When You Over Teach You Overwhelm
I heard Pam Hendrickson speak at a conference. She’s, the former Tony Robbins Executive VP of Content and Product Development, and I was impressed. By this I mean impressed enough to grab her book, “The Art of Impact: How to Use Content Marketing the Right Way to Build Your Brand, Grow Your Business and Make a Difference,” and I actually read it.
Chapter 7 of her book delivered an important lesson I just had to share. Take a look at a quote from that section describing what happens when a learner gets more information than they can absorb:
Point 1 – okay, makes sense.
Point 2 – I’m with you.
Point 3 – nice.
Point 4 – interesting…I might remember that later.
Point 5 – wait, what were the first two points again? I already forgot.
Point 6 – I really hope that my subconscious is absorbing all of this and that it will come back to me when I need it.
Point 7 – I wonder how many rooms are in this place? If everyone in this entire event is staying here, and everyone paid the same rate I did, wow – this hotel is making some great money.
Point 8 – did I remember to feed my dog this morning?
Point 9 - focus brain, focus…I really want to learn this.
Point 10 – I hope we get the handout that summarizes all this.
This is the brain on overwhelm.
Anyone teaching needs to keep students from getting overwhelmed. You need to keep them moving through the most important topics and not necessarily “ALL” topics. You cannot cram all the information in there. You can chop it up into smaller bites that run in a series as a possibility, but if you vomit everything you know, don't expect it to work.
You do have to have your learning objectives and you have that competing with your need to keep the student out of overwhelm. This is critical since the number one reason students fail to finish an online course is they get overwhelmed.
- They get that deer in the headlights feeling.
- They can’t make progress.
- They don’t know how to get unstuck.
- They cancel.
Cancelling is worse than is sounds because now they are thinking, “Taking this course was a mistake.” They will likely blame you for not teaching well and disappointing them. They did want to learn what it was you were teaching them.
To keep students moving in any online course, you need to give a good road map. This is a step-by-step students believe they can follow. If there’s difficulty up ahead, you have to warn them and keep them moving. Note that a difficult lesson doesn’t mean they'll get overwhelmed. You can always raise a red flag so students know, “Something difficult is coming up and here is how you prepare and get through it.” If a student feels supported, they’ll do fine. They just need a way to get past a tough lesson.
The overwhelm issues that most concern me come up when you offer choices the student cannot make. For example, let’s say you are building a course on promoting your business online and you list out the options. That can include:
- Facebook ads,
- organic search,
- content marketing,
- Google Adwords,
- YouTube ads,
- requesting referrals,
- recording webinars, and
- cold calling.
This is already a long list. Let’s say you include the pros and cons associated with each one. Because you know the material well, you think by explaining the pros and cons, your students have what they need to pick one. What often happens is they students freeze and start asking themselves:
- Which one should I use first?
- Should I experiment with paid search first? How much do I spend?
- Is organic search right for me? Is it realistic based on my budget?
- What is content marketing?
- Could I really do a webinar? How much of that is copywriting, video production versus video editing?
You see where I’m headed? The student wants to know how best to proceed and wants your help making the call.
Supposed you instead give an overview of the options followed by a questionnaire that recommends, based on their answers, what to do next. This is a great way to work with them to make a decision and keep them move. You just kept them out of overwhelm.
What’s important is they see you as the expert and you are delivering. You provide them with the expertise to get the answer they need and keep them moving through the learning process.