Unlocking the Mystery Behind Lackluster Results in Your Online Courses: The Surprising Truth

How many of your students need to remember what you taught them during the course you so carefully designed?
How many get the results you promised?
You go to all that trouble to help them make a difference in their life and then find they never get around to taking the actions they seemed so inspired to take during the course.
Why is that?
How many of your students are like this?

Perhaps you've been guilty of the same issue yourself after a training course.

It doesn't seem to be any different for online or in-person courses.

The result is poor ROI and dissatisfied clients and students.


Reasons Why People Taking Courses Rarely Put Into Practice What They Have Learned

  1. Lack of motivation: Students may lack the motivation or interest to implement new skills or information in their daily lives, either at work or outside the workplace.

  2. Poor understanding: People may not fully understand the material, making it challenging to apply it in real-world situations. Or the material hasn't been presented in a way that students find it easy to see how it could be applied in practice.

  3. No plan for implementation: Students may not have a clear plan for integrating the new information into their daily routine, making it easy to forget or neglect it.

  4. Resistance to change: People may resist changing their habits or routines, making adopting new behaviours or practices challenging.

  5. Limited resources: They may lack the resources or support to implement the new information, such as time, money, equipment or support from others.

  6. Short-term focus: People may prioritize immediate tasks and responsibilities over incorporating new information, leading to forgetfulness over time.


I don't believe I should take the responsibility of making sure a student decides to apply or not what they learn. That's their own, significantly if they invest in the training themselves.

But as a course designer, I should consider these six factors and do what I can to minimise the risk of these occurring in the courses I design.

Suppose you are new to course design and using one of the many courses hosting platforms such as Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific etc. In that case, the chances are you are doing so in part to generate extra income by selling your courses. 

When you promote your courses, you'll be making a customer promise.

Telling prospective students what they can expect to achieve by taking your course.

How their lives will change, their problems resolved, and how much easier it will be for them to do such and such.

But your promise doesn't guarantee these results will happen.

No matter how good your course is, the student has to do three things:

  1. Understand what you taught.
  2. Remember what you taught.
  3. Implement what they learnt.


Every course you design should have strategies to address these three points.

To overcome these challenges, it can be helpful to encourage students to set clear goals, establish an implementation plan, seek support when they need it, and regularly review and reinforce the new information they took from your course.


Remembering What You Taught Them

At the beginning of this post, I asked, "How many of your students forget what you taught them during the course you so carefully designed?"

It's difficult to know.

It can vary widely depending on the material, the method of training, and the individual learner.

However, research has shown that without proper reinforcement and follow-up, a significant portion of new information can be lost within a short period, sometimes referred to as the "forgetting curve."

If your students forget what you taught them, they can not implement what you taught them and can't get the results you promised.

Customers who don't get what they are promised often give poor reviews. The last thing you want.

The exact rate of forgetting can vary, but it is estimated that people may forget anywhere from 20-80% of new information within just a few days or weeks without active effort to retain and reinforce it.

This demonstrates how crucial it is to continually reinforce the material and use it in practical contexts to increase retention and long-term recall.

The forgetting curve refers to the phenomenon where the amount of information retained in memory decreases over time unless it is actively reviewed. It illustrates the rate at which people tend to forget newly learned information over time. It's a graphical representation of the decline of memory retention over time. It shows how information is initially well retained but gradually decreases unless it is repeated or reviewed.

The rate of forgetting varies depending on factors such as the type of information, the individual's prior knowledge, and the methods used to encode and store the information. The forgetting curve is widely used in fields such as psychology and education to explain the importance of review and repetition in retaining information.

When designing a course, you should consider the implications and how to address them.

Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first introduced the concept of the forgetting curve in the late 19th century.

Ebbinghaus performed extensive self-experimentation to study memory and to forget, and his research laid the foundation for studying human memory. He even developed a formula for his curve R = K * e^(-t/s).

The forgetting curve was one of his most notable contributions and remained a widely referenced concept in psychology.

Have a look at other theories that are associated theories, such as:

  1. The spacing effect: The idea that distributing learning activities over time, rather than massing them into a short period, leads to better long-term retention of the material.

  2. Interference theory: The idea that competition between stored memories can impair recall, leading to forgetting.

  3. The serial position effect: The observation that people tend to remember the first and last items in a list better than items in the middle.

  4. The strength and decay theory is the idea that a memory trace's strength decreases over time, leading to forgetting.

  5. The retrieval-cue theory: The idea that recalls is improved by the presence of cues associated with the information when it was learned.



The Remembering Formula

Whereas the forgetting curve relates to forgetting, the remembering formula relates to how to overcome the forgetting curve.

The formula is based on a one-hour lecture.

The graph below shows what happens to the recall of content from the lecture over time.

When repeatedly exposed to the same information, it takes less and less time to "activate" the information in your long-term memory, and it becomes easier for you to retrieve it when needed.


It goes like this...

  • You take a lesson on day 1 knowing nothing, or zero per cent (where the curve starts at the baseline). Regardless of how well you know it, you know everything by the end of the lecture (where the curve rises to its highest point).
  • If you don't apply the knowledge you learned in that lesson by day 2, don't think about it again, reread it, watch the videos again, etc., you will have forgotten between 20% and 80% of what you learned. Our brains are continually temporarily storing information, such as snippets of dialogue overheard on the sidewalk and the attire of the person in front of you. Our brains let go of the information because it isn't necessary and won't be used again, along with the information from the lesson that you should keep in mind.
  • We remember even less by day 7, and by day 30, we only remember 2% to 3% of the initial hour!
  • Thankfully the curve's shape is modifiable. Your brain receives a solid signal to retain that information when you process the same information again. Your brain responds to repetition by saying, "Oh, there it is again. I better preserve that."
  • When you are frequently exposed to the same information, it takes less time to "activate" in your long-term memory, and it is simpler to recall it when you need it.



Encourage your students to spend 10 minutes reviewing the content from your course within 24 hours of receiving it. They will bring the curve back up to approximately 100%.

It takes five minutes to "reactivate" the same content and raise the curve a week later (on day 7).

By day 30, their brains will respond, "Yes, I know that," in as little as 2-4 minutes.


With online courses where we can automate emails from our LMS or course platform such as Kajabi, we can nudge students and prompt them to review our material and change the shape of their curve.

The more they recall, the more they remember to act upon what they recall, the more benefit they will gain from your course, and the more they are likely to achieve what you promised.


Factors to Take Into Account When Designing Your Courses

Here are several ways you can help your students recall the information you share in your courses to improve their recall of your content.


Repetition is a powerful memory strategy involving repeatedly repeating information to improve retention and recall. This works because repetition helps solidify the information in long-term memory, making it easier to retrieve later. In online courses, repetition can be achieved through various methods, including re-reading the course material, taking practice quizzes, summarizing the information, or teaching the material to someone else.

The key to effective repetition is to space out the repetition over time, allowing for a sufficient period of forgetting before reviewing the information again. This helps to reinforce the information in memory and improve recall, leading to better performance in the course. Regularly repeating information helps strengthen the memory trace and makes it easier to retrieve later.


Spacing is a memory strategy that spreads study sessions over time rather than cramming all the information into a single study session. This helps improve memory retention because it allows time for the information to be transferred from working memory to long-term memory. In online courses, spacing can be achieved by breaking up study sessions into smaller chunks, taking breaks between study sessions, or studying the material over several days or weeks. By spacing out study sessions, students can reinforce the information in their memory and avoid overloading their working memory, making it easier to recall the information when needed. Spacing can also help prevent burnout and boredom, allowing students to stay motivated and engaged in their coursework.

Spread out your study sessions rather than cramming all the information into one session.

 Active recall

Active recall is a memory strategy that involves actively retrieving information from memory rather than simply re-reading or passively reviewing the material. This helps improve memory retention because retrieval practice, or recalling information from memory, helps solidify the information in long-term memory, making it easier to retrieve later. In online courses, active recall can be achieved through self-testing, creating flashcards, summarizing the material, or teaching the material to someone else. By actively recalling the information, students engage with the material and reinforce it in memory, leading to better recall and retention. Additionally, active recall helps identify areas where students may need to focus their studies, allowing them to address weaknesses and improve their overall understanding of the material.

Try to recall information from memory without looking at your notes or other materials.


This memory strategy involves adding additional information or creating connections to familiar information to improve retention and recall. This works because elaboration helps to create meaningful connections between new information and existing knowledge, making the information more meaningful and memorable. In online courses, elaboration can be achieved by taking notes, creating visual aids, asking questions, or relating new information to personal experiences. By elaborating on the material, students can deepen their understanding of the information and make connections to what they already know, leading to better recall and retention. Additionally, elaboration can help make the material more engaging and exciting, keeping students motivated and focused on their coursework.

Connect new information to something you already know to help deepen your understanding and make the information easier to remember.


Chunking is a memory strategy that involves breaking down information into smaller, manageable pieces, making it easier to remember and process. This is because the human brain has limited working memory capacity, and chunking helps reduce cognitive overload by breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable pieces. By organizing information into chunks, students can more readily recall and retain it in their long-term memory, making it easier to retrieve and use later. Additionally, chunking helps create meaningful connections between related pieces of information, making it easier to understand and recall the information in context. Break information into smaller, manageable chunks to make it easier to learn and retain.


This involves connecting new information to something already familiar, meaningful, or memorable to the learner. This helps improve memory retention because it creates a connection between the new information and a pre-existing memory, making it easier to recall. For example, suppose a student is trying to remember a new vocabulary word. In that case, they might associate it with a picture, an acronym, or a related word to help them remember it more easily.

By connecting new information and existing knowledge, students can improve their recall and retention of the material. Additionally, forming associations can deepen students' understanding of the material, making it more meaningful and memorable. Create associations between new information and something memorable or meaningful to you.


Testing yourself regularly during a course can help improve memory retention and recall. This is because retrieval practice, or recalling information from memory, helps solidify the information in long-term memory, making it easier to retrieve later. Additionally, testing yourself regularly can help identify areas where you need to focus your studies, allowing you to address weaknesses and improve your overall understanding of the material. When testing yourself, you can use flashcards, practice quizzes, or self-made tests to assess your understanding of the material and identify areas that need improvement. Making testing a regular part of the post-course review process can improve recall and retention of the material, leading to better course performance.


Getting results from online courses take more than just throwing together some videos and hoping for the best. 

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