5 Considerations for Creating an Online Course

5 Things to Consider when Creating an Online Course

Think about the last conversation you had via text or phone. Now think about the last conversation you had in person or via video. Consider the differences. How well were you able to pick up tone or meaning? Were there subtle communications you missed over the phone that you likely would have picked up in person? How much is lost when you’re not looking at the person you’re talking to.

Teaching In-Person vs. an Online Course is Different

In the classroom, I knew who I was talking to. I could see them and had some information on their backgrounds. When I said something they didn’t understand, I could tell by the look on their faces. And when I needed feedback, they were more or less a captive audience that I could ask and talk to. When I transitioned from in-person courses to online courses, this was the hardest change to make.

You don't get the immediate feedback online that you get teaching in the classroom. Click To Tweet

Nearly all of that is lost online. That means you’ll have to do some more research on the front end, before you create the course. Over the last year or so of teaching exclusively online, I have finally picked up on some of these things. As I create new courses, I’m putting what I’ve learned into action.

If you’re thinking about creating an online course, here are a few things that you should consider.

Who is Your Audience?

This is perhaps the most important question you should ask yourself; who are the people you want to teach and how will you reach them?

Coming from a college setting, this was pretty easy for me. Either my students had to take the class or had to take prerequisites before enrolling. I had a very good idea of who my audience was and what they knew.

When selling online courses, it’s different. Anyone could theoretically enroll (though many LMSs do allow you to set prerequisites). You need to define your ideal student in two terms: what they know, and what they want to know. Then you need to find people who fit that criteria.

Identify your ideal student: what do they know? What do they want to know? Click To Tweet

What is Their Biggest Takeaway?

Once you know who you’re talking to, you should determine what their biggest takeaway from your course will be. This will be what you design your entire course around. If you create a class on how to make the best chocolate chip cookies, don’t spend the first half of the course talking about your perfect kitchen. Tell them the minimum they need to start baking!

If your online course is on how to make the best chocolate chip cookies, don’t spend the first half of it talking about your perfect kitchen.

How will You Deliver Your Lessons?

With your audience and takeaway defined, it’s time to determine how you will deliver your content. Are videos or text better? Perhaps some combination of both? Two factors should be taken into account here:

  1. What’s the best way to deliver your content? Is it a lot of hands-on stuff that might be better as a video, or more explanatory that could be delivered as text or audio?
  2. How do your students best learn? I’ve gotten feedback that more of my courses should be video-based and I’ve strongly considered that, where it makes sense. In upcoming courses, I’m even experimenting with audio only (where video isn’t exactly helpful because there’s nothing to show).

How will Students Access Your Online Course

Mobile learning is becoming increasingly popular, with many students using their commute or other downtime to do quick lessons. You should strongly consider current trends and where most of your traffic comes from — it could shape how you deliver your content. For example, you might consider short (6 minute or less) videos because they are more easily consumable.

Many students will access your course on mobile devices. Click To Tweet

How will You Engage with Your Students?

This has been the hardest part for me (and for many online course developers). Engaging students in a classroom is much easier because you get face-to-face time. But online, you want to make sure that students get the same sort of engagement.

You might consider leveraging an online community tool like Facebook Groups or Slack. Have virtual office hours on social media (Zoom Meetings, Facebook Live, or even Twitter) so students can ask you questions. You’ll also want to let them know they aren’t alone; leaderboards and forums can be great for that.

You need to let your students know they're not alone. Click To Tweet

No matter what you choose, make sure students can easily get a hold of you and fellow students, much like in a real classroom setting.

Help Them Learn!

No matter what, you’re there to help your students learn. Many people talk about online courses as passive income, and they can be. But the most popular ones are active communities, where people are learning from you and from their fellow students.

If you want to learn more about creating online courses, the LearnDash blog is an excellent resource. LMSCast is an excellent podcast. And you can always leave a comment below or get in touch.

4 thoughts on “5 Things to Consider when Creating an Online Course”

  1. Good stuff, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m curious, if you’re comfortable sharing, which LMS do you use? I’m also curious what your deciding factors were.

  2. Great post Joe.

    I teach a hybrid class that’s mostly online but has two in class meetings at the start and beginning of the semester. It’s a mostly elective class with students from multiple different degree paths. You’re advice really applies in this situation as well — we assumed in the beginning that our students were all studying advertising and crafted the content accordingly.

    We’ve since found that students from all walks take the class and the overly advertising focused messaging often neglected our other students. Now before each class we look through who’s taking the course to see if we should make adjustments to better include everyone.

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