Do you love teaching and helping people reach their goals? Do you get energized when you see people succeed, especially when you had a hand in guiding them? Well then, you have the main ingredients to being an online course superhero.
I’ve been designing and evaluating online courses for over 10 years in both higher education and the federal government and I’m surprised at how many online course creators cannot answer yes to those two fundamental questions.
Just 2 years ago, I had to redesign a course that was targeted for people working in healthcare. The course was the typical – PowerPoint slides with an audio narration. After the redesign and presentation of the new course, I was surprised when everyone broke out in applause. And what was the reason for the applause? It wasn’t because of flashy videos, or high entertainment value, or any celebrity appearances. It wasn’t because of expensive technology – in fact the final course was still the typical – PowerPoint slides with audio narration. The reason for the applause – the reason that this course went to superstar status – was due to these five surprisingly simple steps:
- Start with the “why”
- Redefine your goal
- Provide structure
- Challenge your audience
- Give them time to think
Step 1: Start with the why
There are the courses that are good – they give the facts and the rules, and you get it. But then there are those courses that make you pull out your notebook, write down your planned action items, blog post ideas, make you excited to start doing the new things that you learned. These are the courses that define the “why”.
I am about 50% complete with Simon Sinek’s book “Start with the Why” and it describes why some companies are able to constantly innovate, and attract loyal employees and customers while some struggle to do this, and become known for just selling products. According to Simon, these companies have a way of making their customers understand the “why”, which in turn allows them to align themselves with the company. Many times they can’t even explain why they love the company’s products, but they just know that it feels right.
Similarly, when a course starts out by defining the “why”, by explaining what this has meant for you as the course creator to learn or apply this information, it can have a deep impact on your audience’s desire and motivation to learn.
Step 2: Redefine your goal
You know how they always say that you should never worry about what people think of you because in fact, people are not usually thinking about you? (or something like that)… well, I have found a similar philosophy to be true for teaching online.
Having coached hundreds of first-time online course teachers, I realized that many are concerned about these things:
- Do I sound expert enough?
- Do I have enough videos, or too many videos?
- Should I provide a large workbook, or multiple smaller worksheets?
- Did I use the right technology?
But it’s much more freeing (and effective) to focus on the student instead of worrying so much about “being a good teacher”. Ask these questions about your audience:
- What do they already know about this topic?
- What is their motivation for taking this course – is it financial, mental, emotional, physical?
- What might they be sick of hearing?
- And what do they love talking about?
This mindset shift automatically turns the course into a “learning experience” instead of a “teaching experience”. The difference is applause-worthy.
Step 3: Provide Structure
This is simple but surprisingly few people give structure to their courses. I attribute this mostly to their brainstorming process. Most online course creators, when outlining their online course, do a brain dump of everything they know about the topic. Then, they go through the process of editing out and organizing all of that information. But by that point, you already have too much content and it takes twice as long to edit.
Been there, done that, created a system to avoid it.
What I do instead is create a structure, and then do my brainstorming, or brain dump, into my structured sections. The structure I follow for every course begins with a 5-Step method that I call The Course Canvas. My five buckets are:
- The Problem
- The Solution
- Audience Action Steps
- Audience Activites
- Information Needed (or, course content I need to create)
Then, within these buckets is where I do my brainstorming. If you’d like to give this strategy a try, you can download The Course Canvas for free.
FREE TEMPLATE: THE COURSE CANVAS
* Includes step-by-step Instructor's Manual *
Step 4: Challenge Your Audience
When taking a course, people can have 1 of 3 responses. “I get it, I don’t get it, and AHA!” AHA is the one to aim for.
It’s difficult to get that moment in your student unless you find a way to either enhance something they already knew, or challenge something they thought they knew. Either way, you have to be able to make a clear distinction between what you are saying and how that differs from other views, possibly their views. A great way to do that is to explain how you yourself once held that view but how you eventually changed.
As the 17th-century educator John Amos Comenius wrote: “To teach means scarcely anything more than to show how things differ from one another in their different purposes, forms, and origins… Therefore, he who differentiates well teaches well.”
Step 5: Give them time to think
The last step is the easiest. It literally requires you to do nothing. Well, kinda. All you have to do is ask a question – and then do nothing. The magic question is:
What do you think?
I am always surprised by the responses I get after asking this simple question, “What do you think”? It’s easy when creating an online self-paced, evergreen, course to go into the mode of simply relating facts and giving answers, because after all you are not interacting with your audience in-person or in real time.
Recommended Reading: 8 Important Terms Every Course Creator Should Know
But even adding a simple facebook group, or asking your listeners to send you an email to let you know what they think could be quite revealing.
Think about the last time you were taking a course and wondered why the teacher chose a certain tool, or disagreed with something they said, but you had no way to respond and share your opinion. Now imagine if right after that happened, the teacher said, but that’s my preference, if you feel different I’d love to hear what you think – and they actually gave you a way to respond. That would be amazing, right? What do you think? (see what I did there).
Now grab your cape and do your superhero thing
I truly believe that these 5 steps can help everyone – whether you are a 1-person army, solopreneur, blogger, freelancer, or some other type of entrepreneur.
You don’t have to be an entertainer, a comedian, or a celebrity to create a successful online course that people love, you just need to start with the why, consider your audience first and map out a simple and clear path for them to reach their desired result. Do it in a challenging way and give them time to reflect on how awesome the experience was – and you will get your applause.