In this talk, originally delivered at Circle Future of Courses summit, Mathilde Leo takes you on a journey into the world of community-powered courses––from the principles that underpin the shift from passive video-based learning to the practical benefits you and your members can reap from this new community-led way of learning.
Mathilde Leo is the Head of Community at Circle, where she’s made it her mission to equip creators with the knowledge, tools, and confidence to build thriving online communities. Before Circle, she spent six years growing her community business, hosting Europe’s top conference for product managers, and pursuing her passion for connecting people to unlock professional growth.
Community builder by day and a Thai boxer by night, Mathilde expresses herself through sports, travel, and languages. Born in the French Alps, she lived and worked in London, Barcelona, and Bangkok and is now based in Lisbon, Portugal.
Have you ever enrolled in an online course only to see it fall to the bottom of your to-do list? You’re not alone. Enter: community-powered courses.
These represent a ground-breaking approach to online education that combines the power of community with outcome-based learning. In this session, Circle’s head of community, Mathilde Leo, helps you master the core principles of community-powered courses, so you can apply them to your own course idea.
The session emphasizes the unique value of community-powered courses, which prioritize member participation and engagement. Instead of traditional one-sided learning, these courses create a dynamic ecosystem where the community itself becomes a primary source of value and accountability. Mathilde also shares some examples of successful community-powered courses hosted on Circle. Courses such as “Write of Passage” and “Breakthrough Facilitation” have tapped into the power of community engagement to create enriching learning experiences.
One of the key takeaways from this session is understanding how online education has evolved. The focus has shifted from passive content consumption to active learning, with community accountability and participation at its core.
Mathilde concluded with a demo of Circle’s new course feature, which allows creators to create community-powered learning experiences for their members. It’s a comprehensive solution that empowers educators to create, manage, and profit from their own community-powered courses.
Mathilde Leo: It’s so good to be here! By now you’ve probably learned a lot about Community powered courses and why they’re the future. I know you must be excited to build your own. So in this session, we’re really gonna dive into the nuts and bolts of how they work in practice.
I see a lot of people I know in the chats, but in case we haven’t met hello, my name is Mathilde. I lead Circle’s Community team. What we do is that we look after a fast-growing customer community. We help our customers, our creators, build successful communities by learning from one another and learning from experts as well.
Before Circle, I was running a community for product managers, which was originally a small side project that eventually turned into a six-figure remote business and a thriving community. That chapter was really exciting and showed me the power of building community. The fact that it can be a passion, but it can also be a viable business model.
My goal is that you leave the talk with practical ideas that you can implement right away, tonight if you like or tomorrow, whatever, to build your first Community powered course. And if you have a course already, you’re going to learn how to make it even more valuable by adding Community into the mix.
This is our agenda. First, a quick definition, so we all are on the same page. Then we’re going to be looking at real-life examples. I’m a big believer in learning from examples. So I’m going to show you five successful CPCs to inspire you as you build your own. And then I think it’s the moment that people have been waiting for this entire day. So maybe I should put it first but we’re going to give a sneak peek into the new course feature on Circle and easy ways to get started.
You’ve heard this term many times already today, but let’s unpack what it means. What is a community-powered course? Here is my definition. It’s quite simple. It is a course where the community is the primary source of value. Not the content or the information that you might provide as the instructor, but rather it’s the ongoing participation from your members that will shape the experience and deliver the most value. And that is good news if you think about it because it means that you don’t have to create all the content yourself. Things like asking questions in a safe space, sharing takeaways or challenges, turning a live office hours, mentoring others or being mentored, all those things are happening every day in a community powered course.
I hear you ask: isn’t it the same thing as a cohort-based course? Well, not quite. As the name suggests, a cohort-based course is about teaching a group of members – a group of students at the same time. Whilst this new term that we use, community-powered course, can be applied to any type of course. It can be self-paced, it can be cohort-based, or a bit of both.
You heard from Tiago earlier today. And in his very own words: “one is a delivery mechanism. And the other one is a value proposition.”
Alright, so let’s go back in time real quick because to understand why CPCs are the future, you need to understand the past and how we got here. This article from Tiago actually really sums it up perfectly. He talks about the four different waves of online education that we’ve seen.
I don’t know if any of you remember the MOOCs – the Massive Open Online Courses that started popping out in 2008 and 2009. They were those taught by big universities around the world that were making their best lectures available for free. Then we had the second wave. We had marketplaces that started emerging, like Udemy and Skillshare. With those marketplaces, the focus was on making money through courses.
For the first time, we had an independent instructor, the creator, who could create a course and offer it for sale online without having to build their own platform. Which led to the third wave – the toolkits with platforms like Teachable and Kajabi that started to give the instructors from the previous waves, or the top instructors, more tools to really deliver their course and own the audience. But in this model, completion rates were not much better, if we are honest, than in the previous MOOC era because the focus was really on serving the instructor, not the student.
So Tiago says we’re now in the fourth wave. We are really now focusing on producing outcomes for our students. And this is done by putting community, accountability, and participation at the core of the offering. So again, this is another version of what you’ve heard today, but I think it’s really important that we remember that there’s an old way of doing things and a new way.
In the old way, it was all about information, delivering a specific curriculum. In the new way, it’s about facilitating transformations for your members. And community is central to the experience. While traditional courses were top-down, right, your students were buying access to video lectures that you had to record ahead of time. The new way is about experiences that can be created with your members over time. And if you think about it, this new way, it’s not so new right because this is how we’ve always learned best – from and with other people.
Alright, now that we know what a CPC is, why it matters, and where it fits in the broader story of online education, I want to show you some real-life examples of successful Community Powered Courses that are hosted on Circle.
The first one is Write of Passage. It was mentioned earlier on and will be teaching at our boot camp in a couple of weeks. It’s a five-week course that teaches people how to write online. On the surface, it’s a writing course – you have some lessons, you have some live sessions. But if you look closer, it’s a lot more. You have accountability groups where students come together to share their progress every week. You have mentoring opportunities with course alumni, live writing sessions and all this happen in the same place – in a Circle community with different spaces with different activities.
Our second example is Breakthrough Facilitation. This is actually a course that I was a part of a couple of months ago. It’s a facilitation course and it’s really built on the idea that you will learn as much from other people, from other participants, as from the instructor. So the moment you join the course, the moment you join this Circle community. You are encouraged to post an introduction. But also what you do is you take a self-assessment quick survey to really share where you are at, where you feel you’re at in your facilitation Journey. And then there was a space in this community where you can share the results and it’s an amazing way to connect with other people because you can make connections with people who are at a similar stage or a few steps ahead of you. Which is an awesome way to make connections and really starts this community mindset around what we’re about to teach.
Next, we have Ness Labs. Ness Labs is a successful community that has been on Circle from day one, I think. Andor, the founder, actually realized that he now basically offers both a membership Community right? You can join Ness Labs for I think you can pay every month or per year, but you can also buy a specific course. Anne-Laure said that people tend to come for the course they buy the course, but then they stay for the community because instead of learning on their own instead of just accessing content that suddenly immerse in this amazing Community with a lot of conversations with meetups with workshops and they can not only talk about the material and the things they’ve learned but they can share projects things that they are building things that they’re learning with other people.
Alright, a couple more examples and then promise I’ll show you the products. Tatiana is one of our Circle experts. Okay, to take a step back. Let’s read this quote at the top. Tatiana now generates 100K in revenue with a course that runs on Circle of course for Community leaders. And what I love about her example is she had no content built when she started she actually started selling. Access to her course, and of course Community before having a full curriculum and that’s the beauty of community-powered courses. What Tatiana did is she started doing weekly office hours and through those office hours, She learned what her members needed and what they cared about and she was able to adapt the content along the way of course you had some lessons and she had a starting point. She had an outline but she built her course progressively. With her members through those office hours, those hot seats and those events that she hosted which is pretty incredible.
Last example and that one is pretty awesome. And that will show you that Community powered courses are not just for teaching digital skills, you know, real-life skills or crafts like weaving can also work. This is Cally. She founded Weaving Space online. It’s a course as the name suggests that teaches you the arts and craft of weaving. What’s incredible with Weaving Space is that Her students were all in their 50s or 60s. They’re sharing videos and photos of the progress. They’re making their weaving every day every week in the Circle community in her spaces. They’re talking about color palettes threading how to create specific patterns. So the students of Cally’s course actually keep each other accountable through those discussions and those photos and Actually sharing what it is that they’re learning what they’re building throughout the course, which makes the course itself even more valuable.
Alright. Let me take a quick look at the chat. Tatiana, it’s great. Yes, I agree. Okay, awesome. So this is a slide you’ve seen before I just wanted to bring it back because I think that by now you’ve heard a lot of examples a lot of ideas for how to really facilitate learning through community and I love to hear from you again if you were here before or for the first time if you just joining, what is your favorite idea so far? What is one thing that you think could be work in your course community? Will you deliver office hours? Will you have accountability groups challenges? Just drop your ideas in the chat. Accountability groups is a big one, office hours, challenges, hot seats – awesome. Hey Mark! It’s awesome to see some of you already building with your members for sure mentors. All those ideas are great.
I’m now going to show you how to bring some of those ideas to life through the products, through courses on Circle. The first thing you need to do is really easy. Actually, you just need to create a space to host your course. Until recently, Circle spaces on Circle, which are by the way the building blocks of the community on Circle, were available for discussions and events. You had spaces for all those types of things – discussions, events, chats, and now you can have a course for sorry space for your course where you can have your curriculum.
Get out of the space which lives alongside other spaces. So the course space is one of the many building blocks that you can use to build your CPC and you can mix and match different types of spaces. I’ll show an example real quick because I think it’s important that we wrap our heads around the structure of a community part course or the fact that there is actually no structure – you build your own.
So this is a community called Social Scribe. It’s actually an example that we use for office hours. But I really like it. It was built by Emma from my team. In Social Scribe, they have a course space right here where they’re hosting their content, their self-based videos. But then they have an event space where they’re hosting their weekly writing workshops. They also have a course space chat space Sorry where members can come in and actually have real-time chats just like on Slack just talk to each other get to know each other and so on. And then there are discussion spaces whether people can share their progress and Visa library to another host all of the recording of some of the events that they’re doing.
So when you combine all these different types of spaces, you can build a really rich and immersive experience that goes far beyond delivering just content or just video lectures, right? So that’s how your community-powered course comes to life. You have your curriculum, your lessons in one space, but then you can enhance it right through other spaces – discussions, events, challenges, whatever you want to build.
One more example real quick. This is Breakthrough Facilitation that I mentioned earlier. And you see here the setup is completely different because again, you can mix and match spaces pretty much build anything on circles. So what I’ve decided to do here, which I found super interesting. They’ve had a bunch of spaces that let new members meet alumni. So it’s a chord-based course and all the alumni are kind of like this. All of their introductions are readily available in this space. Then they have spaces.
They have a Learning Hub where they have video toolkits. So they have like a group of spaces that’s available to all cohorts and that really just share all of the resources that have been built over time by all the members and all the cohorts tools. They’ve shared resources, articles and so on. And right here you see they have a bunch of spaces just for the new cohort. So if I record three members, I will see those spaces and I won’t see anything else which really helps me learn and kind of like progress through the course with the help of others.
Spaces are the building blocks of your course, but you don’t need a lot of spaces to get started. That’s one thing that I want to share now. I want to really highlight and to highlight this I want to show you the 10 as example build a community business. Each cohort has access to the community right but then the course itself lives in two spaces one for the content and one for the connection.
Once you have your space structure and again, we have tons of resources in our Circle Community to help you figure out your space structure or I guess make you start because you know, it can change at any point. You can, you know, move your spaces. Remodel your community the way you want. Once you have that in place, you can start building your curriculum and that’s what our new course space type lets you do. You have a really awesome drag-and-drop experience where you can add sections and lessons within the section. Within the lesson itself, you can add videos, texts. You can also invite your members to learn, or participate in the community. As you’re building this curriculum, you can preview The Experience. So at any point, you can see The Experience from the perspective of an enrolled member.
We haven’t talked too much about launching and marketing a new course but monetizing your course is super easy because we have something called paywalls which lets you gate specific spaces or space groups. So if you have your course alongside events and lots of Premium content in one area of your Community. Again, create a paywall and new members can see a custom lock screen or a sales page like this one. New members can just join your community. They can pay a one-time subscription or one-time payments already or subscription. So that’s up to you. And you decide, you set that up in your paywall.
Once you have published your course, it’s very easy. You can preview The Experience, can publish it in one go and it will show up in a new tab at the top of your community. Because we wanted to make it really easy for your members to browse all of your courses. If you have more than one, we wanted to make it really easy for them to see what courses they could join and also pay for the ones that are paid for because you might have free courses and paid ones. You might have a mix of both, right? So we have an awesome courses directory where people can browse all your courses and join the ones that catch their fancy.
I’m going to stop here with the product highlights because you can actually find all the details about how the Circle course feature or product works. We just updated the product announcement. So if someone could drop it in the chat, that’d be awesome. You can take a look. There is a whole video that walks you through all the steps to create your course, and of course we will cover all of that at the boot camp next week.
I want to leave you with three tips before we chat again about the boot camp and what you can expect. If you want to launch a community-powered course, make sure you co-create your course contents. You don’t need to have all the content ready before you start. You don’t need 10 video lessons. Maybe you want to have two or three and then create the content along the way with your students. Then you want to connect your students early and often once they join the course because if your students make a few connections early on maybe through an introduction or through having a space where maybe a member directory. We have a member directory that you can use to connect people with each other. They will most likely stay engaged with the content. But also, stay engaged in your community. They will be there and their chances of dropping off are lower already.
And the third tip is to encourage participation. So with Circle, with all the different space types with chats and DMs, you have tons of tools to engage your members so they don’t feel isolated when they’re learning. They really feel a sense of belonging and feel excited to learn together. So use all the tools that you have in your toolbox to make that happen. And keep it simple. It’s not on the slide, but I think the main thing that we’ve seen or the most successful courses and learning communities that we’ve seen at Circle. They really just hone in on one flagship event, one signature gathering, one thing that they provide in addition to their course content that helps their members learn together.
All right. If you do those three things, you will win. You will unlock a better course experience for your students. They will become active contributors not passive consumers, which will lead to better outcomes and long-lasting connections.
With that, I’m super excited to remind you because I know you’ve heard about the boot camp already. I want to remind you that for the next four weeks, starting Monday, we’re going to help you succeed. We’re going to help you build and launch your first or tenth community-powered course in just 30 days and it’s all happening here in the Circle community.
Now if you have asked, you know, how do I get access? You’ll have all the information tomorrow. We’ll post an announcement. We’ll send you an email. But it’s going to be super exciting. You’re going to learn as you heard already from expert instructors, but then you also going to have those ones here that you see. But you are also going to have access to a video every week in lessons with tips and tricks. You’re going to have prompts and exercises to keep you motivated and you’re going to learn with other people.
That’s the main thing and in true community-powered course spirit, you’re going to really be with hundreds of other customers, with other Circle creators, building an interesting course and even make progress together. And we’re here to help you like Andy said at the beginning. We want you to succeed because if you succeed, we succeed. So we are going to be really vested in your progress and your success throughout October and beyond.
All right. Can’t wait to see you at the bootcamp. Thanks, everyone!
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