How to Use the Fibonacci Sequence for Instructional Design

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The way an online course is designed has a big impact on how engaged students will be with the material and whether they will complete the course. In this LMScast Joshua Millage and Chris Badgett discuss how to use the Fibonacci sequence for instructional design to set the pace for your course.

Keeping students engaged and motivated can be a challenge for teachers, and your course completion rate could suffer if the cadence of your content does not match with students’ interest levels and how they naturally learn. If you deliver your content too slowly, students could become bored and lose interest. But if you deliver too much content all at once, students could become overwhelmed.

Students are the most interested and motivated right after they’ve decided to take a course, and that motivation settles down as the course goes on and students are consuming your content. The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers where the next number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers. Starting with 1, the sequence is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. This sequence occurs frequently in nature, such as in the spirals of a snail’s shell and the arrangement of seeds on a sunflower.

Using the Fibonacci sequence for instructional design will match well with the way students naturally learn and their interest levels. And you can build the sequence into your course by dripping content in this type of pattern, with more content delivered at the beginning of the course and then slowly spacing the content out a bit more as the course goes on.

LifterLMS is a learning management system plugin for WordPress that has built-in functionality to handle drip content and engagement. You can use the system to space out your content, automatically email students to encourage engagement, and award badges and certificates for lesson or section completion. You can try a demo of LifterLMS here to see for yourself what it can do for you.

To learn more about using the Fibonacci sequence for instructional design and to see a diagram of how it can be applied, you can sign up for a free LifterLMS course here. You can also post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast.

Thank you for joining us.

And if you’re an already successful expert, teacher or entrepreneur looking to grow, check out the LifterLMS team’s signature service called Boost. It’s a complete done for you set up service where your learning platform goes live in just 5 days.

Episode Transcript

Joshua: Hello, Everyone. Welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m Joshua Millage, and I’m joined today with the very dapper Christopher Badgett. Less of the mountain man Christopher Badgett and more of the suave, debonair sort of … Is that a suit, Chris?

Christopher: It’s just a suit jacket and a western shirt. I actually have three of these, that’s one of the things I do to mellow out on decision fatigue is I wear this shirt a lot. We were just at the Infusionsoft Conference. I don’t know if you realized, but I had two of the same pair of jeans and two of the same shirt.

Joshua: There you go, Man. Why waste mental energy deciding what you’re going to wear? I think Steve Jobs did that, too.

Christopher: Did he really?

Joshua: Yeah. That’s his black mock turtleneck. That’s hilarious. Today we’re going to be talking about something kind of fun. It’s something that I’ve picked up on after going through tons and tons and tons of different courses, and it’s how to pace a course so that you leverage someone’s inherent motivation that comes with signing up for a course. I remember in college, the first couple of weeks of class you’re the most engaged and most motivated, especially if the teacher is bringing the heat in that sort of time frame, they’re telling you how the course is going to benefit you and help you and that sort of thing.

So in looking at motivation in instructional design, I’ve picked up on a little math equation or sequence called the Fibonacci sequence, which is essentially a sequence that says, it’s like 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, it’s whatever the previous number is, you add it to the next number. 1 and then another 1, and then the next number would be 2, because it’s adding the previous two. The next one would be 3, next one would be 5, next one would be 8, and so forth. I have found that that sequence, that Fibonacci sequence, is actually a really good pace to do drip courses in a course.

A lot of people I don’t think spend a lot of time thinking about the cadence of their content. They’d spend a lot of time just thinking about the content and that’s important, but even if you have great content and you don’t think about the pacing of it, the completion rate could suffer. I think that especially in the online world when you don’t have a lot of people surrounding you, you don’t have that community that can help motivate you and keep you accountable, it’s important to understand that people when they make that action, that buy action or that enroll action, that initial action, that is when they’re going to be the most motivated, because they’ve gotten over the hump and all the psychological whatever about the course, and they said, “Yes.” They told themselves, “Yes. I’m going to take this course,” on whatever it is.

Knowing that, you want to give them a bunch of good stuff, a bunch of stuff that’s really actionable, really important to whatever the course is immediately. You can give it more in that moment than you can a week later. I have found that using that 1, 1, 2, 3 type of methodology works with days or weeks depending on the length of your course, but I’ve even seen it with a couple really all-star web entrepreneurs who create courses. Eben Pagan does a really good job in his Wake Up Productive course where when you buy the course, you get an hour and a half video that goes through the entire where we’re headed, where we’re going, then you get the next five days, you have five fast-start videos, and then after you have the five fast-start videos then you have twelve weeks of one video a week.

Christopher: Settles down.

Joshua: It settles down quite a bit, but that’s manageable. I was motivated that first day, and I’ll consume an hour and a half in that first week, I’ll go through every day, and then I’ll pace out and I’ll actually want to … I like to look forward to the next video instead of like, “Oh man, this is just a mountain of content I got to mole through, and there’s so many exercises and so many quizzes and so many things.” It’s more of, “Wow, that was really good. I’m going to put that into action. Wow, I’m getting benefits. Aw man, the next video’s going to be awesome too.”

Christopher: That’s awesome. That’s thinking like a learning management system and less like a membership site.

Joshua: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing, like when this episode goes out, what should the URL be? We’ll do … What’s a fun word?

Christopher: Fibonacci.

Joshua: That’s a hard one to spell though. Let’s do pace.

Christopher: Okay.

Joshua: Like the salsa.

Christopher: All right.

Joshua: That’s an easy one. If you’re listening to this in your car, you can head over to, or if you’re on the YouTube video just look at the link in the description. What we’ll do is we’ll have a layout of what this looks like in terms of like a diagram, but I’ll also host a webinar to show people how they can build this Fibonacci sequence into their courses using LifterLMS, because our feature with our engagement functionality allows you to set this up really easily. You don’t have to do anything else, you can …

Christopher: In our drip.

Joshua: Yeah. You can drip the content, and then you can actually send emails out based on when that drip content goes out and say, “Hey, this video’s available now. This video’s available now. Or this course or this lesson or whatever it is is available now.” I think people will see a dramatic increase in completion of their courses and engagement throughout their course, because they’re not overwhelming people.

Christopher: LifterLMS has the badges and the emails and the certificates that can happen, so maybe part of that too is like, it’s okay to be a little heavy on the engagements earlier in the course, but then maybe back off as it goes, so that people don’t feel overwhelmed like, “Whoa. I’m getting too many emails from this person.” That’s really fascinating. I just want to bring up in nature if you’re looking for a visual of the Fibonacci, the way the shell of a snail forms in that spiral is calculated … You see the Fibonacci sequence in nature all the time. It’s also the way the florets or the head of the broccoli form. It’s just one of those universal sacred geometry, if you will, things that exist in nature. It’s totally natural that that would make sense for learning as well.

Joshua: Yeah. I found that all the courses that I seemed to enjoy and get through and implement have some sort of pacing that follows this sort of structure. They give a lot of information on the beginning, and then it kind of tapers out over time. Based on engagement though, the cool thing is you get to reset this if someone decided to sign up for another course. It’s like in email marketing, the Fibonacci sequence works really, really well for email marketing, where if someone initially signs up, you can hit them with a few extra emails than you would later down the road, but if they opt in for another eBook or another lead magnet or something else later down the road, then they’re showing, “Hey, I’m raising my hand again. I really like what you’re doing, I’m interested again.” You can email them a little bit more again and then taper it back based on behavior.

Christopher: That’s really awesome. In a learning management system, it’s not just about the tool, it’s about that fourth dimension of time, and that’s a really powerful rubric or metric you’re giving us to think about how to deal with time and how the learner learns and how they want to be engaged in a natural way. That’s awesome, Josh.

Joshua: Yeah. I think it’s a really important concept to take ahold of, because everyone has gone through a class I think at some level where it just seemed to drag on. It was really, really boring, and that sort of thing. You could actually hide the lessons that are not so exciting when you use this, because you’re not blasting people with content, you’re not overloading them with content. You can take a lesson that’s not as fun, and you can put it into sequence maybe at the beginning where people are most motivated or later down the road, but you’ve given some people some time to digest the previous lesson, so when they get to that one, they’re ready to go.

Tony Schwartz says it best, we grow through periods of intense focus, and it’s like exercise, you grow through intense weight lifting or whatever you’re doing and then rest. Then you engage again and rest, and that pendulum swing, that back and forth is really important, especially in learning, because sometimes I’ll read something, and whatever it is, marketing or spirituality or whatever subject matter that I’m reading at that point in time, and doesn’t sit in until months later.

The thing about that kind of begs a question is, would I get more out of that content if I read it and chewed on it, or if I just continued to move from the next book to the next book to the next book and just pound it in my brain with more information. I find that it’s just really important to take time to process and write your thoughts out about the material and that sort of thing. That’s when the pendulum swings, and then I’m ready for the next chapter or the next book or whatever it is.

It’s exciting stuff, I really like motivation when it comes to learning, because I don’t think that in the post-industrial era we’re doing a good job of … I don’t think we’re doing a good job yet of understanding how the human mind works and how we can actually observe that and then utilize that for increased learning and education. You experienced that too with your daughters, right? I mean, they’re unschooled, and they’re very motivated around what they want to learn and they take it in, right?

Christopher: Absolutely. In that model, the child leads the learning. They show what they’re interested in, and like you’ve mentioned, there’s these periods of intense fascination with power tools or hammers or certain types of gardening methods or identifying plants or picking flowers, and then it kind of wanes out, but it doesn’t go away, it just continues to evolve, but definitely at the moment of introducing a new thing to get excited about, which they often find on their own, there’s this intense focus where it goes really deep, and it’s almost … I think it’s one of the things that the traditional education system doesn’t handle very well, because it’s more like a set curriculum, 1’s and 0’s, student enters the machine and so on. That’s a really cool insight you’re giving there.

Joshua: Yeah. I’m sure when they first get interested in something, you can throw everything you have at them, and they’re fine with it.

Christopher: Yeah.

Joshua: When they start to wane, it’s like, “Well, what’s the point?”

Christopher: You don’t want to force it.

Joshua: Yeah.

Christopher: Make the negative space for something else to come in and enter the quiver of experience and knowledge.

Joshua: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m going to definitely do a webinar around this and lay out a whole step-by-step system that people can implement and use LifterLMS to pace their courses in this way. You can find information about that at P-A-C-E, just like the salsa. So, Chris, do you have any final thoughts for the crew here?

Christopher: I think you had a really good point, just like a pro tip … There’s this expression to sell people what they want, but give them what they need. Whenever we’re teaching something, there’s often these unsexy or less exciting elements that you need to get in there to round out the learning. That maybe, like you were saying at the beginning, if there’s a few of the more busywork or less fun things to do, squeeze that stuff in at the beginning, get it out of the way when motivation’s the highest. If you’re going to put it in later, trickle it in a little bit at a time.

Joshua: Yeah, like this Wake Up Productive course I’m talking to you about, he had all these quick starts or stuff that I don’t really want to do. I don’t really want to sit around for twenty minutes and write everything that’s jumbling around in my head. I don’t really want to prioritize the top ten things I need to get done in the next ninety days. I don’t. I don’t have any interest in doing that. It’s not that I don’t see that it’s important …

Christopher: You just started the program.

Joshua: I just started the program, so I’m doing it. You ask me in a couple weeks, I’d be like, [negative sound effect]. Then the consistency that I had with the cadence is off, and that’s no good, so I really respect Eben in what he does in terms of how he paces and designs his courses, and I think it’s really important, very important to do the same.

Cool. Well, that’s it for this episode. Until next week, we’ll talk to you then.

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