Don’t create an erratic live event schedule – especially when you want to work around your personal schedule

Welcome to the “What NOT to Do When Building an Online Community!” series of articles.  If you’re offering an online course and are planning to offer live events, avoid this simple, yet often-created problem:
Don’t create an erratic live event schedule – especially when you want to work around your personal schedule.
When it comes to this article and how it relates to a live event schedule, it may not be as obvious as the other articles in this series.  But if you pay close attention to what is presented here, you’ll soon see why it’s important to avoid an erratic live event schedule.
There are a lot of successful educators and professionals out in the marketplace with aspirations to teach in their spare time.  What works in a college or in a business, though, doesn’t always work in the marketplace.  When these teachers try to apply what they experience in their schools or offices where their schedule is highly prioritized by their students or employees, it can create a mess of problems.
Let me give you a general example of a poorly planned schedule which happens way too often.  (Disclaimer: this hypothetical situation has happened multiple times.  If you think I’m specifically describing you or someone you know, please take my word for it when I say that I’m not talking about any specific person here.  But it easily happens way too often!)
A successful and talented instructor thinks it would be a good idea to teach a course over the summer months.  The logic is simple: most people aren’t in school, their kids aren’t in school, and, frankly, it’s easier on the instructor’s workload because he/she isn’t teaching anything in the summer.
The instructor schedules live discussions at a convenient late afternoon time (5:00 pm) for herself in that person’s time zone on a weekday, and those discussions are scheduled for 2-3 hours.  The challenge is that the professor lives in the Pacific time zone and many of the students are in the Eastern and Central time zone.  For some attendees, it becomes a late night and families are affected because “Mom” or “Dad” misses dinner, bedtimes and events with their families if they attend the live discussions.  Also, because it IS the summer, some attendees can’t make it to some of the live discussions because they have vacations already planned.  So this plan is already started badly.
Where this gets worse is when the instructor already has vacations and work trips planned, so she decides ahead of time that she’s going to skip some weeks. She creates a live discussion schedule with a focus on getting the discussions completed so the course is finished by mid-August.  As a result, some weeks are full of important live sessions and then there are weeks with nothing scheduled.  The problem, however, is that the instructor’s course has some complex content and most of the students have little or no experience with the topics she’s covering in the course.  As it is necessary to have these live sessions to answer questions and help the students with more information, every session is important and continuity is even more important.
In this scenario, the first 2-3 weeks scheduled in June are jam-packed with lots of important content, but then July 4th/Independence Day weekend comes and that week is skipped.  If a student is actively involved and present in the first 2-3 weeks, it’s no problem.  But if a student misses even one discussion . . . it becomes a game of “catch-up” that may seem never-ending.  Fortunately, the instructor is recording the live sessions so that students can watch the recordings when they are missed.  And they can pose questions in the community chat boards.  But the missing students don’t get the benefit of the live discussion when they’re not present at the live session.
As the next live discussion is hosted after the July 4th holiday, the students are at different levels of understanding and comprehension.  Some students attended every live discussion, others watched some or all of them and didn’t get their questions answered in real time, and then there were some who simply got confused when they watched the recorded videos and gave up.  For the entire course community, every student was at a unique level of comprehension, clarity and mastery of the course content.  No one was at the same level and no one was comfortable bringing it up in the community chat boards.
Once that live discussion is completed, there’s another break as the instructor skips the next week.  A family trip was planned ahead of time by the instructor,  causing a two week break after the post-July 4th discussion session.  The instructor then restarts the live discussions again in August after she returns from her trip.  At this point, even the students who have been faithfully involved are finding it difficult to comprehend the material, because the breaks are causing them to lose some of what was covered.  The instructor then recognizes that there needs to be additional sessions to help students get caught up, so she schedules two more sessions.  The problem, though, is that students are already giving up on the course and aren’t paying attention to the updated schedule.  So those additional sessions end up being missed because they worked through the written lessons and considered all of their work as completed.
By the end of the course, which ended before Labor Day weekend, most of the students became fully dependent on the slide deck materials and didn’t pay much attention to the live discussions.  And the instructor realizes that fewer attendees showed up to the last few discussions, which causes the instructor to avoid any in-depth matters during those times.  Instead of the in-depth discussions which were really needed, the discussions became more of a social event and personal anecdotes became the standard.
Did I mention that the professor (might have) forgot to turn on the “Record” button on one or more of the discussions, either at the beginning of the discussion time or even forgot altogether?  When the students who have missed one or more sessions try to complete the course, they are forced to work through the slide decks and then piece together what is going on.  If the slide decks are detailed, it’s not so bad.  But if the slide decks present general concepts and the instructor covered some specific things in the discussion . . . “Houston, we have a problem.”
Yes, all of what was described sounds messy – and it is.  It creates an erratic situation where participants get confused, frustrated, and even angry because they don’t feel like their time actually matters.  It’s not like the instructor is trying to create problems, because he/she wants to do a good job.  It’s simply a matter of making some key adjustments.
The first key strategy is to maintain a consistent schedule.  Once a week for 6-8 weeks can be very successful.  It communicates to the students that there is a weekly commitment which needs to be kept.  Additionally, it allows students to maintain focus on the content and to get questions and concerns answered quickly and completely.
Keeping the time of these sessions between 60-90 minutes is not a bad idea either.  Most professionals with full-time jobs and families are not able to commit to 2- or 3-hour sessions, especially if they are scheduled around dinners and bedtimes.  Frankly, long sessions are hard to work with, no matter what the time frame might be.  No matter what the topic, it’s likely that you’ll lose the attention of your audience after two hours.  In fact, many corporations limit all of their meeting sessions to one hour – and for good reasons.
And, of course, be aware of your time zones.  Just because it works for your schedule may not be a good schedule for the majority of your audience – especially if you’re teaching or facilitating a group of students who are in a time zone far away from you.  If you live in Dallas, Texas and you’re teaching a bunch of students in Mumbai, India, you might think 5:00 pm is a good start time – but that’s 5:00 am in their time zone.  So that’s why you work with your audience.
Need resources to create a great schedule of content?  Let us help you!  Email your questions at questions@OnlineAdvisor.com.  We’re here for you!

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