#198: Creating a Digital Course that Engages: Regardless of Attention Span


Today’s topic is a little controversial and completely practical all in one nice serving.

So what makes today’s topic practical? We all want our students and clients to finish the digital course that we have painstakingly created, assembled, and sold. We want them to succeed and eventually become a case study for our business in addition to experiencing the change that we promised. In order to do that we have to make sure our course is engaging. We are going to cover three ways to make your course more engaging.

This doesn’t sound controversial, except it is, as I found out in a live stream training I provided this week. I made the comment that attention spans aren’t necessarily shrinking so we do not need to be worried about that when creating our courses. And one listener said that we would need to agree to disagree on that. So down the bunny trail I went into the research and that is where the controversy comes in.

We are going to talk about not just 3 ways to improve student engagement, but also how that completion rate might be impacted by attention span, or not.

Engaging Digital Courses

A quick Google search yields results touting that humans used to have an attention span of 12 seconds, that is down to 8 seconds and a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds.

That does not sound promising, does it? I know that I’d like to think I have an attention span that is longer than a goldfish. You can find all kinds of these articles in a Google search, but honestly, if that were the case how would we ever get anything done?

You wouldn’t be able to cook a meal that took 30 minutes to prepare, you wouldn’t even be able to brush your teeth for the requisite 2 minutes that the American Dental Association recommends.

As a college professor, I’m no stranger to digging into the research to see what is actually happening and so that is exactly what I did. And you know what I found? Articles that stated, we have no idea where those statistics came from, but attention spans aren’t changing.

They also said that internet and social media use DO impact someone’s ability to finish a task. Now, I fully admit that I didn’t do a weeks long comprehensive search through the literature so I might have missed something.

But it was glaringly obvious that, in not finding article after article, attention spans shrinking may not be the reality.

What is a reality, however, is that we get distracted by all of the things that have to be done in our lives today. We get distracted by trying to stay connected, and watching the latest cat videos on social media.

We are a society who is distracted. And this is what we need to focus on with our digital course. How can we maintain the attention of our students so that they complete the digital course you so painstakingly put together?

There are a lot of ways to do this, including three simple solutions that I’m going to share with you today.

1: Keep Lesson Recordings Short

If we want to keep our students engaged we have to be creative, but luckily we don’t have to do anything crazy or magical. One of the best ways to keep students moving through your course is to make sure that course videos or lessons are presented in a short, implementable chunk.

I’ve seen it and heard it time and again, if the lesson is an hour, I’m going to wait until I have that much time to watch it and then to implement whatever I need to implement. You know what this means?

That is the nail in the coffin for that student trying to finish the course. They won’t. And it isn’t because they don’t want to, don’t genuinely believe in the power of what you are teaching, or any other reason other than, their schedule doesn’t have a two hour time slot to listen and then implement.

As a culture, and I say this from an American perspective, we are over scheduled. We are constantly on the go and something is “wrong” if we have proverbially down time.

We aren’t going to change societal norms overnight to allow for a slower pace, but we can work with the norm in our digital courses.

This means videos that are 15 minutes or less. Here’s why this works. First up, most people can find 15 minutes and those who are used to working at a fast pace can turn that video on to 2x speed and get it done in 7.5 minutes. That is the time it takes for a pot of water to boil. They can listen while cooking dinner, on a walk with the dog, while waiting for their kiddo to finish up in the shower, or as a break from other tasks.

It also means that the amount of information imparted in that video will be more implementable. It is less likely to be overwhelming, and much more doable for the student. In fact, because the video isn’t lengthy, they probably even have time to get started on that task right away.

And if they don’t, re-listening to the lesson isn’t a deal breaker when they do have time to come back to it.

So the first step to combatting the distractedness and busy-ness our students are faced with is to make sure our video lessons are bite sized.

2: Include Active Resources

We can all agree that our time is limited, our attention gets pulled in many different directions, and although our attention spans aren’t necessarily shrinking, the demands on our time are absolutely at a high.

This means that we need to make sure we set up our students to be successful in our courses.

The question is how do we make this happen? A great option for keeping students engaged is to have active resources for them to complete and use throughout your course.

Now, what do I mean by active? I mean resources that are more than a read-along. More than a PDF of the notes they could take when listening to your video lesson.

An active resource requires them to take action. This might be a journal, a worksheet, and template that they can fill in so that they have something already done at the end of the lesson. It is a way to create a practice opportunity and a way to engage their attention when there are so many distractions available.

The key is that we want whatever resources we create to be meaningful and helpful to the student. We all remember the worksheets in school where you solved a similar problem 37 times, even though you mastered it after maybe 5 of them? Although the resource was active, we were implementing the process we learned 37 times, it wasn’t helping us to move forward.

Think about it like this, we don’t want our resources to be the equivalent of a timesuck like getting stuck in the scroll of Facebook! We want it to be more like a really well thought out meal, where each dish in the meal complements the other and each is necessary to create the complete experience.


3: Create Community

Helping our students to overcome the distractions that happen as a result of the pulls on our time, the apps on our phone, and calendars that never seem to have any blank space can seem daunting.

Whether or not you believe in the idea that attention spans are getting shorter, we can all agree that we are a busy society and the distractions and grabs on our time never seem to sleep, much like New York City!

The key to help our students successful make it through our course, then becomes one of creativity. We can’t simply rely on the importance being enough. I will tell you that every course I’ve ever bought as an entrepreneur was important and nearly all of the courses I took in college were important. I definitely finished all of those college courses, but I haven’t finished all of the courses I have purchased as an entrepreneur.

Despite there being mixed emotions on the importance of college these days, there is something that colleges do exceptionally well in helping students get through courses and that is community. Each class is a community, we have a bigger community on the campus and within majors. Everywhere you look, there is an opportunity for community, connection, support, tough love, and cheering you on.

This is often what is missing from our digital courses in the entrepreneurial space. We are spread across the world and we are disconnected by time zones and literal space. But, we still need to be connected.

The typical fix for this is to create a Facebook group, but if you’ve ever been a part of a Facebook group before, you know that alone does not create community.

It is what intentionally happens inside that Facebook group, or any other community space be it on live group calls, a Circle or Mighty Networks community, or maybe even live in person events that you host for your students.

It comes down to the connections within the community that matter.

Think back to the study groups that you formed in school, the teams you were on. You created connections. You knew what was going on in the other person’s life and they knew about your life. It went beyond how that jumpshot was going, how the audition prep is progressing, or how that test studying was going.

This is what we need for our students. We need connections. One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is in a group where we had a Bingo game that lasted 90 days. It was a way to move through the course, post actively in the Facebook group about what we were accomplishing in the course material, and there were even prizes. In this specific case, there were cash prizes around $100 for each of the 4 phases of Bingo and a grand prize that was an upgrade into a higher level group coaching program. The group started out with hundreds of people submitting the first Bingo board. Then about ⅓ submitted the second board, and the numbers continued to dwindle. The key isn’t the dropoff, but instead the fact that even if you couldn’t turn in the board on time, students were still actively posting their progress. It was a clear way to stay connected to the group. The folks who made it through all four boards were also on the lookout to be supportive of one another. Participants ended up meeting and getting to know students in a massive course. They made connections.

We need that community, we need connections for our digital course students to successfully complete a course.

You might say, they should be motivated to do it on their own. In a perfect world yes, but with so many demands on our time, sometimes you need to do something attention grabbing like Bingo with prizes that keeps people focused on the prize → which isn’t actually the small cash incentive, but instead the massive step forward of completing a course where the information is already being applied each step of the way.

Action Item

At the end of the day, if we want our students to take action inside our courses we have to take action to set their action into motion. Whether you choose to incorporate a combination of techniques to make success easier, or make just one adjustment, the key here is to take action.

Take a look at the course you already have or are planning to create and ask yourself what can be adjusted or added to make sure that your students stay engaged with you and the material.

You know when you walk into a diner and there is that amazing case of desserts that keeps every single kid and half the adults transfixed? We want our course materials to be that dessert case that keeps our students transfixed and ultimately taking action. We have to show that we understand how hard it is to find the time to complete the course. We have to show that we value their time by creating resources and videos that are implementable, and we have to show that we know support is the key to success.

And before we leave today, in the Sixty-Second Solution I’m going to share with you the best way to let students know that you have their time and best interests front and center in your course.


Become a Six Figure Course Creator

Regardless of how you decide to transfix your student’s attention, the key to success in your approach will be your mindset. Becoming a Six Figure Course Creator is more than perfecting your offer or even having an impeccable suite of offers. It is about the combination of creating a stellar offer, creating magnetic messaging, learning what you need to learn, AND mastering your mindset.

Mindset is, quite honestly, one of those things that means the difference between a successful entrepreneur and one who never makes it to profitability. I’ve seen it time again throughout my 15 years as a college psychology professor, course creator, mentor, and entrepreneur.

While learning and mastering the strategies of business, like creating an offer that we confidently present to our audience, are critically important, they really only make up about 10% of our success as an entrepreneur. The other 90% often comes down to mindset work through tailored support.

If you are listening today and realizing that you are ready to take the next steps in your business and get customized, tailored help with building your digital course creation business so that you take that idea and are ready to record your course sooner rather than later, let’s have a talk. Send me a DM at DigitalCourseCreatorGuide on Instagram or Facebook that says, “Finished”, and we will sit down to figure out the next right steps for you and your digital course business.

Now I know that not everyone is ready for a Coach or mentor, but you might still have questions, need help getting unstuck, or just plotting out your next step. I’m here for that as well, because we all deserve to have support in our business. If you need a little extra support, I hold at least two slots each week for strategy calls that are designed to help you get unstuck and take action in your business. These are free, no obligation calls and you can schedule your call at coursecalls.com.

If you are ready to make the next 12 months THE year that you go from being an uncertain Course Creator to a Six Figure Course Creator, schedule a strategy call today. Again, the link to schedule is coursecalls.com.


Sixty-Second Solution

As promised, we have to find a way to let our students know that we have a plan to help them get through the course, right? Otherwise, how will they know of the amazing things you have planned so that your course will be different from others that they’ve tried in the past.

This means that we have to open and loud about how we are making it easier to fit things into the nooks and crannies and even how we plan to keep their attention focused.

You can do this in a lot of different ways with your messaging. This can be on your sales page addressing how this course is different, you can create posts and reels for social media about the problems you’ve noticed with digital courses and even how you have fallen into the trap of not finishing a course and what you’ve done about it, and you can definitely include the information in your sales mechanism, whether that is a video sales letter, a webinar, challenge, or something else entirely.

The key is to talk about it early and often. This lets your potential students know that you care and have a plan for them.

Where to Go Next?

If you are ready to think more about student engagement, I encourage you to check out Episodes 174 and 176. And if you are listening to this when it first airs, or really any time that you want to create a solid plan in your business, check out Episode 182 on creating a Quarterly Plan quickly.


Until next time, happy creating!

Please Note: Dr. Moira was a Certified StoryBrand Guide from May 15, 2022 until July 15, 2024. Any episodes mentioning StoryBrand were recorded during a time when she was certified as a Guide. If you would like to be connected with an active StoryBrand Guide, feel free to reach out as she still maintains contacts within the Guide community.

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