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SPI 618: How to Optimize Your Courses with Marla Bainbridge Martinez

How do you know your course is worth its price tag? What are the solutions you provide, and what are the transformations your students can expect to see? What do you want them to say about you and how you served them?

Today’s guest host, Marla Bainbridge Martinez, will walk you through her REFOCUS system to help you answer these questions and take your courses and testimonials to the next level.

We love inviting SPI Pro members like Marla to share their expertise with us. These Teaching Friday episodes are always jam-packed with actionable tips, so make sure you listen in!

Marla’s business, Refocused Income, helps course creators build learning experiences that deliver results and lead to glowing reviews. In this session, she walks you through exercises that teach you how to organize your content optimally. She also helps you understand the strategies you can use to supercharge your social proof through testimonials and referrals.

Whatever level you’re at, analyzing your content through a new lens helps you discover the key areas that impact student success. With her curriculum mapping and learning theory background, Marla provides us with essential tactics for both beginners and experienced course creators. Enjoy!

SPI 618: How to Optimize Courses and Social Proof with Marla Bainbridge

Marla Bainbridge Martinez: How do you know that your course is worthy of the price tag? Try this, write a testimonial for your own course, what you want your students to say, what solutions you provide to what pains, what you want them to say about you and your course and how you served them from their zero to their hero state.

Then, optimize your course through these lenses to determine what they need. Not just information, but the skills. The student will be able to…

Pat Flynn: Hey, hey, it’s Pat here. You’re about to listen to something a little different on the show today. It’s not our usual Friday format where I follow up on Wednesday’s episode. Don’t worry, those aren’t going away forever. Just a little break to bring in something even more special, in my opinion. And this episode and the next few are a part of our Teaching Friday series, which we do with our SPI Pro members.

We have an incredibly talented pool of people within SPI. Why not give our pros, the spotlight and teach you here on the podcast every once in a while. it’s just one of the perks of being a part of Pro in fact. With each episode, you get to hear a different pro, teach you something special from their area of expertise.

Without further ado, I’ll let them take it away. Oh, and if you want to find out more about SPI Pro and be a part of it, you can go ahead and apply at

Announcer: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your guest host, she’s an international band crasher. In 2007, she crashed a band in Mexico and has since married the band leader. She’s lived near Cancun ever since as a laptop entrepreneur, Marla Bainbridge.

Marla Bainbridge Martinez: Hi, Pat, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of Teaching Fridays on the SPI podcast. I’m really looking forward to it. My name is Marla Bainbridge Martinez. I work with course creators to refocus, get unstuck, to create an optimized learning experience that delivers transformations and specific reviews for social proof. That just brings more opportunities to help more people.

I’ve been an entrepreneur with numerous businesses over the years, and I have a master’s degree in educational leadership. And as an educational consultant, I worked with educators and professionals internationally to create quality and aligned curriculums for their programs, using a strategy called curriculum mapping.

So how many courses have you signed up for and never finished or had buyers remorse, or beat yourself up because you just couldn’t get through it? It’s probably not your fault. During the pandemic, I went on this course binge and I took so many courses. And so many times I just felt like such a failure for not finishing them and questioned what was wrong with me.

So then for fun, I just developed a system where I began to deconstruct and sort of optimize those online courses so that they were beyond just a simple recorded presentation of information, to a true learning experience with action items and outcomes through a curriculum mapping process. And then I used different lenses to make sure that tho that I had optimized the course as best it could be.

So a learning experience, it offers action items that are going to lead the learner to a transformation that the course has promised. So to help more people, we need social proof and that’s how we get in front of our audience. And that’s how people know what we can do that has helped others and how we might be able to serve them as well.

The entrepreneurs that I work with, they want to optimize their online course for their audience so that they have a topnotch learning experience. And, you know, there are typically four things that I hear from entrepreneurs about course creation. The first is I’m stuck, I don’t know where to start. And then the next is, you know, I wanna make sure that this course is worth the high ticket price tag that I’m charging.

And then I wanna know that my learners are going to find the transformation and the success that I’m promising that the, the content is organized and it’s not just a lot of information and it makes sense. And then I want, you know, how will I know, how will people know how I can serve them without the social proof and, you know, getting the right kind of testimonial and they’re correctly written review so that it really highlights what you do as an entrepreneur.

REFOCUS is an acronym or lenses that I use to deconstruct and optimize an online course to analyze it. And the acronym is Results, Engagement, Feedback, Outcomes, Chunking, Unique learners, and Spiraled. So that spells refocused, and this just helps to ensure a cohesive learning experience.

It makes sense to think that course creation is a straight line. You know, we’re trying to get people from point a to point B, but in reality, the process of planning a course is more like a scribbled line in a circle, all on the paper. It means reviewing our content through different lenses, such as the refocus to optimize for an engaged, aligned curriculum.

There are many course creators who have their own process of getting started and getting unstuck as I mentioned, and brainstorming with post-it notes and whiteboards and all kinds of different ways. Those are a really great start. It really helps you define your pillar content and what are the main categories that your course is about.

And then typically people kind of develop bullet points underneath. However, the next steps after the brainstorming are the ones that really determine the quality of your course, the categories that evolve from your brainstorming should be aligned with that pillar content, consider the problems that you solve, services that you offer and the people that you serve, just the overall transformation that you’re promising from your course or program.

And then from here, You’re gonna take that and reverse engineer that with a plan of backward design, to ensure that you’re delivering on that promise. And then once you get this framework in place, then you use those refocused lenses to ensure that you have an optimized course that brings you referrals, reviews, and testimonials that you can then use as social proof to serve more people.

So let’s talk about each of these lenses that I’ve sort of put together the Refocus. The first is the results statement. How do you know that your course is worthy of the price tag? You know, this lens of results, it focuses on that clarity and the alignment of the transformation or the results that you’re promising.

And that is sort of this overarching concept that is a common thread through every module. And it keeps pulling everyone back to that main idea. And then using this backward design process, you can ensure that that’s what’s being delivered and the results statement or the transformation should be what you want your learners to say about your course.

So if let’s say two years from now, one of your students who’s gone through your course and found success someone asked them, how did you get where you are today? What do you want them to say about you and your course and how you served them and got them to where they were from their zero to their hero state?

When you take that, use these words, their language, and what stating what they want, and then you give them what they need, because they don’t always know what they need. They only know what they want. If they knew what they needed, they would already probably have it. So what they want is one thing, but what they need is maybe something else.

And that’s what, you know, that’s your gift to them. And so for these results to be aligned, I kind of deconstruct each module into knowledge and skills. The knowledge is sort of the noun and the skill is the measurable action verb. So knowledge is just the information and the skill is what you want students to be able to do with it.

This is how you ensure that your course is not just a recorded presentation of information, but there is action behind it. I can read a book on what is a carburetor and how to change it. But that doesn’t mean I’m able to do it. At that point it is only knowledge. It is not skill. I I’d not done anything with that information.

So try this, write a testimonial for your own course, based on your own three to five pillar content, what you want your students to say, that you came up within your brainstorm that we discussed earlier, what solutions do you provide to what pains and then optimize your course through these lenses to determine what they need, not just information, the knowledge, but the skills will be able to do the student will be able to … and you wanna use, start with that with an action verb.

So if we’re gonna get our learners from this zero to hero state with our course, we have to keep them engaged long enough to finish the course or at least get them to the point to have success, what they came for. I used to think that finishing the course was the goal. And then I realized that it depends on the frame of reference of the learner. At some point they may get everything they need before they finish the course.

So that’s not really the correct measurement. I believe that the review, the referral, the testimonial, and building that into your course is a better way to measure the success of your course. So let’s think about this. If you want them to get that far, you need to keep them engaged. And E is the engagement in lens and refocus.

So think about this, what makes you want to binge watch the next episode of a Netflix series? It’s that dopamine in your brain. It’s something that you’ve, you’ve built on that you, you want to know the next piece you’ve gotten what you needed and you, you wanna know more, there’s something that’s tied into wanting to know more.

So you wanna build in action items or quick wins and even milestones to keep that dopamine pumping in their brain, just like this Netflix series. If your learners are finding quick success, you’re not making them sit too long through the beginning of your introduction and your first module, I recommend that you get to a quick win as fast as possible, and that’s keeping them moving forward.

And when they do see that progress, it is just natural that they’re going to want to move forward again. And I use this engagement lens to analyze where these quick wins are in the course. So if you’ve mapped out your course into your modules and sections or whatever you want to call them, then you go through with this lens and analyze, where are those quick wins and how fast am I getting them there to keep your learners engaged.

So stories, graphics, images, case studies, examples, these are ways that we connect with learners. And whenever we hear stories, a lot of our brain naturally is going to reference our own frame of reference. And how we can connect that.

So when we deconstruct the course, we can track where we are using these examples and how are we building on them intentionally. Essential questions are ways that we engage the brain before we give them new information. So for example, in the beginning of this segment, the E of refocus, I asked what makes you wanna watch the next episode when you’re binging a Netflix series?

Asking that question, there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s just building on your own frame of reference and helping you make connections about what I was telling you about keeping your learners engaged with quick wins and intentionally tracking your stories and building on those, creating that frame of reference.

So try this, write an open ended, provocative question that get your learners, thinking about what you’re about to tell them. It doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. It’s not a quiz. It’s just something to stimulate that frontal cortex of their brain.

So the next letter in my lenses is the F and refocus. And this is about feedback, you know, how do you know what you don’t know? Again, there’s my essential question.

If I have an opportunity to show what I understand and what I know through discourse and dis discussion because learning is social or a self check worksheet, or a partner or an activity, then I can move forward because I know I’m on the right track.

How many times have we been in a course and we go, am I, am I doing this correctly? Is this right? So you build in those feedback loops so that you are getting those practice and the, that feedback in because practice makes permanent not necessarily perfect. You know, it’s a bonus if the course creator, you know, helped me identify where I am in my own understanding and then highlight the value of the growth that I’ve had in that module.

And then I can use that reflection when I’m writing the testimonial. When the, at the end of the course, when they ask me to write that testimonial, I can go back and look at how I felt and how, what my growth was because I have that feedback. And then the O is. Outcomes, you know, how do you know what you don’t know?

We talked about feedback and how practice makes permanent and outcomes are just opportunities to explain and interpret and apply that knowledge and share a perspective and their own self knowledge. And you can measure the outcome. It it’s clearly defined for the student. To count as a win and win that means results and results mean transformation and transformation leads to reviews and recommendations.

So for each module, really to find the benefit statement for those features and just consider the logical and practical and emotional aspect of this feature, you know, why does it matter to them? This is their why and identify the opportunities to invite your students to articulate those wins. You know, whether you have a group or it’s in a discussion channel, or maybe it’s just in a journal.

But those milestones are wins and wins are motivating. So outcomes, you have to think of your outcomes as milestones and wins. And be intentional with these and aligning those to your course and module goals. The plan of action for your students to get from that zero to hero state. And these are also opportunities.

These feedback opportunities are a great way to identify misunderstandings and, and address. Which is why I always suggest doing the first round of a course live so that you can identify those misunderstandings. And by defining your action items and aligning those to your results, you’re just affirming that you’re delivering on the promise that you have promised them for the course, which goes back to the point of how do you know your course is worth what you’re charging.

So this means that you, the reviews that you want your students to write at the end of the course, you’re strategically helping them write components of that throughout your course. We’ve all heard we teach people how to treat us. It’s your opportunity here to teach them what you want them to say about you when they write the review and the testimonial.

If you have them do that in somewhat of a reflection statement or some sort of action item at the end of each section or module, all they have to do is sort of summarize that at the end of your course. So the next lens is the C and refocus, and it’s about chunking and, you know, chunking your information into manageable parts.

And it prevents overwhelm, which provides more opportunities for small wins. And it also keeps them engaged. When we’re overwhelmed, we tend to just, oh, I can’t do this right now. I don’t have the mental capacity for it. And you walk away. So if you chunk your information into smaller manageable pieces, it’s a lot easier to keep them engaged.

You know, we’ve all heard drinking water is great unless you’re drinking from a fire hydrant and then that’s just too much, it’s overwhelming and it’s not engaging. And so chunking is the way that we can manage that. And, but that said, all information is not created equal, you know, the complexity of the content, the timing, my own frame of reference of, you know, and when it’s introduced and depending on what I know and what I don’t know and how much I’m gonna make a reference to it, all of that matters. And there’s actually a learning spectrum that we follow to sort of scaffold learning in a way that’s, we’re not asking too much too soon and that’s, you know, Bloom’s taxonomy.

And, you know, consider the car example that I mentioned earlier. If I’m given a list of basic terms, maybe a diagram of a carburetor, and then I’m asked to look at this car and analyze the problem based on that. I’m probably missing a few steps in between. And a lot of times this course creators, it’s really easy for us to do that because we know where we’re trying to get them.

And sometimes. It’s hard and we, we can miss those pieces, but by mapping out your content into your modules and sections and breaking apart into knowledge and skills and action items and understanding that evidence of understanding and what it looks like, that is how we know we’re taking people on the journey that they need to get to that transformation.

So determining that range for each module also, you know, when you chunk information, it’s also a really good way to decide how long each module is going to be. And it’s important because if I’m sitting down to do the next module, and I know the last module was six minutes, but the next module might be 30.

I don’t really have 30 minutes. And how long is it gonna be? I’m going through wondering, is it how much more time do I have and I’m not as focused. So keeping your modules kind of close to the same amount of time is also a really good way to help the brain really digest what that new learning is.

And then finally there’s a primacy recency effect, which effect, which is brain researched and that we use when we plan these learning episodes. And it’s basically that the brain in, let’s say a 20 minute learning episode, you have their level of learning their attention, mostly in the next first 12 minutes, and then it, it peaks. And then it’s gonna drop into a valley. Which is good for you to know, because then that’s when you plan an opportunity to reengage the brain.

And then the last two minutes of that 20 minutes learning episode, the last two minutes is when you don’t restate everything that you just told them, but you transfer that knowledge and you help connect it because new knowledge needs prior knowledge to build on. So you’re taking that and you’re spiraling that through.

The U lens is the unique learner. You know, when you are learning something, something new, what’s your preferred learning style. Are you a learner that needs to see it on a video? Or do you need to read it and see the words or write it, make notes? Do you need to just listen to it on a podcast? You know, how do you get your news?

Do you what’s your easiest way to get it? So we wanna make sure that we’re providing opportunities and choices for people to meet their unique learning style. And, you know, and just anticipate where’s the friction and where are the misunderstandings going to be and making sure that you’re considering their frame of reference and what objections they’re gonna have and helping them guide them around those pitfalls, using different modes of learning.

So maybe I want to read the transcript or maybe I then want to listen to the podcast. Maybe then I want to watch the video and then maybe I’m gonna take notes on a worksheet, you know, or maybe I only want to choose one of those, but at least if I have a multitude of options, I can do what works best for me as the learner, when those resources are provided to me to kind of supplement that learning experience.

And then the final lens is S which is spiraling. And this is just a great process for ensuring that you’re being intentional with the information that you’re gonna give and that you are help eliminating that information that’s just really not necessary. It’s just extra. And the brain, like I mentioned, the brain learns new knowledge by connecting it to prior knowledge.

So something that it associated with. So you wanna make sure by using curriculum mapping, how you’re, you’re tracking, how you are spiraling that content. And how is that common thread of your overall transformation that you’ve promised that result statement that we discussed in the beginning, how is it all spiraling through and tying it all together?

And, you know, getting to know your students and know where their frame of reference is and how you can build on that are all really good strategies for that. You know, each component of a curriculum map or a content map it’s intentionally aligned to all of the other components and it creates a seamless process to get to that transformation.

And by identifying your key content and your skills and your overall course outcomes, and intentionally connecting those through stories and charts and graphs and photos and images through each module, it’s building a bigger picture, a connected picture that is aligned to create a true learning experience for your learners.

And you’ve spiraled through and helping really gain that understanding. So I hope that helps to understand that course creation in my opinion, is, is not a direct line. It’s messy. It’s not a straight line. It’s a scribbled on a page where you create it and then you go back and you look at it again. And you use feedback from your students and you’re offering feedback to your students.

You have a result statement and outcomes that are driving those action items and the wins that keep your students engaged so that it is worth that high ticket price tag. And it is worth, and you, you are ending up with social proof, referrals, reviews and testimonials that are very specific to the transformation that you’re promising as well as those three to five pillar contents that you’re serving your audience with and getting them to where they want to be.

Thank you so much for your time. I can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to hop on a quick call and see how, if you’re curious, how I might optimize your course and deconstruct your course, I would love to hear from you. Thank you so much.

Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at I’m your host Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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