7 questions to answer before kicking off your online course plan

9-minutes

 | By 

Chris Hutchinson

An online course involves a lot of moving parts, espe­cially when your online course involves a lot of moving parts, espe­cially when you are just starting. Answering these ques­tions at the outset would serve as an anchor, help in your online course plan and improve your overall comfort level as you advance.

  1. Who are your learners? 

    Not just their roles in the company/​school, but who are they as people? What pre-existing know­ledge do they have? What are their abil­ities and access to/​with tech­nology? Why do they need this training/​learning, and what might be motiv­ating them to acquire it? 

  2. What are the project goals of your program? 

    The project goal is the aim or intended outcome of com­pleting the learning/​course: new skills, new pro­fes­sional qual­i­fic­ation e.t.c 

  3. What are the learning goals of your program?  

    These are con­crete learning objectives that each learner should master by the end of the course. 

  4. What are the lim­it­a­tions you may encounter?  

    These can relate to timelines, budget, resources or any other external influence on the course. 

  5. How will the content be delivered? (on Claned, obvi­ously 😅)  

    Will there be face-to-face or live virtual ses­sions? Will there be a facil­itator or expert guiding and sup­porting learners? Will learners interact with each other or mostly independently? 

  6. What formats will your materials take?  

    Is video appro­priate for the topic, or is it better suited to text? You don’t need all the answers for this, but having a sense of what to include will help you structure the program and materials. 

  7. How will you assess the learners?  

    Sum­mative or form­ative assess­ments? Formal or informal? Some com­bin­ation? Deciding how you will assess learners and learning is a critical com­ponent to have set in place as it will affect what material you deliver, in what order, and where the emphasis is placed. It can help to outline and describe in more detail your learning goals and vice versa.  

    All of these affects how you plan, prepare your materials and develop the course structure in a way that is effective and mean­ing­fully related to your objective. 

Who are your learners? 

Estab­lishing your audience is nothing new. It is some­thing con­sidered by anyone designing a product or providing a service and a central part of growth and mar­keting across indus­tries. So, it should not require any stretch of the ima­gin­ation to under­stand that this is also some­thing to con­sider when cre­ating your online course plan. However, what may be easy to under­es­timate is how important estab­lishing a clear profile of your learners is - it will affect everything you do from the beginning of the process to the end and even beyond as learners go through the course and onwards. Learner per­sonas con­tribute to things as broad as the course’s overall feel or tone to small details like how par­ticular inform­ation is presented, the type and style of assign­ments and assessment you give, and the learning out­comes effectiveness. 

Imagine you have the most desirable print for a tee-shirt, and instead of con­sid­ering the various shapes and sizes of people in the pop­u­lation, you only bring XXXL tee-shirts. While most people might wear the tee-shirt, very few of them will because it won’t fit right, you wouldn’t end up selling many tee-shirts, regardless of how great the print is. 

The same is true for a learning program - without properly pro­filing your learners, it becomes chal­lenging to ensure that your plan fits their needs, expect­a­tions and abil­ities. Luckily, you can apply several tools and pro­cesses during the learning pro­gram’s initial planning to help you establish a picture of who your learners are, what they need, and knowing that, decide how to serve them best. We call these user per­sonas canvas. Estab­lishing user per­sonas at the onset of planning gives us anchors that can be referred to at any point in the course cre­ation to check that the content you are pro­ducing is in line with who your learners are and their needs. 

What are the project goals of your program? 

Let’s start with the bigger picture - the project goals. Your project goal is the purpose of your training, why you are cre­ating the course. Ideally, you should be able to put it into one or two clear, concise sen­tences in the course’s intro­duction and overview. 

For example, if we were planning a course on math­em­atics for archi­tecture stu­dents, the project goal might be some­thing like 

“To provide archi­tecture stu­dents the under­standing and working know­ledge of the math­em­atics involved with designing and con­structing safe and struc­turally sound buildings”. 

In addition to providing, you with an excellent and straight­forward way to describe your pro­gram’s purpose, this statement should serve as a sort of anchor for all the materials and decisions made about the delivery and study methods. Everything you put into your course should link to this anchor. As you pro­gress with the devel­opment and iter­a­tions of materials, you should always return to this statement and ask yourself - “does this item help to achieve the project goal?” If not, that may indicate that the par­ticular content or activity should be removed, adjusted, or adapted into some­thing that sup­ports the program goal. 

What are the learning goals of your program? 

At first glance, project goals and learning goals might seem like two phrasings for the same question, but it would be a mistake to assume so. While these con­cepts con­tribute to pro­ducing a suc­cessful learning program, they serve slightly dif­ferent pur­poses and scopes. The second part of this, the learning goals, func­tions, and behaves sim­ilarly to the project goals but one level down in spe­cificity. Learning goals are con­crete learning objectives that each learner should master by the end of the course.  Referring back to our example of math­em­atics for archi­tecture stu­dents, the learning goals, in this case, might include things such as cal­cu­lating stress-load for various materials and sup­ports. Or even under­standing and cal­cu­lating load dis­persion based on the shape and type of support, how to factor in and account for external factors such as envir­onment on the structure. 

Like the project goals, learning goals should be clear and concise short state­ments about what things learners will learn and know how to do after the course. Sim­ilarly, they serve as guides for the modules or spe­cific course con­tents - do the con­tents serve the learning goals? 

How do the indi­vidual materials and assignment con­tribute to com­mu­nic­ating the necessary know­ledge needed to reach the learning objective? You can refer back to them during the devel­opment stage to ensure that your material is rel­evant and driving your learners towards the learning objectives and, by extension, the project goal. One way to begin devel­oping learning goals is to work back­wards from the project goal - try a brain­storming session with the project goal at the centre, and include all the things that could help achieve it. Pretty soon, some pat­terns start emerging enough to polish the con­cepts into clear state­ments and objectives. 

What are the limitations you may encounter? 

In a perfect world, these would not exist - endless time, resources. An insular envir­onment would allow for devel­opment to head in any dir­ection you desire, but this is rarely pos­sible in reality. There will always be some lim­it­a­tions or chal­lenges, not enough time, budget, or learners indi­vidual cir­cum­stances, so it’s best to think a bit about what could influence your pro­gram’s devel­opment and delivery. When you know this, you can plan strategies to tackle these before they arise. For example, you are designing a course for working pro­fes­sionals to include some live online group ses­sions. In that case, in your course plan, you should con­sider that many of the par­ti­cipants work during the day and may have per­sonal or family oblig­a­tions in the evening, so the ses­sions should take place at a time when dis­ruption to their lives will be minimal. Ensuring that the learners can be present and engaged during these sessions. 

We cannot plan for every pos­sib­ility, but if you’ve done your work by cre­ating learner per­sonas, the most common lim­it­a­tions would likely become apparent. Budget and timing are common lim­it­a­tions as well. While your idea to create a unique set of anim­a­tions for each topic in your program may be fant­astic, it may not be feasible depending on the time you have to produce the course and the budget available for you to do so. Con­sid­ering the resources available to you will help you avoid spending time devel­oping con­cepts you can’t execute, and having expect­a­tions with require­ments beyond what is available. 

How will the content be delivered?

While the simple answer to this is obvious - online, using Claned (the best LXP out there), there are still several con­sid­er­a­tions and options that will affect how you structure your learning and what is included in the materials. Including virtual or face-to-face ses­sions in addition to online self-study materials, the “blended learning” model is a great way to organize online learning for some reasons we won’t get into now. Suffice to say that what you do here will have a massive effect on your course plan. 

Think for a moment about designing a program where learners study inde­pend­ently, online, without any over­sight or facil­it­ation from an expert; regardless of the quality of your materials, your learners will most likely have (and should have ques­tions) how will they be answered? While there may be nothing wrong with doing a course where no facil­itator or expert is present to support learners, this requires that you put in addi­tional work to ensure that there are other resources available for learners to answer their questions. 

What format will your materials take? 

You can apply the same thinking from above to the actual materials them­selves. What is the inform­ation you are trying to convey? If we were designing a course for engine mech­anics, it would not make a lot of sense to provide only written descrip­tions of engine com­ponents. While this might convey the inform­ation, using an image or visual approach is far more suitable if we wanted to describe the pistons’ pos­ition in an engine. So, think about your material - what are you trying to com­mu­nicate, and what might be the best way of sharing it? By referring to your learning goals, remem­bering lim­it­a­tions, and care­fully con­sid­ering the nature and desired out­comes from a piece of content or material, you can make better choices about the most suitable format. 

How will you assess the learners? 

When it comes to assessing learners and their learning, there are several options and pos­sib­il­ities. Choosing suitable assessment methods for your program can open up oppor­tun­ities, guide you in your course plan and course cre­ation, and present some chal­lenges. Depending on your topic and learners, some assessment methods might be more applicable than others. Once again, by referring to our learning and program objectives, we can begin to make choices about what type and style of assess­ments to use and when. 

We can break assess­ments into two main cat­egories - formal and informal. The prior refers to what many may con­sider standard or tra­di­tional methods of assessment. 

They include tests, quizzes and graded pro­jects - everyone is clear about what they are doing, and the assessment comes with unam­biguous instruc­tions, expect­a­tions and objectives. The latter tend to be less quan­ti­fiable, more qual­it­ative, open-ended, and include learner reflec­tions and learner-gen­erated ques­tions, com­ments, and dis­cus­sions. They can be assigned as a project - such as a reflection or learning journal learners share to show their thoughts on the topic con­cerning them and their ideas. Both styles of assess­ments are valuable, and ideally, your course will include a bit of both. 

Once again, you can refer to the learning objectives you’ve laid out to help determine which is best to use and when. For example, if we think again about math­em­atics for archi­tecture stu­dents, we would probably want to use some formal assessment. To test if learners under­stand the for­mulas used to cal­culate struc­tural strength - present them with several equa­tions and solve them to prove they can apply the theory. However, if we were inter­ested in how this under­standing will influence the types of buildings they would like to design, a more informal assessment such as a learner reflection asking them just that might be the more appro­priate option. Most learning pro­grams contain enough space and instances for both types of assessment, so it’s more about keeping in mind what you want learners to show they’ve learned and looking for oppor­tun­ities for them to demon­strate it. 

When designing an online course plan, you will undoubtedly encounter many more ques­tions and chal­lenges. Still, by answering these ques­tions at the onset, you lay the found­a­tions for devel­oping a clear plan with clear objectives and have some idea of how to achieve them or at the very least know what you will need to to reach them and create great online learning. Claned is here to support you in this process. We love learning, and we love effective learning even more. So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch and see how we can help you take your online learning from average to A+😁 

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