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[Making Of… #8] Shit Sandwich

The Making Of An Online Course Part 8

In 2021 I made a new course, From WordPress To Webflow. This post is one of a series of behind-the-scenes emails I wrote as I went along, exclusively for my email list (start here).

It was back in late August 2017 and I was just starting to make my very first course. At the time, it had a working title of ‘WordPress Demystified’.

Yeah, as names go—it sucked.

(It later became No Stress WordPress, which has much more of a nice ring to it.)

I had a small presale group of beta testers waiting, keen to dive into the first modules.

I already had a really good handle on exactly where my target audience of Elementor users struggled—namely, how the rest of the WP ecosystem worked.

And I’d already spent months procrastinating, sorry… carefully planning exactly the concepts I needed to teach, and in what order.

So I started at the top, slowly unveiling and explaining each of those key concepts, step-by-step. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Luckily, I’d decided to make the first couple of modules in a very rough-and-ready way, a bit like a prototype or MVP you might say. That way, if my first attempts were way off course, at least I hadn’t wasted a ton of time making something polished.

I say “luckily”

Cos the initial feedback I got from the lovely beta testers was what I instantly recognised as ’The Shit Sandwich’.

(If you’re not familiar with this delightful phrase, it’s what nice people do when they give someone negative feedback, sandwiched between two positive points to make the feedback easier to digest. The positive feedback is the bread, the negative feedback is… well, you can figure that out yourself.)

“It’s really good Dave!”

I must say a lot of it doesn’t make much sense, I’m having trouble seeing how it relates to making an actual website.”

But I LOVE those slides you’ve made!”

Spot the sandwich.

This was a forehead slapping moment for me.

Of course my beautifully thought out theory and concepts were hard to relate to real life. There wasn’t anything remotely approximating a ‘real life’ situation anywhere in the course!

I think nerves, plus eagerness to quickly deliver content to my testers, had me forgetting several core truths about effective teaching. This was stuff that used to be second nature to me, back when I was teaching school kids in classrooms many years ago.

In a primary school classroom, you damn well better make your lessons are practical and relatable and focused on DOING something, or you’ve lost the battle before you start.

Let me tell you, losing the battle against a class of 30 seven-year-olds ain’t pretty.

And really, grown adults aren’t much different to seven-year-olds when it comes to teaching.

Of course—what my fledgling course needed was to be based on a ‘real life’ case study, a relatable story to hang all the fancy theory off… something practical that gave my students something to DO to practice and cement the concepts.

It sounds obvious, I know. Durrr!

But… I’ve taken a lot of online courses and I can count on the fingers of one hand how many have made a relatable case study story the core of the teaching journey.

One long and arduous course particularly springs to mind as being the perfect case study in what happens when you don’t build a course around a real-life case study!

(Let’s just say I don’t know anyone who has ever come close to finishing that course.)

So, if you’re teaching a tech-focused online course, you have to base it on a ‘real life’ situation, one that closely matches your students’ own real life working situation.

I think one of the reasons many don’t do this is because, quite frankly, it’s a considerable extra PITA. In fact, it’s a perfect example of the onion peeling I talked about (a lot) in my last email.

With most tech-focused courses, you have to likely purpose-build and design a website, or at least parts of one. Or… at the very least you have to set up a real-life working situation in the app(s) you’re teaching.

You also have to come up with a relatable story.

And, you have to make sure that you carefully map the key concepts that your students need to know and understand with the ‘real life’ action steps required to progress through the story of the case study.

But it’s worth it.

There are several reasons why real-life case studies work so well for effective online teaching. I’ll touch on those in the next email.

Plus, I’ll show you how the case study ‘story’ for my new Webflow course is coming together, with a peek at some behind-the-scenes work-in-progress stuff too.