How to Build High Impact Courses that Get Lasting Results with Instructional Designer Julie Dirksen

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Learn how to build high impact courses that get lasting results with instructional designer Julie Dirksen in this LMScast episode with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Julie is the author of the book Design For How People Learn.  Chris and Julie discuss the various gaps in student’s learning, and how online course creators can optimize their programs to help their students succeed.

How to build high impact courses that get lasting results with instructional designer Julie DirksenJulie shares how she identifies what is holding her learners back and then formulates a curriculum to address that specific problem. In the case of the individual who smokes, Julie would ask, “Is this a knowledge problem or a habit problem?” In most cases, it is a matter of addressing the habits that coincide with smoking.

Chris and Julie talk about the various learning gaps that are holding students back. Along with the information gap, there are procedural gaps where people don’t get something until they have practiced it enough times. There are habit gaps where you need to focus on responding to a trigger in the environment. You can also have a motivation gap where someone knows what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, but they don’t have the motivation to follow through.

Julie shares how the brain is like a closet when it comes to organization. You will find that it is much easier to teach a new concept to an expert in a field, because they have a large closet that has advanced ways of organizing concepts. Students who are new to a subject matter won’t be able to organize information and processes as meticulously as an expert would. As your students learn and improve, they will assemble more shelves in their closets.

It is important to have your students take action and implement the material they are absorbing in your course in order for them to retain it. By applying the material in a real world setting, your students are reinforcing the concepts and practicing. That is what changes behaviors and builds automatic processes.

To learn more about Julie Dirksen you can head to And she will have some online courses available hopefully by the end of the year at, so be sure to look out for those. You can also find Julie on Twitter at @UsableLearning. Julie’s book Design For How People Learn is available on Amazon, and there are a lot of really smart people engaging with her Facebook group called Design For How People Learn.

Julie and Chris talk about all this and more in this episode. You will want to watch this episode a few times to extract all of the nuggets of wisdom. Head to to find out more about how you can build your own online courses and membership sites with LifterLMS. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!

Episode Transcript

Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re a course creator looking to build more impact, income and freedom, LMScast is the number one podcast for course creators just like you. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of the most powerful tool for building, selling and protecting engaging online courses called LifterLMS. Enjoy the show.
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest Julie Dirksen. She’s the author of Design for How People Learn. It’s on the second edition. I had so much fun and so many light bulbs go off when I read this book, because as a course creator myself I’m more of an expert and a technologist who got into teaching later.
I’m not an instructional designer and necessarily a teacher per se. This book has really helped me, and I highly recommend it. Julie, thanks for coming on the show.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah-
Chris Badgett: I wanted to start with where you started making the light bulbs go off for the education entrepreneurs out there. You talk about gaps and it’s not just about the information. When you’re designing a course or a curriculum, there’s more than just getting them the information.
You talk about a skills gap, a knowledge gap, a motivation gap, a habits gap and a communication gap. Can you elaborate on the gaps and how people can … I actually have three examples for you that I prepared for the show. Feel free to use your own, but I was just thinking about our audience here.
If anyone of these types of people is helpful in an example, feel free to use them or use your own. We have a lot of people building business courses where they’re helping people try to get from one level in business to another level through things like marketing or better business management or better HR, all kinds of courses in that vein.
We also have health entrepreneurs who are trying to help a specific segment. Let’s say a 40-year-old stressed out dad wants to get back in shape, that kind of course. Then a lot of relationship stuff like peaceful parenting type stuff. I’m just giving you some avatars there, but if we talk about gaps, how does that fit into the online course ecosystem?
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. Well, one of the biggest challenges we often have with online courses is almost all the online learning technology out there seems to imply that the basic unit of learning is a piece of information.
If I can just convey this piece of information, that will change things for people, but when we start to get into certain kinds of behaviors, we find out that it’s often information is not the gap.
If it was, all we would have to do is tell people that smoking can kill you and they’d stop smoking, but most people aren’t still smoking because nobody happened to mention to them that it’s a bad idea.
It’s not because somebody forgot to tell them or that they don’t have the information, there’s all this stuff going on. When we look at a particular objective, some behavior that we want people to be able to apply or do in the real world.
For example, in the small business realm, it might be something to do with tax accounting and that might be pretty procedural. We know exactly what performance needs to look like, we have a will to find rules that I just need to help you understand how to set up certain documentation and how to execute it correctly, how to pay your quarterly estimated taxes or something like that.
That’s really nice and clear cut and we know exactly what the rules are and that’s great. That can be taken care of as a knowledge or a procedural problem pretty easily, but then we start to move into some other areas like, “Oh gosh, in parenting, reinforcing the right behaviors with kids, without getting into a fight about it every single time. Let’s say that’s a behavior that we want somebody to deal.”
Well, there’s a whole bunch of stuff there, right? There’s knowing what a good method is, but then you’re also having to adjust it for the personalities involved, your personality, your child’s personality. Then there’s also some skill to it, you know good versions of that when you see it, but you can’t always say it would look exactly like this.
You would say these exact six things because you’re not, that’s not how it works, you’re going to adjust. That would be something that I would classify more in the skill area. Probably habits too. I’ve added habits to the list of things that come up because somebody can know the right thing to do, they can even have the ability to do it and it can still not be a habit.
When we look at trying to help people develop habits, there are some other strategies that we can employ there. Just depending on what it is, I usually do a process of analysis and I say, “Is this primarily a knowledge problem?” Honestly, it almost never is. Once in a while, but pretty rarely.
Is it procedural where we know the rules and I just need to learn how to do it? Okay. Is it skill-based where I … People just don’t get at it until they’ve practiced it some number of times. Is it habit where I need you to do it automatically in response to a particular trigger in the environment?
Is it motivation where you have all of the tools and yet the behavior still isn’t happening? When something is a motivation issue, then there’s a whole subset of reasons to look at that you can start to think about why would somebody be doing or not doing the right thing in those environments.
Sometimes it’s a communication issue or a case where fixing the environment is easier than trying to fix the person. There might be instances where instead of trying to teach people how to use this complicated setting on their iPhone, Apple should just make the setting easier.
Then people don’t really need to learn how to use it anymore. That can be a case where fixing the environment is better than trying to fix the person.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. In a quit smoking course, having people stop going to bars or coffee shops where people smoke is probably more important than the knowledge that smoking is bad.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I love the environmental fix.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, it is. Well, one of the best tools in the habit space is something called implementation intentions which is something … Studied by a researcher named Peter Gollwitzer. What they looked at is they’re like … If you have a plan ahead of time, when you get into a fraught situation, it’s much easier to respond.
If you are trying to quit smoking, you could have a series of plans for dealing with different triggers that might cause you to smoke. If I get a craving to smoke because I’m bored, I’ll play Candy Crush on my phone and if I get a craving to smoke because I’m in a social situation, I’ll chew gum and I’ll make sure I always have gum with me.
If I get a craving to smoke because I’m stressed out, I’ll call my sister. If I get a craving to smoke because it’s after lunch and I always used to smoke after lunch, I’ll take a walk around the building or something like that.
One of the best tools in the habit, the toolbox or habits is this idea of creating your plan ahead of time because then when you actually bump into these situations, you don’t need to figure out what to do. You know what the plan is, you just need to execute on it.
Chris Badgett: That makes a lot of sense. I was recently working on a case study of one of our really successful course creators at LifterLMS and it was a course about how to come into and out of gastric bypass surgery.
Julie Dirksen: Oh.
Chris Badgett: In the interview, he was talking about a very specific thing that he would teach people at a certain week after the surgery of what to do when you’re driving by some of the trigger things like fast food [crosstalk 00:08:13].
He was getting into that. That’s from somebody who was really successful and he wasn’t teaching information there. He was teaching about what to do when you’re triggered.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Badgett: That’s cool. I wanted to ask you. I as not a classically trained instructional designer, I do have a background in anthropology and sociology and communication and cultural stuff, that’s what I’m really into, but I have no formal training as a teacher.
As I’m trying to help these course creators with my software, I came across a framework that I would give, teach people to help them figure out like how to structure their course and I’m hoping I can share that with you.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Then if you could just comment it on it, potentially either add to it, make it better or present an alternative, that would be really cool.
Julie Dirksen: Sure.
Chris Badgett: But I call it there’s four course blueprints that people can pick from. Let’s imagine an expert who’s not a teacher. The four of those types of courses to think about which kind of course should I make, the first one is called the behavior change course which I know you can speak on.
Another one is called the learner process. The third one is called a … what I call a resource course which I think is the most dangerous. That’s where we just put all this great knowledge and a library of resources.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: The fourth one which is a new one that I see emerging that I’m not sure if it’s in category or not, but is a case study course where we’re really learning by deconstructing example, implementations or just by watching really deconstructing others.
The fifth one if you will will just be a hybrid that tries to blend a lot of that stuff together. What are some … How is that as a framework for the beginning course creator? What would you … How could you make it better? Am I missing a type or do you [crosstalk 00:10:11]
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, no, no, no. I think it makes sense. There’s some kind of nice things. I think you’re right about the resource course because I think it’s tempting to just have that be the kitchen sink thing and that’s one of the classic issues any course creators bump into.
You may or may not remember it from the book that I always use the analogy of like your brain is like a closet and one of the things that you do is that the more complex your understanding of a topic, it’s the more shelves than the bigger your closet gets.
You get somebody who’s a real expert in their area and they have like the beautiful California closet, right? I will often have people in my workshops who are musicians and I’ll be like, “Okay, well, tell me you’re a guitar player, great. How many different kinds of guitars do you know of? What kinds of genres do you think about? What’s all of the equipment that you need to maintain a guitar?”
All of those kind of stuff and they can tell me lots and lots and lots of information. I know nothing more about guitar playing and the average non-guitar player. Their closet is for guitars is incredibly well-developed.
If you hand them any piece of information about a guitar, they’re like, “Okay, it’s over here and it’s matched up to this it’s like this.” And they can classify it right away, but then what happens is that person is going to turn around and teach a course about guitars to somebody else who’s a novice, who’s genuinely new.
They love all the stuff on their shelves and they think it’s great, right? They want to take it all and give it to these people because look at all of this wonderful stuff, but then what happens is the person who’s the novice has the equivalent of one of those half-size gym lockers and maybe there’s one shelf on it.
When you take everything out of this big beautiful closet and you try to dump it on that person, they can’t handle it. They don’t know what to do with all of that information. The art of figuring it out is good structured ways that this person can make sense so that they can get a few pieces, get those filed away and then they can start to expand their own closet and their own understanding and add a few shelves.
Usually, the way that people do that is they do something with the information. Just handing them the information really doesn’t usually help anybody too much. Can, but generally the way that people start to really understand and build out their closets is that they actually interact with the information and they take action on it and they use it to do something and that’s what helps them start to understand it.
We know that from … There’s a nice research in the science learning literature where they look at physics principles and people could memorize the physics principle. They could recite it for you, but it turns out that they really couldn’t use it to say predict the path of an object or they didn’t really understand what to do with it until they’d gone to the process of using it to build something or using it to do an experiment or something like that.
Just knowing something is not the same as being able to use it to do something and you don’t really know it until you have had the opportunity to use it for something basically to the short version.
Chris Badgett: No, that’s good, that’s good. I want to ask you about a related topic here and I’m inside your book. You talked about the different levels of proficiency. I’m just going to read them off here. It’s familiarization, comprehension, conscious effort, conscious action proficiency and then unconscious competence. That master musician, that is unconsciously competent.
Julie Dirksen: Yup.
Chris Badgett: Things are just falling away and the closet is huge. What should our goal be as course creators? Are we supposed to make courses that adapt based on a level of the learner or should we do marketing and stuff so that we get the right person in that’s at the right stage so that we’re teaching to the right level? Maybe I’m over simplifying it there, but how do you deal with the proficiency problem?
Julie Dirksen: Probably the latter. You probably trying to make sure that you have the right people in the room because dealing with an audience with really [inaudible 00:14:39] proficiency is one of the hardest problems you ever deal with as a teacher or as an instructional designer.
There aren’t great solutions for it. You can use your really expert people in your class a resource for newer people and that’s usually the best option or you can give people the ability to pull information when they need it rather than making everybody sit through the same information.
If I give you a challenge and I give you a series of resources that you can use to answer that challenge, then you can pick how many resources you need in order to be able to answer the challenge and if you’re new, you probably need all of them, but if you’re a pretty expert, maybe you just check one real quick and keep going.
That’s a way to have the same experience be more variable for different audiences. It’s a tech problem though. Your best off if you have a narrow range in the classroom and then you can tailor the experience to those people. I realized that sometimes that’s hard because sometimes your audience is all the people and you have to deal with the issue of variability and so forth in the audience.
The levels there, frequently you’re dealing with … There’s a couple of different versions of that scale. I happened to like that one, but there’s the other ones, there’s the unconscious competence, conscious uncompetence, conscious competence, unconscious uncompetence. That’s another one, but I always think that one’s confusing to explain.
With this one, it’s like driving. Familiarities, you just learn what the controls are in the car and then you work your way up to things like conscious effort where you’re trying to succeed, but you’re not completely there conscious.
Conscious execution or when you even start to get to the point where you’re like, “Okay, now I’m getting, I got this, I think I can drive.” That was about the point where my dad let me out of the parking lot. I could actually drive around the block ones.
Proficiency is about the point where you would take the driver’s test and then unconscious competence is that thing where you drive home from work and you find yourself pulling into the drive and you realize you totally don’t remember the drive home at all [crosstalk 00:16:56]
Chris Badgett: But you didn’t crash?
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, you didn’t crash, but you were … You totally didn’t need to pay attention to the act of driving because it was a route you know and you’ve been driving such a long time that those things could just happen without you having to pay conscious attention to it.
Now, that’s not a realistic goal, that unconscious competence is not a realistic goal from most of the learning experiences we’re providing people. We’re trying to get to [crosstalk 00:17:18]
Chris Badgett: Because that’s the highest level, right?
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. People don’t get there until they practice so much that they can do it without thinking about it.
Chris Badgett: Do you believe in the 10,000 hours theory or whatever?
Julie Dirksen: It’s not 10,000 hours. The answer is it depends, so yes, but not … For certain kinds of things, it might be 2,000 hours. For other things, it might be 15. You’re going to get variability depending on the person.
That idea of 10,000 hours comes from research by a researcher named Anders Ericsson who has done, looked a lot at people who really get to that level of mastery with things like music education or he’s looked at how radiologists get trained to read x-rays and things like that.
One of the things we know in those instances is that people need to see a lot of examples to start to develop that expertise. For example, oh, if we go back to the parenting example. You might need to see somebody handling a difficult interaction with a child four or five or six times and see some variability around it before you start to go.
Okay, I see common elements, right? I start to see some pattern recognition that allows me to pick out some things that I can do for myself. When we’re dealing with something like that, whenever I’m working with a subject matter expert and they say, “Well, it’s hard to say that you know it when you see it, right?”
That kind of performance, you know that they learned it through seeing lots of examples and that that’s probably a learning experience we’re going to have to provide for our learners is how do they see lots of examples so that they start to go, “Okay, I’m starting to see the pattern. I’m starting to see what puts these things together and how it might work for my thing whatever it is.”
Chris Badgett: Which is how doctors are trained with residency and everything. Just time seeing the patients and the patients is part of the school.
Julie Dirksen: Yup, yup, lots and lots and lots of cases where they go through the diagnostic process.
Chris Badgett: I want to go back to the little locker and the concept of getting results. I’m a big proponent of what I call results-based learning and it’s one thing to get the information, but what people who buy courses and memberships and things like that is they really want some kind of result.
They don’t just … The information might help get them there, but how does a subject matter expert get better at not just providing information, but developing a curriculum that gets results along the way and ultimately delivers whatever the big results promises is?
What are they doing wrong and what should they consider adding to their thought process or curriculum design?
Julie Dirksen: Right. Well, the thing that I always start with when I’m working with somebody on a curriculum is what do really want people to do or be able to do? If I went and watched them in the environment and they were the doing the right thing, what would that actually look like? What actions would I see? What behaviors would I see? Because sometimes you get called in and they’re like, “We want a course on how to be really customer-focused.”
I’m like, “Okay, that’s great. That’s a nice idea. Sounds terrific. My view of what being customer-focused might be different than yours so tell me what somebody actually doing if they’re being customer-focused. What does that actually look like? What actions are happening?”
That is hard for some people to come up with. From there, you can say, “Okay, if that’s the action that people need to take, they need to make sure that they’re asking customers if there’s anything else they needed or something like that.”
Then you can take that and go, “Okay, what information do they need to support that action? What practice do they need to support that action? Is there a motivation issue that’s going to come into play there?”
All of those sorts of questions, but ultimately whenever I do learning objectives for something, I just have two criteria that I ask people to consider for those. The first one is would it happen in the real world and the second one is can you tell if they’ve done it.
I will get a learning objective like programmers need to understand the limitations of JavaScript as a programming tool. Then I’m like, “Okay, well that’s great. Sure, I’m sure that that’s a true statement.”
If they do understand the limitations of JavaScript as a programming tool, what do they do with that? When did they use that knowledge? Under what conditions? What are they using it to do? I’m like, “Oh, well, they would use it to evaluate whether it’s a good programming tool for a particular project.”
I’m like okay. Now, I have … This is the execution in the real world. They’re going to get a project and they’re going to decide is JavaScript a good tool for it or not, maybe be able to say here’s why. Okay, great.
Now, I have a visible behavior that tells me that probably I’m going to need case studies of different types of projects and one of the tasks I’m going to ask learners to do is evaluate JavaScript as a tool for those and think about why or why not and that that’s going to be an activity I’m going to want them to do in one of the lessons.
Being really, really clear about the behaviors because then you can start to think about what information supports those behaviors is better than saying I have all this information, let me just tell it to you because you’ll be able to do stuff with it and that’s where things frequently go array.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s super good. You have to reality check what does it look like in the real world if this is true.
Julie Dirksen: Yup.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. You mentioned a topic in your book. I was hoping you could elaborate on which is the difference between real versus perceived knowledge. This sounds like a …
Julie Dirksen: Oh yeah.
Chris Badgett: Is this a student problem or an expert problem or both?
Julie Dirksen: Everybody.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, human.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, it’s a human problem, I think that’s true. Probably animals have it too, but it’s … We understand certain things at different levels and one of the conventional wisdom is this idea that we all accept that creating these classes is often a really good learning experience for the person creating the class.
Chris Badgett: To teach is to learn.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, yeah, when you find out where all the holes are in your knowledge, you’re like, “I thought I understood that really, really well and it turns out that I have only about 50-50 on that.” When I was first out of college, I had a job teaching English as a foreign language and I was an English major.
I thought I do English pretty well and all of the sudden I’m like, “What is a past participle again?” Huh, I’m going to have to look that up or whatever the part of speech was, but there were whole bunch of things that like I knew how to save … I knew how to speak correctly and I knew how to save certain things, but boy, when it came to teaching it, I found out that yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I’m not as clear on as I probably should be if I’m going to be the expert and I’m going to be the teacher for these students.
That’s actually been born out on the research too. Karpicke and Blunt and a few other people. There’s another very good book called Make It Stick which goes through a lot of the research around learning. Some of the research that the authors of that book did was looking at what the best method for studying something was and they tested a couple of different conditions.
They had traditional studying where you might review notes or something. They did the mind mapping thing and then they did retrieval practice which was that people would test themselves and foreign away retrieval practice was the most successful way to learn because you think you know topics better than you really do when you’re just reviewing stuff, but then when it actually comes to the point where you have to be able to pull it out of your head in a coherent way, you’re like, “Oh, this is a lot spottier than I thought it was.”
Chris Badgett: Could you summarize what you mean by retrieval practice?
Julie Dirksen: Retrieval practice. Basically, trying to … If you know all the steps for CPR, can you write down all the steps for CPR?
Chris Badgett: I have to go in and pull it out? Yeah, I see.
Julie Dirksen: Pull it out and they had different methods for testing it I think whether it was writing stuff down or, but just establishing that you know it. Well, you were just doing that scale from familiarity all the way up to unconscious competence and I have explained that scale probably dozens and dozens of times and I was like, “Surely I know this cold.”
Then I’m like, “Nope. Nope, I don’t.” Because I usually have a slide in front of me when I’m going through this with people. I’m like, “Yup, that’s kind of appalling because I really should know that one.” I’m sure if I sat down and worked at it, I could actually come up with all the elements, but nonetheless I was like, “Whoa, I thought I knew that without any question.” It’s like, “Nope, nope, there’s some questions.”
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Julie Dirksen: We’re much more confident than we should be about certain knowledge.
Chris Badgett: I often talk in this podcast about the five hats problem, but I actually have it written on the wall in front of me because sometimes I can’t retrieve it especially when I’m on the spot like in live call or whatever, I’m like expert community builder, instructional designer, technologist entrepreneur. Sometimes I can’t get one and it’s not like all the way there even though I’ve said it on half the episodes on this podcast and here we are at 200.
Julie Dirksen: Yup.
Chris Badgett: Another one that you talk about is social learning. What does that mean to you? Where does that fit in?
Julie Dirksen: There’s a couple of different pieces that … First of all, people can learn a lot from each other and when they’re in an actual classroom and you’re doing group activities or something, there’s a lot of like, “Oh, somebody doesn’t understand some things.” Somebody who doesn’t understand it will quickly explain it to them while the activity is going on and things like that.
There’s all of this wonderful value and knowledge that’s in the learners in your environment, in your classroom whether it’s virtual or instructional or something like that, but you need something, you need some ways for people to be able to take advantage of all of that knowledge that they can share for each other.
Social learning is particularly great when you’re dealing with things like one-off situations where there isn’t necessarily written down right answer, but people can help them problem solve around a particular challenge that they’re dealing with or it’s really great when content, the material or the knowledge is always changing and evolving.
What’s the best system for processing credit card payments? The answer to that question is different as new players come into the field and this technology changes and all of those kinds of things. That answer is sometimes the best thing you can do is to throw, go out to the community or the hive mind or whatever it is and say who’s using what right now and what do you like about it and things like that.
Social media and all of these things are making it really feasible for us to learn stuff from other people in our environment, but really good learning environments have this element of community to them and this element of knowledge sharing and it’s a nice way to see a lot of examples or see what’s working for people. There’s just a lot of … There’s a lot of power there.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. I want to ask you about some of this very popular in the online world that we come across and part of our tool helps people with this is coaching and just to give a classic example, let’s say whether an entrepreneur course, if I’m teaching a certain type of business, how to go to a 100k to a million dollars, that’s my promise and I have a course, that’s like let’s say a $100 and then I have a course plus a six week coaching program and that’s a $1,000.
Then I have a done for you a service where I just make it happen for you that’s like the service. The way I just talk about that is the course by itself is the do-it yourself model, the course plus coaching is the done with you and then the service where the consultant comes in and just makes it happen, that’s the done for you.
If we’re going to add coaching to more of a passive static course, how can people who aren’t necessarily trained as coaches do that job? What is the job of a coach? Is that any different from the job of a teacher? I’m sure you’ve seen the coaching industry exploding and it’s like, “What’s going on here?” The quality is all over the place.
Julie Dirksen: One of the biggest challenges with the online is that it’s hard to get feedback on stuff that you’re doing because most online quizzes or something, it’s this recognition thing. I am given a set of choices and I choose the right answer and I find out if I’m right. That’s a much easier thing to do than to come up with the right answer on the spot, right?
If you were a given a list of your five hats, you would be able to pick out the right list without any problem, but you can’t necessarily always come up with all five of them just off the top of your head.
Recognizing is an easier activity than recalling or being able to generate a new answer to a particular problem or something like that. The problem with the more performance based thing even though that’s a better way to practice doing the thing, it’s hard to get feedback from a computer system.
You need a live person to give you feedback. When we get into the online learning space, you’re often … Let’s say you’re doing a course on how to do a business plan or something. In the online course, you may see some examples of other people’s business plans.
You might get feedback from an instructor, but it depends on how the course is structured, but if you’re coaching, you’re getting that … Hopefully, getting that feedback all the way along the path and people are helping you course correct and explaining when something is wrong and giving you options on what you can do and things like that.
You get that level of guidance and feedback and that’s really important. There is an art to good coaching and it’s probably people are offering coaching as a service. It’s probably something they should invest a little bit in learning how to coach well.
The best coaches don’t … Aren’t like, “Do this, do this, do this.” The best coaches help you figure out how to act in certain circumstances. Really, a good coach will ask you questions to lead you towards answers rather than just telling you the answer and there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s where … There’s some skills associated with being a good coach as well as just having expertise and being able to provide feedback on things.
Chris Badgett: Do you have any comments about the concept of the mastermind? I guess that goes into social learning a little bit, but it’s also popular like if you have these different levels of service and then let’s say one of the highest levels that you can engage with a particular expert is to go to some location, small group of people to have three day to seven day mastermind where they get together, what’s going … When learning is happening in a mastermind context, is there … Do you have any comments on that of where …
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. Whether or not that’s worth it, it’s something that you can evaluate in the absence of context or something like that, but there are some really nice advantages to that. One of the interesting things that we’re dealing with with a lot of online learning is just the challenge of focus.
Sometimes the fact that a retreat or class or something takes you out of your regular environment and helps separate you from your distractions is a service in and of itself that they’re providing to you is this help shutting out the noise of the daily world and actually being having clear space in order to really focus on stuff.
In that instance, obviously, you get access to an expert, but you also get access to other people who are hopefully approaching this at a pretty high level and so you get that social element as well. There’s several things about it that are really appealing. Whether it’s the right answer for everybody in every context, it really depends, but it’s an … I can see why it’s appealing to people.
Chris Badgett: You also mentioned that learners are different than you and that might be shelf space, shelf size and all the in closet.
Julie Dirksen: Right.
Chris Badgett: But you can speak to that a little more and also just to the learning styles because different people might have a different learning style than you.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. The big thing with learning styles is that most of the meta-analysis find the differentiated instruction which I realize is nerdy terms, but the idea that you would change the instruction depending on somebody’s learning style, the research has not supported that as a very good approach.
It doesn’t really … It rarely is worth the cost of doing it because you have to have different paths for different people and it turns out that what you really should do is just have a mix of styles in how you deal with stuff, probably is the most … the best use of resources in that particular instance.
Learning styles often go to the idea that you’re a visual learner or an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner. The truth is unless you’ve got some kind of disability that you’re dealing with, everybody’s a visual learner and an auditory learner and a kinesthetic learner.
Having a mix of approaches probably supports most of your learners. Obviously, if somebody’s hearing impaired or something like that, then that knocks that one of those channels, but for people who don’t have something like that, they’re everybody … Everybody learns from visuals.
Everybody learns from interacting with material, things like that. That was the first part of that question. Sorry, I lost it.
Chris Badgett: The first part just had to do with learners are different from you. Do you have any other comments besides the closet?
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, yeah, no. One of the things … I would say that I’m an instructional designer because I’m happy as long as I get to learn something new and it turns out it actually doesn’t matter very much what it is literally anything, like insurance procedure.
Sure, hey, that’s interesting how that works. Okay. Some topics get old faster than others, but nonetheless I will happily learn … I’ve learned about everything from how fuel, speed, density fuel injection works to cross cultural issues and healthcare to … Oh gosh. AIDS and HIV prevention to healthcare regulations.
It doesn’t matter. I’m happy learning about new stuff, I just enjoy that. The first time I realized that, “Oh, not everybody feels that way. Some people view learning a new thing is a chore that you have to make yourself do.
I’m like, oh, that is really useful information for me to bear in mind because I will get as nerdy and wonky about certain topics as you possibly can imagine. Not everybody feels that way. Not everybody is like, “I want to know all the random details of how that works.”
Keeping some of that stuff in mind, the other big issue with that is making sure that you’re testing stuff out with your learners that you’re tucking to people who are in your target audience that you can usability testing, you can get feedback because you’re always going to be designing a little bit in the tunnel of your own knowledge.
If you’re not figuring out some way to find out what’s working or what’s not working for your learners, you’re going to have blind spots. It’s just an inevitable part of designing anything.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. I want to talk to you about the difference between between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic being that you’re motivated from within, extrinsic means there’s like you have to do something. Perhaps I’m not describing that well, but if I’m talking to somebody about our software for example, if they say sometimes a question will come in like, “How do I make sure that somebody can mark the lessons complete until they finish watching the video?”
This is some kind of HR safety training course, mandatory something. Then the other people are like, “I’m trying to change this type of person’s life, can your software do X blah-blah-blah for social and coaching?” I can tell in a second like, “Oh, this is an intrinsic, extrinsic course.” Is it an either or proposition? I’m not saying it’s bad or good.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, no. It’s much more of a continuum. The dominant motivation theory which I have a little bit of in the second book. I don’t spend a ton of time on it, but is something called self-determination theory and the researchers are Edward Deci and Rich Ryan.
What they looked at is they said there’s three big things that motivate people. Sometimes it’s the feeling of mastery will motivate people. Sometimes it’s a feeling of autonomy, this feeling that they’re under control and sometimes that they have control over their own destiny.
Sometimes it’s the feeling of relatedness to other people and that those are the big motivators. When we look at extrinsic to intrinsic as a continuum, more intrinsic motivation is usually what’s considered better quality motivation.
For example, if I don’t reinforce you with all that often, you’ll still do it more if your motivation is intrinsic. Even if I’m not standing there going, you have to, people will still do it if it’s more intrinsically motivated.
All the way to intrinsic is people do it just because they like it. A friend of mine is a guitar player. He doesn’t care if anybody listens to him, he is just happy playing his guitar and he’ll sit at home on a Saturday afternoon on the couch and play this guitar for a couple of hours and it doesn’t matter.
He’s not doing it because people like it or people watch him. It’s not about the feedback from other people, it’s just he really enjoys that activity. Somebody else might play the guitar because they really like connecting with other musicians.
It’s a relatedness thing or somebody else might play the guitar because they like being a guitar player and that it has some status and people admire it or that they get applause or things like that. My friend on this couch is fully intrinsic, it’s just a satisfying activity all the way to more of an extrinsic thing all the way to the other end of the spectrum, somebody is a guitar player just because they think they can make a lot of money being a guitar player.
They don’t necessary care about guitar, but it’s the path to riches or something like that. That continuum, the further over towards intrinsic is usually the more durable the motivation is. Usually, you get better quality results from it.
If you try to start to use extrinsic or words around an intrinsic task, you can actually damage motivation. They didn’t experiment with kids. If you give kids markers and paper, they will draw you pictures. These pictures might be fabulous.
My godsend draws these Minecraft pictures and they’re crazy elaborate that there’s huge mazes. It takes him 10 minutes to explain one of these pictures because a guy falls in the pit with the spikes and then swings across and then all the things.
It’s this beautiful, elaborate colorful picture, but then when they did this experiment, if they just let the kids draw, the kids draw it was great, but then they started giving the kids money, a quarter for every picture that they drew.
What happened was first of all, the kids ultimately drew less pictures because they got tired of it because it turned into work, but then also the quality, the pictures diminished quite a bit. Instead of these beautiful elaborate pictures, you’d get a circle.
They’d be like, “Here, where’s my quarter?” Using extrinsic motivators which is either the reward or some kind of course or compliance, “You have to do this, we won’t let you move on until you watch the whole video.” Works, but you have to keep the pressure up the whole time, otherwise the behavior will stop.
You also create resentment in your users because it really goes against their feeling of autonomy because they feel like somebody’s externally trying to control them and they’ll resist that. The self-determination theory has come up before in this podcast.
Chris Badgett: Do you think it’s pretty rock solid as a motivational framework? Is there anything you’d add to it or you just find it to be …
Julie Dirksen: It’s the gold standard right now in terms of motivation theory. Most of the people that I really respect in the behavior chain space are absolutely clear on it and most of the research that I’ve seen I feel pretty good about. We’re having this issue in social sciences where everything is getting beaten up now.
They’re finding that lots of studies that people accepted for a long time are not holding up when they try to replicate things like that. We’ve got this whole crisis in social sciences around things we thought we understood pretty well are starting to look a little wobbly.
Chris Badgett: What’s an example of that?
Julie Dirksen: Oh gosh. Daniel Kahneman is a behavioral economist. He won the Nobel prize last year, the year before or something like that. He’s one of the grandfathers of behavioral economics. He printed something, this website called or retraction org. One of those, I could find it, but he … There was some research in there about priming effect.
It was this research where they gave people these world problems. Some of the word problems were loaded with words about elderly people. Then they thought that those people after they had been reading these words about elderly people and they’re doing these word games, they’re not consciously … It’s not like they say, “Here, have a list about old people.”
They were just hidden in the task, but the people who had gotten primed with more words about elderly people walked more slowly and things like down a hallway to turn in their sheets or things like that. It’s this idea that you could prime somebody with lots of images about the elderly and change their behavior about it.
It turned out that that one didn’t hold up terribly well. Another one that’s gotten beaten up recently is the marshmallow study. It’s just the idea that if you …
Chris Badgett: In front of kids?
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. With the kids, right? If you can wait, you get two marshmallows, but if you can’t wait … You can have the one marshmallow now or you can wait and get two marshmallows. It’s been used as evidence of that will power and grit is a predictor of success and all of those kinds of things.
The most recent thing that’s come out just in the last month or two about that one is that when they tried to replicate it, they actually found a correlation with economic status of the families. If you come from a family where there’s more money in the households, you’re more willing to wait for a reward which actually makes sense.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Julie Dirksen: Also, having more money in the household can also be a predictor of several of those things like success and economic achievement and all of those kinds of things. We don’t know if it’s really will power that A, we don’t know if it was really will power that conveyed success and B, we’ve got a conflation variable with economic status.
Things we thought we understood pretty well are now like, “Yeah, maybe. Maybe not.”
Chris Badgett: That’s interesting. One more question for you and this is from somebody in our community. There’s an idea that you can do a course or a coaching program or a membership or combination that creates results in the short-term and then there’s this other idea that you can do the same thing, but create a life-long transformation.
If I were to use this specific example, if we look at the 40-year-old stressed out dad thing, maybe it’s something like the result would be, “I’m going to train you through my online course on how to run your first marathon.” But then let’s say after the course is over, the marathons happen, it’s awesome, but it slips back into old habits.
Whereas transformation of like, “I’m going to teach you … I’m going to get you in better shape or get you on a regular exercise routine and by the way, you’re going to run a marathon along the way.” It’s a life-long transformation. What’s the difference in the curriculum design there?
Julie Dirksen: Oh wow, the ladder is almost like therapy for exercise. I actually was just talking to somebody about this this morning where you’re framing of something like exercise, “Is it something you get to do or is it something that you have to do?”
If it’s something you have to do, I might be able to coach you through that have to framework, but if it can be something that I actually help you learn to enjoy and like doing, that’s going to again be a much more durable way of focusing on it.
People who focus on exercise for losing weight or getting in shape or something like that which are the far-flung goals, that tends to not be as durable as, “Hey, let’s find some activities that you really enjoy doing and that make you … That you get some immediate benefit for.”
If I get to go for a walk in the afternoon, I’m more relaxed for the rest of my day or something like that or it’s a treat because I live right by the Mississippi and it’s beautiful there right now. If I get to go for a walk, that’s something pleasurable I get to do as opposed to I have to go exercise now.
If we can change how you frame something so that you are actually now looking for opportunities to do that kind of stuff as opposed to I just dragged you kicking and screaming through it, then we’re much less likely to see that kind of … That backslide thing and things like that.
Chris Badgett: That’s really interesting. I train for a marathon and I’ve run a marathon before, but I have a morning routine where I go for a morning walk or run and I enjoy it, I like being outside in nature and walking my dogs and stuff like that, but what actually motivates me to do it is I’m a podcast junkie. I get an hour of having my mind exercise [crosstalk 00:49:56]
I was listening to you this morning on a health and fitness podcast, I forgot the name of it, otherwise I’d say it, it was for a podcast targeting personal trainers.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, it was Lift the Bar I think.
Chris Badgett: That’s it.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: But that’s super enjoyable to me. That’s how I have … It’s interesting the way you frame that. That’s what I got the habit installed, not just the goal of running a race one time.
Julie Dirksen: The sooner we get a reward, the more powerful it is. If we push rewards out into the future or consequences out in the future, we’ll discount them and that’s again the principle from behavioral economics. I see that is the common element for all of the difficult behaviors.
Typically, if you start running to run a marathon, you get some positive feedback along the way and that you keep seeing your endurance build up and you keep seeing you’re making progress and run longer and longer distances, but then once it’s done, you’ve hit your goal and there’s nothing to continue to put you forward unless you become somebody who runs lots of marathons or things like that, but what you’re describing with the podcast, that pays off right away. You get something pleasurable immediately out of the experience and that’s …
Chris Badgett: Cleaning and doing the dishes. That’s what gets me … I fight over doing the dishes with my wife because you know what? I’m going to pop these in and learn something.
Julie Dirksen: Nice.
Chris Badgett: I might even slow down a little bit and make things extra clean.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah. No, a friend of mine and I have started doing a phone call clean our house together and it’s great because we can just hang out and chat with each other, but we also get our houses clean and it’s really a fantastic arrangement.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome. Well, Julie Dirksen, she is the author of Design for How People Learn second edition. You’re at How else can people find out about you or connect with you?
Julie Dirksen: I will have some online courses available some time later this year. Hopefully by the end of the year at and there’ll be courses on instructional design. Then I’m also on Twitter which my Twitter handle is @usablelearning.
Then I have a Facebook group for the book. There’s a Facebook group called Design for How People Learn. There’s lots and lots of really smart people engaging in social knowledge sharing on the Facebook group too.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Julie Dirksen: I think that’s everything. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: Cool. Well Julie, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom and expertise with us. You that’s listening, I’d encourage you to listen to this one again because there were lots of nuggets of wisdom in there. Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.
Julie Dirksen: Yeah, thanks for having me. This has been fun.
Chris Badgett: That’s a rap for this episode of LMScast, I’m your guide Chris Badgett. I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by LifterLMS, the number one tool for creating, selling and protecting engaging online courses to help you get more revenue, freedom and impact in your life.
Head on over to and get the best gear for your course creator journey. Let’s build the most engaging results getting courses on the internet.

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