110 – Building an online group program from your offline courses and workshops

It is my pleasure and honor to be here helping you find the right way for your business to expand online and to support you through the implementation and launch!

This episode is about group programs. Some people call these incubators, accelerators and masterminds but I prefer to use the more general term. Essentially what we are talking about is a program with a weekly online live session along with complimentary worksheets and exercises and possibly additional touch points. Most group programs also have a private Facebook group or online forum component.

Group programs can be run for anything and like last week’s episode one of the compelling features is accountability and establishing relationships between participants and with you as the leader, mentor, guide or facilitator — whichever word you prefer to use.

The prep work for a group program is different than a course because so much of the work and teaching is done live. But that’s not to say that we don’t need to prep at all — in fact, most group programs have at least as much prep as online courses do! The format of your group program can be anything from straight lectures to mastermind sessions and from coworking sessions to critique or feedback or presentations.

So let’s go into each of the formats I just listed.


This is where you have a lesson planned out and you give it direct to camera and your members watch, learn and take notes if they want (or if you don’t provide summary documentation.) This may include live demonstrations or a slide deck and can also include playing of external videos or citing books and other sources or websites.

Lectures are a foundational element of most group programs because our members are looking to learn from us. But lectures sound so boring which is why I love tangible lectures which include plenty of showing and demonstration not just theory.

Mastermind sessions

A mastermind session involves members coming together with you as the leader to help breakthrough challenges. There are several formats to mastermind sessions and they revolve around soliciting and providing feedback, recommendations and support from other members of the program and the leader.

Q&A Sessions

Ask me anything or Q&A sessions are an open forum for group participants to get clarification, advice and feedback from the group leader or moderators. These sessions are different than mastermind sessions because they are usually more surface level and the responses are provided predominantly from you, as the group program creator and leader.

Coworking sessions

Coworking sessions are just what they sound like. These are sessions where group members all come with work in hand and spend the time together moving forward on the project or assignment at hand. In these sessions most participants work through the theory that was presented in an earlier lecture session.


Presentations are usually provided by guest experts and follow a format of lecture plus Q&A. The idea of presentations is to add complementary information to the program that the leader knows will be of value to the participants but that the leader herself is not equipped to present.

Critique or Feedback Sessions

These sessions are insanely valuable around the middle of a group program and towards the end. These sessions involve taking in samples of the members’ work in progress and sharing feedback in a group format. I’ll give an example of this format in a little bit so that you can get a better understanding of using this type of session within your program!

Just like with an online course, group programs are far more engaging when there is a nice mix of formats and styles.

Let’s build a group program together right now on the podcast. We’re going to build this online group program for a drawing teacher. She teaches a 4-week fruit bowl drawing class through her local community Parks & Recreation programs. She wants to take this class and turn it into an online group drawing program. For ease of conversation, let’s call this drawing teacher Jo.

So, Jo wants to create this online program… instead of it being a 4-week program, let’s make it an 8-week program and setup the weeks like this:

  • Week 1: lecture
  • Week 2: coworking session
  • Week 3: lecture
  • Week 4: mastermind
  • Week 5: lecture
  • Week 6: critique
  • Week 7: lecture
  • Week 8: Q&A

I probably wouldn’t bring in a presentation type session because 8-weeks is not long enough. But if the program were longer, we could bring that in as early as week 7.

There would be four lectures which correspond to the content Jo presents in her current class, a coworking session to facilitate, and both a critique and Q&A session to create structure for.

We’re gently skipping around the normal online product development framework and focusing specifically on the creation phase.

Jo will generate a list of resources the members will want to have at their disposal for each session. This will include pens, pencils and markers, blank or colored paper, possibly the recommended amount of work space and lighting considerations. I would probably also include instructions to download zoom onto whatever device you’re going to use and to use earbuds or headphones. At this time the structure of the program will also be presented to the group members and the Facebook group will be created so participants can get to know each other.

For the lecture sessions, we’re taking a lot of what Jo’s already created for her Parks & Recreation class and whittling it down to the most important elements. Because there is no hands on application where Jo can walk the room, the style of the lecture will be different. Jo will still have her members do some drawing during the lectures and assign them specific tasks to do between lectures.

We also have an alternate style class between lectures so that the material from each lecture can be used by the group members and they can continue to come together to make progress and connect.

The purpose of the coworking session being in week 2 is to allow members to get adequate time drawing at the early stage of the program which will help them to keep showing up and making progress on their drawing. On the heels of this session, Jo will probably encourage her participants to jump into the Facebook group and post their progress. (In the creation phase, it’s really helpful to create a post and prompt calendar for that group.)

I’m going to throw myself into the student shoes for a moment here, while discussing the mastermind portion. Let’s say that I have attended all three sessions so far, shared my work from the coworking session in the Facebook group but cannot figure out how to work through one of the parts of the lesson that took place in week 3. I have stopped in my tracks a bit because I don’t feel like I can get the right flow of my hand holding my flare pen and that I am starting to tell myself that I’ll never be able to draw anything good. I come to the mastermind session feeling defeated but when it’s my turn to be in the hot seat, Jo encourages me to share what’s holding me back. She asks where my successes have been and what I’m struggling with. I modestly show her what I’ve drawn so far and my page of scratched out versions of the assignment from last week. She asks the group members if they have any thoughts or observations for me. And once my peers start sharing with me that they found this trick or that strategy to hold the pen in a different way, or that they come to group lectures in their kitchen but sit in their sunroom to apply the work, it relaxes me and I am then able to come up with a plan to complete the current assignment and promise to post it in the group by the end of the week.

Masterminds are all about helping one another move forward. During the creation phase, Jo will look back on the encouragement and advice she gives to students in her offline class, and have those ready to boost up her online students. It’s quite likely that more than one participant will be having similar struggles and the collective advice is invaluable.

OK… so let’s structure Jo’s critique session that’ll be taking place in week 6.

This is a much more formal session than the mastermind session. Critique work is required to be submitted at least 72 hours before the session. And the critique work consists of three works from the program:

  • A sample of work completed specifically from the first lecture
  • A sample of work completed specifically from the second lecture
  • A sample of work in progress from the third lecture

Jo will then go through and create a slidedeck with all the presented work and make notes as to what to highlight and feedback to provide to each member. She will provide suggestions for making your drawings more uniquely yours and help with more ease and flow. This is created on the fly during the program and knowing the structure is going to make it an easy task for Jo to tackle along the way.

We want our members to feel accomplished and excited to keep drawing. The feedback needs to be authentic and presented in a positive light. We are here to inspire and motivate, this is not the time or place to tear down a member or tell them that they haven’t improved at all. Be kind and be helpful.

And for the final session, my best advice to Jo would be to be prepared to respond on the fly! Questions can be submitted in advance or asked live on the call. This session is designed to give members additional tools and suggestions to keep drawing and keep creating. Questions that come up during the Q&A session might be everything from reviewing some basics to additional resource recommendations.

The Facebook group will be a place for ongoing feedback and encouragement. Jo should set expectations at the outset of the program and plan on being in there on a daily basis, prompt members regularly with new ways to connect, engage and share their drawing. If she doesn’t want to use a tool like MemberVault to house lectures, samples or instructions, the Facebook group Learning Units will be where content will be housed. While this is not my preference, because it makes it super difficult to run the same group program over and over again, it’s an option and worth mentioning here.

We ran pretty deep through that group program for Jo and I hope you understand how an offline class can be converted into a group program! It’s true…

  • Anything that you teach in workshop format offline can be converted into a group program.
  • Anything that you teach online as a course can be converted into a group program.
  • Online group programs can be converted into online courses.

The key with anything we create is that we get better and better at creating the content, presenting the content and always tying the content to the goal. You can do this and I would be honored to help you through the process. Go to https://techofbusiness.com/online-product/ to get started.

And with that… wishing you a massively successful week and I’ll be back next week with another episode where we get into the tech needed to run group programs and course cohorts. I alluded to a couple of the tools here — Zoom, Facebook and MemberVault and we’ll get into how to make sure you make the best tech choices for your students and their successes next week!

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