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Our Top 7 Tips for Updating Your Online Course

Tips for Updating Online Courses

Many online course creators believe that after launching, it’s time to sit back and watch the sales roll in. Well, we hate to break it to you, but that isn’t where the work ends.

You’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours researching a course topic, creating content for your course, building a marketing plan, crafted a successful launch, and students are paying for what you have to offer…

First of all, if this is you…you rock! Congratulations!

However, as any seasoned course creator knows, while this is an exciting time, it’s also the beginning of a new journey and set of daily checklists you’ll need to stay up on once students begin to enroll.

And what are those?

  • You’ll be managing the financial side of your course (sales, payments, refunds, reporting)
  • You’ll be continually trying to improve and redefine your overall marketing strategy

  • You’ll be responding to student inquiries about the course

  • You’ll be handling website maintenance, updates, and (hopefully!) adding blog content

And not only those duties, but if your first course launch went well you may even be considering creating another course!

There are many other tasks to be taken care of after you’ve launched an online course, but today we wanted to share a few tips for the one we’ve seen most often overlooked after working with over 20,000 online course creators since 2012.

How Often Should I Update My Course?

First things first…

I’ve heard this question many a time in our pre-sales inquiry inbox. A lot of curious would be course creators come to us as they’ve read online how wildly successful and hot online courses are right now and how they’re the perfect digital asset for creating passive income.

But some of those folks that contact us already know the truth…there’s really no such thing as completely passive income.

Every entrepreneur finds that a business takes maintenance…restaurant owners with a chef running the show still need to ensure the experience is appealing, landlords have to fix everything from roofs to foundations, self-serve car wash owners manage equipment, facility safety and cleanliness, market their business, and upkeep convenient payment methods.

Online courses are no different.

How often you should update your course really depends on your niche more than anything else. In some industries (ie. online marketing) the landscape is changing quickly and often. If your course involves knitting, however (yes, we do have clients who teach knitting!), I would assume that new cutting-edge techniques don’t rock knitters around the world every day.

There are really two key areas to consider for updating your course and we’ll talk more about them in a moment:

*Visual appeal

*Information accuracy

Across all types of courses though, we generally recommend taking a look back through your course every three months. It’s easy to launch and let things slide, but eventually you’re going to hear from a student who lets you know that their screen looks different than yours or a strategy you taught isn’t working.

So do the work and stay on top of it.

Tip #1: Keep a log of potential update needs.

I’ll just admit this and come right out with it…

I once spent nearly an entire day watching short lesson videos at 1.5x playback speed looking for a resource I mentioned in one of those lessons that I wanted to replace.

Not fun.

The most efficient way to keep your course up to date is to know exactly what might eventually need to be updated and where it is within your course (module, unit, video time marker, etc.). As you create your course, use a log to list out what that content is and where you can find it later to easily splice in a more current version of that topic.

This can be done in a simple word processing document, a spreadsheet, or anywhere else you do your note taking. It’s tedious, but it could save you loads of time down the road.

Tip #2: Commit yourself to an update schedule.

Once you know what might need to be updated, you can the assess how regularly you might need to update that content.

Some topics you teach may be less likely to evolve than others, so you may check them every six months or so. If you’re in a fast-moving niche or perhaps have taught how to use a certain third-party software package in your course, you’ll probably want to check on that every quarter.

List out when you will review each of the updates in your log (including dates by which you’ll review them) and stick to that schedule. Again, it’s too easy to let this stuff slide.

Tip #3: Avoid using references to dates and current events.

This is another lesson I needed to learn the hard way.

When recording your course lesson videos, it’s tempting to make references to the year or month during which you’re recording or to say something like (as I did in an internet marketing course I helped create) “due to Google’s recent search algorithm update”.

However, if at all possible make a conscious effort to avoid using phrases which include these mentions when crafting your content. In most cases, these mentions aren’t necessary and they only serve to create more content update points for you in the future when they become outdated.

Tip #4: Review any software or web-based tools you’ve covered.

Remember that internet marketing course I previously mentioned?

Well, within that course we likely covered at least 20 different software packages and websites which we used for our own online marketing initiatives, so we wanted to share those with our students to help ensure their success.

However, updates to these sites and software applications were changing constantly and of course, those updates were beyond our control. This is a situation in which the quarterly update review would strongly apply!

This may be time-consuming and difficult to sift through, but again…trust me. At some point, if you avoid this step you’re going to eventually hear from students if you don’t execute on this one.

Tip #5: Reviewing your content itself is critical.

Ok, I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but let’s go back to the internet marketing course (c’mon, I have a soft spot for it as it was the first course we launched back in the day!).

Within that course we spent a lot of time on SEO, or search engine optimization. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s the process of ensuring that your site has as good a chance as possible of displaying in the first page of results when a user types a term, or keyword, into a search engine such as the Big G.

This involves numerous what we call on-page (changes you can make within your own website) and off-page (meaning how popular is your site around the entire internet) activities...I mean dozens of potential tasks you yourself can implement to get better search rankings.

However, the search engines control and are constantly altering the complex algorithms which determine who gets a first page spot. They factor in things like your site quality, content quality, keywords in your content, the URL of your site, how many other sites link to yours, the age of your site, and much more.

Google alone has over 200 factors which their algorithm takes into account when determining if and where your site should display in their listings and they change that algorithm very frequently, meaning the rankings are constantly in flux.

As someone teaching SEO in an online course, this presents a lot of work. Strategies we taught two months ago to get good search rankings might not work, well, even tomorrow!

So comb through your content during your own updates to look for potential content changes you need to make. Yes, it might require re-recording several video segments and splicing them in, but you want your students to be well-informed with accurate information.

Tip #6: Review feedback from your students and implement it when appropriate.

You may already be receiving feedback from students regarding the quality, pace, and overall effectiveness of your course. This could be through a contact form, email to an instructor, Facebook group, forum, or elsewhere.

If you aren’t receiving feedback from your students, what are you waiting for?!

It’s as simple as placing a survey at the end of your course and asking students what they thought about the course, would they recommend it, and what if anything did they feel was missing. You can also take the same approach with tools like SurveyMonkey to create simple surveys and link to them in an email to all of your students.   

However, this should be your most important focus for course updates if you are receiving feedback. Your students are providing a fresh set of eyes on your content every day and they’re in there doing the work…listen to them!

Tip #7: Refresh your site’s visual appeal occasionally.

We all probably use dozens of different websites every day. Some of those websites we may visit once and never return.

But what about those sites in the bookmark folders just above this article in your browser? It’s likely you visit those frequently. And over time, you’ll tire of seeing the same design, same colors, same fonts, same logo, and same navigation.

Design updates don’t need to be done frequently. They can be made only once a year if that works for you. But sprucing the place up from time to time will ensure that your students don’t feel like your site was a “set it and forget it” project. They will notice if and when you take on a new look.

Besides, design work (in my opinion) is fun! Try something different from time to time and keep things fresh. It will even be a breath of fresh air for you, the site’s owner.

About Nate Johnson

Nate Johnson is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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