How to Decide If You Should Create an Online Course


So you want to create an online course. Before you do, let me ask you one question.

Online courses can be a powerful part of your business and allow you to help lots of clients. But they aren’t for everybody. We may all dream of a course that creates a passive income while we sleep, but the reality is, there’s nothing passive about creating a remarkable course.

Many people come to me and want to open their heart and soul to share what they know, which is a lovely sentiment, but if you have 80% content and 20% (or even less) activity, that’s not a course. If that’s where you’re at, perhaps you’re better off thinking about an ebook or a podcast.

Think Outcomes Before You Create an Online Course

I don’t want to dash your dreams of creating an online course—I just want you to get it right. Before you pour countless hours, effort, and money into a course think about your desired outcome for your participants.

What transformation will your participants undergo?

Then think about how they will get to that outcome. Chances are it won’t be by “lecture” or simply reading your ideas as compelling as they may be. People learn by doing and trying out ideas.

In fact, a recent NPR article reveals how Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman is on a mission to revolutionize the way undergraduates are taught in the U.S. and beyond. The Stanford University physicist wants more professors to ditch the large lecture in favor of letting students wrestle with problems while an engaged teacher coaches them and tracks their progress. Wieman says the data show that these active learning practices can dramatically boost learning. Wieman questions, “why aren’t more professors in universities adopting them?”

I’m challenging you with the same question, “Why aren’t more online teachers adopting more active, participatory learning?”

"80% of a learner’s time should be spent learning by doing. Only 20% should be learning by consuming." Breanne Dyck

“80% of a learner’s time should be spent learning by doing. Only 20% should be learning by consuming.” Breanne Dyck

For your online course, you need to think online activities, workbooks, journals, checklists of steps to take. You might engage them in a group discussion or have them report back after doing a task or project.

And everything you do should lead back to those desired outcomes.

How Less Is More in an Online Course

Sometimes people make the mistake of believing that giving more content is equivalent to giving more value. That’s simply not true.

Imagine an online business course. Your coach gives you pages and pages to read about sales funnels and all the steps you need to take to create one. As you scroll and scroll, your eyes glaze over. Maybe, if you get to the end, you find a question or a task to do, but by that time you’re mentally over it.

Now imagine instead that you get a brief intro to a sales funnel—maybe a page or two including a clear graphic. That’s followed by a questionnaire to answer to help you brainstorm ideas. Once that’s done, you get a step-by-step checklist to create your initial opt-in. You’re encouraged to report your status to the class group for accountability and support as you move through the steps.

Less passive reading and watching. More doing.

In the second scenario, you come out of this class with a working product. That sounds like a good outcome.

“Yes, I agree. And I’m building a course!”

If you’ve thought about your “why” and the desired outcome for your participants, and decided that a course is the right route for your business, the next step is figuring out how to deliver the exercises and resources.

I have used, and extensively researched several learning management software systems (LMS). Lately, I recommend LearnDash to clients who use WordPress.

Unfortunately while most LMS’s promise simple plug-n-play software, it is rarely the case. They often also promise that they work seamlessly with your preferred ecommerce software, like Shopify or WooCommerce; or with your email newsletter provider, like MailChimp or ConvertKit. Unfortunately there is usually a lot of tech required to get them to talk fluently to one another!

Hey, that’s where I come in and help.

Ultimately I help clients find the right tools to build in the kinds of activities and involvement they want in their courses. I absolutely adore setting up the sales page, shopping cart, email, and course systems to work beautifully together so that you can spend more time creating fabulous courses, and less time tearing your hair out with tech and admin crap.

You focus on the content and type of interaction—I’ll help you make it happen.

You don’t necessarily need sophisticated, highly automated software. Perhaps all you need is your email newsletter tool, like MailChimp or ConvertKit so that you can regularly notify your participants of new exercises and resources. And then you can host your content on Google Docs or DropBox.

You don’t necessarily need meticulously designed PDF worksheets and professional videos – or videos at all!

In fact, since I’m mentioning that particular subject, researchers from MIT, edX and the University of Rochester wanted to know is if there was a certain type of video that would help combat the issue that the vast majority of online learners are content to passively consume content, and will never take action. Are some sorts of videos are more likely to engage students to watch it all the way through, and then do some post-video activities?

One of the most interesting points they made, in my opinion, was that the data showed that the students watched the informal videos for 2-3X longer than the ones shot with higher production value in the video studio!

Breanne Dyck has a tremendous break-down of the results in yet another excellent article here. Here are a few quick points from the findings:

  1. Shorter is better
  2. Show your face
  3. Don’t worry about talking slowly
  4. Treat lectures and tutorials differently
  5. Skip the studio

Again, my point is that you don’t necessarily need all the whiz-bang tools to wow your clients because ultimately, you should be focused on the transformation of your participants, and how you facilitate those outcomes. As Breanne says,

“A lot of people think that curriculum is the materials (content, videos, transcripts, etc.) that you provide. But curriculum actually has two parts:

  • Exercises: anything that your participants actively do in the program
  • Resources: anything that participants consume, in order to do the exercises

Did you catch the nuance there? The only resources that you need to include are those that are necessarily to complete the exercises. This will dramatically reduce the amount of content you need to produce, while dramatically increasing your effectiveness.

By now it might be obvious that I have huge respect for Breanne Dyck

I have been devouring Breanne’s blog for a couple of years now, and recently participated in her Master Class program on behalf of a client. Although I was applying her ideas to a specific client’s course, her teachings have become deeply ingrained in me. I am the product of a course that practices what it preaches.

And when clients come to me wanting a fabulous new website especially so they can launch course-after-course because they are bursting to share their wealth of invaluable knowledge, I too get excited with them, but I can’t help but hit the pause button and check-in with them about whether a course is the right medium to deliver their expertise, and if it is, together let’s step back and focus on their ideal participants, the trans-formative outcomes, and how we can simplify the content they deliver so it’s actionable, rather than expensive, time consuming – and perhaps un-tested – passive video, audio, or text transcripts!

Of course you want to work with a designer who can bring your wildest web dreams to life. But you also need an advocate who can help you with your digital and sales strategy, so that your business is successful and not just beautiful.

So, have you decided that online course is the way to go, but you’re wondering how to make it work for your participants, and on your website? Let’s talk and see what beautiful thing we can create together!

Let’s Talk!

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