Is Your Course Boring? How to Get Learners' Attention

Week Five: The Handbook for Course Creators


Maybe you've heard this quote: "It's not about information, it's about transformation." Ok, great. But how do you design your course so that your learners experience transformation?


Welcome back to Week Five of this 13 week series where each week I distill down some key strategies and concepts you need to know to design courses that WORK.


#5 How do you get their attention?


Last week, we looked at how you help your learners remember what you've taught them. This week, we'll dive deeper into how you can get and keep their attention in the first place!


Willpower, memory, and focus are all finite resources. We each have a certain allotment of them and when they're used up, it's very difficult for us to stay focused. I don't know about you but I experienced this firsthand when pulling a few all-nighters in college. The later it got, the less productive I was.


So as a course creator, it's important that you work with your learner's attention span to make it easy for them to stay focused on what you're sharing.


Who has been sitting in a webinar that you really knew you could benefit from only to find that your attention has been wandering for the past 10 minutes and you have no idea what the presenter was saying? 🙋



Yeah, me too. So what helps us pay attention to one presentation and tune out to scroll social media during another?


It's about appealing to your learner's inner caveman.


What I mean by that is that attracting attention is all about appealing to the part of the brain that is concerned with emotions and sensations more than to the conscious, verbal, thinking brain.


Here are 4 ways to do this:


1) Tell it stories

Cavepeople like stories...because stories can keep us alive! Do you remember a story you were told years or even decades ago? Stories are not only sticky, they also grab our attention because we're attracted to the drama of a story. We know how stories flow--that there's a beginning, middle, and end--and we want to know how things will turn out.


An example of a way to use a story to capture attention is to talk about a before and after transformation. Or you could bring your learner into a scenario and invite them to choose different actions for the protagonist to take and then see the consequences play out. This strategy is great for capturing attention because it creates a sense of urgency, which is wakes up our primitive brain.


2) Surprise it

Imagine you're a cavewoman gathering tasty snacks when all of a sudden a saber-tooth tiger leaps out of the bushes at you. I bet it has your attention, no?


Surprise is an important tool in grabbing our attention. One way to use the element of surprise in your online courses is to provide an unexpected reward. This could be a bonus prize or a delightful GIF. When we aren't expecting the reward, it feels more exciting (think about finding a $20 bill on the ground) than a reward that we know is coming.


Other ways to leverage surprise include tapping into our curiosity by posing interesting questions or bringing some mystery into what's coming next.


3) Show it shiny things

Our inner caveperson LOVES "shiny" things i.e. things that bring us pleasure. Yes, these can be distracting if not used well, but they can also be tools if they are relevant to the topic we're teaching.


A few ways to use "shiny things" to attract your learner's attention include: using visual aids that are pleasing to the eye, using humor, or making the experience hands-on or inviting learners to imagine or remember scents, tastes, and sensations.


4) Tell it other cavepeople are doing it

Our inner caveperson doesn't want to get banished! If you can encourage collaboration between learners in your course or between your learner and someone else in their lives, they are more likely to pay attention because collaboration requires us to use a whole bunch of interpersonal skills to maintain positive relationships with other people (and not get banished).


*Credit to Julie Dirksen, Design for How People Learn

Happy Course Creating!


Have a spectacular week folks!


Jess Paré

Founder & Chief Learning Alchemist
















About The Lab!

Thanks for joining me here in the "lab" as we explore what it takes to transform your wisdom and knowledge into programs, courses, and products you can share with your clients in physical reality. Just as the alchemists of old experimented with combining different elements to see what the outcome would be, I see myself as a bit of a mad scientist (with better hair!). By pouring the content swirling in your head into the beaker of my design process, we alchemize your content into something magical that you can share with your audience.

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