How To Increase The Impact Of Your Online Course With SOLO

This article is NOT about Han Solo. Even though he is one of my favorite characters in Star Wars…

This article is about how you can apply the SOLO taxonomy in your planning to increase the impact of your online course.

The purpose of most successful online courses is to teach the learner something new and different that will positively impact the learner’s life. 

Applying the SOLO taxonomy in the planning and outline of your online course will help you convey this new and different knowledge in the most efficient way possible. 

Why You Want To Apply SOLO

You might wonder why it is essential to apply the SOLO taxonomy to your online course. The reason for this is that the SOLO taxonomy is building on research about how we learn.

This thing is that all learning follows the same basic process no matter what we are learning. 

Let me give you an example to illustrate the basic learning process. As I walk you through my example to show the phases in the learning process, I encourage you to think of your own strategy. Think about when you were learning something new.

We All Start As White Belts

When I started learning American Kenpo Karate 15 years ago, I remember one of my first lessons. I was watching my Sensei do a technique thinking: “WOW! How did he do that!”

The movements were utterly foreign to me. I had never done any martial arts before. I had done some yoga and skiing, but the central part of my time I had spent in my head. I was reading and studying. Karate was like encountering a completely new and strange physical and mental language.

I remember the fascination when my Sensei did a technique on me: “What just happened?” With my limited understanding, I couldn’t identify what was going on.

Using the terms from the SOLO taxonomy: When I started my learning journey in American Kenpo, I had NO IDEA.

I was at the initial stage of the learning process. 

Slowly I began to learn the basic movements of this technique that completely puzzled me at first. I learned that the technique consisted of a block, a kick, and a chop. 

In this stage of the learning process, I was starting to get one idea at the time. I was learning to identify each of the isolated elements within the technique. I was learning: 

  • How to do a block. 
  • How to shape my fist. 
  • The path of motion.
  • The angle of execution. 
  • The point of origin and the point of contact.
  • I was learning how to do a front kick. I learned what part of the foot to kick with and how to execute the kick. 

I was building surface knowledge about all the different basic elements within the technique. As it relates to the learning process, I got a few ideas and defined what was going on.

I became able to perform the basic moves within the technique. With practice, I could put the basic movements together into a small sequence. The movements were mechanical and rudimentary at first. 

My first stages in learning American Kenpo follow the same phases you find in the SOLO taxonomy below. 

The solo taxonomy

Biggs and Tang 2011, p. 91.

If you notice some of the verbs in the SOLO taxonomy, they are: 

  • misses point 
  • identify, do a simple procedure 
  • describe, list, combine
  • compare/contrast, explain, analyze, relate, apply
  • theorize, generalize, reflect 

These verbs describe the steps in the learning process. The verbs give you an idea of what the learner will be able to do at the different stages of any learning process.

Similar to my Kenpo learning journey I was able to do simple movements at first. Afterward, I could combine the simple movements into the sequences of the technique. As my understanding grew, I was able to compare the different techniques for similarities and differences. Once the basic understanding was established, I was ready to go deeper and apply what I had learned independently. Eventually, I was able to create my own techniques.

The thing is, we all start as “white belts” when we are learning something new. 

There is no way I could have started with the knowledge of a black belt. The belt system itself is an illustration of the different stages in the learning journey. It also helps your fellow martial artists know what to expect when they work with you. If you are a white belt, your opponent can’t expect your level of control to be very developed.

The main point with my example is to highlight that learning is a process that follows the same basic pattern no matter what we are learning. That is why it is helpful to know about the stages of the learning process as described in the SOLO taxonomy when you create your online course. Knowing SOLO will help you ensure that your outline provides an opportunity for the learner to go through the different stages of the learning process. 

Simply put, the first step in any learning process is to get a foundation. The learner needs to get an idea about what is going on at a surface level. This rudimentary knowledge will then serve as hooks for new and more profound understanding. After establishing the foundation the learner will be ready to relate and apply the new knowledge. 

Think Of Your Own Learning Experiences 

I encourage you to think back on a learning experience of your own.

  • Remember what it was like in the beginning. What were you able to do? And what was still a mystery?
  • What did it take to get to deeper levels of proficiency? 
  • Think of an example when you were able to apply your knowledge and skills to create something new.

Keeping your own learning experience in mind is essential when you create your online course as an expert. Remembering the different stages in the learning process will help you establish a foundation and keep it simple before adding more complexity. 

The challenge most experts face is remembering that the student doesn’t have the same level of understanding. Knowing the different stages of a learning process helps alleviate this challenge. 

Surfing As A Metaphor For The Learning Process

At a study trip to Selwyn College in New Zealand, I saw how effective it was to use a metaphor like surfing to illustrate the different stages in the learning process. The poster below was hanging in all the classrooms. The teachers and the students used the poster to talk about where the students were in the learning process in different subjects.

Selwyn college solo

Selwyn College, New Zealand, Solo Taxonomy

You can see the different stages of learning in the illustration. You can also see how the surfing image is related to the phases in the SOLO taxonomy. 

The surfing image helps visualize the challenges we all face when learning something new. It reminds us that we all start as beginners and that we need to practice to get effective. It also reminds us that sometimes we “wipeout.” The “wipe out” helps us remember that it is normal to make mistakes and fall. And that all we have to do is to try again.

Use The SOLO Taxonomy As Your Guideline 

When you plan the curriculum for your next online course, I suggest using the SOLO taxonomy as your guideline. Use the verbs in the models above to consider what your students should do at the different levels of the learning process as they work their way through your lessons. 

But first, you want to define the big overall end goal with your online course. 

  • What is the intended learning outcome? What will the student learn through your online course that they didn’t know or could not do before?

Once you are clear on the intended learning outcome, you can ask yourself these questions to start applying the SOLO taxonomy:

  1. What are the basic elements the learner needs to know? What do they need to be able to identify and define?
  2. Once the learner knows the basic elements then what? What examples can you provide? How can you illustrate the application of the new knowledge?
  3. How can the learner use this new knowledge in different situations? What exercises can you give the student to integrate the new learning? How can they create the desired outcome themselves?

When you ask yourself these questions in planning your online course, you will cover the different stages in the learning process. Doing so will ensure that your student gets the scaffolding they need step by step to reach the big end goal of your course. In his way, you also make sure that your online course impacts the learner’s life.

I know because I have helped many students and experts use knowledge about the learning process when planning their lessons through the years. I have experienced the transformative power of this approach and seen the positive, measurable impact on the students’ learning outcomes.

If you want to create an online course and are curious about how I can help you out, you can connect with me here. I offer a free 30-minute call.

You can subscribe to my blog if you want more information about creating well-crafted online courses and content with real impact.


About Sophie Higgins, MA, MBA, MBC: I help experts create life-changing online courses with real impact. Online courses should be a well-crafted, empowering experience. So, your unique wisdom can make a real difference in the learners’ life. 


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