Effective Curriculum Creation with Learning and Development Specialist Kat Sorbello

January 10, 2022
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In today’s episode, we have Kat Sorbello with us and she is going to talk about how to build a curriculum for your online course that is simple yet effective.

You will also get to hear the three layers that go into creating a great curriculum, the Agile project management strategy that you can use for course creation, and how to continually grow an audience while serving them at the same time.

Website: thestellaway.com
YouTube: The Stella Way for Online Course Creators
Facebook: The Stella Way
Instagram: @the_stella_way
LinkedIn: katsorbello-onlinecoursecreator


In this episode, you will hear...

… how Kat began her journey in the online course world.

… how to build a curriculum for your online course that is simple yet effective.

… the three layers that go into creating a great curriculum.

… the Agile project management strategy that you can use for course creation.

… how using the Agile project management strategy can save you from feeling overwhelmed.

… and how to continually grow an audience while serving them at the same time. 

… how Kat drives people into her course creation community.

… why Kat says collecting feedback continuously is essential. 

… the importance of building relationships and trust with your audience.

… Kat’s best advice to anyone who is early on their course creation journey.



Jeremy Deighan
Hey, everyone. Thank you for listening to the podcast today. I'm excited for you to be here.

And I'm excited to have our guest Kat Sorbello from The Stella Way who is a learning and development specialist and has some really cool techniques on how she goes about creating online courses and different marketing strategies. And it is a pleasure to have you on the show today. How are you doing. Kat?

Kat Sorbello
I'm great, Jeremy, thanks for having me.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely, I'm super excited to have you here. You are going to talk about some couple different topics.

And even though we are kind of in the same field, where we are helping others with creating and designing and marketing online courses, everyone goes about it a different way. And I'm super excited to hear your way of going about course creation and course marketing.

Before we begin, if you could just kind of take a moment and tell us a little bit of history about you a little story about what you were doing before you got into online course creation. And then what led you into this role.

Kat Sorbello
I've been involved in online course creation since 2016. But how I got to there was being a course creator since 2008. So I started my learning and development journey once I was at a University where I studied human resources and learning and development.

And I started within colleges, where I was teaching business. And I quickly transitioned to building curriculums. And that's when I just fell in love with curriculum design, learning and development, and really supporting people to be able to solve problems that they have.

And then I transitioned into organizations when I was no longer building curriculums for schools, but I was building curriculums for organizations. That is building curriculums for their staff to learn how to do their job, or learn new skills on the job, as well as building curriculums for clients.

So I worked for software companies, and I built curriculums that taught people how to use software in a very easy to understand way. But most importantly, it was solving their problems of how do they implement this piece of software into their business to improve productivity.

And that's where I transitioned into then becoming a consultant and working with businesses, to help them understand how they can use all this different technology in their learning and development for their students.

Which has now transitions me to where I am today, helping entrepreneurs be able to do the same. Use all this technology to be able to build a online course for their students for their clients to support them in achieving a particular goal.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome, very cool. I really like this topic for a couple of reasons. One, we have kind of similar background.

I was not in the education space. But when I started, I was teaching software. I always thought software was kind of fun and interesting. And I remember even back in college, I had an animation degree and I was not a really good artist and animator, but I understood the software really well.

And I always enjoyed helping other students get around the software. And so I think that's really neat. But more importantly, I like that you are focusing on the curriculum and really helping get students results.

Because what I've seen over the years, is some people out there are really good at the marketing, and they're really good at selling an online course. But the course itself isn't that great.

And I know that everyone listening has probably had that experience where you got really excited about an online course, you went and you bought it. And then when you got into it, maybe you didn't finish it and that's why we have bad completion rates nowadays is just the curriculum side isn't as good as it should be.

And I think it would be great to talk about that a little bit with you to kind of see how you go about it. So when you begin to design curriculums, say for anonline course creator, what are some of the first steps or processes that someone should go through or think about before they begin creating their course?

Kat Sorbello
Great question, and I couldn't agree more with what you've just said. So the first step in building a curriculum is to identify that there's three different layers. And these three different layers help you to really drive deep down into how you're going to help your students achieve a particular goal.

So the first step is to identify what that goal is. Now what I've seen, and I'm sure what you've seen before, his goals that are written when they're not really goals. And as a result, the courses don't have this streamlined learning journey towards a goal, because it's so broad.

So the most important step is writing a very specific goal that's very clear. And a way that I work with my clients is not to say, write a smart goal, like we've heard so much, but actually support them in writing effectively.

So one technique is to ask yourself, "My clients will have the ability to..." and then finish that sentence off with your goal. So that you'll find course goals that might be something such as using technology for your course.

When you then say that, "My students will have the ability to using technology for their course," straightaway, you've identified this is not an effective goal, because the sentence does not make sense.

So then if you were to say, "My students will have the ability to implement software, or implement technology in their courses," then you're saying to refine that sentence to make a little bit more sense. And then you can go a step further to say, "Why? Why will my students have that ability?"

So my students will have the ability to implement technology into their courses to provide a successful learning journey, or to make more sales, or to create an online course, whatever it may be. But now you've gone from a very broad goal, to a very specific goal, that then helps you with the second and third layer of your curriculum.

So if we go down to those layers, the second layer is your learning outcomes. And your learning outcomes talk about how would you take someone from point A to point B, which I'm sure you've heard this saying, "Your call should be a journey from point A to point B."

Which is why it's so important to do your market research to understand what is point A for your students? Where are they currently now? And where do they want to be? So that journey from point A to point B, which is your goal, how can you break that down into three to five steps?

Which then become your three to five modules. And these outcomes, these learning outcomes need to be written in the same way. My students will have the ability to, and then insert your outcome. So that all five of these outcomes, when completed together, will help your students achieve the overall goal.

And then we break it down one more time. We break this down into the competencies. And this is when we say, "For my students to achieve a learning outcome, what do they need to be able to do? So my students will have the ability to..." insert your sentence.

And these competencies are the knowledge that someone will attain, the skills that they will practice, and the abilities that they will start to form. So then you have these three layers. Your goal, which is then broken down into three to five learning outcomes, which is then broken down into competencies.

And once you have this whole curriculum, you can then easily map your videos or your lessons, your activities to the competencies. So rather than thinking, "How am I going to design a course that's talking about implementing technology?"

You're focusing on those little tiny competencies. So then your five minute video is talking about how someone's going to practice a particular skill and showing them how to practice that skill.

So then, every single lesson combined, helps the student achieve all the competencies. By achieving all of those competencies, your students will achieve all the learning outcomes and by achieving all the learning outcomes, your student is watching the goal.

So what you've done is created a goal and created three layers. And then when you create your lessons, you move up those layers to make sure that every Link is aligned. And that is a curriculum that will help you to build a successful online course.

Jeremy Deighan
This is really, really good. This might be probably one of the best ways I've ever heard this explained. I think this is amazing, Kat that you have laid it out this way.

So just to recap, number one, you identified the goal, and we're not looking for a generic goal, we're actually trying to find a goal that is very succinct, and to the point of what that person is going to learn. And not only that, but why are they going to learn it.

Which I think is where some people fall short in the beginning, is they want to teach something they know, but never think through. Why is that student taking that course?

You know, I want to learn how to do email marketing. Well, people don't want to just learn email marketing, they want to learn how to sell the product or increase conversions and email marketing is what will help them get there.

So I think that thinking through why is very important. And it seems like that first step of identifying that goal, why they want to achieve that goal builds the whole foundation for your course. And so nailing that in the beginning sounds like it's super important.

And then step two, your learning outcomes, your three to five steps, when you break it down that way, it makes it more digestible to think about and makes it easier for you to say, "Okay, what are the main steps to teach email marketing or for someone to learn email marketing?"

And then breaking those down into the competencies, "Okay, now, what are the skills you need to learn copywriting, you need to learn subject lines, you need to learn the software" and so forth.

And then by doing those competencies, doing those modules, you're getting to the end goal. I think this is absolutely brilliant, I really appreciate it.

Would you say the competencies are those the individual lessons or lectures of the modules?

Kat Sorbello
They can be or they might comprise of a couple of them. So let's go back to that example, where I said, "Ask yourself, my clients will have the ability to..." and then we can only start the next part of that sentence with a present simple verb, which means learn, do, implement, create, design, these type of verbs where they're not ending in ing.

So that's what they will be able to do. And then your particular lessons, what are they learning? So that's when we add the ing, where we say, "In this lesson, you will be doing x, y, z such as you will be creating a podcast, you will be learning how to record a podcast," for example.

So you might have a competency that only needs one video. Or you might have a competency that needs a video demonstration. And then an activity where the students are taking in information such as watching, and then they are practicing by following step by step instructions.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, that makes much more sense. So the competency is like a container for what they will be learning. But that can break down into multiple different types of educational formats, maybe a worksheet, maybe a quiz, maybe an assignment, maybe a video or so forth, correct?

Kat Sorbello

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, this is really cool. So you go through this process, and you have designed this curriculum. And this is really cool, because it gives you a roadmap of what you need to be creating. You know now what to do going forward.

Were even starting in the beginning, I think one of my problems was, when I began teaching, I was just, for example, teaching software. I was just going in the software and saying, "What's the first thing I should teach? What's the second thing I should teach?"

I had no roadmap or a guide of what to follow so that you know, exactly the steps that you need to be teaching to get someone that in result, is that correct?

Kat Sorbello
Exactly. You hit the nail on the head. So it's at this point, when you have this roadmap, where you've identified every single piece of content, you're going to design, you're going to create, it's at this point that you can start selling.

So you may have heard the, "sell before you create," that can be legitimate. It can be done when you have this roadmap.

So that when you have sold your course, you know exactly what you're going to be creating, in what order when it's going to be released, how it's going to be released, what you're going to say in your videos. So then that creation phase becomes easier, because you're just following a roadmap, you're just following like a checklist

Jeremy Deighan
Is that strategy that you implement? Do you do the whole you're going to create a pilot or beta program, you have this information that you can provide to the person. And now you're going to sell them on this idea and then create the product with them. Is that something that you recommend?

Kat Sorbello
It really depends on what phase or what cycle of your course you're in. So with myself and with my clients, I will teach them to implement agile project management strategies.

Meaning that we're not going to sit and create our dream course, we're going to identify what our dream course looks like. And then we're going to start to do iterations where our first curriculum is a curriculum for an hour long workshop. And that might be free, or it might be paid. Whatever your business strategy is.

Then from that, you start to communicate to all the students that were involved in that workshop and start to collect feedback, which drives your second phase, which may be a week long bootcamp, it may be a week long, short course. At this stage, I usually recommend that you start to make it paid.

And then so your curriculum now builds from your one hour workshop, and it builds to a one week course. And then you collect feedback from people that are on that course. And that drives into your third iteration.

This might be a four week long course, but it's a beta course. And so you drip content, so that you have time to build content. And then that drives into the fourth iteration, which might be a four week self paced course. Or it might be a four week self paced course with one on one training or group training.

So whatever that looks like, I always recommend that the first thing that you release is not the dream course that you want, because that might take a year, it might take two years for you to build to exactly what you want it to be.

And the last thing you want is to be sitting in your office for a year building a program, which has never involved student feedback, which has never been built up to exactly what your students want me.

Jeremy Deighan
So, you mentioned real quick, and I think that I kind of get the gist of it. But just to clarify, I've heard about agile project management before, but I've never been really keen on what it means.

So just for me and the listeners out there, could you take a moment and just explain what agile strategy or an agile system entails.

Kat Sorbello
So agile project management was kind of born within the software space. So many, many, many years ago, we used to have software that you'll buy on a disk, insert into your computer. And that was it. Right?

When you want to have a new annual buy the next disk and your insert, and so on and so forth. And then Software as a Service came out. And that means things such as Facebook, Canva, Google, Thinkific. You know, there's so many that you can name.

But this means that they release new features consistently. And how they do that. Let's look at Thinkific for example. How they do that is Thinkific never sat down and said, "In five years time, we're going to have a platform that can host a live zoom session that can have multimedia content that can have text, that can have students upload and download assessments."

What it did first was it said, "This is the dream application that we want our dream application. Then they list all of those features." Right? They list, "Okay. We're going to have live classes. We're going to have downloadable assessments, we're going to have Text lessons and the ability to upload from YouTube," for example.

So they list out all the requirements. And then the agile process starts here, where you start to work in iterations, which means phases. You can call it whatever you like a phase, an iteration, a cycle. And you would say, "Okay, for my first version, for the first version of Thinkific, what is the minimum viable product?"

So in our case, what's the minimum viable course? What's the minimum viable program? What must it have? So maybe think if it said, "Okay, well, for the first release, we will have text and YouTube videos. And that's it. And we'll release that first. Obviously, with the requirements, standard landing pages and collect payments," right, that's all the requirements.

And so once they've built that, they've designed it, they've created it, they've launched it, they then release that to the public, they can release it on a free trial, they might release it on a beta, which you would have heard beta in software before. And then they collect feedback.

So you would have seen in software when you're doing a beta, for example, in Facebook. Facebook had a new beta for its groups. And if you decided to switch back to the old one, they asked you, "Why? What don't you like?" And that was me collecting feedback.

All of that feedback, then goes into the second version. So now Thinkific has a live product, which is a text and video course that allows to have landing pages and payments. And so they look at their requirements. They say, "Well, what does the next version look like? Let's now add in the ability to upload multimedia."

So then they say, "Okay, to add multimedia to this existing version, we need to design, create and launch, and then release this new version to the public, and then collect feedback, and then go all the way to the beginning again." And say, Right, what does version three look like?"

So they go back to their requirements list and say, "Well, now let's add in our live classes," and they go through that same cycle, those same iterations. So that's agile project management in software. But what does it look like in online course creation?

So we can say, for my online course, all of the requirements for my dream online course, which might be two years down the track, I want my students to have the ability to access a membership, I want them to have the ability to download worksheets that are fillable PDFs, I want them to have the ability to be part of a community and ask questions, and work together to be able to resolve situations, I want them to have the ability to upload an assessment, the list can go on, but you list the requirements.

It's really important here to identify these requirements, not tasks. So we're not saying, "I need to design a landing page, I need to sign up for PayPal." No, they are tasks. The first step is the requirements. What does the final course look like?

And then we say, "Okay, well, that's what my dream course is. But where do I start now?" So we might say, "The first version of this dream course, is a one hour workshop," that might be $5, for people to attend, maybe it's an hour and a half, two hours, whatever you like, maybe it's free, maybe it's $5.

And for here, we list out all of the tasks that we need to do for just this workshop. So if we say, "Okay, for this workshop, I need to have a landing page, I need to have payment setup, I need to have content. And I need to have video content, for example, marketing."

So it lists out all the tasks to be able to achieve our requirements for just this workshop. And then we go into our design, create and launch cycles, where our designers are planning our curriculum.

Our design is identifying what our goal is, what our learning outcomes and competence is at for the workshop, and we start to create all of that material. While we're also launching, while we're speaking to people, we're sending people to a landing page, we're putting stories on our Instagram, on LinkedIn, on Facebook.

And you're saying to build an audience at this stage for a two hour long workshop, for example. And then comes the workshop day. And that is when you release your first version of your course.

From this workshop, you will collect feedback. You can collect feedback through the questions that people ask during the workshop. You can ask questions throughout the workshop such as quizzes to the workshop to start to ascertain how people are feeling. And of course you can do a feedback form at the end.

All of this feedback then goes into your second So at this point, you've verified if people are on board with what you're demonstrating what you're helping them with. And you can then move into version two.

So you then look at your requirements, okay for my long term goals for my course, what's the next step? Or maybe I will do just a portion of my course. But do it in a short course. So one week long. And we go to that same cycle.

For a one week live course, for example, what do I need to do, then you start to design, create and launch. And then you run your one week short course. And that's launched version two.

Throughout that week, you collect feedback. It's really important to collect feedback throughout the course not just at the end, and then all that feedback, then goes back into the beginning of the cycle, where you look at your requirements again, and you say, "Okay, well, how do I move a little bit closer to my dream course? What's the next version look like?"

And this might be a four week beta course, where you are building everything live, as you're going along, to then really work with your students to better understand them, to better understand if you're helping them by listening to their questions, they're asking you, identifying if you've just given them too much.

When you've launched that, that helps you to then be even that step closer to that final course. Now you know exactly what your students want, you know exactly how you can support them.

You know, what types of lessons work best, you've shifted around your curriculum a little bit to not be too overwhelming.

Or maybe you've put more in because it was underwhelming, and then you get to your final version, where now that two year goal that was seems like a really long reach, you've worked in these cycles, so that when you're ready to launch, you know, it's exactly what people need, and you have all of your live sessions ready to go and ready to be your final course.

And that is how you can use agile project management strategies, in course creation, to save your time to save you overwhelm, and to provide an amazing learning journey for your students.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, I absolutely love how you have broken this down. You make everything sound just so much easier and succinct. This is just a really cool method, because you're not having so much overwhelm, I think is a big part of this too.

Because I know, when someone wants to create a course, and using my Photoshop example, I wanted to put everything into that course. And it was very overwhelming. I remember spending, you know, 10-12, hour days, scripting, writing, editing, and trying to think about every single piece that could go into this course.

But this method that you've laid out here, just seems like it would cut down on that overwhelm so much more. Because in the beginning, I'm not having to think about, say that four hour course or that 16 hour course, all I'm having to think of is just a piece of that course.

And if I can get that piece started and teach that one curriculum and start getting feedback and start building that list, that's going to be motivational for the long term goal, you know?

I don't have to think about the whole enchilada, I can just focus on just that one little piece, get that out there, get feedback, build that group. And that's motivational, because it just shows you that you're moving along, you're learning the processes, you're building it out, little bit by little bit.

And then adding those parts as you move along. I feel like this is a really, really cool way of going about it something that I think I'm going to try to implement in the future. And I really appreciate that.

So I think you've laid this out very well, I think that starting with the goal, going through the different steps, talking about the competencies to create the course and then the curriculum that they will need, then breaking that down into small pieces.

And moving through this agile style where you're giving a little bit adding to it, refining it, making it better, getting feedback, taking that feedback and applying it, I think is just absolutely brilliant.

So let's move into a little bit of the marketing strategies. And so once you start building this course out, once you start getting that audience, you're testing these ideas, things are moving along for you. Then you need to really focus on getting more people to the course getting more leads and prospects.

So what are some strategies that you recommend or that you implement to drive traffic and drive those prospects?

Kat Sorbello
The Agile process is to continually be building an audience and continually be building this journey where people are coming into your journey with you whether they are coming along the workshop with you, whether they're coming along onto a beta course with you.

So that could be through a lead magnet that's driving people to the version of the course that you're up to. You may want to do continual workshops, where maybe you do the same workshop four times in a year, because that workshop is a little tiny part of your bigger course.

So it's giving the opportunity for people to have a taster of what your larger costs will look like. And you're involving them into your community. Something that I personally like doing is a behind the scenes.

So I do a free training session every week that just goes behind the scenes where I just log in, share my screen and show people what I'm doing in course creation. And that's a way to drive people into my community as well, to then start them on the journey with The Stella Way in regards to courses in regards to how they can build online courses effectively.

Basically an introduction to what we've just discussed, curriculum and agile project management. In an organic way as well, by continually talking, by continually checking in by continually having conversations and really having a personal touch to it.

So I like to manage everything in a CRM, I use Zoho CRM, but you could use Air Table, you could use an Excel spreadsheet, whatever you like, but really understanding who is in my audience? What's their current struggles, and how can I best support them?

And then actually doing that, actually checking in, seeing how their courses going, having a legitimate interest in what their course is and what they're trying to achieve.

Because then you can start to build that relationship and start to build that trust, where they are then ready to come on board and your course with you, or work with you one-on-one, or come on a group session.

Whatever you are building, whatever you have in your business, by building relationships, and by building trust, is the most effective way to not only gain new clients, but to ensure that you have returning clients, which brings me into a business structure of business strategy that has your courses, sitting within a business structure.

So maybe this course that you're building is one of multiple courses that are a bundle of courses, which takes people on a journey to achieve a huge goal. Or maybe your course gives people the foundations before working with you one on one.

Or maybe your course is complementary to working with you one on one, whatever it may be, look at how your course fits within your larger business, your business structure, your business strategy, and then create a journey where you're then bringing new people into your business organically by building trust by building relationships.

And then take them on that journey with you throughout your courses, throughout your one on ones, whatever your structure may be.

Jeremy Deighan
So it's really about just building up those relationships. And this is, you know, going back to what we said earlier, so important because so many people go out and create the thing first, and then try to find the people to sell it to and you haven't built any of those relationships.

People don't know who you are, they don't know why they should buy your products or your services or your offers. And it seems like the way you're going about this makes a lot of sense that as you're going through this process, as you're talking to people, as you're getting them into these workshops and working with them, and getting feedback.

You're building that know, like, and trust factor, you know, people are starting to understand who you are and how you can help them. It's just absolutely brilliant.

This has been great today, Kat I think that you've given a lot of great insight into, you know, how you go about your curriculum design, how you go about the agile system, how you go about building these foundational relationships and your audience, who will be with you through every step of the process.

Thinking back to when you got started or thinking back to some people that you've helped in the beginning phases. For anyone who's listening to this podcast right now, who hasn't created a course yet, or they're in the very early stages of creating an online course.

What would be your best advice or one very good tip that you could give to that person who is early on their journey?

Kat Sorbello
One tip would be just breathe. So take it slow. And if we look at what does your overall course look like, think about what's the first step to get there.

Rather than saying, "How am I going to get these 10 steps down in two weeks?" Rather think, "What is the first thing look like?" And then release that and then come back and say, "What is the second thing look like?" And then release that.

So take little steps as you're building up your course and remember that your first course, your first version of your course is only the first version, that's not going to be the best. It's not going to be the dream. That's what you're building.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, absolutely. You can always make it better, you can always refine it, like you said, Google 20 years ago, was a very different world than Google is today. Facebook, when it first came out is very different than it is today.

And so you can always get that feedback, refine your processes, refine your program, and your services make those better. And I think that is a great piece of advice.

So anyone out there who's listening that would like to find out more about you and your business? Where can they go online to do that?

Kat Sorbello
Go directly to my website, which is www.thestellaway.com. And on there, you will find resources and templates, and YouTube videos that will support you in being able to create your first course.

So what are some tools that you can use? What are some curriculum techniques that you can use, so that you can eventually release your first version?

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome, very good. Well, I will make sure that I put that link up into the show notes for this episode, so people can find you easily.

Kat, thank you so much today for coming on the podcast and sharing your wisdom. We really appreciate you. And I just hope you have just the most success going forward. And yeah, thanks so much for everything today.

Kat Sorbello
Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy. I really enjoyed my time.

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