20 Tips for Better Online Fitness & Meditation Courses

Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate.” ~Charles M. Schultz

It’s not easy teaching online, but it’s especially tricky teaching fitness or movement classes such as yoga.

Woman lifts weights.

Photo courtesy of Eric Galler.

The audience experience is critical in these courses. If they can’t clearly see and hear what you’re doing, they can’t do it themselves.

Fortunately, it takes just a few improvements to make the online experience worthwhile. By the way, even if you’re teaching a different kind of course, these tips are still valuable!

How to Create Great Fitness Videos

A No-Fail Method for Beating Writer’s Block

Fake it ’til you make it. ~Anonymous 

On New Year’s Eve, I met a woman who had wanted to write a book all her life but could never get past a certain point. She hadn’t written for years because she was so frustrated by her failed attempts.

Blank Word document.   I told her I could help her, but only if she followed my instructions exactly. She did, and 30 days later she had written 120 pages.

Three Easy Fixes for a Better Online Course

Everyone wants to learn the same thing from painful situations: how to avoid repeating them. ~Gary Zukav

Outside my window, our roosters are learning to crow. I never realized that they couldn’t crow until they reached a certain age, or that they had to practice.

Rooster in yard.   They began uncertainly. At first I thought they were ill, or choking on a bug. They wobbled between notes. The closest comparison I can think of is that of a nearly dead car battery trying to turn over.

They made me think of the practice sessions I used to attend at The Teaching Company. One day I was watching a professor deliver a lecture for the first time in the studio.

After five minutes, I turned to the team and said, “All the usual things.” Then I left, without another word. But they knew exactly what I meant.

What Can You Learn about Teaching from My Lack of Running Water?

Awareness requires a rupture with the world we take for granted…” ~Shoshana Zuboff

The compressor for our well guzzles oil like a camel that’s just crossed the Sahara. Down the hatch in one frantic gulp but with no impact on the thirst.

Compressor and oil bottles.   Put another way, we have water challenges at our farm, and it’s not just because of the drought in California. The pump is a cantankerous old hen, and it rarely coughs up the golden egg—that is, enough water for something as glorious as a shower.

There’s nothing like sponge baths for weeks on end to make you truly appreciate water that runs when you turn a tap.

WaterBuckets   We’ve become inventive about everything involving water, from washing dishes to washing hair to shaving to flushing toilets to watering the garden with the dishwater.

The other day, as I was trying to wash my hair from a pot of hot water (not easy, I can attest), I realized that until the past year, I had taken a shower nearly every day of my adult life.

I blithely assumed that I would get up in the morning, turn on the water, and be able to soap up without turning off the water for fear of running out while still covered with suds. And that I would be able to do this for the rest of my life.

I took running water for granted. There it is, my confession.

For years I had tried to be conservative with water, turning it off while brushing my teeth and doing other things we’re told to do to save water. (Except for my showers, of course.)

I knew that there was a drought in California and much of the world. But heck, I was on the East coast where water is as available as…well, rain. All that changed when I moved to the West.

My point here isn’t to make you feel guilty for however much water you use, or to make you feel virtuous for however much water you save.

My point is that getting used to something makes us less aware of it, in all its uses, subtleties, challenges, and integrations into our lives.

We all know mindfulness is important, yada yada, and we take even that for granted. But when we are teaching, mindfulness is essential—yet as hard to attain as it is essential.

For one thing, we often take for granted what we know about the subject. That is to say—we already know the subject, and we forget that our students don’t.

Depending on your subject area or how long it has been since you learned something, you might, for instance, take for granted such things as how you multiply, what happened in the Battle of Gettysburg, how to network, or why the Impressionists were rebels even though now they seem like a part of art history that always existed.

We forget that for our students there is always a moment when they hear the material for the first time.

Think about that.

Can you remember what it was like to not know what you know now?

For my part—while I’m confessing things—I hardly remember what it’s like to not know how to write, how to organize content, how to deliver in front of a camera. But I force myself whenever I teach these things to unpack them, break them down, find metaphors that help convey their challenging nature.

I’m always surprised at how much there is to unpack and how difficult it is to dig down to the very bottom of my knowledge, to the starting point. I can do it—but only if I bring my teaching to that beginning point, to the foundation, to the point at which I stop taking for granted what I already know.

Whether you are teaching 1 + 1 or astrophysics or how to make crème brulée, your students need you to be mindful of what it’s like to be clueless about what you’re learning.

Your students need you to don beginner’s mind and stop taking for granted all the things you already know. And to get creative about how to teach from the ground up, once you see what you’re actually building—not only the end point of knowledge attained, but all the steps in between.

When my son returned home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, he had been traveling for four days straight and out in the field for a solid month before that. His uniform was stiff with mud. He peeled out of his boots and padded upstairs in socks that were blackened and sweat-soaked.

Twenty minutes later I heard him shout from the bathroom. “Ma! You have hot running water! It’s AMAZING!”

That’s the reaction you want from your students when you connect them to the wellspring of your knowledge. All it takes is seeing with fresh eyes.

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Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course. 

Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).

How to Make a Criticism Sandwich

If we had no faults we should not take so much pleasure in noting those of others.” ~François de La Rochefoucauld

When I was handed my first course to review for The Teaching Company, I got out my red pen and bled it dry.

What a mess that professor was, and I let him know it by rewriting, reorganizing, and reinventing every paragraph. I felt very impressed with myself for being so much smarter and such a better writer than this award-winning (ha!) professor.

criticismSandwich   Since it was my first course for the company, I handed my notes to the person training me.

She said something like, “You clearly have a strong background in editing. This professor won’t have time to make all these changes, so it will be more effective to tell him the 2 or 3 things that will have the biggest impact on how well this teaches, and delete the rest of your notes. I really appreciate how hard you worked on this.”

I just got handed my first criticism sandwich.

5 Things that Drive Me Crazy When I Watch Online Courses & Webinars

Boredom is the conviction that you can’t change…the shriek of unused capacities.” ~Saul Bellow

People think you can make big money these days selling online courses or paid webinars. A few people actually do, mostly by selling online courses and webinars about how to sell online courses and webinars.

kiraLaptop   The best of these have strong delivery and even stronger content. The worst have wretched delivery and no content.

Here is my list of things that drive me crazy when I’ve paid for someone to teach me online.

How to Get Comfortable in Front of a Video Camera—7 Tips

Anxiety is practicing failure in advance.” ~Seth Godin

No one believes me now, but when I was young, I was terribly shy. I hated to speak in front of other people. Much to my horror, when I was in 9th grade, I had to deliver the “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech from Julius Caesar to the rest of the class.

Face on camera monitor.   One day I was reading the speech and mumbling it to myself as I sat at the kitchen table. My mother overheard me and insisted on hearing the speech. I stumbled through it with my head down, barely whispering. It was embarrassing just to read it to her.

She insisted that I stand on the chair and deliver it aloud—truly aloud. I protested. I whined. I got up on the chair.

How to Make It Sticky: 6 Examples from The Great Courses

Sticky = understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior.” ~Chip & Dan Heath

A dark-haired, emerald-eyed, voluptuous woman shimmies past you.

brightOrangeMinidress   She is wearing a bright orange mini-dress that barely reaches her hips, and a matching, fringed scarf wrapped once around her long neck. It drapes to her knees.

A man in a white, three-piece suit puts a record on a turntable you hadn’t noticed before. You hear the scratch of the needle and then the smooth opening notes of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. The man reaches for the woman, and they began to dance, hands touching but bodies apart.

You might think this is a scene from a nightclub. But no, this is a moment in a survey class on U.S. history, and the professor and his wife are demonstrating the concept of “cool” as it permeated American culture. It is a lesson the students present that day never forgot.

Why not? Because it surprised them and made an abstract idea concrete.

When Life Brings You Coyotes: 3 Things To Do When Things Go Wrong

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” ~Booker T. Washington

“Bad luck comes in threes,” or so they say. I certainly hope so, because that means I’m done for now. In less than a week, our family ranch has seen:

  1. A windstorm that knocked literally 1000s of avocados off the trees.
  2. A rare freeze that killed all our specialty potatoes.
  3. A coyote in broad daylight attacking our free range chickens.

Coyote howling.   Although these events are particular to farming, everyone faces days or weeks when things go awry. It might be a disaster or it might just be something that thwarts your expectations.

Recipe for Juicy Tidbits

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” ~E.B. White


Genghis Khan’s brutal sweep across the steppes spread the game of chess, a game he relished.

A half-eaten piece of cheese led to a man’s conviction of burglary in a famous criminal trial.

“Every two days, we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”

Humans consume energy at an incredible rate: about 18 terawatts, or 18 trillion joules of energy per second. But if we had to supply that much energy ourselves, it would be the equivalent of every man, woman, and child on the planet weightlifting 570 pounds up 1 meter, every second, for the rest of our lives.

Cooking set up for making juicy tidbits.   Did you know any of the above facts? I didn’t. They’re examples of juicy tidbits that made me smack my lips in the middle of an educational meal on, respectively:

In each case, they made me wake up to some aspect of the subject I hadn’t considered.