Online course creation top tips: don’t create a Swiss Army knife

Tablet with "online courses" written across the top.

Are your e-learning courses causing your learners or clients to groan? Ginette Tessier is here to share her tips to make you, and your clients, happy with their online learning

Many online courses are created as solutions that can be applied to several different situations, without considering the current and specific needs of the intended audience.

Why is this important? If we don’t tailor what we produce to a specific need our audience has right now, we risk our course being ignored in favour of something that feels like a better ‘fit’. Within an organisation, this might lead to questions about the efficacy of online courses. For an independent trainer, this might mean hours wasted on creating a product that doesn’t sell.

Sensible, or inefficient?

I mainly work with two types of online course creators: those who are subject matter experts looking to add passive income to their business; and internal trainers or L&D teams who are tasked with creating an online course for one or more subject areas.

Both can fall into the trap of creating something that has many potential applications: in other words, it can solve lots of problems. While this might sound sensible, it isn’t an effective strategy.

For the subject matter expert, they see the various connections and tangents in their subject and want to be thorough in their presentation of information. For those internally tasked with creating online courses, they usually want to produce something that is relatively broad about a given subject. This can be for two reasons: they too want to be thorough in their output or (more often), they have been given a very poor brief to ‘create an online course about X’ without being given any context.

So what can I do about it?

We need to start in the right place and stop making assumptions. I see far too many online course creators jumping to all sorts of assumptions at the beginning of creating a new course. Very few take the time to properly understand their intended audience’s current situation. It’s a crucial step that can make all the difference for take-up and effectiveness.

Note that I don’t talk about completion rates here – this will be covered in the next article, but the short version is that they are a nonsense measure for online course effectiveness!

It is very tempting to start the creation process by deciding what a course should cover and trying to include as many ‘what if’ questions as we can think of – I know as I have been guilty of this in the past. Much later down the line, thought is given to how to promote this course to the audience it is intended for. We end up with so many potential applications of the knowledge, it can feel like our course is a multi-purpose tool, like a Swiss Army knife.

This is entirely the wrong way around. Put more plainly, instead of creating a solution and then trying to find the problems it fits, we need to find out what the problems are first and then create the solution!

Focus and specify

Online courses don’t have to be comprehensive to all situations. They also don’t have to take hours to work through. A simple 30 or 45-minute course that answers a specific problem someone is facing right now, will always be more popular and easier to create than a five-hour marathon that learners then still need to extrapolate for their particular needs.

To find out what the problems are involves the simple act of listening or observing if your source material is online. What are the current hot topics for the intended audience? What’s the language used? What are the outcomes desired and the perceived barriers preventing those outcomes being achieved?

That information is gold-dust to an online course creator. You are being shown the specific issues that are causing the biggest headaches. Can you create something that provides the aspirin to those headaches?

Start to play around with some ‘how to’ titles based on what you’re hearing or seeing. Use their language, their descriptions of the issues. Pretty soon you’ll see some themes start to develop. You may even see subsets of people emerge from your intended audience.

Pick the specific issue that seems to be most prevalent and create the course to solve that issue for that subset of people. The shorter the course the better. People will love having a solution that answers an immediate headache on the to-do list and you won’t need to spend months creating it.

Again and again

After that? Move on to the next issue or subset and do it again. Before long you’ll have several courses under your belt which is great for your skill improvement, your reputation and (for freelance trainers) your bank balance.

Ginette Tessier

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