The Expert Advantage: How to Use Authority to Help Learners

The Expert Advantage: How to Use Authority to Help Learners

You’ve perfected the curriculum. You’ve created study materials, tests, and projects. You have a lightning-fast LMS and website. And you even have an audience of thirsty learners.

You’ve done everything right, but without this, you’re making it harder for your students to learn anything.

This is authority.

Authority makes it easy for students to trust and believe that you can help them.

Would it be easier for you to trust your doctor’s diagnosis if he were wearing pajamas or a white lab coat?

Authority of a Surgeon

Surgeons are certainly authority figures

Would it be easier for you to trust your attorney if he graduated from Yale Law or some tiny school you had never heard of?

When people see someone in a position of authority, it’s in their nature to trust them. Our minds are always looking for shortcuts in deciding whom to trust, and it’s easier for us to trust those who have: been vetted by a system (e.g. graduated from college), look the part (e.g. a judge in a black robe), or have competed against others and won (e.g. winning awards).

There’s one subtle but important distinction in how authority helps learners trust you. It’s actually the LACK of authority that prevents learners from believing in you. Said another way, having authority doesn’t guarantee they’ll trust and learn from you, but not having authority makes it hard for them the believe in you and learn from you.

How can you demonstrate your authority to learners?

We’ll cover three simple ways to let your learners know they can trust and believe you

  • Credentials
  • Appearance
  • Experience



Educational credentials, whether degrees from college, certificates, and everything in between, are a signal to learners that you’ve at least been proven competent by someone. For example, if you’re teaching a course on getting started with Salesforce and have a certificate from the company, it’s easy for a learner to reasonably believe you know what you’re talking about.


Despite his youth, his credentials give him authority.

So what credentials can you show students? If you don’t have any, are there any programs you can complete to gain these badges of authority? Even if you’re already competent in an area, getting a credential to make it easy for students to trust you will make you a more effective instructor.

And don’t be shy when giving your credentials. Write them on the course description. Introduce yourself and include a story demonstrating your credentials. You may feel like it’s bragging, but it’s making it easier for students to believe you and get the knowledge they’re there for.



Secondly, appearance goes a long way in establishing authority. And don’t make the mistake of assuming your teaching ability, reputation, or content makes up for looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Old Man with Authority

It’d be easier to trust this man to teach philosophy than it would Snapchat marketing…

You already know you shouldn’t wear sweatpants and a dirty hoodie when making instructional videos (although this might actually increase your authority if you’re teaching coding….).

But you might not know that environment matters, too. If you’re teaching a lesson to MBA students in a suit and tie, but are doing it in a coffee shop, there’s an incongruity that throws students off.

Or if you’re in a lab coat demonstrating the proper way to wash biology lab slides, but are doing it in your bathroom, it’ll be hard for students to take you seriously.

So when designing your instructional videos or live seminars, be deliberate in designing your environment. Be the character your students expect to learn from, and do it in a setting that matches that persona.


Finally, showing off real-life successes is a fantastic way to demonstrate authority. Even without credentials or the proper appearance, if people know you’ve won in the real world, they will see you as a sign of authority.

You see these stories in the news frequently. Mark Zuckerberg drops out of Harvard and starts Facebook. Tom Brady gets selected in the bottom of the draft but overcomes it to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Nobody cares that Zuckerberg didn’t graduate or Brady was selected later because they’ve succeeded in their domains.

So what successes can you show your students? It doens’t have to be large. Students are expecting to become better versions of themselves, and when they see your accomplishments, they’ll imagine themselves doing it, too.

Authority Recap

So now you that the lacking authority significantly decreases the likelihood of your student’s success. If someone doesn’t trust you or believe you, it’s very hard for them to learn from you.

Make it easy for learners to listen and trust you by showing off your credentials, looking the part, and demonstrating success by your experience.

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