There are a lot of changes coming to our at-home programs–the versions of our live events, like Pitchapalooza, that take place over several weeks that you do from home rather than our location in the Catskills.

Here’s the high-level, broad brushstrokes:
  • major changes coming to ensure participants participate and finish their programs
  • moving to a university-like model in many ways–your lessons and homework are when they are, and they’re due when they’re do–to move further away from the issues with online courses that people never finish
  • new TravelContentCon and IdeaFest programs on the horizon
  • IdeaFest (live or at-home) will now be a prerequisite Pitchapalooza (live or at-home)
  • groups will be smaller and prices for some programs will change, but there will be much more personal attention as a result (in some cases more similar to a limited-term intensive coaching program, like at the retreats) and it will allow me to even run programs with just three people at a time if that’s who we have at that time (see–extra personal attention!)
  • participation in group discussions (on a discussion platform for pitch- and idea-related programs or in group calls for TravelContentCon) will be a core component as it is essential to success–MFA programs are based on group critique sessions for a reason

What’s Changing with Our Approach to At-Home Programs

There is a lot of psychology that I hate around offering expensive products so that people will be sure to use them.

The short version is that if people are invested (monetarily or otherwise) in something, they care about it more, and they are more likely to use it (or, in the case of a course or program, finish it).

When I was in undergrad, I was part of the leadership team for my club sports team, and we made several decisions are this, from making practices mandatory and kicking people out who didn’t attend regularly to instituting a particularly grueling training program. It was a gamble for a very ragamuffin group that was significantly smaller than other teams at our college.

But it paid off far more than we could have imagined.

Within four years, our team went from 11 or so people who regularly showed up and traveled to tournaments to a contender for the national title. Seriously. That big of a change.

I’ve spoken before about my dislike of online course. A lot of people (myself included) sort of collect them, rather than completing them.

One program I know, run by someone who is really great at getting people results but has his programs gated (you can’t get to the next video lesson until you complete / upload something for the current one), has some really fantastic case studies…until you realize that the people in the case studies only completed the first week or two of the 10-week program.

Results-wise, that speaks very highly to the lessons imparted. Teaching-wise, it’s a problem.

With our At-Home Pitchapalooza Program, we have a somewhat similar problem. People who complete their assignments every day and get to the end have outstanding changes in their pitching practice and results. But many, many people come to a grinding halt on a certain assignment: the one on matching ideas to magazines.

We have an entire, separate live event, IdeaFest, to learn this aspect of things–the craft of matching ideas to markets, as opposed to the craft of writing pitches (what Pitchapalooza is about). However, people register for the At-Home Pitchapalooza Program without that skill, get stuck on that point, often don’t work through it–or don’t do so in the week allotted in the program and by the time they do they’re well behind, and then end putting the program aside for a while, not finishing, wanting to only work through a few pitches rather than completing the assignments as outlined, or want me to review their assignments long after the program is finished when they have gone back to doing them.

And this is totally normal for online courses. It’s what I don’t like about them. That’s why we don’t offer courses as such, but rather programs with daily interaction.

So the issue is what to do when people fall behind.

I’ve tried adopting a fallen solder (leave no man behind) approach, but that typically ends up coming to the detriment of those who are completing their assignments in a timely fashion, because I get stuck with a large backlog of some individual’s assignments to look at all at once that they want done ASAP because they are behind. It’s also resulted in some people who are sending in version after version of their completed assignments getting multiple reviews of their work as I try to accomodate everything from everyone.

Having people turning in assignments on different days from different platforms (Facebook or email) has also created problems as Facebook has instituted (ahhh… Facebook changes :/) numerous changes to its workings since we launched the first At-Home Pitchapalooza leaving me having to pay admins hundreds of dollars each week just to keep track of what assignments are coming from whom when, as Facebook refuses to simply send me emails for each notification!

In short, we’ve encountered problems that no one likes as they are negatively affecting everyone’s user experience and my teaching experience. And while user experience seems like a paramount issue, the real facts here are that we make no money as of yet from anything that happens with Dream of Travel Writing. I’m volunteer my time, and have been for exactly one year next week, to work full-time on all of our offerings. So if a program is too difficult to run, it makes a lot of sense to just shut it down.

I know and have seen, however, that many of you derive enormous value from these at-home programs (as well as our other offerings), so we persevere, but there’s no point in persevering with something that is broken just because that’s the way it is, so we are completely revamping how we offer our at-home programs in order to fix what’s not working with the Pitchapalooza Program and offer other programs you guys are asking for (like TravelContentCon) or really need in an at-home version (like IdeaFest).

When we set up our new webinar library, we intentionally chose an LMS (learning management system) with a lot of bells and whistles so that we could offer more nuanced and organized delivery of our at-home program assignments through it in the future.

It gives participants the ability to submit their assignments there on the page with their lessons, and for me to add comments and feedback on the same page, which participants can then view all in one home in their profile page.

We have already spent months migrating our At-Home Pitchapalooza Program to this new system, setting up online submission forms for its assignments, creating profiles for past participants, and uploading their previous assignments to the new system (there’s one assignment every day for 25 days, so there were a lot!). We’ll be opening the floodgates on that letting past participants poke around the system soon before we run any new programs with it.

Going forward, this will allow us to be laser clear in giving feedback on assignments in the order they are received, but we’re also going a step further, like my club sports team, in a way that seems like tough love, but it’s really for your own good.

When we do live events, you have to get your work done.

You have no choice.

You’re there. Everyone is there. Working hard together in the same room. And when your one-on-one comes up, you have to have something to show me, or we discuss why not, what went wrong, and how to fix it. When we go around the group during lessons, same thing. You have to have something to share or we stop and workshop it right there.

This means that, at the end of the weekend, people are always astounded with what they accomplished that they didn’t even think, at the beginning of the weekend, they could do one part of.

How is it that in five weeks, people aren’t getting few what actually amounts to less work?

It’s an interesting problem.

There’s a certain amount of time expanding to fill the space, but there is also the lack of that in-person, have-no-choice pressure combined with the absense of the focused atmosphere and time away from other work and obligations at home. That’s part of why we do 10 pitches in the at-home program rather than 25 in the live Pitchapalooza.

The having-an-option-to-show-up-and-get-the-work-done-or-not aspect, however, is something we can address, and that’s where the tough love comes in.

In our at-home programs going forward, we’re going to be a bit militant and military. No exceptions. You show up and do your work, producing finished assignments to the best of your ability in the time you have, or you wash out, as they say in the military, or drop out, as they say in college. Similarly, when you drop out, you drop out, and there are no backsies, post-ponements, or refunds. (I’ve looked into this quite extensively, and it’s just not how schools operate.)

If that’s not for you, that’s absolutely fine! It’s not for everyone. That’s the point, really. These programs just aren’t the speed that everyone needs.

These programs just aren’t the speed that everyone needs.

But they are 100% the speed that people that are looking to work hard, hit the ground running, and come online quickly with new skills that dramatically change their income need. And that’s who they are designed for.

It that’s not you, please, no hard feelings. We have free webinars every week, or you can catch them (even less pressure!) on-demand in our webinar library.

Upcoming At-Home Programs in the Next Few Months

Even before our live TravelContentCon, we had a number of requests to offer an at-home version for people who live permanently in, say, Japan, and aren’t able to attend our events in the Catskills.

Originally, I was thinking of offering it in September, but I wanted to hold off until we did the live program to see what worked best and how we could translate that to a digital setting, and I’m glad I did.

Much of what made the TravelContentCon weekend so powerful was the ability to cross-pollinate–for the examples from each writer’s research and pitch writing to inform the others in our group discussions. For the at-home program to achieve the same success, I think it is incredibly important to replicate those conditions.

Just as our new webinar library platform has given us expanded technical capabilites for collecting and review attendee assignments, our new webinar broadcast platform also gives us new options for group lectures and video calls, which we will be incorporating into the program for the at-home TravelContentCon to recreate the live experience. As such, we will be dividing the participants into time-zone groups and asking that all participants commit to attending the weekly calls with their cohort as part of the program.

We’re now looking at running a very exciting program around this topic in October, and will be releasing more information on that soon.

If you’re interested in getting on the early-access list for the TravelContentCon At-Home Program, email us at questions@dreamoftravelwriting.com. We already have a list of long-time followers who are interested, and we will open the first version of our new program to the advance list, and then to our full subscriber list if there are any spots remaining.

The other important change in our upcoming line-up is the addition of the IdeaFest At-Home Program, which we are planning to run in January, along with its new role as a required pre-requisite for either the live or at-home Pitchapalooza programs. This means two things to start:

  • If you have previously registered for the At-Home Pitchapalooza, you will be given free (audit) access to complete the IdeaFest program on your own time or to participate (as it’s happening only for feedback) in the January launch edition of the program. As with all of our new programs, if you choose to participate in January, it’s a follow along or drop out situation.
  • If you have already registered for the upcoming Pitchapalooza live event in the Catskills coming up in 2018, you will also be given audit access to the program and the option to participate live in January, but we expect you to have at least read through the IdeaFest At-Home Program marerials before the live Pitchapalooza event.

We will follow the January editor of the at-home version of IdeaFest with the 5-Week At-Home Pitchapalooza Program in February so that you can elect to do both back-to-back.

Please note: all dates here are tentative as our priority is to ensure the best programs, and may need to change schedules around to ensure time to devote to participants.

 

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