While you want your blog posts or YouTube videos to convey information, the purpose of an online course is to teach someone to do something. This means information must be conveyed in a way so that the person completes the course with the ability to do what they have been taught. Fortunately, there are ways to make sure you’re creating great course content that delivers the results you and your students desire.
Set a Goal for the Course
Many times I see people decide on a topic and what they are going to teach, but fail to set an actual goal for the course. What is the desired outcome for your student when the course is complete? That should be your goal.
Note that people learn what they do. Until we do something to demonstrate that we know how to do it, we can’t truly show that we’ve learned it. With this in mind, make your goals actionable.
Examples of Course Goals
Course title: Introduction to Email Marketing
Goal: Student will understand the terminology and concepts of email marketing. This is a start, but for the students to really have an understanding it’s best to have them accomplish specific tasks. Understanding terminology and concepts could be the goal of a lesson or series of lessons within the course, but having the student complete their website opt-in and first email campaign is a stronger course goal.
Course title: Introduction to Woodworking
Goal: Student will understand the use of tools like screwdrivers, hammers, saws, and drills. This is great, again, for a lesson and provides a great option for a quiz but a better course goal would be, student will build a wood jewelry box (or pick your own woodworking project example).
This need for actionable goals is particularly true when your audience is business owners and entrepreneurs who are trying to learn in order to accomplish something specific. It’s not just academic to them.
Everything in the course should move you toward that goal. If it doesn’t move you toward the goal, put it in a different course, add it to a resources page, or remove it but don’t put it in this course.
We’re creating courses, and what is a course but a path that must be followed to reach a destination. Think of a sailor using a sextant and compass to plot a course across the ocean. Anything that took him off course, was detrimental to the trip. Your lessons in your course should be the same. Your course plots a path to success and all lessons should supplement that.
Break it Down
Just as when you eat a meal, and you take bite sized pieces in order to digest them, you need to create and present content in that way for mental digestion. I like to think of large wheels of cheese. While beautiful to look at, they are unappetizing in a sense of trying to eat all at once, yet break them down into a lovely cheese tray where bites can be cut off and added to crackers or bread, and it’s one of my favorite snacks.
Good instructors and courseware developers do the same with content. They break it down into small pieces for mental digestion, then provide methods for the students to demonstrate that learning has taken place before moving on to the next lesson.
For many instructors, this is one of the biggest challenges. The more you know about a subject, the harder it is to remember what you didn’t know when you started. When creating online courses, have several people who are at the knowledge level of your target audience test the course for you to see what might be too complex or unclear.
Deliver Content in a Variety of Formats
People have different preferences for how they learn and retain knowledge. By making sure you cover a variety of these, you make sure to reach the most people. This also makes your course content more engaging and entertaining which helps keep students involved.
This is particularly important when creating online learning and self-study because, as instructors, we aren’t live in the classroom watching the students. In live training, it’s much easier to feel the vibes of the room and see who is not getting what we’re teaching. Online, we need to take extra steps to make sure we’re getting through.
Video and/or Audio
Video and/or audio are great ways to present information. Along with having the possibility of being informative and entertaining, they can add an emotional expression to the presentation in a way that is often difficult to convey through text. Theodore Roosevelt said that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Video and audio help you engage with your audience to show you care.
Text and Documentation
While your videos and audio might convey information in powerful and entertaining ways, don’t forget your text documentation. Steps detailed in text serve not only as learning tools but as the reference material that students depend on to complete tasks.
Think about watching a cooking show and then going to the kitchen to try to cook the meal. Without having the written recipe, instructions, this could be an almost impossible task depending on the complexity of the meal you are cooking.
Assignments and exercises are a huge part of making content click. Create exercises and assignments that allow students to complete the tasks themselves. In the recipe analogy, above, have them cook that meal.
Create Quiz Questions that Matter
Quizzes and questioning techniques can be excellent learning aids for you and your students. A properly worded quiz allows both you and the student to gauge course progress and learning success. Quizzes are particularly helpful for demonstrating knowledge of concepts and terminology.
As instructors, it is important that we create course questions that are clear and complete. Don’t be afraid of giving away too much information.
I recently saw a post on social media where a kindergarten or first grade teacher showed a series of shapes, on a math test, with the question (assignment) being, “Name these shapes.” A, creatively inclined, child had named them: Mary, Steve, Monique etc…
Perhaps a better wording for the question would be: In math, each of the following shapes are called a specific name. For example: ο is called a circle. What are each of the following shapes called in math?
Note the above would also allow you to accept rhombus, not diamond, for the ♦ shape.
Like other areas of online learning, we aren’t usually live to go through questions with students. One way to help with this is to provide answers along with explanations at the end of automated quizzes.
Watch Your Language
Did you know that Earnest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea was written at a 4th grade reading level? We tend to think that great literature and best sellers are written for scholars, but most successful writing is written below a 7th grade level.
While your writing and wording may not have to be at exactly a 7th grade level or below, it is a good idea to make sure you keep your words as simple as possible and consider testing the reading levels of your work to help make sure it’s easy to understand.
If you need to use technical or business jargon or terminology, make sure you explain it and consider including a glossary in your course resources or elsewhere on your website.
The good news is that there are ways to easily check the reading levels of your text. https://readability-score.com/
Note that this is true of the spoken word also, not just the written word. Fortunately, if you are having your audio and video transcribed, you can check it against these readers just as you can your regular written words. And when speaking, be mindful of jargon and technical terms.
For more information on authors and reading levels: https://contently.com/strategist/2015/01/28/this-surprising-reading-level-analysis-will-change-the-way-you-write/
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