Why Many Courses and Online Programs Don't Work

business strategy Jan 15, 2019

I want to talk about something I hear all the time:

“Courses don’t work.”

“Online programs don’t work.”

“Why should I invest in my business because I can find everything I need… for free on the internet!”

“Every time I’ve tried a course, I don’t get anything out of it.”

And I totally get it. I actually was someone that refused to give money away for information for YEARS. But I’ve got news for you: It’s not that courses or online programs don’t work. The issue is that you aren’t doing the work.

Anticipation vs. Action

So often a new course of program is simply the act of anticipating the thing — rather than doing it. We’ve all done this, or something similar: Have you ever decided that you were going to do something, whether it was try a new hobby, improve some area of your life, or learn something new... and you got really excited about it? But when it came time to actually do the work, it never happened?

Most of us have had that moment where we decided the TIME IS NOW and said “I am going to do DO this new thing!” — whatever it might be. You do all the research, you get all excited, you buy everything you need, and then when it’s finally time to get started, you suddenly find yourself doing anything BUT that thing you were all jazzed about just minutes before.

So why do we do this? And why is it so hard to take action?

I’m going to be straight with you: The real reason it’s so hard to take action is because, deep down, we want the end result, but we don’t always want to do the work to get us there. Because let’s face it, it’s not always fun. And when something feels overwhelming to us, instead of simplifying, we tend to just avoid it entirely.

In reference to courses and investing in educational programs for your business, the courses aren’t the problem. Courses actually do work — and I’ll give you two reasons why.

Why Courses and Online Programs DO Work

#1: You get the fastpass

When done right, a course or online program is basically someone taking everything they’ve learned or tried about a particular topic, and condensing it into the most relevant information that works. So basically, by spending a little bit of money, you get access to that fast pass. You don’t have to spend years on trial and error to figure it out yourself and fail a whole bunch of times. You can get the step-by-step guide or the real world experience that someone else already went through, which will most likely save you tons of time and money in the long run.

#2: You put skin in the game

When you invest, you put skin in the game. I, for one, am someone who doesn’t like to waste money, so if I spend a chunk of change on something, I’m sure as heck going to get everything I can from it which means that I SHOW UP and I DO THE WORK. Many people need external motivation to get stuff done and that’s OK — spending some money is often the best external motivation you can get. This is why it’s a lot smarter to pay for a yearly membership to a gym rather than pay month by month. Because if you’ve spent a whole ton of money on the entire year up front, you’re a lot more likely to actually go and not quit in 30 days. This is also why free doesn’t work for most people. You can work out at home for free, yet very few people are able to make lasting, substantial change by doing something free.

Of course, courses and online programs certainly aren’t magic. A course is only going to be useful if you actually do the work. And by doing the work, I don’t just mean watching the videos and taking some nice notes. No, I mean actually implementing what you are learning. This isn’t school, you aren’t being graded. The success isn’t in learning the material but APPLYING it.

So let’s talk about what you need to consider when deciding whether to invest in a course, online program, or coaching. And then we’ll talk about some tips for actually implementing and executing what you learn.

How to Decide if an Online Course/Program Is the Right Investment

When deciding what courses/programs to invest in:

1. Get clear on what you want to learn

Ask yourself, “What’s the real issue? What is the actual problem in my business that I need help with? What’s the priority?” Last year I knew I wanted to get serious about Facebook ads. For a while my husband was my Facebook ads manager which was awesome, but I knew that I had to better understand the strategy behind the ads and targeting if I wanted to implement it fully in my own business. Because, at the end of the day, my struggle was getting more leads. I knew I probably didn’t want to run my own ads forever, but I knew that it was important for me to learn them. That’s how I feel about a lot of areas of business. I’m all for outsourcing, believe me, and I talk about it a lot. But I think for many things, especially in business, it’s important to learn and understand them, at least at a foundational level, before you outsource them so you can better oversee the process and better understand how it fits into the larger picture.

So I decided last year I needed to really understand Facebook ads. I bought a course on them and I did the whole thing, but I didn’t just watch all the videos and take some notes. I followed along and I started running all my own ad campaigns. I actually ended up liking ads so much that I have my eye on another course that I think I want to go through this year to learn even more.

So ask yourself: What is an area of your business that you know you need help with, whether it’s marketing, pricing, sales and getting more clients, systems and organization, taking action, or execution? What do you need to focus on now?

2. Check your existing resources

Once you have a clear idea of your primary struggle, look at what you have already! Do you already have this information somewhere? Have you already invested in a program that might help you now? I met someone once who had purchased 6 social media courses, and I don’t believe she actually finished any of them. But each time a shiny new one came out she thought, “Oh maybe THIS will be the one!” Nope, the issue wasn’t the courses, it was that she was avoiding doing the real work. So be honest with yourself about whether you may already have the information.

3. Vet the person behind the course/program

The final question to ask when possibly investing in a course or program is, “Do I trust the person offering this? Do they have a track record of success?” Also note that their success should ideally be within their own business AND other businesses. They should have replicated the same success with others using the methods they’re teaching you — and they’ll have the testimonials to prove it.

For example, if I’m thinking of investing in a program about how to build my email list, I want to invest with someone who has built a substantial email list themselves and also has taught others how to do the same. Do your due diligence. There are some people out there who have no business teaching anything or offering courses and programs, so keep your eye out.

Now that you’ve got some clarity around what you should be investing in, let’s talk about what happens once you sign up. How do you make sure that you actually get something out of it?

How to Actually LEARN from the Courses/Programs You Invest in

If you want to commit to absorbing the information you’re paying for, you need to set yourself up for success. It’s easy to put a video on and passively watch it while we fold laundry, but it’s a lot harder to sit down and put the pieces together and actually figure it out. Here are my tips for making it do:

1. Create a plan and schedule

Create a plan to do the work! Whenever I sign up for a new course, membership, or online program, I break everything down into a plan. I’ll create a list of tasks for both absorbing and taking in the material and also executing it, and I put it in Asana. I carve out a couple of hours each week to do the work. And I treat it just like it’s client work or anything else. I make it a priority. I don’t brush it off for other work.

And yes, there are times that I’m just not in the mood to dive into the Facebook ads manager, practicing setting up ads, or researching the right target audiences. But I do it because once I implement, I can reward myself by diving into the next video and learning more.

2. Don’t move on until you’ve implemented what you’ve learned

Don’t just breeze through an entire course or program or workbook. Typically everything is broken up into modules, lessons, or chapters; don’t let yourself move on to Module 2 unless you’ve actually implemented Module 1. Not watched it — IMPLEMENTED it. Do the work!

3. Get an accountability partner

If sticking to a schedule and committing to implement each module might be tough for you, get an accountability partner! If you have a business friend who is having a similar struggle, sign up for a program together and hold each other accountable. Or find someone already in the program! Most have Facebook groups or other ways to connect with people also going through the same course or program. See if anyone is interested in being your accountability partner, I guarantee someone will take you up on your offer. Schedule a time each week to chat with your partner and talk about what you learned and how you implemented it.

Go Learn Something!

I truly hope these tips will help you in choosing a course, online program, mastermind program, or coach this year… but most of all, I hope it helps you actually implement and execute what you learn. Because the course is rarely the problem. It’s not that the course doesn’t work, it’s that most people aren’t actually taking the time to finish it and implement what they learn.

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