Abe Crystal | How to Leverage Digital Courses in the post-COVID World

Abe Crystal is an expert in online coursework. He is the co-founder of Ruzuku, a software company that makes it ridiculously easy for passionate experts to create, host, sell, and teach online programs. Ruzuku was built from the ground up with a focus on streamlining the course creation process. 

Abe has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Human Computer Interaction.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • The best practices and the common mistakes people make when creating online courses for the first time
  • Examples of businesses that are embracing digital courses
  • How to identify and reach out to potential customers online 
  • How to adapt to the current needs of customers 
  • Why Abe decided to create a software company around digital courses
  • How the online courses market and level of awareness on digital courses have changed over the years
  • How the education industry can design online courses that fosters & facilitates intuitive learning
  • The best practices for corporate training programs

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the smart business revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution. JOHN Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome everyone. JOHN Corcoran here. I’m excited to be here. I’m the co host of the smart business revolution podcast where I talk with CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations like YPO eo activation, Blizzard lending stream many others. I’m also the co founder of rise 25, where we help to connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. I’m excited today, because we’ve got an expert in online course work, which is something that a lot of people think about now, how do you create a digital course? How do you create an online property? How do you take your knowledge and expertise and make it something that is digital that people can consume from anywhere. And so I brought Avon here, Dr. A crystal, he actually has a PhD in human computer interaction. He actually studied this stuff. And now he has a software company called resue that had for many years now has helped people and professionals and companies to create online coursework to capture that expertise. So this is an incredibly relevant topic right now. We’re gonna be talking all about that before but before we get into that, suppose episode is brought to you by rise 25 media, which I co founded with Dr. Jeremy Weiss, and our mission is to connect with your best referral partners and customers, the way that I do that the way that I encourage you to do that is through generating content, connecting with high caliber intelligent people, like I’m doing right now with a and and showcasing them, featuring them. It’s one of the best things that I’ve done. It’s amazing networking tool. It’s an amazing tool for delivering value to people in your network. And so I highly encourage it. And you know, because of doing this strategy, I’ve been able to connect and partner with companies from Salesforce to Tony Robbins company, even though my business partner and I connected through podcasting. So if you want to learn more go to rise. 25 media.com. All right. So a first of all, we know we hung out in personnel. It was a while back now, I believe in St. Louis, right at through Josh Turner, our mutual friend. And I’m excited to talk to you and pick your brain a little bit about this topic. So first of all, you know that for those who are listening to the recording or watching a much later we’re recording this in mid April 2020 Coronavirus pandemic is happening And you have had a lot of people I’m sure who are thinking about for the first time how to create a digital course. What are some of the best practices? What are some of the mistakes and best practices that people make when they’re dipping their toe into the waters for the first time to create an online course?

Abe Crystal  3:18  

All right, great question and a big question. So not a smaller that break down that down a little bit. I think the first thing I would say in terms of approaching this is to, you know, think, you know, as, as we often hear in business advice, but it’s really important is to, you know, think strategically and not reactively. So, I think what’s happening to a lot of people, whether you’re a consultant, a coach, and author, or perhaps someone who’s used to working with clients, in person, right, you know, a massage therapist, an artist, and suddenly you’re in a world where you need to help your clients and work with people online. It’s it’s natural to, to feel a sense of alarm or even a bit of panic about how to do that. And the first thought is like, how do I keep my business going? How do I replace my revenue? Yeah. And that’s fine. And like, that’s the imperative, and you have to deal with that. But it’s important to step back and think about, okay, what’s actually needed? And what do people want right now? And what are people? What are your customers going to want to spend time and money on in this kind of changed world? So that would be my first perspective on this is to take a moment to reflect on Okay, who are your best customers and the customers you can best serve online. And so we would, you know, a good starting point be perhaps talking to those customers and figuring out what they would, you know, maybe would you even approach some of your past clients and say, the thinking of creating an online course what Like, everything I’ve done for you, what would be best be included in there? Is that the type of research people should be doing? Yeah, I think that would be great. And also looking at what are the problems you solve for people in person? And can this be addressed? Or at least partially addressed online? Right. So if you are, we’ll just go with those. A couple of examples. I think it’s very different depending on what type of business that you’re in, right? If you’re a consultant who’s been doing in person workshops that have suddenly been canceled, then you can start thinking about translating that workshop into an online format. But recognizing that it’s gonna be a very different medium, right? You don’t want to take a full day workshop with a ton of slides and activities that are people are supposed to do around the table and working with other people in person and try to directly offer that exact same content. Same thing, our zoom session is not going to be a good experience for

John Corcoran  6:00  

Right, so you have to rethink the way that you deliver this material.

Abe Crystal  6:03  

Mm hmm, exactly. So he thinking more with the end in mind, like, what are the learning outcomes you might have been delivering in an in person workshop? How could what would you need to provide online that would help people get to those same learning outcomes within the constraints, but also the opportunities that you have online. And usually, that means breaking things down, right, making them more structured and focused. But making sure to have opportunities for interaction that replace the interaction you would naturally have if you were doing it in the room with people.

John Corcoran  6:36  

Right. So continue the other types of examples of businesses that are embracing digital courses.

Abe Crystal  6:44  

So the sort of in person workshop example translates fairly naturally although it does take work to adapt. I think you know, where you have to get more creative is if your work involves something that’s fundamentally physical experiential, right. So like, if you’re a massage therapist, you can’t give a massage online, that just doesn’t really work. But what you can think about is what are the needs that the massage is normally eating, and maybe you could creatively provide services that address those core human needs in some other way. So if massage for people is providing stress reduction, you know, what could you provide virtually that would help people deal with stress, for example.

Unknown Speaker  7:26  

Right, right. That’s great. Okay, continue.

Abe Crystal  7:31  

So that that’s really the core message is, Who are your customers that you can first of all, reach online to right? Because if you’re, if your business is, is generally relying on local marketing, you know, if you’re getting clients through, going out and getting talks locally through local networking through, you know, flyers on telephone poles around town like these are all totally valid ways of getting customers in your local area. Those aren’t working out. So, first of all, who can you even reach online, right? And you have personal contacts with past clients that you can reach out to them by email by phone by text, right? You get in touch with them and potentially interested in something you’re doing online. So maybe think differently,

John Corcoran  8:18  

or something like that. It’s something different that you’re creating, rather than something that you’re creating that, you know, if you got people through the old ways of doing things, you might create something different for those clients. But you bring up a great point, because I know so many people, and I’ve created a lot of online courses over the years. And, you know, I know a lot of people who go out, they rush out, they get excited, they go and create something, and then it’s crickets or they don’t know who to sell it to, or they don’t know how to sell it. They don’t know. They have no you know, pent up demand and people who are you know, they’re waiting and we know with their wallets open to pay for it. So in a certain sense, it’s kind of a chicken and egg problem, right where it’s you have to have the domain And you have to have the supply, you have to have the both, you know, you have to have, you know, if you don’t have a demand and people want to buy something from you online, then don’t bother creating an online course. And if you create an online course, the demand isn’t there, you’re not gonna, you’re gonna have the online course you’re not gonna have anyone to sell it to.

Abe Crystal  9:17  

That’s right. You know, in the past, before working on rescue, I had a consulting and training business, and we did in person workshops. And so if I was doing that now, like those events will be canceled. And so probably what I would be doing, if that was happening would be I would reach out to everyone who registered or had expressed interest in the in person workshop and say, like, Hey, you know, we’re trying to adapt to the new reality, can we can we, I get on the phone with you and chat for a few minutes about, you know, what you’re wanting to get out of the workshop and how we could, you know, best support you given that we need to meet online now. And I think we’ll First of all, a lot of people are adaptable. And they’ll be very open, you know, to you reaching out to them and getting your input. And then remember, your your clients need solutions now to write, they still need help. So it and you want to adapt that to the current situation. So, if you’re a b2b, if your clients are other businesses, they are probably looking for help figuring out how do they keep their business going, how do they adapt their marketing or whatever your expertise is, they’re looking for you to help them adapt, you know, to the current business situation. And then if your clients are individuals, then think about how of their personal goals and these changes in the situation, you know, again, in the massage example, or people suddenly under a lot more stress and so they’re looking for, you know, new new ways to help deal with stress, our you know, relationships under strain that people need new ways to help nurture their relationships and so on.

John Corcoran  10:59  

Right, right. How did you end up in this line of work? How did you go from getting your PhD in human human human computer interaction to starting a software company around digital courses?

Unknown Speaker  11:12  

Why the common

Abe Crystal  11:13  

thread is I’ve always been really interested in learning and education. And that was a big focus of my academic research as well. And I’d always loved teaching but I was also always kind of dissatisfied with a lot of the teaching that was done in academic environments and the lack of sort of innovation there and focusing on student needs. So I just got interested in what are ways that we can better help people you know, learn and develop. So part of that was experimenting with Yeah, like in person education, like running workshops, trying to be different ways to connect with people in person. And then some of it was Wow, there’s there’s so many people who want to learn online and can’t even reach you know, in person educational opportunities. How can We better serve them online.

John Corcoran  12:02  

Yeah. And how has the market changed and awareness changed over the years from when you started years ago to today?

Abe Crystal  12:12  

Well, it’s become a lot more mainstream. You know, people a few years ago, people who were doing online courses independently, you know, as an entrepreneur or a blogger or speaker, etc. It was it was rare and kind of cutting edge to be doing that. And now it’s it’s much more widespread and mainstream and the volume of courses has grown dramatically. Which is great, right? A lot more people are being served. For the course trader or the business side, it raises new challenges of how do you differentiate your work? How do you stand out? How do you reach customers when there are a lot more people trying to reach the same customers and the bar that students that customers have a course is much higher, it’s no longer a novelty. It’s no longer interesting to take a course just because It sounds cool. Yeah, people are really looking for results. And they’re looking for, you know, proof and credibility that you can really help them with a problem.

John Corcoran  13:10  

Yeah. And that’s a great point. And Bill Raman has a question here, who is also I did a LinkedIn live with. So Bill, I’m gonna get to your question in a second. But I just wanted to point out you just I think there’s this maybe it may turn out that we view this time period as a watershed moment for online learning digital courses. Just last night, my wife and I were talking about it because we got two kids who are school age, one in kindergarten, one in third grade, who are both having to do basically homeschooling now in our school district, which is a great school district, and really was struggled to get their, you know, their their legs beneath them at the beginning of this process when we have the shelter in place. And even to this day, it’s a combination of a Google document. And using the seesaw app, which is an app that is on the iPad and on the computer. It’s kind of clunky. And I was saying to my wife how like God, I wish that there was like an online software program that was really kid friendly, that just took them straight through the process from A to Z that kids could use intuitively and not struggle with. So, you know, how do you see the industry changing from this experience of going through this where so many, you know, school aged kids and also adults are having to engage in online learning for the first time and then I’m going to get to Bill’s question.

Abe Crystal  14:32  

I think that’s a great example in the deeper principle that sort of comes to light there is that there’s this concept of of learning design, right? How do you design the experience to foster and facilitate learning and when we’re in person, you can be a bit more, let’s say informal or loosey goosey with your learning design because you have the benefit. Fit of seeing people’s faces, hearing their questions and their tone of voice interacting with one on one in small groups, you have a huge amount of bandwidth there where you can figure out are people getting this or not. And you can adapt your teaching as necessary. Online, that all goes out the window. And so you have to, to really structure what you’re providing to people and make sure that that structure is very carefully organized and facilitated. And that just doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill to be learned. And for folks who’ve relied on in person teaching, whether that’s a kindergarten teacher or someone facilitating a professional workshop, there’s kind of a leveling up to go from where you’re connecting with people in person and relying on that high bandwidth experience. To now connecting with people online and you’re learning design becomes paramount.

John Corcoran  15:55  

Yeah, definitely. Bill Raymond ass and our bill is an agile practitioner. He’s a consultant, he helps companies with corporate trainings and helps them to use agile principles. And so he asked, what are some of the more popular campaigns, you’ve seen customers run to sell corporate training programs? I guess you could also say, you know, what are some of the best practices or corporate training programs?

Abe Crystal  16:24  

Yeah, so it you know, I think it comes back to the sort of evergreen principles that we talked about at the outset of really understanding who’s the right customer for this and how do you reach that person in terms of reaching corporate people specifically, I think the things that you know, I typically see working are some of the classics, the thought leadership, right? Having a like a strong point of view and and interesting content in your specific niche. So in this case of an agile You know, coach or practitioner, I would be looking at what’s your perspective or point of view on agile practices that’s maybe a little bit different than how other people in the industry are looking at it. And you know, really sharing your perspective on that in places where people who need this type of training would come across it. And that may take some experimentation, right, like, what is the right place for you? Is it LinkedIn? Is it medium? Is it a specific professional association or industry blog, you have to try different places to see, you know, where you find the people that resonate with your approach. But there needs to be a place where people can find your thinking and say, like, Oh, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about the problem in that way before. Yeah. And then, you know, like, just the the power of personal outreach, I think is often really underestimated, right. Like, you probably have a network of hundreds or thousands of people that you’ve built up over the years through conferences, different places, you’ve worked, you know, events that you Run, and just the good old fashioned of like sending a very short but personal, you know, notes to a few of those people at a time or, you know, calling people that you’ve talked to on the phone before to catch up like, yeah, it’s labor intensive, right? It’s not like you’re pushing a button and the leads come rolling in. But it works, right, like people respond to people. You know, that’s something that you can just do. If you do a little bit of time consistently. It’s not overwhelming, and it will work over time.

John Corcoran  18:29  

Right. And I think some of the more interesting people who are using digital courses are using it as part of what they do not a replacement, but part of what they do, or maybe they’re adding it as an additional add on to services that they provide where it’s part of or maybe it helps with speeding up client onboarding or something along those lines. If this has been great, so resue comm RZUKU calm comm is the website where can people go in addition to their to connect with you learn More about you learn more about how to create their first digital course.

Abe Crystal  19:05  

Send me an email. I’d love to hear from people personally. Aid at rescue Comm. We could send an email to our whole mailing list today saying, hey, if you have questions, I’m here to help. So I’ll extend that offer to anyone who’s listening. Awesome. And you have a 14 day free trial for people. So we want to go try it. Go try it out and check out Zuko. I encourage people to do that. So great. Thanks so much. Yeah, thank you, john.

Outro  19:31  

Thank you for listening to the smart business revolution podcast with john Corcoran. Find out more at smart business revolution COMM And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the Revolution Revolution Revolution Revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the smart business revolution podcast.