Every 6 months my team and I sit down to design the next cohort of Building a Second Brain (BASB).

We look at everything: feedback from students from the last cohort, ideas for improvements saved in our notes, new apps and features that have been released, and our long-term plans for making this the best course on PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) in the world.

Throughout that process, we have one guiding question:

How can we make a course that is impossible to fail?

So many courses make a big promise of everything you will do and achieve…as long as you perfectly complete every lesson.

I remember taking these courses. The feeling of disappointment as I slowly dropped off time after time, always blaming myself and my lack of self-discipline for my failure. I don’t think I ever finished a self-paced course.

It seemed to work for everyone else, but why not me? Why couldn’t I be one of the glowing testimonials I saw on the sales page?

When I created BASB, I was determined to create an experience that left people feeling more empowered, not less.

I decided to deliver the course live via Zoom. Instead of assigning homework for students to somehow find time to complete on their own, I led them through milestones live.

When the group got too big for me to work directly with every student, I hired Alumni Mentors to coach students through their process.

This approach is probably not as efficient or scalable, but it is radically more effective at delivering the promises we’ve made.

We’ve just released the full list of improvements we’re making in version 12, which I’ll explain in more detail below.

Every single one of these changes is laser-focused on one target: making students win.

1. New studio-quality videos

For the last 11 cohorts, every video lesson was just me sitting at my computer talking. The content was iterating and changing so fast, I could never justify investing in super high production values.

That’s all changed now. The lessons have been proven enough that we are beginning the process of producing new lesson videos combining live teaching, visual metaphors, and motion graphics, paired with studio-quality audio.

We’ll share the first two videos as part of cohort 12, with MUCH more to come.

We’ve simplified the core units, moved supplementary material to the Second Brain Vault and the discussion forum, and refocused everything around what really matters: taking action.

2. Beginner and advanced tracks

For cohort 12, we are splitting the curriculum into “Beginner” and “Advanced” tracks.

New students taking the course for the first time will be encouraged to focus on the need-to-know essentials in the Beginner track (though they will have the option of joining Advanced if they want to).

Returning students will have the option of joining a faster-paced, more intensive Advanced track that builds on what they already know.

Alumni Mentor groups and Circle spaces will also be designated as Beginner or Advanced, allowing everyone to choose the level of engagement that makes the most sense for them.

3. Expanded Alumni Mentor program

In cohort 12, Alumni Mentors are becoming the backbone of this program. They are previous graduates of the course who we’ve recruited, hired, and trained to coach students through challenges and obstacles.

We will have 30 Mentors (supported by 6 Senior Mentors) from a wide variety of backgrounds leading their own breakout sessions each week, focusing on specific aspects of PKM, specific tools, and specific use cases.

You’ll be able to join as many or as few of them as you want to give you a smaller, more intimate setting in which to ask questions and get feedback.

BASB is quickly becoming less a course and more like a global conference: I deliver the keynote address, but everyone knows the real magic is in the breakout sessions where you can get into the details.

4. Feedback Pods

We are also offering an even smaller, more intimate way for you to connect with your fellow students.

Feedback Pods are small groups of students who opt in to become learning partners for each other, meeting weekly to share what they’ve discovered, get feedback on their classwork, and maybe even make new friends.

Feedback Pods are completely optional and organized by time zone, so you can join at a time that’s convenient for you.

5. Redesigned discussion forum

We are revamping our community discussion forum on the Circle platform, recentering discussions around Beginner and Advanced tracks and the most-used notetaking apps.

This will ensure channels remain active and engaged while allowing you to ignore the chatter that doesn’t apply to you. Certain Mentors will also be primarily active on Circle to make sure you get your questions answered.

6. Friday Happy Hour

We’ve realized that one of the biggest benefits of a live program like this one is the people you meet. We’ve seen so many friendships, collaborations, and even businesses come out of these cohorts.

I recently wrote about Renaissance 2.0, the creative revolution we’re currently witnessing on the Internet, and how it’s such a vibrant social and cultural scene. I’ve realized that in order to become part of it, it’s not enough to read some blogs. You have to meet people and form relationships.

We’ve added an informal social event on Friday nights to specifically enable this kind of relationship-building. We’ll have prompts, icebreakers, and games to help you find your tribe in our networked era.

7. Student Directory

We now have over 3,000 graduates of this course, spread across a stunning diversity of countries, professions, organizations, and cultures.

To enable alumni to find and meet each other even if they’re not part of the same cohort, we are leveling up our Student Directory and making it a permanent part of the program.

With your permission, we’ll add your approximate location, professional background, and interests to a central directory that can be searched. And then you can direct message any other graduate through Circle without needing to know their email address.

8. Digital workbooks

We’re turning our PDF workbook into an online, interactive workbook!

We’ve identified the 8 key milestones on the path to building a Second Brain, and will be sharing templates for completing them all in one place in a workbook that is designed to work with notetaking apps.

Those are the 8 biggest changes we’re making. And of course, we’ll continue to do everything that has worked well so far.


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