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Cathy Presland on Accommodating Different Learning Styles

“The best learning will come by doing”


Cathy Presland


Hometown: Abergavenny, Great Britain
Udemy Birthday: August, 2012
Most Popular Course: Becoming a Writer
Fun Fact: Cathy is the proud owner of a very “handsome (and cheeky) dalmatian”.


Cathy is a true Udemy veteran, having published seven courses over her two plus years as an instructor. When creating a course, there are several factors Cathy believes are imperative for ensuring high student engagement (and successful sales too!)

Accommodate Different Learning Styles

Cathy recognizes everyone has a different learning style and a different preferred style of teacher. Cathy organizes her courses so that she touches on a variety of styles. What are the styles she identifies?

1. The “Why” Learner – Give them relevance.

These types of learners first and foremost want to know why something is important. It’s a great practice to explain (in each lecture if possible) why the content they’re consuming is important to their goals in taking the course. Once this type of student understands the importance of the material, they’ll engage with it!

2. The “What” Learner – Give them analysis.

These students like ideas and theories and often have a technical or research background. When they find a topic interesting, they’ll read all the surrounding literature to get a strong grasp on the underlying theory. Including supplementary material or suggesting more in-depth external resources will resonate well with these students.

3. The “Recipe” Learner – Give them step-by-step instructions.

This type of student wants a step-by-step guide to follow; they want to know exactly what to do first, second, third, and so on. Probably most of your students will fall within this category. Cathy has found that short videos, screen captures, and PDF worksheets work well for these students – but she advises to keep it all bite-sized so they get quick results!

4. The “IKEA” Learner – Give them one thing at a time.

Cathy describes this learning style as “the person who tries to assemble the IKEA furniture without reading the instructions.” You can help these students by giving them just one thing to do at a time. Say it’s a course on Udemy course creation – tell them to create a 2-minute video to get started on their content creation. Or say it’s a course on improving health and happiness – tell them to drink just one glass of water first thing in the morning.

Since you’ll likely have students with a wide breadth of learning styles in each of your courses, make sure to use a variety of lecture formats and instructional styles between lectures, sections, and assignments to broaden your appeal.

Implement, Motivate, Interact

IMPLEMENT: People learn by doing. By taking action. Cathy recommends that instructors give student tasks and exercises, not just information. Either go through a task with them, or ask them to do it themselves.

MOTIVATE: It’s important to keep students motivated if you want them to stay engaged with the course (and hopefully go all the way through!). While you may not be in a room with your students, you can add motivation to your videos by having commentary around your technical information (think conversational pieces).

For example, “This part can be harder to understand than the previous video so make sure you block off ten minutes to watch the video twice” or “you’re more than half way through – fantastic!” and so on….

INTERACT: Cathy recognizes that “People learn really well in a community and by being able to put their ideas into context. You can do this with case studies and, if you want to, you can create communities outside Udemy. For example for one of my courses I have a very active Facebook group. There is no doubt it enhances implementation and therefore the experience for the people in that course.”

How does Cathy plan her courses?

  1. Planning: “I always start with the end in mind. So I have one course that is designed to take someone through the process of getting their book onto the kindle platform – and that’s what they get!” For further resources on planning your Udemy course, click here.
  2. Research: “I might ask some questions of people on my email list, or in a Facebook group, or people in other courses. That often throws up something I haven’t thought of – we experts don’t always know what people want!”
  3. Outline: “I like to work with post-it notes so I will either write ideas on post-its and then structure those ideas into modules, or else I might mind-map the ideas.” If you’d like to use our template to outline your course, you can find it here. It’s also always a good idea to share your outline with the instructor community in the Studio for feedback!
  4. Create Content: “Finally, I create the content: short lectures which makes it much more likely I will complete the course! Because I do screencast videos I do a powerpoint first – often one big one so it’s easier to move the slides around and then I break it into smaller files to record each separate video.”

We’ve asked a variety of bestselling and innovative Udemy instructors to host one hour Q&A sessions in the Udemy Studio or Faculty Lounge. These “Ask Me Anythings” are a chance for the instructor community to get their questions answered in real time by instructors we consider to be true mentors. To view the Ask Me Anything session hosted by Cathy Presland, go here (Note that you will need to be a Studio member to access the link).