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Creating an online course.

I, like so many of my contemporaries, have suffered through badly executed professional training programmes that have left me scratching my head wondering, “what was that all about?” Don’t even get me started on 2 hour long, monotone videos (or presentations) where the tutor is simply reading through slides. That’s not learning, that’s punishment. 
Why do so many courses get it wrong?
The biggest problem with on-line courses is assuming that a skilled person is going to be a great tutor. That said, even a newbie tutor can deliver a programme if it is designed properly. But therein lies the heart of the issue. When it comes down to it, most courses are not designed by professional educators. A pro will ensure that learning objectives are met and that they can then be parlayed into practical insights, or skills, that can be taken back to the workplace.

All that said, Don’t shy away from building out a course if you aren’t a professional educator, you can always hire a specialist to help you reformat your programme and knock it into shape.

Getting it right.
Writing a course is like writing a movie, each frame leads to an outcome that makes perfect sense given the journey the movie has taken you on. Unlike the movies, plot twists aren’t that useful in the classroom. Before we dig, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Am I an expert?
  2. Do I have sufficient experience of creating well structured courses that deliver on the learning objectives?

If you answered no, to either of these two. Don’t do this alone. You need help. Nothing is more guaranteed to damage your credibility than a badly executed course, or seminar, that does not live up to billing.
Write your awesome label here.
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How to design an online course from scratch.

The critical steps for writing a movie are very similar to developing a course. Let’s dig in.

Start with a premise: Define your learning objective –why they might need this skill/knowledge?
Develop the story arc: Figure out what the student needs to learn to successfully learn the skill/knowledge and what learning pathway will get them there. These are the learning cornerstones for your course.

Storyboard your ideas: Break down the learning into distinct modules – (why, what, how etc.). For every separate element of the programme, write it on a yellow sticky note and place it on a wall or white board. This will allow you to check if you are missing any key content, or if the course flows correctly. You can move the sticky notes around, add some, take some away. By the time you have got a proper flow, you will have the outline of your course. Take a photograph of the board.

Develop the outline: For each key section you have identified in your story board. Prepare an outline of what you will cover for each. These are like scenes in a movie. Review each section individually and as a whole (refer back to your story board). When you feel that you have covered the basics for each key section you are ready to work on the ‘script.’

Write the script: Working on one section at a time and consider how you can break it down into smaller pieces to make it more digestible. Then start writing (or collating) the detail of that section. Remember, just as in the movies, one long, rambling scene will be hard to follow and easy to forget. Break it down in to smaller sections that take no more than 15 mins per section to complete (this is based on microlearning – see earlier posts relating to Microlearning). Write each section as if it was a complete course in itself. Each part should have a beginning, middle and end (usually a test). Do this for each key section. Consider using different media to build out the course, variety is the spice of learning. Remember you must avoid your students developing learning fatigue (boredom, lack of focus) and one of the easiest ways of achieving that is to switch up the media in order to hold their attention.
Edit the script: When you’re done with all the detailed sections. Take a step back and review the course as a whole. Is it consistent? Has it gone off-piste? Will they achieve their learning objectives? It’s at this point you will want to add tests and quizzes to each section to help the student consolidate their learning.

Pitching the script: When you’re done prepping the first draft of your course, it’s time to pitch it. Or, in the real world, test the bejeezers out of it. Enlist the help of some people who are typical of your target audience and ask them to complete the course and provide detailed feedback. You may have to incentivise them to do this, but it’s SO worth it. When you are sure your course is perfect, find a freelance educator to review your course (after you have input all the changes you get from the test subjects). When a professional educator signs off on the course, you’re now ready to move to production.

Production: It’s time to get it ready for the premier. Make final amendments, check the quality of video and graphics is of sufficient quality. Check your tests are working. Run through the course several times. When you’ve done all that, you’re ready to go live.

The Premier: be on hand to answer questions, resolve technical issues and generally keep your course running smoothly.

Plan to succeed.
Your job as a course creator is to ensure that your student’s trust is rewarded with a well-executed programme that lights a fire inside them.

My advice to anyone looking to create a new course is simple; plan, plan and when you think you’re done, go back to the beginning plan some more and then start writing.

Happy writing!
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