you can talk about. What’s missing? The focus on performance.

Courses that are only based on content create a disconnect in the learner’s mind. So the first principle is this:

People don’t need to KNOW more things, they need to develop skills and PERFORM better. So if we want them to DO something better, they need a richer context than just content.


#2 Bridge the gap between the current and desired state

Think about how your course can create a bridge between current performance and better performance.

So when you plan out your course, think about it in performance terms. What’s the thing that needs transforming, how can you or they assess where they’re at first of all, what activities will help them practise or develop better performance in that area, and how will they know or measure how far they’ve progressed?

Make a list of incoming student performance, what do they look like, sound like, act like, what do they believe and what are their philosophies related to your subject matter. What mindsets do they have?

It’s almost certain that that it won’t be solved by an information dump or in one step or one activity alone. Make a content decision based on what are the steps to build and strengthen performance.

To bridge the gap …. what is a graduate of your course able to do/achieve better? For each bit of content, does it help fill the gap, decide what’s in and what’s out.


#3 Address barriers to performance

The barriers to performance are likely part of your course’s sales narrative where you define and agitate the sources of the problem they have.

Why aren’t your clients performing better at this specific thing or in this area of their life or business? Your core concept is likely to speak to this, so it allows you to come full circle back to the roadmap – symptoms, problem, solution and steps to transformation.

Dig deep into your target market’s experience of the problem. This speaks to the motivation you need to create at the start of the course, and indeed at the start of each module or lesson.

We tend to think that knowledge will solve our problem and that is universally not the case. We need to recognise and understand the barriers to under performance in order to reduce or eliminate that barrier. Is it a mindset or a resource issue, is it a prioritisation issue? Is it a recall issue?

And to do so, requires you to include tasks that help people explore, reflect, practise a relevant activity, to understand it in all of its richness and then work to resolving it.

What is it that’s preventing you from performing at a higher level in your business, do you know the root cause of what’s not working well enough or fast enough? Once you start with the bottleneck and start solving that, you have an epic course in your hands.

Same concept as an info product, but this approach will set your course apart from all the others. What is that thing I can solve for my client/student?

If you spend the time to sink into your customer’s mindset and uncover the true barriers to better performance, you will create a hugely successful course or program. And it’s then also way easier to promote your core concept, identify the transformation you deliver, and market the course.


To summarize: 3 things you want to make sure you do


When you create a performance boosting course, your participants will practically trip over themselves to buy and tell others about it too. There are three things you want to make sure you do:

  1. Make sure you’re only focusing on one core concept, and put your unique spin on it – even if you feel like it’s all been done before.
  2. Make sure you identify what you absolutely must outsource for the best results.
  3. Make sure you weigh the pros and cons of using discounts or special offers. Stand in your value.
  4. Then make sure you pack your course so full of value, clients will be delighted to come back for more too.

So as an expert, your best strategy to help your clients get the outcome they really want is by adding value to the knowledge base. This is how you get noticed. Find your voice, give people a clear deliverable: a new perspective, a set of principles, a process, worksheets or a system for thinking through, planning and implementing the thing they want to do. And make sure you deliver on your promises!

Check out my Online Learning Design Planner for some pointers on objectives, outcomes and evaluation measures for profitable online course designs.