Creating an online course is a lot of work, taking hours and hours of content creation, course organization, and buildout time. After staring at your own course for so long, you may have neglected these 4 key areas.
If you’ve already created one or more online courses and you read the intro header for this article above, then you’re probably shaking your head in agreement.
It’s a lesson we learned the hard way back in 2010. My current business partner, Ben, and I joined forces with two other entrepreneurs to create a powerhouse of a membership and training site which would be a resource like the online marketing world hadn’t seen.
I won’t bore you with our endless list of ideas and possibilities we had for the site, but we were confident that we would be a one-stop solution to help aspiring online entrepreneurs break down the barriers.
About halfway through the creation of the site, our two entrepreneurial partners bailed on us, leaving Ben and me to create the rest of the content and website. In total, I’ve estimated that each of us likely spent over 200 hours on the site.
And after spending sometimes entire eight to ten-hour workdays (in addition to our other businesses we needed to tend to) staring at the same website, course, and content, we finished thinking the entire project was a slam dunk.
However, after asking several of our friends and family members to sign up for the course (people with no online business or marketing experience), we were met with a mixed bag of feedback. Some of this feedback related to the content within the primary training course itself…not good.
That experience did something for us, though. It gave us a list of four critical evaluation points that we need to take a look at before we launch a new course.
Let’s take a look…
It has been estimated by several surveys that across all online courses which are not required for professional certification, training, or licensing (meaning a student is taking the course by their own initiative), course completion rates may be as low as 5-10%.
That’s a very disheartening number!
That being the case, one of the most critical tasks you must undertake as a course creator is providing ways to keep your students motivated and making consistent forward progress.
One of the fastest ways to kill that momentum for a student is by putting up barriers which hinder their forward progress instead of letting them smoothly sail to further learning topics.
Your course site’s navigation should be simple and intuitive, no matter what platform you’re using to build it. Most of the hosted online course solutions which don’t require you to build out your own site come equipped with reasonably intuitive navigation, but not always. When evaluating these platforms, be sure to first take courses as a student to find out if they are.
If you’re building your own site, you may want to mimic the navigation of one of the hosted platforms you like. Make sure it’s simple to immediately progress to the next lesson. Give students quick access to all of their courses. Let them see their progress and effortlessly get back to anything they’ve missed.
After building a course, it’s difficult to see it through a fresh set of eyes. As with all four of these key areas, you may need to ask someone else to take a look.
I’ve taken dozens of online courses on a wide range of topics over the years. One of the courses I enjoyed most (and learned the most from) began with an intro video of the instructor sitting in his office excitedly welcoming us to the program, flailing his hands, and telling us how awesome the process was going to be.
I was fired up! “Let me at that content NOW!” was my attitude.
On the other hand, I once signed up for a course on Udemy and although I shouldn’t have expected much for $10, I couldn’t make it past the first lesson.
I started the first video and there was no welcome or intro, no colorful slides, no instructor on camera…just a stock slide with a plain white background, a list of bullet points, and the instructor jumped right in with a droning voice without ever even saying hello or discussing the content of the course.
When a student begins a course, you want their enthusiasm to be met with something exciting which fosters that enthusiasm!
One of the best ways to do this is by not only welcoming them with excitement and sharing your own enthusiasm, but you can also pack the beginning of your course with great content which provides confidence-building small learning achievements right off the bat.
Give them some interactive content, perhaps having them fill out a survey letting you know more about them personally. Or you might include real-world scenarios which they can go out and complete. It could be a series of success stories from other people in your niche.
One of my favorite techniques to use when designing content for an online course is the “bridge approach” and it helps me tremendously in creating clear and concise course outlines which aren’t bloated with content and which make a logical and intuitive progression.
So what is the “bridge approach”?
Think of your course as a bridge which will be responsible for a specific journey to be traveled safely, comfortably, and efficiently. Your student is at one end of that bridge and their desired learning outcome is at the other. Their current lack of knowledge on the subject is the ravine below.
Then we ask ourselves…
- Where did the student come to us from?
- How far exactly do they want to go and how long should the bridge be?
- Where should we first start building the main supports for our bridge?
- Where and how many steps need to connect each support to the next?
When we look at our course this way, we can ask ourselves…
- What do they already know about this topic so I can pick the right starting point?
- How do I teach the skills they desire to learn without overwhelming them with unnecessary or complex content?
- What major learning topics do we need to focus on to achieve the desired learning outcome?
- How can we break those major learning topics into necessary, digestible, and actionable steps?
I’ve occasionally been guilty of “teaching myself” when creating a course. Instead of focusing on where students might be coming from with respect to their knowledge of the topic, I made assumptions about what they may already know and started and ended my “bridge” beginning too far for the student to step on and ending past the destination where they hoped to arrive.
While it does take some planning and, again, possibly help from outside, it’s worth the effort.
At the end of the day, we want our students to use the information they’ve learned in our course. We don’t want to fill lesson upon lesson with background details and theory…
We want our students to take action!
Some topics do require providing quite a bit of rudimentary and foundational information before the student can understand the processes or strategies you’re teaching. After all, you can’t become a chemist for a pharmaceutical company without having learned the periodic table, right?
So when creating your content, try to phrase learning topics in a way that illustrate how they apply to the bigger picture (meaning the desired learning outcome) and why it’s important to talk about these topics along the way.
Better yet, if it fits your niche you can provide exercises throughout your course which help students implement these individual learning steps as they progress.