EPISODE 47 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST:
For many listeners, today’s guest needs no introduction. He’s the closest thing we have to a rockstar in the professional learning community.
That’s right – I’m talking about Dr. Karl Kapp. He’s a Professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University and the author of 8 popular books on topics like microlearning, gamification and learner engagement.
Today, we discuss his latest venture, the Learning and Development Mentor Academy. This subscription-based learning community combines on-demand course workshops, monthly “hot topic” live sessions and an online peer forum – all designed to help seasoned L&D professionals succeed in their careers.
Kick-starting this learning community has been an educational experience in its own right for Karl, as he explains in this interview…
- The opportunity for subject matter experts to educate others has never been better – especially with specialized platforms that help SMEs set up, launch and scale online courses.
- Developing course content is only one piece of the online training business puzzle. Appropriate pricing, packaging and promotional strategy are just as important.
- An iterative, trial-and-error approach can help. In fact, for subscription-based businesses, member input can help guide key decisions at launch and beyond.
Welcome back, Karl. Tell us about your latest project, the L&D Mentor Academy?
Actually, the L&D Mentor Academy was born a little bit out of frustration.
All of us go to learning community conferences where we meet people and have great conversations.
But then we go back to work and never see those people again. Or we get great information at the conference, but we’d like to explore it in more depth.
And because I attend so many conferences, I constantly get email requests of all kinds. People ask if I offer a course about a topic I’ve discussed, so they can dig deeper. Or they ask me to look at a game they’re developing.
But if I did that all day, all I’d be doing is looking at people’s games. And of course, I want to do that, but it’s not possible. So I started thinking about how I could scale this mentoring aspect of my work. How could I expand a one-time experience into a one-year relationship? How could I bring that all together in one place?
And then as I explored this concept with people, it became clear that, rather than just publishing online courses, I should build a learning community.
What does that look like?
Well, the idea behind the L&D Mentor Academy is to help members focus on three aspects of their lives:
1) What’s going on in learning science
2) What’s going on in the industry
3) Their personal platform or personal growth
That third category actually spans a variety of topics, for example:
- How to prepare so you can present at a conference
- How to develop a book proposal
- How to think about innovation
- How to plan your career roadmap or
- How to move to the next level and beyond, if you’re a mid-career professional
And actually, that counseling and mentoring niche is really important to our members. So I put together a process that fills this gap and helps me build and grow this learning community from an organic perspective.
Yeah, it’s been fun. Interestingly, many different types of people are involved now. For example, several academics have joined. We also have people from Fortune 100 companies as well as small companies. And we have individual consultants and people from the non-profit world.
This diversity has surprised me a little bit, but it’s really gratifying and exciting.
Makes sense. So, for others who may be thinking of launching an online learning business based on their expertise, tell us how you took that giant leap from idea to reality?
Well, it was not a straight line. There definitely were missteps.
Initially, I thought it would make sense just to create courses and publish them online. I did that and offered the courses at a price that was much too high, so nobody cared.
It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the right approach.
But I’ve done courses with companies like Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning, and I knew how to produce a video course. So I set up a studio in my basement and built video courses for some companies, which helped me pay for the equipment.
Well, then I had videos, but I needed some kind of learning management system so I could scale the business. And I didn’t want something that companies use for employee training because they often charge by the learner. So the price point was a little too high for me.
Instead, I explored options like Teachable and Thinkific. And I landed on LearnWorlds.
It has a couple of things I like:
1) LearnWorlds has lots of video tools, and I want to rely on video because it feels very intimate. It’s like you’re sitting across the table talking to someone, as opposed to clicking through a course.
2) Many other useful tools are integrated into LearnWorlds. Stripe payment processing. Zoom video conferencing. And they include email tools, so I can easily send messages to everyone.
3) There’s also a built-in home page and landing page toolset, which I prefer.
4) Community management tools are included, as well. And I prefer that to Slack.
5) Also the pricing was really reasonable. Of course, the longer you’re a member, the more they want to charge you. But that’s OK because once you get members, you can afford the infrastructure.
You say you wanted to create video content because of its personal nature. What does that look like? Are these videos set up in learning paths? Or…?
My goal is to offer four online workshops a year. So I develop a content outline. Then for each subject, I create a series of short videos – 2 to 5 minutes long. Then I post them in the Academy with a brief text introduction.
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I also include two questions: What do you want to get out of this course? And what subject are you working on right now that you’ll keep in mind as you go through this course?
I ask this because I want members to apply what they learn. So it’s real.
How long does it take to complete a course?
There’s a little over an hour of content in each course. But research shows that people retain more when taking handwritten notes, so I want people to get that visceral experience of writing on paper. That’s why every course is accompanied by a workbook and some knowledge checks along the way.
So, if you go through all the content, along with the workbook and quizzes, you’ll need two or two-and-a-half hours.
In addition to courses, I host live online discussions once a month. And between those sessions, the community forum is available for chat and networking with other people. Also, every 90 days we challenge members to do something specific to advance their careers.
So the academy is not just about one or two pieces. It’s really the gestalt that makes this academy valuable. And people are telling me that the community is driving their involvement.
Was this more like rapid prototyping, in that you were designing it and figuring it out at the same time? Or did you have a plan you tried to operationalize, and then realize you had to change course?
The business started really slowly. It took me about a year and a half to get the right pricing and application process, to get it in front of the right people, and to get all the other elements ready to go.
Definitely, having a plan would have been a really good idea. But I didn’t write down a plan because people were already asking me for this kind of information. So I felt that the courses were valuable. And then I made adjustments on the fly by kind of feeling the right audience.
Originally, I thought this would appeal to people who were just starting their careers. But that wasn’t the right audience for me. So with that feedback, I decided to make some adjustments. And when I readjusted the focus, it worked.
The neat thing is that this learning community is member-driven. I’m here to facilitate it, but members need to tell me what they want.
I outline for them what I expect to do over the next 12 months and the courses I’m going to create. Then I ask, “What am I missing?” And their feedback guides me.
Nice. How did you decide on your initial pricing? And what was your thought process in recalibrating?…