This week on the podcast, we’re talking with Mike Gregga, course curriculum developer, about how to decide what information to focus on in a course, building credibility, and why a course will never make someone an expert on anything.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Why you shouldn’t automatically choose an evergreen course over a live one
  • Thoughts on why 95% of people who buy an online course don’t finish it
  • The importance of not giving away all your expertise at once
  • Why a course will never make you a master of anything
  • Creating a course for lead generation purposes
  • Building credibility through your courses
  • The different paths your clients may take after your course


When it comes to training of any kind, the one thing that I think is paramount above all is less is more. Simplicity is key.

What if our courses just taught people how to solve one problem, not conveying the entirety of our expertise?

When we’re addressing specific people in our marketing, and when they see themselves in it, that’s when they’re going to respond.

It’s taken you as a service provider or coach or whatever YEARS to develop your expertise. You don’t have to give it away all at once. Just give something that’s tightly focused on their problem.

A course by itself can’t convert you into a master of any skill or any craft. A course by itself is not capable of that. It only can ever make a novice.

More on Mike:

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Resources Mentioned

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Click here to read through the raw transcript

Britney Gardner  00:00

All right, Mike, you are on the No, I can trust Show. Welcome.

Mike Gregga  00:04

Thank you, Brittany. It’s such a pleasure to be here.

Britney Gardner  00:07

I’m actually really intrigued to see where this conversation goes. We’ve known each other at this point for about a year. And obviously, we met online, we were in the same program, kind of learning similar things. But we’ve both taken it in rather different directions, which I think is awesome. And probably the best testimonial of what could happen in that situation. So you are an expert on instructional design. How did that happen? How did you get here? And where are you taking that today?

Mike Gregga  00:35

Oh, man, well, I’ve been working for about the last 20 years or so. It’s a little bit more complicated. But the oversimplified version is I’ve been working for about the last 20 years or so with the US government intelligence community and doing training, intelligence related training for the government, specifically with DOD for about the last, you know, 20 years or so. So I’ve had a lot of opportunity to build a lot of different kinds of courses. It’s funny when you talk about instructional design, I’ve seen absolutely the most labor intensive, cumbersome and heavy kinds of courses. I’ve also done a lot of like very simple, quick and easy courses. I’ve done courses that last a long time, you know, multiple weeks, and their certification and accredited and professionalize and all those sorts of things. And I’ve also done a lot of little quick and easy, you know, online courses as well, and find just all those differences. So fascinating. But yeah, that’s where I am now is, you and I met in front of gorgeous society, as we went through that training together and have just interacted so much on different marketing groups, Facebook groups online and stuff. And, yeah, I just, I feel like bringing mark and understanding of marketing to the process, of course, creation, really kind of helps bring a lot of clarity, especially to the online space, when it comes to training.

Britney Gardner  02:07

One of the things I really like about what I’ve seen you talking about and seeing you teaching on is, is your approach on how a course can serve the course creator, as well as how it should be serving the actual students, the actual audience for whom the course is intended, right. And I know the first course that I created, I was like, here’s all the things I know, let’s dump the pair. And then let’s put them in little categories. And then let’s talk about it. And I was so excited and so passionate, right. Obviously, I know your opinion on that, I’m going to ask you to share it in a moment. But I think to be fair, the vast majority of my audience and and probably the vast majority of the online business world, at least initially approaches it the same way. So where does your take differ? Like, like, where are you on all this?

Mike Gregga  02:54

Oh, man. So that’s, there’s so many different parts to the answer to that question. The first thing that I think is probably something that the vast majority of my experience has kind of like really impressed on me. And that’s that, especially when it comes to training of any kind, whether you’re talking about a basic, simple couple hours long course, whether you’re talking about a multiple weeks long course, you know, a college class, a certification program, a coaching program, it doesn’t matter. The one thing that I think is paramount, above all is less is more, right? Simplicity is key, because you can dump a ton of stuff on people and Firehose them with everything you know, but at the end of the day, that’s just too much for most people to take in. And that’s not a knock on people. That’s not saying that they’re not capable adults that of course they are. But the fact is, is we have a limited capacity to take in new information. And that’s just the reality. And we have to then go and practice it and try it out and improve upon it and get better at it. And then we’re ready to come back and fit more information into those areas and kind of fill it out more. So it’s really important to me to keep things really simple. So that’s the first part. The second part is that, you know, bringing in an understanding of marketing to the course creation process has been so super helpful because in marketing, at least in certain kinds of marketing, there’s other kinds of marketing but one of the main ways that marketing occurs is we talk about our audiences, our potential customers, we talk about their pain, we talk about a problem they have and how we can solve it. And so if we bring that in understanding just that piece, right. If we bring that piece into the course creation process, and we begin with look what is our potential students, what problem do they have? And how can we help them solve it? And this is where that simplicity comes in. What if our courses just taught people how to solve one problem? Now, it may be a, an involved problem with several parts to it. But overall, what if our course was centered around solving one problem, not conveying the entirety of our expertise, right? Not trying to dump our entire brain at somebody all at once, but just helping them solve one simple problem, and then that’s it and then walk away. And it’s okay, if they you know what, more than that, because we can give them more, but we don’t want to give them more right away, right? Give them just enough to solve this one problem.

Britney Gardner  05:49

So I love the way that you say that. And it brings to mind like all the teaching I’ve done on on your best client, I have an old old podcast episode that literally is called ditch the ideal customer avatar, just talk to your best client, and who is your best client, it is the one person for whom you can most efficiently solve their most pressing problem, right? And I think we all as service providers, as course creators, as marketers, we all hear that and we’re like, oh, yeah, of course. But then when it comes to, you know, writing copy for a webpage, or, you know, a legit sales page, you’re like, Well, who is the best person for this product? And I know from for me, at least, when I’m talking with my clients about this, it is so hard to get them to narrow down to one person who really has this problem. And I get it, you know, we’re all fairly, you know, caring people, right? We really want to help people. And we know that what we do can help a lot of people, but the reality is, there is a specific kind of person for whom we can most easily help them with our problems. So when you’re talking about just solving that one problem, like, Do you have a way of helping your clients kind of narrow the focus of what that problem could be? And and before you answer, I’m going to give you an example that I’ve given on for sure on in one of my courses in the past, but the example I give is, you know, a couple years ago, when I was 37, I fell in love with spinning. I had previously tried to like spinning and did not like it, I found it very boring. And the reality is, I’m too lazy for me to do boring stuff. Well, I had never enjoyed it until about two years ago. And then I fell in love with this one particular class. And it was like a 40 to 50 foot wide screen. It’s like a virtual reality world. So there’s lots of things for me to look at. It’s very distracting. It’s very pretty. And I like all things pretty. So I fell in love with the class because I could get through a 45 minute super high intensity class, because I was distracted enough to ignore my laziness and exercise the way I really did want to but had not previously been motivated to do so. So if we break down that example, right, you can’t say that class solves spinning for all people. You can’t say that that class solves exercising for all people. You can’t even say that that class solves being interesting for all people. But it really worked for somebody like me, who needed a specific situation in which she could actually not just enjoy the spin class, but be motivated to keep going into it to where I’m still going two years later. So I think that’s a really great example of a particular problem. But even knowing that there are times I look at my own work, and I’m like, Well, yeah, I mean, it does solve this one problem, but it can also solve this. So like, how do you help people parse through that?

Mike Gregga  08:37

Well, okay, so there’s, again, there’s kind of a lot of things that could be said here, right? One of the most important reasons why we pick in marketing, okay, I’ll use the marketing analogy, one of the reasons why we pick a specific client is not because like, I think a lot of times we forget the fact that the reason we do this is because we’re trying to then speak exactly to that person. And there’s a very important reason why we do that. It’s because when that person then encounters our marketing, especially the copy, they need to be able to see themselves in it, they need to be able to feel themselves in it, they need to be able to imagine themselves, they need to feel like that copy is speaking directly to them. Right. Now, the reason why you like your spin class is because it’s perfect for you. It’s not perfect for everybody. But it’s perfect for you. And it’s set up in specific ways, right? There’s little, little sub sub issues that are kind of solved by this class as well, right? Because you need to have visual stimulation going on to distract it. Whereas a lot of other spin classes, there’s no visual stimulation. So that’s like kind of an additional piece that that class is also addressing that other classes aren’t. And that’s why you’re drawn to this one, right? So in many cases, when we’re when we’re addressing specific people in our Marketing, and they find themselves in it when they see themselves in it, that’s when they’re gonna respond. And the same has to be true. Of course, it can’t be. See, when you were talking earlier about how, you know, we we as service providers, we want to help as many people as possible, we try to go broad as possible. But the fact is, is that the broader we get, the less that individual human beings relate to the entire thing as if that’s talking to me, they want to feel called out, they want to feel like it’s speaking directly to them. But the broader we get, the wider we get, the less it feels like them. One of the things that is really interesting, and when I used to work for the government, you know, as a contractor, so we had to change jobs a lot, because that’s just the nature of contracting. So I got really good at talking to recruiters and writing my resume and just such a way, right. One of the things that’s really interesting about writing a resume is that most people, when they write a resume, they try to write it so that they can get any job in the whole world. They want to sound like they’re qualified for everything. But what happens when a recruiter reads that resume, they think to themselves, well, that person doesn’t want this job, they want a lot of things, they want to sound like they’re qualified, but but I don’t know that they’re gonna want this job. And they worry, well, maybe they’re gonna quit a month down the road, or two months down the road, or whatever. They want to know that this job is a perfect fit, and it’s the one you’re looking for. The same is true with marketing. The same is true with a course, your students want to feel like you’re talking directly to them, which is one of the biggest reasons why I advocate very passionately with my clients. Look, please don’t just go straight to Evergreen. And by evergreen, I mean, a pre recorded course, that then is available on demand. Yeah, it’s great, it’s very efficient. But you really have to do a course live and interact with the students and get to know them, and adjust to that. And make sure that what you’re saying is really striking the right note with your audience and that you’re able to gain and keep their attention. Because they feel like you’re talking directly to them. So, so important.

Britney Gardner  12:21

I love what you touched on in the middle there that when you go Why’d you have to go deep, it’s something that I’ve, I’ve talked about with content as well, like, you know, when you’re when you’re one to one with people, like you and I are having happening to be looking at each other while we’re talking right now, right, and I can read your facial cues, I can see your expressions. And if I if it’s really a sales call, you know, I would have the ability to alter my messaging just slightly, you know, based on the the things the cues that I’m seeing, right, but when you go to the great Wide Internet, right, like the people on you don’t have the ability to make those little subtle shifts and, and you know what you’re saying about not going straight to Evergreen? I feel like it just is part of that piece, right? Like when you are interacting live with your students, especially those first few course iterations, right? You have that same ability to see oh, they’re not quite jiving here, something’s wrong, it’s it’s not getting across, and you have the ability as the instructor to alter your your teaching style or the examples or whatever it happens to be right, you have the ability to do that. So that you can help them even better. And it’s just yet another example of going deeper when you widen your scopes are.

Mike Gregga  13:35

That’s right, and you know, it, it does take some time. And it takes some skill and it takes you know, a little bit of practice to really get good at reading your audience and reading those cues. Because sometimes people’s listening face looks like a zoned out face. You have to be kind of good at like, not just looking at your audience and reading their body language and seeing how they’re interacting with you. But also kind of from time to time prompting them and getting an asking them for that feedback in ways like, does that make sense? Same things like that. You don’t want to say the same thing over and over again, because then it becomes like kind of hypnotic and rote. But you want to be able to prompt your audience to kind of interact with you more, you want to create an environment where they feel comfortable asking questions, you know, pausing every few minutes and saying, Okay, let’s, let’s just take a beat here. I know what I know, I just said a lot of different things. Is everybody following me? And you know, kind of give me a head nod if they’re not, if they’re kind of like, non interactive, say, look, give me a head nod, let me know, right, because you could see him usually on Zoom. And so you want to think about that and you want to you want to do those sorts of things. And, and one of the things that I provide to my clients is I give them help on those kinds of questions, you know if they have them, because those things are really important.

Britney Gardner  14:57

Yeah, no, 100% I’ll be the first to admit the first time I heard you say, Don’t you dare go evergreen first. I mean, I felt called out like. But like, you know, after my hackles like calmed down a little bit, I started thinking through the reasoning that you were giving for it. And I was like, That makes complete sense. I love the way that you explain it to.

Mike Gregga  15:17

Yeah. And you know, one of the things that I’ve learned, particularly when it comes to student questions, is I mean, think about this experience. And everybody listening has probably had this experience at one time or another where, you know, you’re, you’re watching a pre recorded course, or video or whatever, even this podcast, and you think, you know, you suddenly have this question. And he’s like, Well, wait, you lost me. I was, I was thinking about this. And what about and as you think about it, as you turn that over in your head, now you’re not listening anymore. And you’ve and they’ve lost you and you’re not in and that becomes distracting, right? That question, that unanswered question that you think is important, you’re kind of bothered by the fact that they haven’t answered it. And you have no way to ask your question. Right, it can be distracting. And so one of the best things about going live is, especially if you encourage people to interrupt you with questions, is you get those questions, and you can interact with them. And then the next time you teach it, you can massage the way you’re putting it just a little bit, because you remember, oh, that person had that question. And it kind of threw me off. Now I’m more prepared for that. I’m going to teach it in such a way that that question never comes up? Because I’m going to answer it before somebody else asked that, right? What happens when you do that, when you do that, people are more able to stay with you, it’s easier for them to stay with you, it’s easier for them to continue to pay attention. One of the things that has, I’m just gonna use the word alarmed. One of the things that has alarmed me horrified me, honestly, is when I switched from, you know, DOD, employee, contractor training people, you know, more in a face to face environment, switching from that to the online world, come to find out the industry standard completion rates is about 5%. That means, when you teach a class online, when you sell it to people, they pay money for it, they raise their hand and say, Yes, that’s the course I’m interested in. Yes, please take my money. 95% of the people who’ve already taken those steps, they’ve interacted with your marketing, they’ve clicked on your ad, they’ve gone to your sales page, they were convinced by the argument, they saw themselves in it, they bought the class. But then they began watching it. And for whatever reason, they never finished. Now, a lot of people will say, okay, look, Mike, don’t be so hard nosed about this. There’s a lot of different reasons why that can happen, right? Sometimes, like a weight loss program or something, right? Somebody, somebody goes, Oh, man, I’m feeling bad about my body, I’m feeling kind of ashamed. I’ll go buy this weight loss program. And now I feel better, right? What happens is they make the purchase, and it feels like they did something good. They did their good deed for the day. And so they never even open the course they never even interact with it at all. Okay, granted that that type of thing is for sure. happening online in the online world. But nonetheless, does that really account for 95% of all people purchasing every course? Like standard? I don’t think it does. I think I think for me, and I can’t wait till I have more data from my clients, because, and I hope that it’s higher. If it’s not, I’m gonna work really hard to get it up there. But the fact is, is that for me, it’s horrifying to think that 95% of the people who purchased my product didn’t get their money’s worth. Now, part of that, too, is a lot of courses out there are this own organized brain dump, right? Where there’s just all this stuff. And people approach that and they’ve been trained to kind of approach it this way. Because so many courses are like this. They’ve been trained to kind of approach it and kind of look at the contents and go, Okay, well, I’m interested in module two, module three sounds about like, what I’m interested in the rest of this stuff now. I don’t care about module eight or seven, or 56.

Mike Gregga  19:39

Or who’s who’s got time for all that, right. So my thing with my clients is, look, keep it short, simple, keep it sweet, focused on one problem, so that the only people who are purchasing this course are people who have that problem and have a vested interest in trying to solve it. And this course sold set, and you don’t waste your time with anything else that you know you’ve got a ton of expertise, you don’t have to give it to them all at once it’s taken you as a service provider or a coach or whatever, it’s taken you years to develop this expertise, you don’t have to give it to your students all at once. Just give them a little bit that’s focused and tightly focused on them and their problem. And hopefully, they’ll finish it. And if it’s compelling and simple, hopefully they’ll finish it and engage with that material. That’s the goal, that I think we, you know, just for ethics sake, because we don’t want people to waste their money, right? We want to respect people’s money, I respect my clients money, I respect their time. And I hope that my clients respect their clients time and money, and we don’t want them to waste any of those. Right?

Britney Gardner  20:54

Yes, 100%, all of that. That was a lot. But yes, I shouldn’t have to say anything more than that. That is the reality. And I know that I personally feel like I have finished certain courses. But if I go and look at the like, percentage completed, it’s like 46%. And the reason is, I got what I came to get out of that course. So in my opinion, it is completed, but I don’t know whether they would consider that completed. I don’t know what that stat, you know, the one in 20, that actually completes I don’t know where that comes from, and which version of completion we’re talking about in that regard. But there are some really good courses I have taken. As in I feel like they were appropriately priced. I received the transformation I expected from them. And yet they have them so stacked with unnecessary bonuses, extra steps in each of the modules where I’m like, Yeah, I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time for that. And even though I feel like I got what I came for out of it, there’s still like a little bit less of a dopamine hit, right? I’m not getting that like satisfaction for being like 100% Job well done, Brittany. And I do wonder how much that has to do with the very sad statistics that we were talking about here? Well, I

Mike Gregga  22:07

think I think it really is telling that you can say, you know, let’s say a course is eight modules. And all you wanted out of it was like the first two, that to me means that there’s too much in the course to begin with. Because the course is trying to be all things to all people, which it shouldn’t, it should be much more tightly focused on solving one problem. And there shouldn’t be anything in that course, that’s not germane to solving that specific problem. And if that’s the problem you have, then you’re going to want to see all those parts because it’s germane to solving a problem, right? When it’s packed with. You know, like I said earlier, it kind of this unorganized brain dump where people try to transfer all of their expertise, you know, it kind of signals this idea. And I think a lot of us have kind of bought into this idea to more content is more value. That’s what so many people are absolutely convinced up more content is more value. But the truth is, like I said earlier, less is more, less is more why? Because then we’re done, we’re done. We’re not wasting anybody’s time, or money, or effort or whatever, we’re we’re just focused on what people truly, truly need. So here’s the other thing, too. A lot of times, especially in the instructional design world, a lot of times we think, okay, we’re going to teach people how to do this task. And once we’ve taught them that task, they are now equipped to complete that task, right? Everything in instructional design comes from on the job training. That’s what like adult learning, it’s got its it has its origin in on the job training, and actually, particularly in the middle military, to be honest with you. So a lot of it is all about, it’s task based, which is great, big fan of task based training, but a lot of it is if I teach you how to do this task, you have that skill now. But the fact is, is that that understanding of what a course even is, is kind of a little bit off. And what I mean by that is a course by itself can’t convert you into a master of any skill, or of any craft of any kind. It can’t. A course by itself is not capable of doing that, a course cannot confer mastery. It cannot make a master it only can ever make a novice. That’s it, of course can introduce you to a process. And by the way for that purpose. Courses are completely indispensable and we need them. They’re perfect for that.

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Music by Michael De La Torre. Thanks, Mikey!