One of the most common concerns I hear from people creating their own online courses is a fear of overteaching.

They worry that they’re stuffing their curriculum with too much information.

Or they have a dump truck full of good knowledge but no real way to organize and cull what their learners actually want to know. 

The underlying concern is that learners will get overwhelmed by too much information and give up on the course.

For coaches and service providers who really care about helping their students transform some corner of their lives (and not just making a quick buck), the dreaded Incomplete can be super demoralizing.

(Now I’ll be the first to argue that watching videos and checking off boxes in Teachable is not a reliable indicator of how well someone has learned the material, but that’s a topic for another time.)

So how do you make sure you’re not cramming too much into your online course?

Start with the end in mind.

The simplest way is to utilize a backward-design process:

  1. Set a desired outcome for the course.
  2. Determine a way to measure that outcome.
  3. Work backwards to select necessary knowledge and instructional methods.

When you start with the end in mind, it is often much easier to determine what students actually need to learn. If you were teaching someone how to make a dress using a particular pattern, what do they need to know how to do? Well, they need to know how to sew pieces of fabric together. To do that, they need to know how to cut fabric using a pattern. They also need to know how to operate a sewing machine. Do they need to know all the manufacturing details of a particular fabric type? Probably not, though they would probably appreciate suggestions for what kind of fabric to choose for this particular dress.

As you start to build your course, determine a specific outcome you want learners to achieve by the end. Make sure it’s specific and measurable. I like to use the prompt, “Students will be able to…”

Too Vague

I want to teach people about digital marketing.


I want to teach people how to post consistently on social media.

Even Better

Students will be able to create and implement a content calendar that leads to sales or bookings.

Tailor your teaching to a specific starting skill level.

Nothing’s worse than sitting through a lecture about things you already know, except maybe delivering a lecture to a room of bored students who have already heard it before. Just as thorny is the opposite problem: when everything you teach goes right over everyone’s head.

You can avoid this by determining what your learners already know about the topic before they start. If everyone in the group understands the background knowledge, there’s no need to spend (too much) time going over it. And don’t rely solely on self-assessment for this! People may think they know more than they do, or understand certain concepts differently than you. Put together a pre-course quiz or ask for a work sample so you can gauge where everyone’s starting. You can always link to external resources for those who need to brush up.

In some cases, I might even suggest taking this one step further and marketing your course specifically for people with a certain skill level. Not that you need an entrance exam necessarily, but some sort of vetting process might be justified, especially for high-ticket, big-commitment offers. 

Teach with integrity.

If someone is genuinely not ready for the level of work your course requires, whether because their business isn’t mature enough or they don’t have the time to commit or the skill gap is so wide that they’re going to struggle the entire time, letting them in is unlikely to result in the transformation they want. You’ll likely have to provide them more support than you planned for, perhaps at the expense of your other learners. You might even have to deal with refunding a disappointed student after you’ve already put a lot of time and energy into supporting them. As someone who has both told clients and been told to come back to an offer later, I think being honest about whether you can help someone is more important than making a sale.

Provide layers of learning.

My final suggestion for avoiding overteaching is to create a layered curriculum with options for support and extra learning. (These layers also make a offer stack!) 

Someone learning to make a dress might indeed want to know all the details about different fabric types because they’re planning to make an entire wardrobe or even start their own tailoring business. Rather than drag everyone else through a fabric catalog, you could add an extra module or offer an individual or smaller group tutoring session for an upcharge. You can also offer additional support for those who are starting a bit behind the curve or just want some extra reassurance and confidence. This could be a VIP tier with 1:1 coaching or personalized review of their work. To make this easier to market, provide guidance for how to determine which option is right for each person. 

Everything is an experiment.

It can be hard to know what people need to know about your topic right out of the gate. This is why I always suggest running a live beta run of any course before you turn it evergreen and/or self-paced. Teaching live lets you see where the skill and knowledge gaps are, and you can help that first group bridge those gaps so that you have happy, transformed students afterward who can provide bubbly social proof and glowing referrals.

Plan your online course with ease

Use the 4 Essential Elements of Teaching to plan your online course! This interactive worksheet can be reused to plan all of your transformational learning experiences.

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Plan your online course with ease

Use the 4 Essential Elements of Teaching to plan your online course! This interactive worksheet can be reused to plan all of your transformational learning experiences.

Check your email to confirm your subscription and get your interactive worksheet!

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