I like to hang out with smart people.

In my nearly eight years in business, I’ve gotten in the habit of intentionally surrounding myself with smart people, online and off, through programs, masterminds, online forums and groups, and even the occasional coffee chat. In fact, if I can help it, I never want to be the “smartest person in the room” on any given subject (unless I’m the one teaching).

I learned that a long time ago in peer writing groups; if I was in a group with writers who were all newer and less experienced, I ended up being the one giving all the advice and (unpaid) teaching and didn’t get much value from it for my own writing. If, on the other hand, I stretched myself and joined a group with writers who were on par with my experience or more experienced than me, then I felt like I could bring value and give value.

One thing this helps me with in business is to start to spot trends in the online marketplace. If I’m hanging out with smart people, and they’re all talking about something, chances are there’s a good reason for it.

And one trend a lot of my smart friends and colleagues have been talking about lately are in-person experiences.

The rise and fall (?) of DIY courses

We’ve seen an interesting shift in the last 10-15 years. Do you remember when the first webinars started to become popular? When online courses started to become a thing? (Or am I just dating myself here…?)

When those technologies were new, everybody wanted to try them, use them, and experience them. Online courses offered the promise of democratizing learning — at least geographically speaking. No more having to be in a particular location at a particular time to access learning.

Video conferencing and webinars made it possible for the teacher to be “present” live as well.

I think the novelty of these new technologies ensured that customers were eager to participate and try something new.

These technologies also made teaching at scale easier and highly profitable for the business owner. While we had to invest in the technologies, there was no overhead for a location, food and drink, transportation, etc.

But these fully automated learning and teaching experiences also have downsides. Any business owner who has created a course knows the disappointment of seeing paid customers not complete the course. And any course buyer knows how easy it is to get stuck, get discouraged, or not see the results you hoped for from a DIY course. When there’s no opportunity for ongoing interaction, or when the students vastly outnumber the teachers, it’s difficult to overcome these problems.

As a bit of a course junky in my early days of business, I also found that there were vast differences between courses, even at the same price points. Some I might get a ton of value out of, while others were barely worth the paper they weren’t printed on.

Over the years, I think a lot of buyers have become wary of DIY courses. Perhaps they’ve had a previous negative experience, perhaps they have discovered about themselves that they aren’t typically self-driven enough to complete courses on their own, or perhaps the novelty has just warn off.

Whatever the reason, the buzz around the interwebs is that these DIY-only courses — at least at a higher level, and a higher price point — are becoming less popular. (Beginner-level, low-price DIY courses still seem to have their place in certain funnels.)

A swing back to in-person experiences

It stands to reason, then, that what’s old is new again.

Incorporating an in-person element to work in tandem with a digital experience feels new, and it also feels somehow more… luxurious. High touch. Instead of being one of hundreds or even thousands of students going through a program — with only the chance of a lottery winner to access the course creator — suddenly you are VIP, in the room with the teacher, the coach, the course creator.

You’re in the room where it happens!

And there’s something special about that, magical.

There’s something that can’t be replicated in a digital space about being in the room where it happens. There’s something that happens standing at the table for coffee, in the lobby waiting for the elevator, over lunch, or at drinks after the event.

But we’re not talking about traditional conferences or events, either; those never really went away.

Instead, I’m seeing a move toward a hybridization. Several of my clients and mentors have designed hybrid programs that include digital trainings and support coupled with an in-person experience.

Run Like Clockwork offers two-day intensive trainings to complete their online training program. System.ly includes quarterly, in-person planning days as part of their year-long Academy. What Works offers two in-person retreats as part of their highest level mastermind program.

Anecdotally, many of my clients and colleagues have noticed a downturn in the popularity of straight DIY courses, especially for higher-level learning. But it’s difficult to scale purely one-to-one coaching and services.

That’s why this hybrid approach has such appeal. The base trainings are provided in a digital format, and then the coach or service provider — or a team of coaches and providers — can offer additional support, answer questions, and create custom solutions where necessary. The addition of in-person experiences takes that benefit even a step further, providing unparalleled access to the coach, provider, or “thought leader” that customers wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.