The Trick to Creating Awesome Online Courses

Justine Ickes
Oct 29, 2014 7:54:00 AM

Frankenstein. Freddy Krueger. Gareth and those creepy cannibals from The Walking Dead.

These days there are plenty of freaks and evil-doers — real and imagined — to keep you on edge. But if you’re like most folks, chances are you’ve come up against an obstacle or two as you develop your online programs.

Nagging worries and unspoken doubts that keep you up at night. The good news? You don’t need a magic wand or spooky spell to create a great consumer learning e-course.

Read on to learn how to slay your instructional design demons and get your online school up and running.

"I’ve got so many great ideas. But I just don’t know where to start."

We’ve been there, staring at a blank computer screen, waiting for a moment of clarity. But here’s the dirty secret. No online learning course ever starts out looking pretty. The snappy, authoritative copy. The gorgeous graphics. The fun, interactive activities. Guess what? They all started in someone’s head. And they went through countless rounds of drafts and revisions before hitting the eLearning circuit.

But how do you get from half-baked ideas to a full-fledged online course? Well, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and ground your course in their needs. Ask yourself: Why would someone take this course?

What does my ideal learner hope to get out of it? Get clear, too, about the skill level of your intended audience. Are they novices? Experts? Identify the competency and understanding of your learners and start building your curriculum from there. Bottom line: Don’t let your own expertise get in the way of creating an online course. Boot up your hard drive and get your thoughts down—in all their messy, jumbled glory.

"people HAVE said my online course was too easy."

First off, hat’s off to you for even asking for feedback. You get bonus points, too, for taking the time to read what learners say and use those insights to improve your course.

Believe it or not, some folks never even consider how they’ll capture and measure things such as learner satisfaction, mastery of what’s been taught, or any number of other criteria.

Of course, you’re not one of those people, are you? Still, there’s a pitfall to relying too much on feedback. We like to call it “learner creep”. 

We all know that learner-centered design is what makes for a successful course. But, remember, you’re not targeting just any learner. To create a powerful eLearning experience, you must be willing to turn some people away in order to focus on a small sub-set of learners. Design your online course with one person in mind and focus on meeting his or her needs.

"Every time I think my online course is complete, I think of new activities. At the rate I’m going, I’ll never be ready to launch."

When you’re a whiz in your field it can be tempting to pack your courses with content. We understand the impulse. Really, we do. You’ve got so much great information to share and you want to make it available to everyone.

But there’s a problem with over-sharing. When learners have too much information to digest, they can quickly feel overwhelmed.

The solution? Resist the urge to cram all your expertise into one in-depth, comprehensive course. Instead, chunk your content into interconnected courses that learners can mix and match.

Got a passion for teaching people about gardening? Instead of boring people with a graduate school level horticulture class, how about creating a series of courses? Maybe one for each season. Or one for novice gardeners and another for more experienced green thumbs.

Another benefit of creating smaller courses? When you bite off a smaller piece of content, you can get your online school off the ground faster.

"I’m scared I’m going to hit the wrong key and mess up my course."

Welcome to the club. The ever-changing landscape of eLearning can leave even the most tech-savvy person breathless.

With today’s user-friendly platforms, however, you don’t need to be the techiest kid on the block.

In fact, being too tech-focused can work against you. That’s because, at its heart, eLearning is about engaging people’s minds.

So, leave the tech issues to your support team (you’ve got one, right?) and spend your time simplifying your material into chunks. Then design opportunities that help your learners go from simply learning new information to actually using it.

Remember, in the world of dastardly dudes and scheming spooks, launching your online school should be the least of your worries.

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