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Part 2: Designing Virtual Classes Your Students Will Rave About!
by Terri Zwierzynski

Adding Structure, Accountability and Community to Your Self-Paced Classes

In Part 1 of this series, I offered various ideas for designing your live classes to offer maximum value to your students. Beyond just learning the concepts, students have a much better chance of actually applying your wisdom in their business. If you provide these three important elements in your classes:

  • a schedule to do the learning (structure);
  • a modest work assignment each week, and a place to post completed assignments (accountability); and
  • a rich network of fellow students to share with and learn from (community).

Applying these elements in self-paced classes (i.e., written, audio and video content available to the student on their own schedule) is quite different, and perhaps more challenging, than in a live, scheduled environment. A further challenge is that often, you've designed these courses to be hands-off for you -- truly passive. On the other hand, your self-paced classes could be a funnel to more intensive, live classes or coaching/consulting -- in which case a dose of you, live, could be the tipping point.

Here are some suggestions you can incorporate into your own course design; most can be automated, although they may require some intervention or assistance from your VA.


Live classes come with their own built-in structure, in the form of a fixed schedule. However, the student purchasing a learn-at-your-own-pace course has to make a real effort to schedule time to read, listen to the audio, or review the video -- and resist the temptation to do something else instead. As the course designer, how can you build in structure for your customers/students?

  • Release the content on a schedule; i.e., don't give it all to them at once. This is the concept behind an ecourse -- delivering a little bit at a time.
  • Send scheduled follow-up emails. In the introduction to the course, you can suggest a schedule (one chapter a week?), then follow up once a week with a tidbit about that chapter -- a case study showing actual results, a teaser, etc. I've seen this done by one of the big internet marketers...I signed up, and once a week I got a nudge email, something like "Have you checked out this technique in chapter 14; it could triple your sales!"
  • Help them commit to a schedule. At purchase, ask them to commit to a time/day each week to cover the content of the course. Then, send them an email with an attached Outlook recurring appointment with that schedule! They open the attachment and save it to their calendar, and viola', it's scheduled for them.

All of these techniques can be easily automated with an autoresponder! Remember to customize the messages to make them more personal. And be prepared to respond if they reply -- or have your VA ready to handle this responsibility.


Getting folks to read/listen/view/study the material is one thing; getting them to apply it in their business is quite another. Some of the techniques mentioned for live classes will work here too:

  • Ask them to sign a statement of intent to do the homework (this can be an automated part of the purchase checkout process, for instance).
  • Follow up with encouraging messages via autoresponder.
  • Offer something extra for a limited time after their purchase: a free review of their homework, free laser coaching to help them overcome a roadblock or problem, a regular live call where they can ask questions.
  • Provide an incentive. Encourage the student to complete the course by asking them to send you their completed worksheet(s) and offering a free report, audio, or even a rebate or coupon. Tie this in with structure by giving them deadlines for sections of the work. Again, your VA can handle fulfillment of these incentives.


Providing peer support can be much more challenging when there are no live classes where folks meet each other, but with the proper encouragement from you, I believe it can be done!

  • Set up a bulletin board (or listserve) for all purchasers. You'll need to be more active, especially at the beginning, to encourage folks to join and share with strangers. Autoresponders might help; but they may not be enough. This is one area where you might need to be involved directly in answering questions and providing feedback, although as your board/list "ages", peer leaders may emerge naturally. (You may even want to approach a few of them to provide continuous, paid support instead of doing it yourself.)
  • Offer a trial/trial membership in your existing community. This adds value to the course; you are already interacting with your community so it's not extra work. If this is a limited time offer, you can even upsell to your monthly community at the end of the trial.
  • Mastermind calls. Again, this requires your time...unless you can hire it out. Either way it can be very effective.


All of these techniques still require commitment on the part of the student -- you can't force students to do the work, and you also shouldn't take it personally if a significant number of your purchasers never follow through. But you can make it easier, and going that extra mile will set you apart as a supportive, caring individual that they might want to buy from again.

If you have used or experienced a creative approach for self-paced classes that addresses these three elements, or any other comments or suggestions about building valuable classes for virtual students, please send me an email. We may include it in a future newsletter!

Terri Zwierzynski may be contacted at

Terri Z is The Solo-CEO: a self-employed internet marketing consultant to solo entrepreneurs, freelance writer, and grassroots promoter of the solo entrepreneur lifestyle. She runs, the resource website for solo entrepreneurs which attracts thousands of visitors monthly from over 100 countries on six continents

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