The 1:Many Approach to Online Courses is Broken. Here’s What to Do Instead

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There’s No Mistaking the Popularity of Online Courses.

You’re here because you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You think the way online courses are being created and distributed to the people you care about in your audience is either not effective or downright unethical.

And if you’re like me, you think the traditional post secondary education model is ineffective and unnecessary.


And by being broken, it’s facilitated the rapid growth of the same online education industry (last year it was $106 billion) – an industry thats currently falling prey to many of the same failures and mindset.

Both traditional post secondary education and the online course industry has tried to embrace the 1:many attitude – and that’s where they’ve stopped being effective.

Only through people like you – who identify the need for education to return to its roots, a need to come back to it’s basics – can our personal development and growth be salvaged.

How the 1:Many Approach is Broken

The 1:many approach has gotten all the hype in the online course world.

“Sell your course in your sleep and rake in the cash!” has been the mantra of course marketers for the last 5 years.

It’s a siren song that’s left you as a course creator or expert in your field, feeling inadequate and unfulfilled when you aren’t able to make thousands of dollars in your sleep.

The courses that people put out there are subpar and the audiences they reach are uninspired – because everyone is focused on the money-making ability of a course rather than the impact it can have on the lives of their students.

They’re trying to do what the big universities have failed at: charging premium pricing for a model that doesn’t foster growth or bring people to a new level in their development.

Symptom #1: Completion Rates are Abysmal

What’s the biggest indication the 1:many approach is broken?

The average number of online courses that are actually completed by their students – the course completion rate.

Traditionally – high school has an average 83% graduation rate across the United States and 87% in Canada. Post secondary education has average graduation rates of 60%.

Can you hazard a guess at what the completion rate for the average online course is?


Just 8% of people who enrol in the average online course will complete it.
There’s something wrong with that – and you can feel it can’t you?

But the thing is, its not really the fault of the students – we can’t expect someone to be internally motivated enough to take time out of their day and stare at a screen if they’re not getting any results or feedback on how they’re doing.

Symptom #2: Course Burnout

Ever get that feeling of “oh god not another course?”

Yeah, me too.

And almost everyone else out there has felt it too.

We’ve entered into an age where people are getting burned out by the constant launch and release of yet-another-online-course.

As we revel in the information age we realize just how much of a commodity information is. Which has led to the jaded view of many towards online courses as a viable way of gaining results – because they’re comprised of just information.

Course launch revenues and attention are way down across the board and this has led to many people touting ‘the death of courses’. But that can’t be further from the truth – the landscape is just undergoing a major shift (‘just’ ha!)

How Can We Fix This?

As an expert I’m sure you had a mentor or a teacher that taught you many of the things you didn’t discover in a text book or in a course. These teachers are the ones that have shaped our careers and our passions, much more than any sort of education ever could.

The idea of a traditional master-apprentice relationship evokes a feeling of nostalgia. An expert taking one or two students under their wing and passing along their special knowledge is a time honoured tradition.

But this tradition has been set aside for other, more profitable models of teaching.

In certain industries its left a huge gap in skilled positions where there aren’t enough students to replace the current professionals in the field.

By bringing elements of the apprenticeship model (such as the hands-on approach) back into online education, we’re going to see a resurgence in transformative teaching.

Some of the ways we can do this is by bringing offline elements such as enrolling fewer students, focusing on engagement, and reducing our fascination with mega-launches to improve student experiences while still seeing growth in our businesses.

A bit later I’m going to go over a few ways we can actually accomplish this shift, but first, let me introduce you to a new way of thinking about online education.

Introducing the Idea of 1:Some

If the 1:1 model is not scalable and the 1:many model is broken – what does that leave you with?

Something a little more traditional – 1:some.

Do you remember when you were in grade school and there were about 15-20 kids in your class? There were enough that the teacher was able to teach the information to multiple students at once, but if you needed individual attention, you could easily receive it.

This is the model that works the best in an educational environment.

It fosters feedback for both the student and teacher and it allows the students to learn from others in the class and develop a camaraderie to help bolster them through the learning process.

What Does it Look Like for an Online Course?

It means instead of launching to as many people as possible, you decide to cap enrolment at a lower number.

It means you build something that resembles a classroom, where the students can get direct access to you at certain points in the process and access to their fellow learners.

It means paying close attention to the progression of your students as they learn and noting where they get stuck and how you can make it better next time you run it.

It means giving a damn about the people you’re teaching and taking a vested interest in them achieving the results you’ve promised in your marketing and promotions.

In short, it’s going to be very different than creating a course with the mentality of building it once, launching it every so often and passively sitting back to collect the money.

It’s a complete 180° shift, but it’s totally worth it.

Let me explain a bit further what this shift really means and why it works so well in this new era of frustrated learners, online burnout and general malaise towards online courses.

Why it Works:
Feedback Loops

Isn’t it nice when you get immediate feedback on wether or not something is working?

The reason we can get so frustrated with things like advertising and marketing for our own business is that it’s hard to pin down if they’re effective.

Was that $100 ad spend worth it? Did it bring in paying customers or make potential customers aware of what you do in your business?

Because the feedback loops aren’t as immediate, there’s a greater chance for frustration and overwhelm.

But when you have something that has intrinsic feedback loops built into it from the start? Then you get feedback much quicker and are able to make changes fast to take advantage of that knowledge.

The Incumbant: 1:Many Style of Online Course

Let’s say you create an online course on dog training.

In the first scenario you create a 1:many course where you enroll 75 students in your first run and it takes them 8 weeks to go through your course.

After 8 weeks, 8% of them complete the course and you have no idea where they fell off. You’re left wondering if your content was good, if they got any results or if they thought it was a waste of money.

You could go back and send them all an email asking them why they didn’t finish, but 3/4 of them won’t respond because they feel guilty or don’t want to hurt your feelings. And almost all of them feel bad for not following through on their commitment.

There’s no way to get any sort of feedback from your learners as they go through the course- there are no feedback loops in place.

Any responses you get after the fact won’t be enough to make meaningful changes to your course to make it better for your next run.

The Challenger: The 1:Some Style of Online Course

Now let’s take a look at this same course on dog training with a 1:some approach.

You’d launch the course and cap it to no more than 20 participants at a time (ideally closer to 15).

You drip out the content of the course in batches to make sure everyone is at the same spot in your program at the same time.

Every week, you have a scheduled classroom style talk or presentation, where you would open it up to the students to ask questions and give feedback on what they’re struggling with.

You can now directly identify where your students are having difficulties and you get direct feedback on what they find useful and challenging.

There’s no need to wait for the full run of the course to adjust the content, you can make changes as you go and have it ready for the next run immediately after you finish up.

But the benefits don’t just stop at feedback loops – they also help your students become more invested in your course .

Why it Works:

We’re social creatures. As much as us introverts like to bemoan social interaction, truth is we thrive on it in some way and it’s incredibly important to the creation of new brain pathways and learning models.

At our core, we naturally try to put ourselves into groups – just think of all the unofficial groups you belong to in your mind:

  • People who graduated in a specific year (Class of 2000!)
  • People who go to a certain school (go Tigers!)
  • People who go to a certain local hangout (I love that coffee shop!)
  • People who belong to a certain club (I’m totally a drama nerd too!)
  • People who dress the same (Love those shoes!)
  • People who like the same music (Meet you in the mosh pit!)

If We Do it Anyway – Why Not Harness it in Our Online Programs?

When you put a smaller group of people together, this makes big changes. It becomes much more intimate.

Your students bond and identify with your program as one of the groups or classifications they belong to.

When a person feels as though they belong in a group, they trust more, they open up and are more willing to share their knowledge and journey with their fellow tribe members.

It doesn’t need to be a super small group of people – research puts it at about 15-20 people. That’s the ideal size for a group of people to feel connected in a learning environment but not feel singled out at any given point.

When you have this connected sensation throughout your students, the camaraderie and belonging starts to help them achieve better results. Not only do they learn from you, but they start learning from each other.

Taking advantage of this group mindset is going to help you keep your students engaged and working throughout the lifecycle of your course and increase the rate of completion for your course.

Why it Works:

You like to feel special.

I like to feel special.

How do you think your students feel when they get personalized attention from a teacher, helping them work through their specific issue and achieve a result?

Pretty special I would think.

This type of individualized form of attention is going to be a big selling point and strength of your 1:some online program.

Not only is it going to give your students the direct access to your expertise, but it gives a huge boost to the overall effectiveness of your group learning – when others can learn from another student’s perspective.

How Do You Build the Attention Factor Into Your Course?

The most effective way to do this is with live calls and interactive presentations on a frequent basis. This could be a video chat or hangout every week or it could be a slack channel where you hop on for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) every 3 days.

Your students get the benefit of personalized guidance, and you get to see directly what your students are struggling with. This helps reinforce the feedback loops that are so very important to the 1:some model of teaching.

When you’re planning your 1:some online program or course, how could you make sure to build in specific points of attention for your students?

It’s easier to build the rest of the program around these points than to add them later in the process.

And once you build in these basic structures of a 1:some style of course – feedback loops, smaller class sizes, more attention – you’ll notice your programs and courses get far higher completion rates and more success stories from your students.

And when a course has a high number of success stories, you get momentum much faster than if your students take your course and never come back. You create fans and students for life – ones who will eternally identify you as their teacher in this topic.

And when you start building a reputation as THE teacher in a certain topic, then inevitably success and business growth will follow.

The 1:Some Way is More Profitable

The allure of creating an online course or program is one of passive income – the idea you can make money while doing other things, and still teach your special brand of knowledge.

But as you’ve learned, that’s just not feasible any longer. BUT I can promise you the 1:some way of doing things is much more profitable in the long run, and you don’t need a list of 20,000 people.

The reason the 1:many model has been touted so often and why we see so many huge launch stories online is that it works great for people who already have large audiences.

They’ve built these audience by using other internet marketing tactics and strategies and already have a thriving online business – an online course is simply another tool in their belt.

It’s a self perpetuating cycle.

And it leaves the 95% of us who don’t have large lists and resources for huge launches feeling as though we’re doing something wrong.

How is it More Profitable?

The basic principle of the 1:some way is that it’s agile – it can be utilized easier and doesn’t take the resources and planning a 1:many course does. It doesn’t require as much advertising and can be run more frequently than a course that needs a huge launch cycle.

There’s much more profit (as opposed to revenue) involved in the 1:some way of course creating, which is always a good thing!

Secondly, the 1:some way is inherently more valuable to your students than a 1:many course.

Since your students are getting direct access to you and are able to learn in a more intimate environment – your students will feel good about their investment.

We’ve all bought courses for $997 and been disappointed because we weren’t motivated to complete it or the information needed further explaining and we just couldn’t get it on our own.

It was a waste of money.

But your 1:some course will never seem that way in the eyes of your students – they’ll receive tremendous value and will walk away satisfied and ready to implement what they’ve learned.

And when you have satisfied students?

You have amazing word of mouth and raving fans – which builds momentum for each subsequent run of your course and adds so much more value to any paid or organic advertising you may do for your course.

Now Come the Practical Bits

I can tout the benefits of the 1:some way of doing things all day – but there will always be downsides. I’d like to go over some of them here for you to take into consideration.

  1. It’s not passive income
    The creation, execution and running of a 1:some program is not a set-it-and-forget-it type of course. It takes effort and time every time you run it and needs special attention during those runs.
  2. You need to cap enrolment
    The whole structure of a 1:some course is that you can’t sell it to hundreds of people. That defeats the purpose and makes it near impossible to run. It works best with groups no larger than 15-20.
  3. It’s more effort
    The main difference between marketing a 1:many course is that it takes the most amount of effort during a launch while a 1:some course takes the most amount of effort during it’s run. Since you run a 1:some course more frequently during the year, all in all it takes more effort.

As long as you’re aware of these practical bits while you’re creating and running a 1:some style of course, then you’re going to be set up for having a much more successful program.

The 1:some way isn’t rocket science but it does take a bit more to wrap your mind around in comparison to the 1:many, passive income models we’ve been led to believe are the holy grail to online learning.

How Does This Tie Into Your Course?

Now let’s get to the good stuff – the actual how-to of this article, where I give you the active ingredients of the 1:some way of online courses and the practical ways you can use it in your own courses.

Requirement #1: Community

As mentioned above, one of the main tenants of a 1:some course is providing as close to a classroom environment as possible. Since we’re doing this online, there’s no actual classroom involved, but we can fake it in a few ways.

My favourite way to do this (and the easiest) is to create a private Facebook group where your students can interact with each other and with you. There is an element of management, but the lower numbers mean it’s much easier.

Giving your students a way to interact and create a sense of community amongst themselves is vital – come up with a cool nickname or make being a member a prestige thing – give them t-shirts or a fun gift for joining (custom printed t-shirts or mugs are cheap and worth it for the amazement factor.)

Requirement #2: Check-Ins

To make sure the 1:some way works, you need to build-in frequent checks with each of your students. Wether that’s weekly group video calls or a one-on-one chat for 15 minutes every month with each student.

You decide on the frequency and the level of intimacy that suits your course best and stick with it for the run on the program.

Having these frequent check-ins/feedback loops are key to maintaining your student’s interest in the course and re engages them with the content so they don’t get left behind or drop off.

Requirement #3: Them-work

There’s a reason you got homework in grade school.

It wasn’t to fill a quota but to engage the problem-solving centres of your brain so you could incorporate the concepts in an environment outside of your classroom.

When you get a person to frame a problem in such a way that they use their own situation as reference, it becomes an ingrained part of their daily knowledge.

When I give you a math problem, it’s easy to solve it if I use apples and oranges in a classroom setting. But if you run into that same type of problem while at home trying to bake a new recipe – that’s when your brain recognizes how to iterate the concept into practical use.

It’s what I call “Them-work”.

And it’s especially important for knowledge-based courses that focus on personal or intellectual concepts.

Don’t just ask them to regurgitate concepts – the goal is application, not memorization.

Requirement #4: Pacing

The last element to creating and running a 1:some course is pacing. This means making sure your students have access to only a certain amount of the course at once, to keep them engaged and learning at a specific rate.

In practical terms this means we create a dripped course, where they only have access to the modules in a certain order and after a set time period. In high school, you weren’t allowed to just download your entire History class and do it in a weekend.

Same concept here.

You’re pacing them out so they have time to learn and avoid the feeling of overwhelm by starting a course with a huge wall of information.

A secondary benefit of pacing the content in set increments is that it helps foster the first three principles.

When everyone is learning the same content at once, it brings more active conversations into your community, your feedback loops are more focused and assignments are more effective because they’re all dealing with one specific topic.

Using these four requirements in your online course will completely change the way it runs and the way your students interact with your learning materials.

The 1:Some Way Changes Online Education

I’ll admit the core of this idea is not new – coaches and consultants have been doing group coaching for many years and have had fantastic success with it. You’ve probably run some sort of group program you’re happy with.

But its never been applied to the online education space in such a viable and effective way for both you and your students..

I don’t want an industry full of burnt out experts who tried ‘that whole online course thing’ and gave up because it didn’t meet their expectations.

Expectations set out for them by some internet marketer who views online courses as simply a new trend to make money online.

Don’t be bound by a frustrating sense of failure if your course doesn’t meet unrealistic passive income numbers spewed by internet marketers. Instead be happy with a truly life changing online course that is consistently sold out and full of engaged, satisfied students.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?


Creating an online course that creates maximum impact for your students and nets you a group of raving fans who see big results.

Getting out of the hectic and stressful launch cycle for your online courses.

Having a way to quickly and easily update and adjust your course content based on real world feedback.

Creating a course that sells out each and every time you run it.

Being able to easily translate your special way of coaching or consulting with your clients to a scaled-up online program.

No longer having a limit on the number of people you can impact with your services.

What Now?

If this resonates with you (and for some of you it won’t – that’s just fine) then I want to invite you to download the Stress-Free Guide to Scaling below – which goes over some of these concepts and shows you how to scale your business past the 1-to-1, without sacrificing impact and integrity.

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