Online courses are big business! Yet statistics reveal something most course creators don’t want to admit—only 3-5% of the people who begin an online course actually finish it. The completion rate was 7-9% just one year ago. So, what happened?
Quality of a completed project is inversely connected to ease of development. Therefore, the easier it is to create a project, the more subpar projects will be developed. Online courses are no exception to the rule. When creating online courses required trained instructional designers, the quality was higher. Because the quality was higher, more people stuck with the course to the end. Now people who know nothing about adult learning theory, effective educational practices, and online facilitation create courses that people never finish.
I believe you can create an awesome online course if you follow these six steps. I’ll use the word “COURSE” to help you remember.
C – Begin with clarity. The first thing you must do to create an awesome course is clarify the outcome. Notice I used “outcome” not “outcomes.” An effective course should have one clearly stated objective—When learners complete this course, they will know how to…, or understand…. The popularity of micro-courses is a result of this very specific thinking. Don’t try to create a course teaching people how to use Excel. Create a micro-course that teaches people how to do something specific with Excel. Courses should be more like Spotify and less like traditional radio. People want to pick and choose their topics rather than be led on a long journey that might or might not meed their needs.
O – Organize your content. As an expert, you don’t know what it’s like to not know what you know. That might sound confusing, so let me explain. I use a variety of tools to develop courses for my clients. I consider myself to be fairly proficient. So, when I open up one of my software tools, I can quickly jump through several steps before I ever stop to think about what I’m doing. You have to assume your learners know nothing about your topic. That will enable you to organize your thoughts from simple to complex.
U – Focus on the user. Before you begin developing your course, you should have a clear understanding of your target audience. Is your target audience younger or older? Male or female? Amateur or professional? Be as specific as you can and give your target customer a name. If you know someone who fits your target profile, focus on that person. Restate your outcome using your target customer—By the end of this course, James will know how to create an online course using Keynote.
R – Make your tone relational. Great online courses are less like a college lecture and more like a conversation with a friend. Our educational experiences have created a mental picture of what a teacher is. We must erase that image if we are going to become effective online facilitators. A facilitator is a guide who understands the destination and keeps track of the progress of those he or she leads. The more conversational and casual you are, the more people will enjoy your lessons.
S – Keep your lessons short. I encourage course creators to establish a 15-minute (plus or minus 5 minutes) target length for each lesson. Lessons should be at least ten minutes and rarely over twenty minutes. This is one of the most overlooked principles in online courses. The average YouTube video is viewed for approximately two minutes, regardless of its length. People want lessons that fit into their time availability. A lecture in a classroom is boring and ineffective. A lecture via video is even more boring, less effective, and people can easily click out of it.
E – Engage the learner. Interactivity is one of the most difficult elements to create in online courses. There are some high end course development products that enable interactive elements, but they are expensive and hard to learn. You can add interactivity by including discussion boards, quizzes, surveys, and so forth. You might want to provide a live webinar as part of your course so people can interact with you. Without interactivity your course becomes one-directional and that’s not what people want.