So You’re Ready to Design Your First Ecourse?!
Ecourses are the next big thing in the online sphere. They allow you to position yourself as an expert, broaden your audience, and generate passive income.
If you’re thinking about building your first course, here’s four tips to get you started:
1. Know What You’re Teaching
You’re probably reading this and thinking Well, duh. After all, if you didn’t know what you were teaching, you wouldn’t be designing a course in the first place, would you?
But knowing what you’re teaching goes beyond just knowing the content — – though that is important. It means knowing who your audience is, what they need to know, and why they’re taking your course.
You need to know what kind of experience they have with your topic. It means knowing how your audience likes to learn and how to make that work with your content.
Maybe most importantly, it means having an answer to the question
“What should my learner be able to do at the end of this course and what do they need to know to do it?”
A good answer to that question is specific and concrete.
A good example is something like this:
“At the end of this course, my learner will be able to manage their mailing list with MailChimp. They’ll need to understand how to create a list, how to use MailChimp’s tools to collect emails for that list, how to create a new campaign, and how to design a newsletter using the site’s tools.”
A not-so- good answer is vague.
Think something like:“At the end of this course, my learner will learn how to use MailChimp. They will understand MailChimp’s different features and how to use them.”
At its core, course design is about problem-solving. It’s almost impossible to build a solution to the problem if you can’t pin it down.
2. Understand Your Learners
One of the more persnickety problems in course design is, unfortunately, also one of the sneakiest. See, there’s this truism that you are not your learner. It’s something that we all know, at least on the intellectual level. Of course, we aren’t our learner!
Our learner is the beginner; we are the expert. We’re here to teach; they’re here to learn.
Except, as we start designing and building, that little bit of knowledge gets away from us. We take it for granted that our learner will understand something, or fill in a gap, or make the jump from one point to another.
We are so far removed from that struggle that we forget what it was like to be there. Or, we forget that our learners might have a different reason for learning the material than we did or that they may not be as driven, as motivated as we were — – for any number of reasons.
Understanding your learners can be a tough process. It’s almost like defining an ideal client, but not quite — – you can’t just create an avatar. Instead, it’s a process of talking to learners, lots and lots of learners, and discovering where and why they’re struggling; of digging in with them to get an idea of what kind of support they need — whether it’s a workbook or an audio recording or a series of videos.; of really getting in their heads.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Be Messy
When you’re designing your course, it can help to have your content out in front of you on a whiteboard, some notes, or an online document. Of course, to do that, you have to get all of that information, all of that value, out of your head in the first place.
If the whole idea of transferring from brain to page sounds a little overwhelming, step back and let yourself be messy. Give yourself half an hour to just write. Don’t worry about it making sense or being tied together. Write in sentences; write in bullets. Write however feels natural for you.
Getting your information onto paper helps make your thinking visible, which allows you come up with new ideas and see new connections. The more connections you’re able to make, the better you’ll be able to talk about your content and answer questions.
Having your content, even if it’s just the bones of it, in written form also lets you start thinking about how to group it. Don’t be afraid to grab highlighters or markers to mark off sections that should go together; while your structure may change over your development process, it’s important to begin thinking about it even in the early stages.
4. Test Your Course — – And Be Open to Feedback
After all the work that goes into the initial planning, design, and development phases, it can be tempting to simply launch. It might feel like you’ve already put in the legwork, and that it’s time to set your brainchild out into the world.
Fight that urge.
All of the best courses, the most effective courses, have something in common, regardless of their niche: they’ve all undergone user testing. User testing isn’t about finding bugs or technical glitches, though that may happen, too. Instead, it’s about finding what is and isn’t working in your course content itself.
It’s about validating your methods and organization, and ensuring that your course really is ready for launch. Surveys and a dedicated test group made up of your target learners are your best tools during this time.
Receiving feedback can be bruising, especially if it tells you that there are major revisions ahead before you’re ready to launch. As hard as it can be, sit with it. Live with it. Determine what feedback is something you can fix, what feedback you can use to improve your course, and what feedback you can let go As a rule of thumb, the more frequently a comment appears, the more pressing its resolution.
Meet The Author!
Sami Yuhas is a graphic and instructional designer, with an M.Ed in Learning, Design, and Technology from Penn State. In July of 2015, she left her job to found what would become Orange Juice Diaries. Sami has crafted courses for K-8 students, women-owned startups, and the United States Department of Defense. She offers complete course design and development services, as well as a full suite of branding and graphic design for all your business needs. Connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest, & Twitter!