Several times in the past few months, I received notes from my customers that said something like this: “I love your course, but any suggestions on how to make time and space for it? I’m super busy and I’m struggling with that.”
I’ve written back my suggestions–a variety of practical ideas for making space for the learning and inner work involved in my courses.
To my surprise, those simple suggestions made a huge difference. They dramatically impacted students’ outcomes in actually getting the coursework done.
I realized: those ideas–guidelines about how to fit coursework into a very busy life and overcome the inner resistance that comes up around transformational learning–those guidelines needed to be a part of the course itself.
It’s often said that bloggers make the mistake of putting great care into the content of their blog posts, but spend almost no time working on the headlines, despite the fact that the headlines play a huge part in determining how many people read the posts they’ve so carefully crafted.
Many of us fall into a similar pattern with our educational products: we diligently create content (after all, that’s the part we are so passionate about), but we don’t take care with other aspects of the course that determine students’ abilities to absorb all that wonderful material we’ve created.
Our work is creating the what of our products, but paying equal attention to the how – how students will find their way through. If we want our work to have maximum impact, we need to offer our students content at two levels:
- the educational material itself,
- and guidance on how actually to incorporate the learning process into their lives.
Here are a variety of ideas that can help your students get the most out of your work. At the end of the post, you’ll find a link to a free, friendly 1-page tip-list with these guidelines.
1. Making Time
At the outset, discuss with your students how they can make time to do the course, by
- calendaring a regular time to work on the course and keeping it like they would any other appointment
- scheduling that time when they are most well-disposed–energetically and situationally–to do the coursework (See Charlie’s post on this here.)
2. Maintaining Motivation
Encourage your students to:
a. Find an Accountability Buddy or Form Small Groups. Relationship creates accountability and helps sustain motivation. Students can ask someone in their lives (a friend, spouse, coach, or colleague) to hold them accountable as they work through the course, through a weekly email check-in or a regular phone call.
Or, offer to match up your customers in pairs or groups of three, and write some simple guidelines for their small group work together. Small group work has been shown to dramatically increase engagement and retention in ecourses.
In my course, Playing Big, more than half the 120 participants elected to join triads to have added accountability and support. (I like triads more than pairs because if one person flakes, you’ve still got a buddy experience.) Groups schedule their own phone or Skype meetings and decide on meeting agendas, with the basic guideline that they discuss the current module’s materials and homework.
As you might expect, a few groups have had issues with members not following through, but the vast majority of the groups have worked extremely well. The groups switch composition half way through the six-month course, so that students have more opportunity to meet one another and so that any student who had a poor small group experience has the opportunity for a new one.
b. Make it fun. At the outset of the course and at the midpoint, encourage your students to pause and ask themselves: “What would make this process more fun?” Doing the course with a friend or a group? Going out for a cappuccino once a week and doing the work at a favorite cafÃ©? Blogging about it? Give them full permission – and lots of reminders – to make it fun.
c. Recharge motivation. Rekindle your students’ motivation by asking them to journal or reflect on what’s possible in their lives or work if they make change in the area that the course addresses.
3. Creating Emotional & Mental Space
Quite often, when people say they “don’t have space” for something, the issue is not, in fact, that their lives are too full. Sometimes they are in multi-tasking mode, not giving their full attention to one thing at a time, so life feels generally cluttered and overwhelming. Other times, the real issue is that the thing at hand brings up fear, so it feels emotionally difficult to go there.
Here’s how to address those underlying causes of the “not enough space” feeling:
a. Transition Time. Suggest that students give themselves transition time. Sometimes, coming out of the frenetic pace of one’s day, it feels like there is no space for learning or big picture thinking. Five minutes for slowing down — through deep breathing, stretches, listening to music, or some other ritual that helps them transition into the coursework — can make all the difference.
b. Creating spaciousness. There are a number of ways to consciously create a sense of mental and emotional space: consciously closing up shop on other projects and tasks, mentally setting them aside; putting away the do list; shutting off internet; finding a spacious, uncluttered environment to do the work.
c. Address Resistance Directly. Acknowledge that resistance is normal. There is a part of all of us that just wants to maintain the status quo. Clue your students in to the symptoms of resistance that they should look out for: procrastination, perfectionism (stories that they can only work on the course if/when they can do it perfectly, with the right notebook, and right set up and…), sudden feelings about what’s wrong with the course, or an eruption of the inner critic, saying, for example, that they aren’t ready or qualified to embark on this journey.
d. Give Tools for Working with Resistance. Many of the above suggestions, such as accountability buddies and scheduled times, limit the power of resistance, but sometimes students face so much resistance they can’t even put those tools in place. They need more direct emotional work. Invite them to journal about the resistance: What fears do they have related to the course, or the changes that might ensure if they were to be successful in their goals? What anxieties are associated with this work? Naming and writing about those fears and worries goes a long way to mitigating their intensity.
As you discuss each of these things with your students–making time and emotional space, maintaining motivation, and overcoming resistance–you give your students the tools they need to do the work of transformation. The words you share with them about how to walk through the learning journey are just as important as the course content that you deliver.
Click here for a downloadable tip sheet for students with a brief version of these guidelines.