Episode 82: Instructional Design for Marketers

Episode 82: Instructional Design for Marketers

What is instructional design? Courses are part of an effective marketing strategy, but are marketers missing out on key insights into the way people learn and retain knowledge?


Learning expert Lindsay Kirsch explains the importance of active learning environments, and how marketers can fortify their educational content with the right tools and processes to increase engagement and boost results for their audience.
Lindsay Kirsch is a learning performance specialist and an ActiveCampaign Certified Consultant with more than 12 years of experience in digital strategy and course creation. She leverages systems, tools, and technology to help large and small businesses empower their audiences to develop learning experiences that create action and drive results.


Chris Davis: 00:24 Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I’m your host, Chris Davis. On this episode I have one of our certified consultants, Lindsay Kirsch, and she’s going to talk about courses from a different angle. She’s identified a gap between people who have been in the education and learning space, and digital marketers who understand how to market courses. And essentially, the case that Lindsay is going to propose to us is that digital marketers need to know more about the educational and learning aspect of creating courses, and the educators and learning creators need to learn more about the marketing aspect of their course, so seeing the need of blending both of those worlds for the benefit of the small business owner is what this podcast is all about. So sit back and enjoy.

Lindsay, welcome to the podcast. Glad to have you on. How are you doing?

Lindsay Kirsch: 01:25 Thanks, Chris. I’m doing awesome and I’m so glad to be here today.

Chris Davis: 01:28 Yes, yes, glad you made time to jump on with me. Before we get started, can you give our listeners a little insight on your background and your business?

Lindsay Kirsch: 01:39 Sure. I am a learning and performance specialist. I have been in my industry for over twelve years. I currently work with coaches and consultants who have established businesses that are looking to expand their message and work with people more than just one-to-one, but be able to spread their message to larger groups of people through online courses.

Chris Davis: 02:03 Got you. Now tell me a little bit about your process or your journey into courses. When you were younger, did you have a passion for teaching, or was it something that you kind of evolved into? Were there signs, did it come out of nowhere? Just tell me a little bit about that.

Lindsay Kirsch: 02:26 So that’s really funny, and I would actually say that I have always been someone who helps people perform better, and usually that’s through some type of learning activity. When I was a little gymnast, eight-year-old Lindsay, I used to come up with different drills to help my teammates learn how to do new skills, and I was always sort of the team motivator and the one who could sort of help figure out solutions to the problem. This often came in the way of creating drills, or I’d create little posters that would explain how to do a skill and hang them up all over the gym. So I’ve always really been focused on helping people change their behaviors through learning.

Chris Davis: 03:18 Interesting. So it was definitely innate. It was there from the beginning. At what point in business, I mean have you always been, I don’t want to butcher this, but a learning specialist or performance master? I’m sorry, Lindsay. But seriously, has that always been your business or have you started in a different area and just naturally migrated to the learning aspect of it?

Lindsay Kirsch: 03:52 I would say that it was always sort of something that stayed with me regardless of the job or the position that I was in. As I got older, even in college, I was helping out at a digital media center at me college, and I started creating workshops for the faculty on how to make better presentations and how to communicate their ideas better. And eventually, after I finished school, I got into the corporate world where I was actually working on creating training programs and learning programs for various companies.

Chris Davis: 04:31 Got you, got you.

Lindsay Kirsch: 04:34 And this sort of evolved in the fact that I’m sort of a tech nerd, self-proclaimed tech nerd, and I really got moving into the online learning space where pretty quickly, actually, I was creating programs for people all over the world in like seventeen different languages, and distributing these things, and helping improve performance through learning events.

Chris Davis: 05:01 Great, great. And what’s key about this is you were in the learning space before the learning space really took off online, right?

Lindsay Kirsch: 05:12 Yeah, definitely. I would say that I was online very young. I remember when my dad brought home the Mac with the black screen and the green text-

Chris Davis: 05:25 Oh yeah.

Lindsay Kirsch: 05:26 I remember getting Prodigy for the first time, and I think by the time I was like 12 or 13, I started making websites. So I was playing in the space very early on, but I didn’t necessarily know about learning and what that is. The learning industry goes back hundreds of years; we’ve always had to learn. But it’s almost like I grew up with learning about online technology and the internet, and then it just sort of naturally came to me that I started helping people learn online.

Chris Davis: 06:02 Interesting. What I liked about you when we met, shout out, we met at Activate. If you weren’t at Activate 2018, don’t worry. There’s more conferences coming up.

Lindsay Kirsch: 06:02 Go next year.

Chris Davis: 06:15 Yes, make sure you’re here next year. And when we got to talk, what instantly grabbed me was that you use the official term for learning, which I, myself, honestly just learned this year, and that term was “instructional design.” So can you tell us a little bit about instructional design is?

Lindsay Kirsch: 06:37 Sure. So instructional design is the process of taking all different considerations, such as the different levels of learning. So taking in to what level do you want people to learn? How do you want people to learn? What tools are you going to use? It’s taking all of these factors into consideration and creating a learning event. So whether it be a classroom workshop, or an online learning on Udemy or Teachable, you’re taking all of these things and creating a learning event that is something that can be measured. So you can actually measure the change in behavior of people before and after the learning event. And really just compiling these things in the best way possible to help people be successful.

Chris Davis: 07:31 Yes, yes, which is exciting in itself and a little bit frustrating now, right? And it’s only because I believe courses have become more of a buzzword and people are looking at them for immediate monetization of their audience instead of, which nothing is wrong. Let me just say that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think a lot of learning purists, I’ll say, or educators at the heart cringe, I know I cringe at times, because a course is not simply videos that people click through, right?

Lindsay Kirsch: 07:31 Yes.

Chris Davis: 08:11 Like if you were to define a course, how would you define it in your expertise?

Lindsay Kirsch: 08:18 Right, so right now basically out in the industry, there are some different things happening, and I’m going to answer your question but I’m going to explain something first. There are the learning professionals who come from the background of adult learning theory, instructional design, education type of stuff, and then there is this new up-and-coming sort of crop of digital marketers, and like you said, people who are monetizing their videos or their business through these online courses, and there is a back gap happening. The people who are monetizing their business, they’re basically using marketing strategies, which are amazing and awesome, to market what they’re calling courses, which is really just information products. These courses of people, what they’re doing, they’re delivering videos through various sites, and they’re just providing people with information. And learning, and taking a course, or education, any of those terms, those require more than a passive interaction. So watching a video is passive. You’re sitting there, you’re staring at a screen, you’re listening to somebody talk. And the actual retention on watching a video, the learning retention is extremely low. Versus to me, I define learning as an interactive situation where you have both passive and active type of components, whether it be doing activities, having discussions, actually doing things out in the real world. That is learning.

So there’s this huge gap right now, and it’s really interesting because the people on the one side, the marketers and the people launching these online courses and using all these great tools, they don’t even realize that there’s this whole learning theory type of thing going on, that that’s something that’s available. And quite honestly, I’m finding that most of them don’t even really care. They’re more concerned with that quick monetization of their business. And then on the other side, the people who come from the learning backgrounds who know about all this, they actually aren’t even aware of what’s happening with the digital marketers, and they’re not seeing the opportunity that’s available to help these people.

Chris Davis: 11:00 Yeah.

Lindsay Kirsch: 11:01 And that’s sort of where I’m coming in is, I want to help bridge that gap and help the digital marketers and the people launching these products to be more successful in the long term. Because you can go out and have an amazing launch and make two thousand dollars on your course launch, but if your course is not effective in the long term, meaning six months, twelve months, two years after someone takes your course, that’s not going to be an effective business strategy for you.

Chris Davis: 11:30 Mm-hmm (affirmative). And you know, I find that a lot of people sell themselves short when they’re creating courses by just thinking about the consumer. You know, the person who will be directly enrolling, and they leave off the big players. There have been many people, honestly, that have been on the podcast and what I’ve just run into as users that have used their course and a corporation has got a hold of it and said, “Hey, this is really good content. Can we license it or can you come and teach this?” And if all you’re doing is, like you said, kind of info-producting your course to make money, you miss out on a big opportunity. So this middle ground that you’ve filled the space with your business I think is gonna be so critical going forward because when you look at some of these bigger LMS systems that universities are using, corporations, when you compare the features, they’re totally different. They are totally different. They have the basic track your progress and lessons and everything, but they have interactive things in there. They’re just built totally different, and I do see a huge gap, and the biggest opportunity/problem/frustration is that since it’s so new, like course-ware is so new for small businesses, whereas corporations….

When I was working at Lockheed Martin, that’s how you did your compliance training. That’s how you learned was going through a course, and it had holograms and it had terrible acting for specific use cases and everything, but all of that was more engaging, and the questions and everything. I can honestly say I hated taking them, but I did learn. So it’s like, “How can I create that learning with these new tools? How can I create that new learning experience with these new tools to make it more engaging? But I don’t want to minimize the actual learning experience.”

Lindsay Kirsch: 13:45 Right, and I think that you’ve brought up some really great points, Chris. So right now there’s such a wide array of tools available for you to deliver your courses in, and they start at sort of hosted solutions, and these would be sites like Udemy, Thinkific, Skillshare, those types of sites where you basically upload your content onto a webpage. Again, you’re creating something that’s fairly passive. Those types of sites don’t support the highly interactive type of environments.

Then you get into, what’s starting to happen now is self-hosted plug-ins. So you can have a WordPress site and you can install something such as LearnDash or AccessAlly, and these tools allow you to have, I would say, more of an LMS functionality. You’re still not at a true learning management system where you can get the reporting and stuff that you need, but they definitely give you more options. And those types of tools allow you to start to bring in more of the interactive elements.

And then, of course, there’s like the full-fledged learning management systems that you can put e-learning type of content in them, and those are great too, but I wouldn’t say they’re as accessible for someone who’s a coach or consultant getting going. But it is really important to consider your tools, but it’s also at the same time, your tools are not what makes your course most effective. It’s the same thing in website design: you don’t have to have the fanciest website with all these crazy graphics and things floating around. Sometimes simple is better, and it really comes down to, are you creating a learning event that is helping people learn to the best of their ability? And that includes multiple different types of sort of layers that go into that learning.

Chris Davis: 16:03 Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I’ll say, from my experience here at ActiveCampaign as the director of education, one of the things that I often find challenging is that balance between marketing and education, right? Because when you’re creating the learning event, whether it’s just a guide or a short article, you want the focus to be on learning. At that point, like me, I prefer you not to have your guard up. I don’t want you bothered by a pop-up. I don’t want it inline subscribe form because I don’t want you to have to make any other decision besides, “Let me understand what I’m reading.” So with that, it’s just like well, understanding for the sake of what, right? Understanding must lead to some business go and some business metrics, so that’s where I’m seeing, as far as where marketers have a responsibility, I’ll say. Marketers who are going to embrace the education portion of their business, you have to really figure out how to do that balance genuinely, right? Like, “How can I have a learning event and market that?” Right? “How can my learning event impact my business?”

Lindsay Kirsch: 17:27 And I think with digital technology and digital marketing, some of the things that I’m really pushing the learning organization and the learning people is to start learning about some of those tools. Like how you can use drip marketing to also drip a course and help you go with different automations and things like that. So the education actually goes both ways. Like, let’s help the learning people understand the marketing tools, and the marketing people understand the learning tools.

Chris Davis: 18:00 Yes.

Lindsay Kirsch: 18:02 So that we can make everything better for everybody.

Chris Davis: 18:05 Yes! You know what, that is quite the goal. And this is why I’m glad for consultants like yourself who are seeing these holes, right? There’s so many markets that the gap between them, really shortening that gap benefits so many more businesses. You talked about automations, what are some ways that you’ve found that using ActiveCampaigns and strategies that really help with the learning experience?

Lindsay Kirsch: 18:37 Okay, so there’s definitely a few automations before your course really begins that I would have going if you are launching a course, and the first one is your post-purchase sequence. So often I see people, like they spend so much time in marketing their product and getting through a launch that they kinda hit an exhaustion wall and then are just done.

Chris Davis: 19:07 Yeah.

Lindsay Kirsch: 19:08 And they think that, “Okay, now it’s time to deliver the course.” But you’re not done yet. There’s an anxiety that people get when they make large purchases and they do these things online, and there’s actually a very high return rate on products that are purchased digitally. So the first thing that we want to do is start to get people feeling confident about their purchase and getting them excited to start your course, and that’s where post-purchase sequence comes in. So you want to assure them that they made the right decision and help them get more comfortable with what is coming up. And that’s usually a series of a few emails, that’s going out and just reconfirming that they’re good, and you want to keep them engaged. Even after they’ve made that purchase, you wanna kinda ride that high through the start date of the course.

So once you get through that post-purchase sequence, then you’re going to have an onboarding sequence. There’s nothing worse than to have a course start on a date and half your people can’t login, or they missed the first call, or they’re late to the first call. All these things. They’re having technical issues, they can’t get in, because then they want their refund. They miss something, they can’t get in, they want their refund. So the purpose of the onboarding process is, again, to further gain confidence and prepare people to be ready to learn. So you’re gonna start getting rid of those problems that tend to come up. How do they log in? That’s an email in the sequence. Get introducing yourself to the other participants because oftentimes online course, the best value comes from your peers. It’s not even from the content of the course; it’s from the interactions and the discussions you have with your peers. So you want to get those people who just signed up for your course in and talking to each other and starting to learn from each other before you’ve even presented anything. And so that’s what we do with the onboarding sequence is kind of get them settled, get comfortable, get their school supplies ready to go, that type of stuff.

Chris Davis: 21:35 Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s interesting how you framed it because it’s almost like the course becomes a platform that facilitates the collaboration of the students who have enrolled in it, and that community becomes more valuable than the course content itself, but the community doesn’t exist without the content.

Lindsay Kirsch: 21:58 Absolutely. But what’s really interesting is if you develop a course that really walks participants through an effective learning strategy, and then you’ve also built your community around that course, there’s a few things that are going to happen. First, the longer that this is sort of turning and evolving, and the more cohorts you have, and the more people that you have go through your course, you’re going to start having people who are more experts, who are actually going to know your content so well because they’ve gone through your course, they’ve implemented it on their own, and you’re gonna find that they actually start helping people who are newer to the content, and what that does is when you have to take something that you’ve learned and teach it to somebody else, that is like the ultimate level of learning. To anyone out there who’s ever taught anything, when you teach, you learn even more because you’re cognitively having to figure out how to work this stuff in your head and help someone else understand it. That community, it just raises the knowledge level of everybody because everybody can contribute.

One of my most favorite marketers who actually teaches this concept in a non-learning way is Seth Godin. In his book, “Tribes,” he talks about this. And so I say that the tribe that you build with your course is just as important in terms of the learning effectivity as the course materials itself.

Chris Davis: 23:57 Yeah, and you know what? I’ll say this: I think that some of the smaller LMS, more of the ones targeted for the small business and digital marketers are using the most, I think that that’s the piece that I find is most surprising missing is an easy integration or way to create community within the course. Oftentimes I see people in courses and they have a separate Facebook community or the community exists outside, and it’s always frustrated me because it’s like if you understood the value that collaboration, that community after consuming the content, and I was reminded by this, Lindsay, with my son’s friend.

He’s doing homeschooling, and I had him show me, I was just interested like, “I wonder what their LMS looks like,” and of course, this is a university, and they had it. You had your course-ware, but the magic was in the collaboration. These were students, young kids, that were helping each other. They’re posting questions on a math problem and one of them is like, “Oh no, don’t divide it by three yet. Do this first.” And they’re saying like, “Thank you so much. I’ve been trying to figure this out for the longest.” So when you talk about the measure of understanding is actually teaching, the measure of learning is them teaching, I saw that and I was just like, “Whoa, this is effective.” If I were ever a doubter of homeschooling, this particular platform has made me closer to a believer because I see that understanding has been achieved through the teaching of the students to the other students.

Lindsay Kirsch: 25:41 Yes, totally. Absolutely, and another thing that I would say is, so you go through your course. The course is such a small portion of the bigger picture of helping people really learn, but at the end of your course, you never want to leave people high and dry. Like, “Okay, they went through your material. It’s over.” And then what? And then what happens? And if you’ve really established that community, you can create such a robust, continuous learning community without even having, maybe you have more courses, but maybe you don’t. But that community itself becomes very robust, and I’m in some of those where I took the course two years ago, but the community is just so robust that I’m still able to learn. I’m still getting value from that purchase I made a few years ago because of that community.

Chris Davis: 26:46 Yeah. Yeah, that’s huge. I, too, have been part of a few communities where the course is probably three or four years old now, but the community lives on, and it continues to breathe life into everybody. Lindsay, I want to thank you so much for taking the time on the podcast. Where can people get connected with you and find out more about your business?

Lindsay Kirsch: 27:11 Yeah, so definitely you can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and then also my website, lindsaykirsch.com.

Chris Davis: 27:19 Okay, great. And we’ll have the link to your website because I’m pretty sure they can get to all the social from there, right?

Lindsay Kirsch: 27:27 Yes.

Chris Davis: 27:27 We’ll have the link in the show notes and again, Lindsay, thank you for coming on and helping us understand learning in a deeper capacity. I really don’t want that to get lost, right? I love the fact that courses are being adopted more by small businesses and used, but I just want people to understand the importance of actually the person going through the course learning something, right?

Lindsay Kirsch: 27:57 Yes.

Chris Davis: 27:58 It’s good to make money, let’s make money and teach.

Lindsay Kirsch: 28:00 Yes, we want people to actually learn something and then to be able to take action with what they learnt.

Chris Davis: 28:08 Yes, absolutely. Again, thank you so much Lindsay, and I’ll see you online.

Lindsay Kirsch: 28:13 Thanks Chris.

Chris Davis: 28:15 Thank you for listening to this episode of the ActiveCampaign podcast. I hope it was helpful to give some insight on maybe some aspects of creating courses, selling courses, and facilitating learning that perhaps you hadn’t thought of. I think that it’s extremely important that every business takes the right approach to education. We’re in a day and time where information is just fed in boatloads to people daily, and I think what gets lost in it being so easy to push out information is a lot of times we don’t take the time to step back and say, “Well wait a minute. Did somebody actually learn from what I just did?” Right? And it’s not limited to educational content; it’s the product. “Wait a minute. Did my product help somebody learn how to do something in their business?” And the pinnacle of learning is the teaching, so if they can do it, and at ActiveCampaign we look at it as, “Can someone teach their team how to use ActiveCampaign?” That is a very effective metric to how we measure the usability and the education that comes along with it. Hopefully these are things that can help spark some new ideas and influence new approaches to what you’re already doing in business and perhaps give you some insight on what you could be doing.

If you’re listening to the podcast for the first time, this is the time where you become a lifelong listener to the ActiveCampaign podcast because I’m extending an invitation that I will never take away. This invitation is on the table and I want you to take advantage of it as soon as possible, preferably right now. Go to iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Google Play, SoundCloud, anywhere where you can subscribe to podcasts and you can subscribe to the ActiveCampaign podcast. When you’re there, please leave a five star rating and a review. It helps vet us in the lands of podcasts. Have you seen how many podcasts are out there? So when people are searching and trying to find a good one, a lot of times those ratings and reviews are the difference makers, so help us make a difference by leaving a five star rating and a review. If you’re stuck with ActiveCampaign in any capacity.

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