To create a successful online course requires the domain expert (i.e. course creator) to wear several different hats competently.
Learning Management System User
Editable Form Creator
And others . . .
Today, easy to use tools make online course creation almost a one person job.
The steps in online course creation have not changed. It’s just that today’s tools make each step in online course creation a ton less stressful.
If you are unsure about how to start creating your online course. If you are feeling intimidated, don’t despair.
Briefly here’s what goes into building a successful online course:
Identify your niche
Choose an arresting course name
Identify all the topics you want to cover in your course
Identify sub-topics under each topic
Create the study material under each sub-topic
This could be Videos, Podcasts, PDF transcripts, Fillable forms
Create a closed Facebook group (or a private forum)
Engage with your course participants for some regular 1 on 1 time
Final evaluation & Certification
Handle these steps properly and quickly, you’ll have a scalable training program in place in next to no time.
That said, here are your 5 easy steps for online course creation.
NOTE: I recommend that:
You start small
Possibly one course. On a topic you are passionate about
Learn from course participant feedback / critique
Adjust and improve your course content and its delivery (if necessary)
Based on participant feedback
Step 1: Define Training Goals & An Ideal Participant Persona
Being intimate with who your ideal course participants are is vital to a successful online course.
This means, YOU! need to be crystal clear about who you are creating your course for.
You need to answer questions such as:
What are your ideal course participant, demographics? Get into as much detail as possible.
What are their pain points which you can relieve effectively and completely?
How would you pitch your training material so that they would understand it easily?
Which course content delivery format would work ideally for them?
i.e. Video, Podcasts, PDFs, MS Word, Email based forms, 1 on 1 mentoring and so on.
Answer these questions, in as much detail as possible. Document your answers in a MS Word document. This document, (i.e. your ideal customer persona), will be the foundation upon which you will build your successful online course.
Okay, now you know who your ideal course participant is. Next, define exactly what value your online course adds to them.
i.e. What pain will your online course relieve effectively & completely.
Great, you’ve got that sorted and out of the way. Now determine the purpose of your online course.
Is it to:
Teach participants specific skill?
Help them be better at what they currently do?
Will it just promote your services?
Is it just a one off course?
Will the current course nudge participants to another course?
When you know the purpose of your online course, you’ll know what its impact will be on a course participant.
Although you are a course creator, never forget, you are responsible (and accountable) for achieving the business goals of your course participant and yours.
You are NOT just responsible for creating and delivering training content.
There is no better way to display the value add your course will deliver a participant, (i.e. its Return On Investment), than explaining clearly how it will affect the participant’s business outcomes.
Now that you are clear about what participant business outcome your course will impact, ask yourself, HOW will your course accomplish this?
The answers will translate into reasons why your course participants MUST join and complete your course.
What A Participant Takes Away After Course Completion
To close this process, determine and document everything that a participant will take away for your course. Especially focus on what they can immediately action, after completing your course.
Step 2: Outline Your Online Course
Use the participant (learning) takeaways you documented and create an outline for your course.
This can be something as simple as a topicwise bulleted outline, or as detailed as a storyboard (or both).
Here is an example of a topicwise bulleted outline.
NOTE: As you create the topic with a bulleted outline, ensure it ties back to the participant takeaways established in step 1.
The topicwise bulleted outline is a big help when you start creating course content.
Use the main topic names as folder names.
The subtopic names can be files within each folder. These files are what hold your training content and any associated learning activity.
For most course creators their topicwise bulleted outline would be sufficient to start creating the actual topicwise training content (Step 3).
Some course creators may find it beneficial to create a detailed storyboard before creating their course training content.
Why Create A Storyboard?
It helps a course creator to visualize the structure of their training content flow
It determines their storyline
It empowers a course creator to visually map out their slides
There’s nothing difficult about creating a storyboard.
NOTE: There are several free and premium tools available on the net to create one. Just Google for Free Storyboard Creation Tools and you’ll identify a lot.
Alternatively, you can use M.S. Word or PowerPoint to create your storyboard. Just play around and discover what works best for you.
This can include visually documenting the textual content, video content, audio content, slide presentations, homework exercises, evaluation exercises and more as they will be handled by course participants.
Storyboards can be as complex or as simple as you need them to be.
You can create a simple outline with pencil and paper. You can create complex PowerPoint slides. You could use a storyboard creation tool. There are a lot of free and premium storyboard creation tools available, just Google to discover them.
Figure out what works best for you so that you deliver the very best learning workflow for your course participants.
Specifying A Task Based Timeline
At this point in your course building process, project management can come in.
Define a tentative completion timeline for specific tasks, described in your storyboard.
NOTE: Such a timeline inevitably gets delayed for various reasons. Hence, having a schedule keeps you focused on what must be accomplished.
Step 3: Build Your Online Course Content
Most of the work you’ll do in course creation will occur in step 3. Having said that this step need not be so time consuming.
Start by grouping together content you already have created. These could be:
Power point presentations
Training manuals in digital format (or their printouts)
Pre-recorded product demos
Course support articles you’ve written
Organize this content in a way that will allow you to use it within your course most appropriately.
To prevent you getting overwhelmed by a ton of files you have, select only the content that has a direct correlation to the learning objectives you’ve defined.
So you’re not overwhelmed by an overabundance of files that can lead to distraction, select only those materials that have a direct correlation to the participant (learning) takeaways you’ve defined earlier.
Here are some tips for creating effective and engaging online course content.
Creating active learners.
NOTE: Consider basing your course outline and training content flow on Bloom’s Taxonomy. This will help your course activities is such a way that it will engage course participants that have diverse learning styles.
You’ll do this using one, all-inclusive curriculum. Traditional educators have been using Bloom’s Taxonomy since the late 1940’s because it works.
NOTE: Don’t worry too much about the word Taxonomy. Here it’s being used to describe a logical workflow that empowers course participants to learn and retain your course content successfully.
Your course participants start at the base layer. The Remember layer.
NOTE: The base (Remember) layer is considered the lowest level of learning. No other learning can take place until a student has the prerequisite knowledge they acquire here.
As they work their way upward through Bloom’s Taxonomy, they master your content layers that are increasingly complex.
NOTE: The graphic above has suggested activities that support & enhance learning online.
It’s worth noting that everything in the learning experience is active, not passive.
Course participants must DO something to learn. It is not enough to just record dozens of videos of yourself speaking into the camera unless you’re giving learners opportunities to apply the content they’re learning about.
Always align this with the participant (learning) takeaways you laid out in step 1.
Interactive elements are a great way to turn passive learners into active learners.
Such as simulations, games, discussion boards, surveys, quizzes, homework exercises and more all help keep learners engaged. Let’s take a closer look at some interactive elements that drive engagement.
Understand what motivates your course participant. Do check out the interactive elements below to get started in creating active learners.
Games are a great way to engage learners online. This technique of teaching is referred to as gamification. Using gamification depends on your subject matter and your course participant demographics.
Here you can present your course participants with a problem scenario. Then provide a few possible response options.
Have them discuss the problem scenario and possible response options in a forum or Facebook group. Get then to vote on the response option they support the most. In the following week, create a problem scenario that builds upon the decision they made the previous week.
Stories have become an increasingly important technique to teach course participants. Participants quickly buy into a well-told story.
Learning content laid out as a well-told story engages quickly and is retained the longest.
Our personal stories are what differentiates us from others. This is what makes us unique.
Communicating these interesting and unique stories makes participant learning experiences memorable. Learning experiences need to be memorable. That’s when the content learned is retained internally for the longest possible time.
Incorporate your story into the delivery of your content increases engagement. That said, it can be equally rewarding to require course participants to share their stories that relate to concepts they’ve learned.
Assign participant reflections.
Ask course participants to post their personal stories in your forum or Facebook group. Such personal stories are a way of encouraging course participants to reinforce their learning through their own stories as well as through reading their colleagues’ stories.
Create a user-friendly online environment. This helps course participant’s access and consume your course content comfortably and quickly.
Your online course curriculum should be so designed that it flows from one topic to the next in simple logical way. A way that makes the most sense to the course participant. A way that builds on concepts that are learned earlier.
Additionally, the visual design of your course must be inviting and appealing. Today’s course participants are definitely impacted by design. Creativity becomes important in differentiating your course from that of your competitors.
Wrapping Up This Section
Assemble all the components of your online course. Create the first draft of your course.
View your course on a desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone screens. Ensure that your course participant has the same delightful experience, irrespective of what device they use to access your training content.
At this point in your course development cycle you could invite an instructional designer to do a review of your course content. Get a 3rd party like them to flag mistakes or omissions. Ensure you have a consistent (logical) flow in your course content delivery.
Step 4: Engage Your Ideal Course Participants
You now have your course built. You now have to deliver it successfully to course participants.
Accessibility to your course is perhaps more important than your course content itself.
Because if course participants can’t access your course, they won’t see or engage with your course content.
A link within a Facebook or Blog post
A landing or sales page
A newsletter Email
A specific course sales Email
Onwards to when a course participant enters your course, and engages with course content.
i.e. Right from the they begin their learning experience with you.
Depending on how you structure this process, it can be as seamless as one click from end-to-end.
As friction-filled, multiple clicks, via an interface specifically designed to be difficult to navigate.
Never forget it’s your Learning Management System (LMS) which is responsible for delivering a delightful learning experience to each course participant.
Once you have this sorted it’s a good idea to get a few Beta testers to check out whether your LMS is delivering all that you thought it should be.
You can either let a few carefully chosen Beta testers have free access to your course and the LMS. Ensure that they engage with your content. Give you written feedback. Delivered to you using a form or via Email or a pre-formatted M.S. Word document.
Interact with your Beta testers regularly and extensively in your website forum or your Facebook group.
Support your Beta testers extensively and regularly. Exactly as though they were regular course participants. Use Email, Webinars with Q&A, or via a Zoom meeting room.
Doing all of this will give you in-depth knowledge and first-hand experience of what you must deliver to all your paying course participants.
Step 5: Measure Course Engagement Metrics Regularly
As more and more course participants sign on, you need to track their progress in and engagement with your course content using the LMS analytics dashboard.
One rather sad fact is that today no more than 8% of your participants will complete your course entirely of their own volition. Translated, this means you will have to push 92% of your course participants to complete your course.
This would mean sending out regular Emails encouraging them to proceed. Inquiring about the kind of problems they are facing and offering help. Getting on conference calls with them using Skype or Zoom or your favorite video conferencing software.
Encouraging them to complete their homework and/or assessment exercises. In general getting them to grow their skills in spite of the fact that they have paid you to learn from your course.
Checking on your course participant’s course engagement regularly could reveal areas in your LMS that may require being tweaked. Remember, your LMS must deliver a delightful learning experience to each of your course participants.
Regularly ask your course participants for feedback. Every Email you send to them. Every time you meet them in a webinar or Zoom meeting room, you’ve got the opportunity to gather valuable feedback that can help make your course content and its delivery better.
When a participant completes your course ask them upfront for a written or video based recommendation. Video based recommendations are always better than written ones.
It’s your trusted Beta testers that will tell you if they:
Found your course learning flow logical
Stumbled in certain some topic or sub-topic
Found the examples used helped clarify the learning content or obscure it
Found the homework exercises to be overwhelming
Enjoyed doing the homework exercise because it added value to them
And so on . . . .
If your Beta testers indicate technical glitches, fix them or get them fixed. Pay attention to what they have to say about usability, look, feel and functionality of your website and/or LMS.
After you’ve completed these 5 steps you’ll have a terrific online course that you can market with complete confidence to your ideal course participant.
You are ready to move away from Beta testing your course and go live.
Now it will be increasingly easier to build future courses. Your Beta testers will help you gain a tremendous insight into future course participants.
Remember to do your best to keep your course participants engaged. As your course participants reach their training goals, you will achieve your business goals.
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