Marie Poulin

Course taking is an under-utilized growth hack.

publishedover 1 year ago
6 min read


👉🏼 Participating in online courses is a growth hack.

Hey there!

This week rounds out the final week of the On Deck Course Creator fellowship, a cohort of 150 creators focused on launching their online courses. For the last ~8+ weeks I have been participating in ODCC as a peer mentor.

It was a very full-on 8 weeks.

What I love most about being in a peer mentorship role is that it's the best of both worlds:

  • you get to support others as a mentor, sharing your wisdom/expertise as needed, and providing a safe container for others to learn
  • You get to learn from the teachers, coaches, peer supporters, and other participants

I made new friends, connected deeply with other participants, and even found new collaborative partners.

It was interesting to observe out of a group of 150 people, how many truly show up and engage?

  • How many take full advantage of the course they’ve just paid for?
  • How many show up for the live calls?
  • Who are the complainers vs the contributors?
  • Who makes the leaders lives easier?
  • Who shows up as a helpful resource for others?
twitter profile avatar
marie poulin
June 5th 2021

While I met a lot of folks, there were several people that really stood out. Some, because they were simply brilliant, vulnerable, kind, and willing to engage. Others because they were challenging, took up a lot of space, or made things difficult for other participants.

It got me thinking about one of my strong points of view:

Being a student in a course is one of the most under-leveraged growth strategies.

If you sign up for a course, especially a cohort based course, you have a huge opportunity in front of you. The majority of people do not fully harness this opportunity, and are unaware of the possibilities in front of them.

There are very clear second and third-order benefits to participating in a course as a student, well beyond learning the specific skills within the course. The same goes for coaching programs or online communities.

I would argue that a good majority of my initial business growth, traction, and community-building came from stacking the benefits of showing up actively in other people’s communities and courses.

As per usual when I have a ranty rant, spiky point of view, or a theory… I like to check in with Twitter:

twitter profile avatar
marie poulin
June 9th 2021

Some of the replies:

Active participation means more externalizing of ideas, thoughts, and learning.”
— David de Céspedes
Feeling like part of a group that loves the same thing as you and so you keep contributing and learning forever!”
— Luisa Fernanda
Hate to sound like a broken record, but community. @anthilemoon’s collector to creator course. Came for the course, stayed for the community. I got: A developer, a partner in creating a course @yinahuang , the first customers for my app, countless customer interviews.”
– Andrew Nalband
“Becoming closer with the teacher and surrounding yourself with models of possibility.”
– Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie pretty much nails it for me: entering the orbit of the teacher, becoming a memorable contributor, and eventually, a possible collaborator with the instructor.

One of my favorite replies came from my lovely friend Stef (oh hey, shout out to Shine Bootcamp!) who shared an old copyhackers article where Joanna Wiebe talks the long-term impact of showing up as a speaker for Microconf:

Mind map of the impact of Joanna's microconf talk
See the Copyhacker article to zoom in on more detail.

You can see how just one “decision” to show up has serious ripple effects.

The same concept applies whether you’re talking about a speaking gig, an online community, or an online course.

One of the first things I ask struggling new founders who want to grow their network and audience is, are you active in any online courses or communities?

Showing up generously and with intention while going through an online course can open up all kinds of doors for you.

You can lurk passively, or you can show up and be fully engaged in the learning experience, getting noticed by both the teacher and students.

Are you being a helpful contributor?

Of course you can be a generous contributor via social channels, but inside an online course, people are highly engaged, often for a very short focused burst. They have paid to be there; they’re showing up differently than they do in other spaces.

Noticing the sparkles

As a teacher, I can share that I am always noticing students who show up generously with their time and attention, and look for ways to reward them or bring them into the team.

The evolution of my team has been an organic process of hiring and creating roles for shiny students.

Sandra Halling was an early and active participant in my course. She frequently screen-shared, showing her proficiency with Notion, and offering alternative ways to solve tricky problems.I knew she was interested in doing Notion consulting, but didn’t have a client pipeline yet. I had a pipeline but very little capacity. Sandra is now our Client Concierge specialist, running new member welcome calls, office hours, weekly reviews, and personalized consulting calls.

Kirby Krieger was a super thoughtful student who would give incredibly detailed replies in the forum, spending a lot of time helping others solve more technical questions. He would also message me reflections and comments about the course material, helping me correct any typos or errors, and helping refine concepts that were still a bit fuzzy. Kirby is now my Learner Advocate and Course Editor.

DJ Carey joined the course as an early adopter, but didn’t have a chance to dive in for some time. He expressed excitement for helping visualize elements of the course to make it more digestible for beginners, and is now supporting the curriculum development journey. Having a "beginners mind" weigh in on the course structure and learning journey has been invaluable!

Mike Kilcoyne was another early adopter who was so excited about the course and wanted to give back. He is now running weekly co-working hours, and a few other emerging side projects.

Cat Mulvihill is a strong facilitator and teacher, and a few of us (NM students) even signed up for her delightful Elevate course (affiliate link – it's an excellent course for helping you elevate your Zoom facilitation!). I’ve been so delighted with Cat’s contribution and abilities that I decided it was time to create an additional instructor role with Cat in mind!

Karaminder was a stand-out participant in ODCC; he wasted no time offering to help others with their Zoom setups, and helped me co-pilot my peer support sessions. He’s just an all around care-bear who knows how to bring good vibes to any group.

Karaminder and Cat are now helping me co-create a small, digestible, cohort-based Notion course with Maven.

Lucía Júdez Serrano became the first Chief Notion Officer at On Deck. She may have gotten this role anyway, but I made sure to put in a good word for her as I had seen her work in the forum and was happy to recommend her!

Homesick Mac may have attended more Office Hours calls than any other participant, and he has been a joy to have in the community! Knowing that he’s a super talented musician (and had even wrote a song about Notion), I referred some work to Mac from a musician that had questions about how he might set up his Notion workspace.

These are just a few of the more visible opportunities that have emerged. There are no doubt tons of connections and opportunities happening behind the scenes that I don’t even get to see!

Here is Kirby, DJ and I working collaboratively with our curriculum designer, and then again the next day to clarify our ideas.

Be memorable by being a helpful contributor

What happens when you become a shiny, sparkly student?

  • Opportunities open up.
  • You get amazing feedback on your ideas.
  • Contracts get signed.
  • Job offers emerge.
  • Friendships are formed.
  • Money exchanges hands.
  • Reputations are built.
  • Collaborations develop.
  • Podcast invitations land in your inbox.
  • You get invitations to be a guest speaker/presenter.
  • You get beta participants in your online course.
  • People are excited to support you.
  • Your network grows organically.

These are all much more likely to happen when you show up fully as a highly engaged participant in the courses that you purchase.

When I purchase a course, I’m not usually showing up passively.

Every course I take is added as a Project, and connecting with the course + community is built into my schedule. It's time-blocked as Connection, and part of that time is checking forums, seeing who needs help, and offering resources where it makes sense.

I ask myself:
How can I make the other students lives easier?
How can I make the teachers life easier?
How can I make someone's day, or surprise and delight?
How can I amplify others who don't have as big of a reach?

Being a mindful and engaged course-taker can be an excellent way to not just level up your skills, but dramatically increase your serendipity engine.

The majority of my business network is made of folks I've met via online courses and coaching programs. I keep taking online courses because they keep helping me find my people.

If you are a course creator yourself, you would be surprised how many people you'll meet in other communities who need what you have to offer, and will become your students, customers, and collaborators.

Are you under-utilizing the courses, programs, and communities that you sign up for?

That's it for this week.

Sending you good vibes this weekend!

Marie Poulin

Marie Poulin
Notion Mastery