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Optimize Your Course! For Quilt and Craft Instructors

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Tori McElwain from The Quilt Patch by Tori

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It's 2021, quilt guilds are starting to meet in person again! I am on stage in front of 80+ quilters sitting at large round tables around a community hall. There's a rainbow of color at each and every table. I'm teaching about color and sorting their piles of fabric scraps into piles of like colors (reds, oranges, yellows, blues, greens, purples). Easy-peasy.


Then I explain the next step in the exercise: using the color wheel. The muttering starts...a few quilters reach hesitantly toward their new or gently used color wheels. The whispers turn into frustrated conversations and everyone is looking either bored or confused. I panicked, took a deep breath, dropped the mic, and walked off the stage.


I visited every table in the hall, asked them where they were stuck, and re-explained the exercise. I quickly realized what was missing - they didn't know how a color wheel was made and where to match the fabric along all the different shades - their brains had turned off. Many of them couldn't move past that.


I couldn't have known that without feedback, without talking to them! This was the foundation of the whole workshop. If they couldn't understand this key concept and tool, the impact I was trying to have would not come through. That day I retaught at each table. Then took time to rework my phrasing and take another look at my course before the next workshop!


Side note: when I say "writing" I mean handwriting or typing. Typing is easier to edit, save, send, print, and copy/paste, but handwriting a few of these will really help it stick in your brain. Feel free to follow your preference.

Feedback

So, the first step to optimizing your course is to get feedback. You can do that in a couple of different ways.

  • Ask your learners during class (take a quick note on the exact words they are using)

  • Ah-ha moment - at the end of the workshop, take a moment to ask if anyone wants to share an ah-ha moment. An "ah-ha" moment is a moment when they learned something new or exciting to them that made them go "Ah-ha! Now I get it!" or ask them to share their favorite part.

  • Survey - at the end of the workshop/course ask them to fill out a survey.

  • Conversation - straight up - ASK them for their feedback. What did you like? Was anything confusing? Do they have any suggestions on how you can improve?

  • Email - collect their emails (this may be easier for digital/virtual courses), but send them an email about how you enjoyed having them in the workshop, add something specific just for them, and ask them if they have any lingering questions. Then present a survey.

Why? Why do you need feedback?

Well, the obvious answer is to know where to improve the class. But, you also need to know where you're doing well! Plus, it gives your learners the benefit of reflection. The brain stores new information much better if you give it time, and a reason, to reflect before it moves on to other things. Even if they don't finish a survey, even if they don't share their favorite part, they will still be reflecting, processing, and most likely agreeing with others who do share!


Get expressed written permission if you plan on sharing the feedback anywhere (including social media!)


Starting a New Workshop? Or Haven't Taught One in a while?

If you want to evaluate your course but haven't taught it in a while, reach out to your students anyway and see what stuck.


If you're working on a new workshop, you can record yourself in a practice session and watch yourself from a learner's perspective. OR teach a friend or family member. Even a quick run-through will give you an opportunity for some feedback! Then offer the class as a Beta class if you still think it needs tweaking. Either way, the only way to improve is to teach it!


Write it Out

Are you lost in the weeds? Do you have SO many thoughts/projects/even class and course ideas in the works at all times?


If you need clarity, if you need organization to remember what you're specifically teaching, write it out.

~Write out a course step by step or topic by topic, as detailed or general as you need.

~Write out your clear, concise, and measurable objective.

~Write out a detailed materials list for you and your students.

~Write out valuable tips/inspiration you'd want to share in the class.


Why? So you can see it laid out, you can see your process, edit if needed, and so you can recreate the class over and over and make it a fun way to generate more income! It is also wonderful to have if you want to take an in-person class and make it a virtual class or vice versa!

Expectations:

If you run into a problem of students showing up confused about what they are learning/doing - take a look at the expectations you are setting before the class.


Have a clear objective: what are they doing today? What will they walk away from the class being able to do? What do they need to know before attending this class?


I heard this example last week: This student had signed up for a piecing with a serger class at her local quilt shop, so she could learn to make a quilt top with her serger. She was confused on what to bring and what they would be doing exactly, but she wanted to learn how to use her serger for quilting and was excited anyways!


She was told that the class was for intermediate students who have made at least 1 quilt top and know how to use their serger, before the day of the class. However, when she got there, 2 out of the 4 students were literally opening up their brand new sergers that they had bought that week from the shop. They spent the 4 hour class setting up and going over the basics of sergers. Needless to say, she was disappointed.


Is what you want to teach communicated clearly? Are people showing up with different expectations of the class?


Solution: Write an Objective.

What you're teaching should fit into 1 sentence. It should be clear, concise, and measurable with a yes or no. This is all about clear communication and planning. If you can narrow the course into 1 sentence then you can clearly communicate your goal (which is also their goal!) to your students.


Example: Quilters will learn the basics of piecing starting with cutting efficiently, sewing a 1/4 inch seam, and nesting seams while making a friendship star block table runner flimsy (aka quilt top).

Did they walk out of class with these skills? Yes or No? If they left class with a flimsy that is complete or almost complete, then I would say yes!


If you want a class to be impactful and keep your students coming back to learn more with you, set clear expectations for yourself, your course, and your students.


The Role of Expectations During Class:

When you're learning something new, stepping outside your comfort zone, the human brain gets anxious. It's a survival instinct. Setting expectations for your students at the beginning of a class (and for longer classes, throughout the day(s)) quiets that part of their brain. They will be able to focus better and retain more information when they're not anxious about expectations.

This is a quick thing to do. Let them know:

  • What they will be learning today (I know you've written it out or told them before, but now they're here and ready to learn!)

  • Participation - will they be discussing? How do you want them to ask questions? What do they need to have out and ready?

  • A general schedule, especially if the class is longer than 2 hours.

  • If you're in person, let them know where everything is located: bathroom, any stations you have set up, where your merch is, etc.

  • When are the breaks? Snack time? Can they eat during class?

  • Lastly, let them know how you will be asking for feedback.

Workshop Timing

Timing is tricky. Some students are fast and efficient, others are...not. Either way, your role is to make sure they finish with a project done or done enough to finish quickly on their own.

Are you finishing on time? If yes, go a head and skip!

If no, consider the following questions:

  • Is there a more efficient way to show the process, pattern, technique? Step outs? Recorded videos to demonstrate certain steps?

  • Where are your students getting hung up? How can you shorten that time? A kit? Get a printed fabric panel rather than creating a top? Have them get materials prepared and cut before class? An extra ironing or cutting station?

  • Have you gone through a mock session (or real session!) where you've timed the steps?

  • Are you giving your students time limits? "We will be moving to the next step in 10 minutes" or "We will take a break until 12:12 and start the next step." Are my go-to phrases.

  • In person, be sure to keep them on track when it comes to side conversations (time limits help with that!) However, many people come to a creative class for fun and they aren't there to learn a ton - just to socialize. If they fall behind, but aren't bothered by it, you don't have to be super concerned either. Point out the supporting materials and what step they are in the process as they go, so they can finish on their own time.

  • If you consistently go over time - adjust your time and work in an extra snack/lunch break.

The Magic of Half Square Triangles course. I had a blast with this workshop! However, the first time I taught it I completely miscalculated how long the quilters would need to trim their half square triangles (HST)! I set 30 minutes aside for trimming 60+ blocks when most took 1 - 1.5 hours to trim. So, I adjusted. For the 1/2 day class I taught the techniques of efficient ways to make multiple HST at a time, then had them design a top on paper and took the rest of the time to trim/talk/play with layouts. I also taught a full day where we completed the full top.


Is Your Course Impactful?

Are your students succeeding? Are they coming back for more? Are they walking away feeling like they have accomplished something? Do they look happy? If you're not sure, ask!


Students that feel successful will feel excited, and confident and come back for more.


I have seen it so often that I have to add in here: DON'T down play the pattern/skill technique you are sharing. What you think and feel will be communicated to your students in the way you carry yourself, answer questions, share your experiences and point of view, and sometimes you say it out right. If you're excited to share, understand that there's enough value to even teach this class, and believe that they can learn the technique - no matter the difficulties - it will shine through. They will be encouraged, excited, and possibly inspired by you!


For the people in the back: People who feel this value and excitement will come back for more.

So, speak to the value they are getting, create supporting materials that will help them recreate this process/pattern on their own, and remind them of the supporting materials during class. Also, don't forget to get their feedback.


I would also invite you to be intentional about getting project pictures. When thinking about signing up for a class many people will join if another person recommends it, even if they've never met this other person. They can also see that others have been successful and they get to see their work displayed! You can have them email a picture, have them bring to the course so you can take pictures, take pictures during class. Give them a fun incentive - show their work on your newsletter, class flyer, website, or social media (after getting written permission.)


Time to be blunt with a little tough love. If you're not getting good feedback (as in constructive feedback that you can work on), if you're not getting anyone responding to your surveys (low numbers are normal), if no one is referring your classes. You are the perfect person to analyze your course. Use this blog post and my Optimize Your Course Checklist here for reference!


~Because successful students are excited.

~Because excited people want to share.

~Because excited people who want to share, also want to share with you.

~Because successful people want to give you feedback on what worked for them and what didn't.


You're teaching a technique, skill, or project that gives value to their lives! It may save them time, money, or sanity, gives them a way to express their creativity, and/or it beautifies their life. It's all tremendous value and creates a lasting impact!



Lets Put it All Together

To analyze your course it takes time to reflect. Set 15-30 minutes aside and walk through this blog post and/or download the Optimize Your Course Checklist and take time to evaluate your course.

  • Get Feedback and read it! Take note of any trends.

  • What is working? What needs improvement?

  • Write it out: Write (or type) out your entire course step by step, including the objective, steps and/or topics, supporting materials, materials you and your students need, and how you will be gathering feedback. Where can you make improvements?

  • Consider Improving your expectations before and during the workshop

  • Consider your timing - is your course efficient? How can you make it more efficient?

  • Consider the Impact - can you improve the impact of your course? How?

Action Steps:

Write down 3 ways you can improve your course and take action on 1 the next time you teach!


If you've run out of ideas on how to improve.....

Reflect

What courses have you taken recently? Do you remember any favorite courses that you've taken in or outside of your craft? What did you love about them? What did the instructor do well? Write it down.

Then follow their example in your own way and see how it fits - like a new outfit - try it on and see how it feels.


Be a Life-Long Learner

Go take a new class! Never stop learning. People are out there creating courses and workshops that are wonderful! Take notes on not only what they teach you, but how they're teaching you. Then take a few minutes to star or circle what you saw that was most effective for you and the class. How was their time management? What did they offer after the class? How did they support your learning?


If you are a course creator who is looking to level up their courses, take a higher level course. How did they design their course? What made it a higher level? Was it effective? Did the learners feel they got a great value for their time and expense?


All these answers you can apply to your own course or workshop!


It Will Keep Changing! Let it!

Now that you have reflected possibly written pages of notes - or maybe just one page - implement the improvements! Write down 2 - 3 action steps to take the next time you teach the course. Get feedback, and take another look. You may not need a full course audit next time, but a quick review will give you great value to notice if your course has improved!


Keep in mind: Your course will change, the subject will change, the drive and excitement will change, and even the way you teach will change. Follow your excitement, your curiosity, your creativity and enjoy the ride!


There is SO much more we could get into! Let me know (<-- hey look feedback!) what topics you loved, found most useful above, and what you would like to see elaborated on! You can comment below or email me at hello@thequiltpatchbytori.com.

I also offer Strategy Sessions if you would like one-on-one guidance.


Grab Your Free eBook, Design Your Workshop, here.

 

You're welcome to sign up for the Free Course: How to Design Your First Course here!

More Information on the Course Design and Strategy Sessions

To keep in touch, sign up for the monthly Newsletter here!

Grab Your Free eBook, Design Your Workshop, here.

 

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