Creating Course Content

A wordcloud depicting content information like topics, lessons, quizzes, video, text, and assigments.Creating course content, particularly content that works to reach the goal of the course, can be one of the most challenging pieces of creating  an online training course.  Fleshing out what to put into the course and what delivery methods to use is critical to the success of your course.

Unlike many types of content where the mark of great content is did it entertain, did it grab and keep attention, did the person finish it? The mark of a great course is does it complete the goal of teaching what you want to teach? Was your student able to complete the course and then do the task if it’s a task related goal, make the behavioral change if it’s a behavioral goal, or recall the content if it’s a memorization and recall type of goal. Even the most entertaining content wouldn’t be a successful course, if it didn’t successfully teach the student the desired outcome.

So it’s the development of content that is critical to the success of an online course. Here, I mean that it successfully delivers what you want it to deliver. Success as far as making money from the course, is another matter that depends on marketing more than anything else. I’ve seen weak courses make money with the right marketing. Because of this, marketing your course will be another section of this site and a complete course within the How to Build an Online Course programs.

Online Training versus In Person Delivery

An image of an empty classroom as an analogy of teaching online versus in person.When building an online training course, it is important to realize the difference between automated training and live, in-person delivery.

Sometimes, teaching online can feel like teaching to an empty classroom.

There is a different energy when you are in a room live versus learning online. One thing you can do to bring up the energy is offer a blended learning class where webinars and live support sessions are part of the class. We’ll look at ways to implement this in upcoming articles.

Another key difference for in person teaching and remote, individual learning is that as an instructor you are not able to gauge student understanding and progress based on eye contact and immediate interaction. To make sure that students are successfully learning, you need to integrate quizzes, assignments, and other interactive tools to see how students are progressing.

Offering forum support is a great way to connect with students, but don’t count on it to make sure the students are understanding the lessons in your course. Many people don’t ask questions because they fear asking a dumb question. I definitely recommend forums for support, but incorporate quizzes and assignments to assess progress and understanding.

Addressing Learning Styles/Preferences

You may have heard that people have learning styles. Visual learners learn with visuals like video, diagrams, and even text. Auditory learners need to hear the information, and kinesthetic learners learn by touching or doing. In actuality, there are a variety of learning style theories some with many more styles than the simplified three above. There is also much debate in the education fields about the validity of these theories.

Image of eye, ear, finger touching an item to display learning preferences.

While the truth of a person requiring a specific presentation style in order to learn is debated, it is widely accepted that people have preferences for the way they learn. By providing multiple delivery options, you make sure to meet the student at their strength or preference level. Planning the placement of video, visual components like diagrams and pictures, text documentation and other multi-media help people grasp and apply the concepts and tasks you are trying to teach.

Avoiding Overwhelm with Bite Sized Content

Photo of bite sized fruit tarts used with analogy of breaking content into small pieces

Cramming too much content into a course is a sure way to lose your students. This is particularly true when writing for a business audience. Unless you’re writing a course for graduate studies, and even then I’d reconsider making it too complex, break the content down into bite sized pieces.

As with food which should be eaten in small bites for better digestion, small pieces of content are easier to consume and mentally digest.

Do you have more than a little to teach? Break it into multiple courses. This can be a benefit for your students and your business.

When Creating Course Content Planning is Key

In order to create a course that helps your students achieve the goal of the training, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. A few hours of planning can help insure a successful course.

Arrows and a check mark showing steps to building content Plan, Create, Deliver.

Layout your sections and lessons within them. For each decide what pieces of content will be needed and how they will be delivered (video, audio, animations, text) plus any quizzes or assignments you will have with those lessons. One thing I find is that as you layout the structure into sections (modules) and lessons, natural breaks for quizzes and assignments occur making this step easier.

Variety is the Spice of Life in Course Content

A major part of great content is variety. Almost all courses should include a variety of audio, visuals, video, and text. If the goal is to accomplish a specific task, there should also be assignments and exercises allowing the student to complete the task and accomplish the goal. If the goal of the course is for a student to recall information, quizzes testing this recall should be included.

This goes beyond the previous point of learning preferences. It provides the best ways to reach students with multiple touch points which can help facilitate the learning process. When done properly, it also provides students the ability for quick reference when needed. For example, a video demonstration is a great way to show a task. Having the steps written out is best for quick reference after the video is viewed.

I always liken this to watching a cooking show. Having a demonstration of how to cook something is great in video, but when you get to the kitchen, you want that written recipe to remember the details. Was that 1 TSP or 1 TBSP of salt? The difference in those two measurements will make a huge difference in your food.

The key is that each delivery method has its strengths for specific learning situations. A combination of methods provides the most powerful learning.

Moving Forward

We’ve just scratched the surface of what goes into creating great course content. For more information on content creation tips and techniques, keep an eye on this website, make sure you are on the mailing list, and join the programs for classes, coaching and mentoring.