If you are a blogger, entrepreneur, or one-person army who aims to generate revenue through educating your customers online, then this post is for you.
You might be an excellent face-to-face teacher or have an abundance of skills and knowledge in your subject area; but by failing to understand some basic principles of learning design, you are at risk of wasting a lot of time designing a course that has a shaky foundation.
Below are some critical mistakes that you must avoid while creating your online courses:
Mistake #1: Creating a Course That Your Audience Does Not Want
When I worked in curriculum development and created a training program for new online teachers at a university, my first course was based on what I assumed my audience needed to know. I never conducted surveys or asked them what they were having problems with. It wasn’t until the evaluations rolled in that I realized how irrelevant the content was to their work. Oftentimes, this is how courses are planned and developed in an academic setting where the focus might be to transfer knowledge, but not to help students learn how to DO something.
This approach to course creation simply does not work in a business setting. As an entrepreneur, if you are not creating a course that your customers WANT or if they are not even aware of any gaps in their knowledge or performance in this area, then they simply will not pay for it. Chances are, they will not even find it, because it’s not something they’ll be searching for. So before you devote the time to creating an online course, it is vital that you do the appropriate research and customer interviews to make sure that this is something your audience wants.
Mistake #2: Creating One Giant Course
If you are creating a course about a topic you are passionate about, it’s very easy to end up with too much information. The temptation is to try to cover all of the material that you think is important or interesting in this area. But, you know the results – I have heard it referred to as shovelware, the information dump, the content monster, or my personal favorite, bloated course syndrome.
Although I have heard some arguments that giant courses are better when you are in a very competitive market, there is no denying the numerous studies on learning (like, Miller’s Law) that have shown the human brain to be very limited in how much new information it can accept at once. We humans more easily digest information when it’s provided in manageable chunks. Of course you have to make the final decision, but I say it’s always better to lean on the side of student learning.
Mistake #3: Creating a Course That is Difficult to Navigate
If you have already been teaching in a classroom or providing live workshops, you probably have some tools that you use to deliver your content. That might be PowerPoint slides, handouts, or some sort of textbook or training manual. When deciding to teach online, the temptation is to throw all of this content onto a website and turn your lectures into videos. But this is a problem because it’s difficult to have clear and consistent navigation when a course is created this way. And even if the content is of high quality, people will stop clicking if they are not able to navigate your course easily.
The fact of the matter is, online courses need to be planned out and created from scratch. We humans love patterns and will look for patterns to help guide our actions. It is best to create a template and follow it as closely as possible. For example if you are teaching an art-related course, it might be that your modules start with a list of materials required, video demonstration, links to various content, reflection questions, etc. Changes halfway or having no consistency at all could lead to a loss of engagement.
Mistake #4: Creating a Course Based on Learning Styles
While I was completing my Masters degree in Learning Design, one of my classes focused on learning styles and why we should always design instruction to meet the needs of the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learner (and a few others I forget now). I was persuaded to believe that people who do not receive information that matches their learning style will be at a disadvantage for learning. I bought it hook line and sinker, because….. well, it made logical sense and my professor said so. But in recent years, this notion of creating a course based on students’ learning styles has been debunked. There are still many course creators who think it is necessary to include all of these formats in a course for it to be effective (until about three years ago, I was one of them!)
What the research shows is that it is more important to create content in the format best suited for that type of knowledge or skill development and have the learner practice. For example, if you are teaching language learning, it is best to provide audio and have students practice with native speakers. If you are teaching interview skills, it is best to provide video so they can see what a good interview looks like, and even what a bad interview looks like and again provide practice opportunities.
The necessity of “practicing” is validated across all learning theories today, so be sure to look for ways to include that in your online course. Students will experience the “aha moments” they were looking for and perceive the value in your course.
Mistake #5: Creating a Course with No Observable Outcomes
Although “living a fulfilled life” is an important goal, it might not be the best goal for an online course. Your customers need to have real tangible results by the end of your course to feel that it was worth the money. Online learners are motivated by progress – by actually learning to do something that they couldn’t do before. So they need to see outcomes on a fairly regular basis and have opportunities during the course to practice what they are learning.
So, now that you know the top mistakes, I wanted to share with you a template I created that makes it easy to avoid all of these things. If you want to give it a try, it’s free to download.
FREE TEMPLATE: THE COURSE CANVAS
* Includes step-by-step Instructor's Manual *