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Guide Students Toward Completion: A Proven Method For Structuring Your Online Course

I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of courses over the years, and I’ve noticed many of them have a common problem: Most online courses have way too much content. 

I believe course creators fall into this trap because they are worried about the quality or value of the content they are providing. This insecurity leads them to overload students with tons of content. The thought is this, even if it is subconscious, “I’m not sure how much they’ll value this content… But, if I give them LOTS of it, at least they’ll feel like they got their money’s worth!”

Unfortunately, that train of thought is incorrect. More is not always better. Longer is not always better. Bigger is not always better.

The truth is, the more content you include in your online courses, the more you risk confusing your students!

So, what’s the solution to this problem?

It’s actually easier than the alternative of pumping out hour-long videos and endless coursework. By strategically structuring your content, you can keep your students engaged, motivated, moving forward, and increase your student success rate drastically.

Students don’t need more; they need a clear pathway to success. Clear being the keyword. Taking the time to strip away a lot of stuff that's not important and providing better content, not necessarily more content is the name of the game. This will reduce your student’s sense of being overwhelmed and keep them on track to success!

Students want to focus on one problem, one solution, check.

If you can provide that, then they think, “I'll buy the next solution.”

That's how people learn, and that's how people evolve. It’s how they continue on the path to success. It’s how they grow and ascend through the stages of your course or curriculum.

Introducing the Client Ascension Model:   


You know about how the black belt system works in martial arts, correct?  Instead of one program which takes ten years to master, the black belt system broke it all down into steps. You start with a white belt, master from skills and achieve your yellow belt. 

And this keeps going throughout multiple colors until you reach the black belt.

The Client Ascension Model does the same thing for your online course.

By using this model and breaking your content up into levels or stages, it allows you to capture the innate drive and desire of your clients to achieve Mastery.

This drive has a name.  It’s called the “Zeigarnik Effect,” and it’s the drive to complete what has already been started. 

It's why people stay up all night binge-watching Netflix to finish the series.

It’s why everyone is so excited to see the next Harry Potter or Star Wars movie.

Or, finish your stellar series of courses!

The Zeigarnik Effect essentially lets your students start where they feel comfortable and then propels them to continue until they feel they’ve mastered the topic, reached a pinnacle, or accomplished the task at hand. 

This strategy is one reason Digital Marketer HQ Certification Program has been so wildly successful. Watch out Case Study here. 

And when you use the Client Ascension Model™, which inherently utilizes psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, you’ll see better student outcomes, increased engagement, and massively more profits too.

So, let’s dig further into exactly HOW you implement the Client Ascension Model™ :

1) Evaluate Your Learning Outcomes

If you already have an online course, but you feel it's not well organized and you can improve it, then the best place to start doing it is by evaluating your learning outcomes.

  • Are they effective and aligned with the problem you are solving/the transformation you are selling?
  • Is each module of your course getting the learners closer to the outcomes they want?

The answer to these questions will help you identify the transformation that needs to take place for learners to achieve their desired results. 

When you draft your course outline, always start with the bigger picture ( "the transformation you are selling") and then break it into its components. Trying to follow this process will help you visualize where people are when they start the course, and where they should be when they finish it. 

So, go back to your content, get your outline down on paper, and you can build from there!

2) Plan The Step-by-Step Learning Journey

Once you’ve solidified what the transformation will look like, and have clear learning outcomes, you can now plan out a clear step-by-step journey to guide students toward completion.

If you are creating a short course, you can create 3-5 modules (this will be the main structure); each module is considered a "level", and will be made of a several mini steps or tasks.  

Breaking it up into these key modules and sub-steps is just a simple way for your students to recognize the main stages they’ll move through as they progress.

Think about what concepts need to be covered each section to reach the learning objective. ALWAYS keep the transformation in mind for each module, and determine the essential steps that are needed to take students from point A to B.

After you have clarity on the amount (and sequence) of content you want to include in each module, you can start organizing your lessons so they build on each other; each lesson increasing in mastery and challenge, almost like a staircase.

And don’t forget, each module should build on each other, but also have a common theme throughout.

Identify the four to seven major ideas and organize them into the THEME of your course.

Place them in an appropriate sequence. If possible, make sure the ideas build on one another and culminate into a final result or accomplishment for the student.

Then with the theme and modules outlined, you can get specific on what lessons you’ll include, and what format you’ll present them in.  

Make sure you check: 

  • Are the different sections and lessons supporting the main learning objective? 
  • Can different steps  be combined to maximize their impact? 
  • Are any sections irrelevant or unrelated to the course’s main topic and/or goal?
  • Are you giving opportunities to apply content learned? After each module or lesson, you should identify what key action steps the student can put to use. The format can vary -  it can be a worksheet, a checklist or something else. The key is that it is used to facilitate interactive learning. 

3) Planning for Engagement

Now that you know WHAT you want learners to be able to DO after completing each module and what content you need to provide in order to help them do it, HOW will you know they can actually do it, and how will you keep them engaged?

Planning for engagement requires a thought process just like any other form of strategic planning (just as much as content planning). The more time and considered planning you give to the process, the more likely you are to create a highly profitable online course.

Important points to consider:

a) Motivate with “wins”

Provide your learners with early wins to motivate them from the beginning of the course and keep them going. Whether that’s a simple quiz, watching a quick start video or something else.

Giving students this sense of accomplishment is a powerful tactic that makes people feel they have made some progress towards a goal. This results in students becoming even more committed towards its achievement.

Read more: 5 Secrets That Will Keep Online Students Coming Back for More

b) Badges

There are many ways you can add gamification elements to online courses, without going the route of building a full game-based learning course from start to finish (which has been accomplished by a few ambitious educators).

Consider adding badges to your course for recognizing student accomplishments along the way. Badges that are rewarded based on achieving particular competencies can be offered as a way of rewarding student performance and encouraging continued engagement.

c) Quizzes

Introduce quizzes in every module/lesson to keep their interest and encourage them to keep moving along through the course. This way, you can guarantee student engagement and understanding of the course material. 

The results of your quiz or assessment should drive action in your students in order to ensure student learning and outcomes.

For example, if a student performs poorly on a quiz, you’ll want their results to inspire them to revisit lessons or reference additional resources on the course topic. Even if a student performs well, having results that drive students to learn more will prove beneficial.

d) Offer Handouts and Worksheets

Offering resources such as “printables” or other handouts are also a great way to keep students learning and studying. It allows them to focus on your course even when they are offline and keeps them working toward the completion and the outcome they desire.

e) Require submissions of assignments.

You can provide fillable-PDF’s so students can type directly into them, save them on their computers, and upload them in their online course. Even if you tell them they won’t receive personalized feedback, when a student knows they have to submit something, they generally do a better job. And rarely will they submit a blank assignment! They have a sense of accountability that they must complete the work assigned.

Be sure also to allow students to share their quiz/assessment results. Chances are, high performing students will take pride in their scores. As a result, they’ll want other students to notice their performance. Not only does sharing results give students validation, but it will also drive action in underperforming students. Students who may have initially done poorly on the assessment will be motivated to study harder.


By following all of these steps and implementing the Client Ascension Model™ model into your course, you will help students see a clear path to success, avoid getting overwhelmed and stay motivated to complete your course and keep buying future products and services.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you seen better results by breaking modules up into more consumable portions? Have you utilized the “Zeigarnik Effect” in any of your businesses?

steps to make more money with your online course


Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss is the founder of Client Engagement Academy, The Client Engagement Membership Platform and Internet Sales Experts. He has become one of the top experts in online sales and marketing and client engagement. Mike's Client Engagement Membership Platform is leading the global movement utilizing modern technology and proven adult education methodologies to increase client engagement and course graduation rates causing profit margin expansion.

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