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Creating Brag-Worthy Student Experiences

Matt James

February 22, 2018

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the importance of loyal students. Now we want to delve deeper into how you can attain that student loyalty by using a thought experiment first developed by Airbnb called Seven Star Design.

These days giving something a rating of five stars no longer holds the same importance it once did. Where once, a five star rating meant that the company went above and beyond, these days five stars tends to mean that there’s nothing wrong with the experience. That’s a pretty low bar. So Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, set their goal to go beyond five stars. As he put it, “We wanted to build a product where you loved it so much you would tell everyone about it.”

“We wanted to build a product where you loved it so much you would tell everyone about it” ~ Brian Chesky

It takes a lot to make people want to tell others about your program–way more than the basic five-star experience that people have come to expect. What would your program need to do for customers to call and ask you to add a sixth star to your rating system? What about a seventh star? Or a tenth?

Seven Star Design could be used with a parenting class, a yoga class, or even a gardening class. Anywhere that your students interact with your program is an opportunity to go above and beyond what’s expected. We looked at a student’s first day in a painting class as an example of this thought experiment in practice.

What is a Five-Star Painting Class?

To appreciate the benefits of Seven Star Design, you have to start with an understanding of a five-star experience. This will serve as your foundation throughout the rest of the thought experiment–a starting point to jump off from.

You might imagine a five-star experience looks something like this:

  • A student arrives on campus and locates their class
  • Class starts and ends on time
  • They learn something about painting.

There’s nothing wrong with this five-star experience, but as you can see, it’s also nothing to write home about. You want your students to rave about your program. Let’s break down this experience and see if we can create an even better painting class.

The Arrival

In a five star experience, students are able to find a parking spot and locate their class without issues on the first day. As we head into six and seven-star experiences, we want to improve upon that. Instead of giving the student “nothing to complain about,” we want to give them something to brag about.

A student arrives on campus. At the entrance of the building, they see signs pointing in the direction of their classroom with the class name and room number in easy-to-read print.

The day before their class, the student receives a text message reminding them of the time and location of their class. On the day of their class, they are greeted at the door by a personal guide who leads them to their classroom.


The day before their class, the student receives a text message letting them know what time pick-up will be. On the day of their class, a driver picks them up and drops them off at the front door of the building their class will be in.


On the day before their class, students receive a text message letting them know the time of pickup and asking them to reply with a list of their favorite snacks. On the day of their class, a limo pulls up to their front door. The limo is stocked with a mini-bar and a selection of their favorite snacks which they can enjoy on the way to their class, where they enjoy curbside service.

On the day of their class, a personal jet, loaded with a student’s favorite snacks and drinks, whisks them away to study painting in the heart of Rome.

As you can see, by the time you reach a ten-star arrival, the experiment has been stretched to an outrageous extreme. Do we expect you to supply limo service to every student on their first day of class? Of course not. But by stretching this to the extreme — pulling it out to ridiculous levels — it becomes easy to see some new possibilities. A limo might be too much, but by now we’re guessing sending a text doesn’t seem so insane.

Getting the hang of it?  OK, let’s apply this same concept to the other aspects of their first day of class.

The Class

Again, the bar for a five-star experience should be an absolute minimum. In terms of the painting class, that minimum includes class starting and ending when it’s supposed to. How do you improve upon that standard to make the class brag-worthy?

When a student walks into the classroom, they find that the supplies they need for their class have already been laid out for them.

A student arrives in class to find that supplies have been purchased specially for them, are laid out and ready to go for the class, and are theirs to take home at the end of the day.


A student arrives in class to find that a variety of workstations have been set up for them throughout the classroom. Each workstation, equipped with supplies they get to bring home afterward, is dedicated to a different style of painting with inspirational artwork placed around.


A 9-star class would include everything from an 8-star class, plus each student would have a personal instructor dedicated to helping them learn to paint.

The entire building has been dedicated to helping this one student learn to paint. Each room embodies a different period of painting, with inspirational art pulled directly from museums, inspirational music, and snacks and drinks that are tailored to the time period to help the student get in the right frame of mind.

The Education

Of course, the ultimate goal of a class is to learn something new. Hiring great instructors and ensuring they have proper training is key, but what if you can take it a step or two further?

The student learns some interesting new painting techniques. At the end of the day, their instructor encourages them to call day or night if they have any follow-up questions about the lesson.

At the end of class, there is a Q&A session with a famous local artist. The instructor also hands each of the students a packet of concept art that the artist chose specifically to inspire them.


An out-of-state artist makes an in-person guest appearance in the class. They paint an original piece of art during the course of the class, which a lucky student gets to take home and keep as a souvenir.


The student’s favorite artist conducts the entire class. They encourage the students to paint great characters, and at the end of the class, they choose one of those characters to feature in their next gallery show.

The student’s favorite artist conducts the entire class. At the end, they have taught the student so much that the student is a master artist themselves. The two enter a partnership, and the student launches a fruitful new career as a result of the class.

Maybe when looking through this brainstorm list you thought to yourself, “It wouldn’t be too hard to send a text reminder out to students the day before their first class.” Or perhaps you considered offering snacks in classrooms. What matters isn’t trying to do everything, but picking one or two achievable things you can do to improve your process and elevate your program from a five-star program to a six or seven-star program.

We recommend you try this thought experiment yourself. What would ten-star registration look like? What about a ten star last day of classes? Or a ten-star billing experience?

We’d love to hear your ideas!

If you find the time to run through a brainstorming session or two, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to make the student experience that much better.  In fact, we’re hoping to pick a few suggestions and write a future blog post around them, so send them our way!

Matt James

Matt has over 20 years of experience in the software industry. As the founder or co-founder of four software companies, he comprehensively understands technology, design, operations, finance, sales, marketing, and customer service. Matt co-founded CourseStorm to connect learners to classes where they can gain education a la carte to enrich their lives through art classes, prepare for a new job, or level up their existing skills.

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