What makes a course disengaging?

adult learning course creator course design learning experience design Sep 28, 2021

Manja opens Season 2 of Your Greatest Work with a discussion of course fails or ways that courses become disengaging — and what you can do to fix this in y our own course.


We've all been there: bored out of our minds by a course, program, or class. It's awful. No one enjoyed disengaging learning — especially your learners! So let's talk for a bit about what makes courses boring for learners.

In all honesty, its easier to make learning disengaging than it is to make learning engaging. There are six common ways that courses can become boring for learners:

[1] Too Much Content

Courses can kill learners with boredom by simply having too much content. Imagine opening a new course to find there are hundreds of modules to work through — it's overwhelming! When the content is long or overwhelming, learners simply turn away.

Information overload quickly drives learners away, especially adult learners. Adults are busy. They want the heart of the course. If you're giving them tangential information, they'll disengage and move on from your course.

[2] Too Much Teaching

Teaching can get boring. There's a reason college students sleep off during lectures! To make your course more engaging, cut the teaching!

Have your learners do stuff, try stuff, and implement stuff. This will help them see changes.

Lead your program with an exercise, a way to build awareness, or some other activity that gets learners thinking about the topic. Remember, your learners aren't alone in this activity. You can provide examples, checklists, or other handy reference sheets to make this activity tractable.

Fundamentally, treat adult learners like they're smart and they know what they're doing — then simply support them along the way. Oftentimes people don't lack knowledge; they lack the effort or support to implement. Provide this!

[3] Mediocre Facilitation

When you do teach, is it interesting? engaging? Do you tell stories? Or dump facts? Honestly and objectively assess this!

Do your videos have excitement in the delivery tone? Are your learners able to connect with the scenarios you describe? Or are your examples unrelatable?

Mediocre facilitation leads to incredibly unengaging learning. Critically look at where you can improve your facilitation. If you're unsure, seek feedback from your learners.

[4] Disorganization

Courses that don't make sense don't keep learners interest. The content seems jumbled or not connected to the goals of the program. Learners need a sense of how the puzzle pieces fit together.

In the middle of learning, we are incredibly fickle. If a program feels too irrelevant, too disconnected, too confusing, we move on.

Remember, you're battling for your learner's attention. You're constantly fighting for a sliver of time. So make your content relevant at every point, practical at every step. This ongoing transformation will make the course worthwhile for learners.

[5] Outdated Design

As petty as it sounds, no one likes to take courses with outdated, unattractive, or Internet Explorer in the early 2000s vibes. Even if you're content is up to date, the design of your course can seem to indicate otherwise.

People are used to beautiful imagery. So give them that! With so many free and valuable templates, it's easier and easier to make your course aesthetically pleasing. If you're unsure, get input! Seek out a design-conscious friend and genuinely welcome their feedback.

[6] Discouragingly Difficult

And finally, sometimes courses are disengaging because they're too hard. The course lacks accountability, essential support, or necessary micro-steps that help learners achieve the bigger goal. When this is the case, learners will simply drop off.

Learn to recognize this in your own course by looking for bottlenecks or areas that people are dropping off. Focusing on these areas will help you improve the delivery of your content.

Finally, welcome feedback!

You'll never find the issues with your course if you don't look for them! So seek feedback, collect surveys, get data from your learners. This takes humility, a growth mindset, and dedication to improving your program.

The results though! They're worth it! People will happily recommend courses when the program actually worked for them. And for that to happen, your course must be engaging!

So brainstorm the opportunity areas in your own course. Sit down with an objective eye and consider the opportunities you have for improving your program.

And if you need help along the way, that's what I'm here for!

About Your Greatest Work

Through conversations with global leaders and the credibility of personal industry, Your Greatest Work digs deeper into learning design in useful and applicable ways.

Stay tuned for coming episodes. Let's start the conversation about making your current work into your greatest work.

Apply Here for the next Open House Mastermind (October 26, 2021)

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