How to Make an Online Course That Rocks: 5 Tips

If you’re an expert in your field, it would be great to share your expertise by becoming a teacher. And where teaching used to be confined to physical classrooms in the olden days, today’s knowledge can travel further than ever by sharing through the web.

But how do you make a course that sticks, for students that stick around? I have 5 tips that will get you started.


Tip 1: Know your audience

This is the first and most important step. You are an expert on a particular subject and this will not change depending on who you are teaching. However, the way in which you share your respective expertise should change depending on your audience.

Research your class before you teach them. Google them, ask about what their expectations are for the lessons you’re about to teach them.

Now, you might be teaching a large group of students so personal research may not be an option. In this case, work with personas: archetypical representations of your audience. Describe who you will be teaching by describing avatars.

Let me give you an example to make it a bit less confusing. Say I’ll be teaching a class on content marketing. My class consists of different people, working in different departments of different companies. My avatars would be something like this:

The Manager: He’s 46 years old, has worked his way up to management level, has a master’s degree in Marketing, doesn’t have a lot of time to spare, but needs to stay up to date.

Preferred content type: Short and sweet with the option to read up more when and if time allows.

The Project Manager: He’s 36 years old, a perfectionist, best of his class. He manages several different high-level projects at once and acces them all.

Preferred content type: Lots of detail, lots of quizzes (to keep him motivated), reads all the extras so there must be extracurricular reading available.

The Talent: Has no formal education in marketing, but has taught herself everything there is to know about marketing and wants to stay on top of the game.

Preferred content type: She is an informal and practical learner. Wants to learn through doing. Lots of practice, cases and practical application.

These are some very simple avatars, but even these can be translated to a setup of the lessons. A simplified way to use these would be to make sure your content is, at first glance, short, contains all relevant information, allows your students to put them to use immediately and contains links or other forms of extra reading and information.

Again, this is a simplified setup, but in general the use of personas or avatars Helps you get a general idea of the characters in a class and their specific needs.


Tip 2: Tell them a story

Everybody loves a good story. And when it comes to learning, storytelling is the key to making sure your message sticks.

It’s not enough to just convey information. In this day and age, all information is readily available online. The reason education still exists is that people want to be told stories. They want you to choose the content of what they are learning, this is part of the expertise they expect from you.

So, start with an outline: what is the bigger story you are telling. Let us go back to the content marketing lessons example. Do you just want to teach them facts and figures? Or does your expertise consist of both knowledge and opinion? Your opinion as an expert is what makes the story interesting. Start with a statement: “Content marketing is dead”, then go from there and walk them through the information that brought you to that conclusion.

Use personal experience, real world examples and your best anecdotes, combined with those facts and figures.

Once you know what your story is, you can divide it into smaller pieces (chapters, if you will). And again, for each piece: decide what the story within the story is.

Sounds complicated? It’s not. Just sit yourself down with pen and paper (or a laptop) and start from your statement (“content marketing is dead”), you’ll see that the story will start to form itself.


Tip 3: Deliver it

When you are teaching a class, it matters whether the projector works and whether the classroom is way too hot or people are freezing to death because the heating is off. When you are teaching an online class, it´s actually quite similar. Make sure the software you use for sharing your course is up to par, easy to use and accessible from different devices.

But delivery is more than just the system you use. It also pertains to the formats you choose. Will you be sharing slides or texts? Will you use podcasts or clips? For each piece of information you share, you must decide what is the best way to deliver it. It may sometimes be a combination of formats. For instance, a video that has been transcribed to text. Knowing your audience is key to choosing the right format, but continue testing it as you go along. Keep asking for feedback while you are testing different formats for various types of information. And use any and all analytics tools available to you to figure out what works best.

Remember though: you’re never going to satisfy all your students. Just make it as good as it can be by taking their preferences into account.


Tip 4: Keep in touch

In a classical classroom setting, your students would be in the same room with you, allowing them to ask you questions in real time. But even in an offline setting, people may have questions or need help outside the classroom. All the more so online, as your students expect and are used to getting in touch quick and easy with anybody online.

Decide on how you’re going to communicate with them outside the lessons themselves. Is there a system that’s easy to use? Can they reach you by email or maybe even WhatsApp?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you teach many different groups of students, you may find yourself answering the same questions over and over again. Also, why not let students help each other out when possible, by providing a platform to do so. Even if it’s just a closed Facebook group.  Connectivity is important to preventing confusion or misunderstanding that may occur outside class hours.


Tip 5: Keep them engaged

Many people will start a course with the enthusiasm of a baby who has discovered that wrapping paper makes the most fascinating sound in the world. But as time goes by and life gets in the way, some may lose that interest as fast as a baby who has discovered that it’s not the paper he should be interested in, but the gift wrapped inside.

Make sure you keep your students engaged. However, it’s important that it’s not simply within the lessons themselves. Consider sending the students a newsletter with a quiz question each week, or using a leader board containing the best in class, updated after every quiz, with a small but interesting prize for the winner. These are benchmark measurements to help the students themselves feel motivated through testing the knowledge they have so far gleaned.

Find a way to keep them coming back and interested. If the students finish the course as they planned, they will feel better about themselves and thus, about you and will be your greatest marketing tool.


How about you?

So, what are your tips for making a great online course? Would love to hear from you!