The best way to build your online course

Home Planning your online course The best way to build your online course

Online courses are so much work!

It’s the sentence I hear over and over especially after I mention that I create online courses for a living.  And I have to agree, they require commitment, patience and hard work. And sometimes you’ll want to pull your hair out or throw the towel in…but don’t.

All you need is a step-by-step failproof system. 

Today, I’m going to share with you my easy system which I’ve used to create numerous academic online courses. I’ve been developing face-to-face and online courses (yes, there’s a huge difference btw) for almost eight years. I’ve nailed down a step-by-step process that you can follow without fail to help you create an effective online course.

So let’s dive in…

#1 Planning your course

I know you may be itching to start recording video’s or designing pretty slides but trust me, the planning stage is absolutely crucial. Remember the saying…“failing to plan is planning to fail.”

First things first.

Zoning in on the right course topic

Here, I want you to think about the purpose of your course? How will it benefit your audience? Ask yourself why anyone would pay good money for your course and what results they’d expect? In other words, what’s s the aim of your course?

Once you get the answers to those questions, your course topic will start to become clearer.

Remember, the more specific your course topic, the better you can serve your customers. There’s no point trying to sell a course that’s too broad or overwhelming or that nobody wants to buy. When coming up with ideas for course topics; read through customer emails, check social media comments and recall client conversations.

Make a note of the phrases and language that they’re using when they talk about their frustrations. Ask, ask and ask again. Talk to your customers and readers before settling on a course topic.

Identifying your course type

Have you ever considered the type of course you’re selling? Getting clear on the type of course will help you to design a better learning program and give you clarity on the right multimedia to include in your course.

Are you sharing information and knowledge, teaching a skill or attempting to change behaviours?

It’s not just about telling…it’s as much about  showing your student. Here’s a quick breakdown of the general types of online courses:

  • Information based courses share knowledge or instructions.
  • Skills-based courses teach skills or how to create/design things.
  • Behavioural courses attempt to change attitudes, habits or thinking.

Brain dumping your course content

Start a new Word or blank Google document and type everything you know about your course topic. Copy and paste content from your blog, website, email conversations, Facebook comments and messages and any other social media platforms.

Don’t worry about the format for now. Your aim is to just get all your course content in one place in an electronic format.

#2 Designing your course

This next phase is where you start to visualise how your course will look.

Creating your course outline and curriculum

To create an outline, write down the names of your main course sub-topics. These can also be called modules.

Try to create a logical order to your sub-topics. Once you’ve got your list of sub-topics or modules, you can start to plan an outline for each lesson.

Remember each lesson must be manageable and no longer than twenty minutes as our cognitive load can only process 5 to 7 bits of new information at any given time.And please don’t be tempted to add information just for the sake of it; make sure that every piece of information is intentional and adds value to the lesson.

Here’s a simple lesson plan format:

  • Introduce the lesson by explaining what the student will learn or achieve at the end of each lesson
  • Present your content in the form of multimedia; this can be a presentation, screen recording or video.
  • Engage your student by asking them to complete activities or exercises.
  • Offer feedback on completed learning activities and exercises or email/forum support.

A quality online course doesn’t simply share information but seeks to engage and teach.

Choosing your lesson delivery method

Rightio, once you’ve got your lessons outlined, start thinking about the best way to teach your course.

You want to make sure that your delivery format is relevant to your course type and will suit your audience. The best online courses offer a range of learning tools and course multimedia. So choose wisely.

Here’s a list of the different multimedia resources that you can include in your online course, just make sure that it supports the type of course and your topic:

  • Instructional or explainer video
  • Presentation slides (with narration is best)
  • Audio only download
  • Transcripts of audio or narration condensed into an e-book
  • PDF actionable workbooks
  • Checklists
  • Cheat sheets
  • How to guide’s or manuals
  • Excel Planners
  • Exercises, activities or quizzes

Create a style guide

A style guide will help you to maintain the look and visual design of your course. Start by creating a private mood board using Pinterest. Once you’ve gathered enough Pinterest inspiration, it’ll be time to develop your personal course style guide.

I create my style guides in Canva using a custom image size of 800 x 2000 pixels. In your style guide, record your logo, fonts, colour palettes, icons and any patterns or textures. Using your business branding for your course is ok but giving it a unique twist, will set it apart as a standalone product.

It’s a good idea to design your branded templates for your presentation slides, workbooks, email headers and promo material beforehand. This way when you’re ready to add your content, you wont waste time thinking about the design or styling.

#3 Producing your course multimedia

I won’t lie to you about this phase.

It requires effort and hard work. And some days, it can seem never ending but it can also be a fun and exciting time.

Developing your course multimedia

Naturally, you won’t be proficient in producing all types of media (unless you’re a geni-ass), so allow time to get to know your software tools. And if there’s tutorial video’s, make sure you watch those. They’re time savers!

Now because of the amount of crazy steps involved in producing multimedia, you’ll need some way to organise yourself. I use Asana which is free (Trello is similar) to manage my projects and tasks. Or you can do it the old fashioned way and use an Excel spreadsheet which works just as well.

So here’s an example of how I would break it down for a slide presentation:

  • Module name
  • Lesson name
  • Production tasks:
    • Create slide deck template (have this ready)
    • Gather content
    • Gather images
    • Draft outline
    • Write script
    • Proofread and finalise slides
    • Record audio
    • Edit audio
    • Source background music
    • Add background music
    • Make final edits
    • Convert to movie file
    • Create thumbnail for video
    • Save in Dropbox folder ready for uploading

As you can see there’s a ton of tasks required to produce just one slide presentation. But breaking it down helps me roughly estimate the amount of time I need to produce each file. You could also batch some of your tasks to save on time. For example, do all your recordings or all your slides on the same day. Then do editing, saving, compressing and uploading on another day and so on.

Here are my favourite beginner multimedia software tools.

  • Tools for editing video: iMovie or Windows Media Player
  • Tools for recording and editing audio: Audacity (free)
  • Tools to record your screen: Screencast (free) or $15 for the premium plan or Quicktime
  • Tools for creating presentation slides: Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi or Google Docs
  • Tools for creating worksheets and workbooks: Apple Pages
  • Tools for creating animated explainer video: Powtoon (free version or paid)

Storing and organising your media files

You’ll be surprised at how many files one small course can generate.

Start off by creating a new folder on Google Drive for your course. Within each folder, create additional folders for each module and lesson. You’ll also want to consider creating a file naming system. And lastly, make sure that your files have been converted and/or compressed to the best format so that they’re viewable by the majority of students.

Whether you upload or embed your final course files, will depend on your chosen course teaching platform, which will also determine whether you invest in an external hosting program for video such as Vimeo or Wistia.

So that was a mega post, phew!  I’m sure you have loads of ideas running around your head on potential courses, right?

If you need clarity or someone to help you plan your online course strategy, let’s chat. Check out my about page to book a free 30 minute discovery call.

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