Maybe your organisation has finally made the big switch to online trainings. Or maybe you’ve taken it upon yourself to take your organisation’s learning to the next level by exploring the world of online education. Either way, we’re excited for you. Because you now stand at the beginning of one of the most exciting experiences in online learning: the part where you build an entire online course – from the ground up!
Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you’re wondering if you really have what it takes to create an online course on your own. And we’re here to tell you that you absolutely do! This glorious era of technology that we live in has turned time-consuming, expertise-demanding tasks in every industry into a breeze. Online learning is no different. With the right tools, and the best practices to guide you along, online courses have now become unbelievably easy to set up.
Of course, there’ll be doubts, challenges, and questions along the way. But all you really need are some answers – ahead of time. So here are a few important questions, and their solutions, to help you get a head-start on building an online course.
1. What do you really know about the learners?
There are a handful of questions we’ll be covering in this blog post about course-building. But trust us, not one of them is as important as this one: who are you building the online courses for?
The key to building a good online course is knowing, from the get-go, everything you need to know about your learners. Hint: it goes beyond the stuff you’ll find on their IDs.
So if you’re building an online training program for your organisation, it’s not enough to know the names, ages, designations and departments of the participating employees. It’s important to have in-depth knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and expectations from the learning experience.
A great way to gather this knowledge is by conducting brief learner research where you can observe or talk to the learners beforehand. Find out what makes them tick, what their everyday problems look like, what solutions they are seeking, and what needs and priorities are at top of their minds. What gets them interested? What makes them yawn?
Most importantly, remember that any information that your online course provides must build on your learners’ existing knowledge base. So find out: What do they already know and what knowledge gaps could you and your organisation swiftly fill with the online course?
Consider you’re creating a reskilling program for a sales team, for example. A good way to get a sense of their current competencies is to speak to their team leaders, conduct Voice of Employee surveys and/or perform skills assessment checks with the participants. It’s only when you have an idea of where the learner is at right now that you can start building a bridge to where you need to get them tomorrow.
When you have the learner at the core of your online course-building process, you set yourself up for success. And you ensure that your energy, time and resources (and that of the organisation) are being spent in the right direction.
2. What results do you expect at the end of the course?
The next step goes hand in hand with the first one and is all about painting a clear picture of exactly what it is that you wish to see by the end of the learning program. If knowing your learners is essential, knowing what you want your learners to have achieved at the finish line is just as important.
The way that most successful online courses do this is by setting clear, measurable learning outcomes. These learning outcomes are detailed descriptions of the skills, expertise or knowledge the learners must have by the end of the online course.
When you are creating an online course, these learning outcomes are your absolute best friends. Why? Because they show you the exact goalposts your online program is aiming for. Are you teaching a workforce a new skill? Are you familiarising a department with new guidelines? Are you showing your customers how they can best make use of your product?
Setting learning goals is also a necessary step in the evaluation process. How can you judge the performance of your learners if you don’t have clear metrics to compare it against? Learning outcomes help you gauge whether your learners were truly successful (and how successful they were) in acquiring the skill, knowledge or expertise that you wanted them to acquire.
When you clarify and incorporate these learning outcomes into your online course, the learning experience becomes easier to build. But more importantly, it makes the learning program far more meaningful for the learners and more impactful for your organisation.
3. Are you sure you’ve got the right platform?
If it’s your first time creating an online course, you’re definitely better off building it on a solid, reliable online learning platform. And yes, we know: there are a million e-learning products in the market that, instead of making this step in the process easier, only make the choice harder. Especially if you’re a beginner.
So here’s a simple list of things to look for when scouring through all the options out there:
- Is it easy to use?: The last thing you want both for yourself and for your learners is having to stumble around the user experience or be bothered with endless glitches. Look for a platform that offers a smooth, seamless UI and a super-easy course-building experience.
- Is it versatile?: Maybe you don’t want to go looking for a new platform every time your organisation has a new learning or training need. It helps to have a platform that can be customised to offer different learning experiences according to your organisation’s changing needs.
- Can you integrate it with your existing systems?: Why take on the burden of all that extra time and effort transferring existing data into the new platform? Find a platform that takes the effort off your hands and integrates itself right into your existing networks.
It’s also worth exploring platform options that go beyond the typical online learning experience. For example, while the ‘learning data’ feature is commonly found in most learning platforms, only a handful of platforms offer any real, actionable insights based on that learning data.
You might also be interested in knowing more about the two most popular types of learning platforms out there: the LMS and the LXP. [There’s a raging debate in the online learning world about which one’s superior, but we believe you shouldn’t even have to choose]. So which one should you go for? Here’s a useful article to help you out. LMS Vs LXP.
4. How will you deliver learning?
Once you’ve made your pick of an online learning platform, it’s time to focus on what the actual online learning experience will look like for the learners. And you’d be surprised to know just how many options there are out there, especially when you have all the opportunities of online learning on your side.
At this stage of building an online course, it’s time to look into the principles and best practices of learning design. This is the process of making careful, methodical choices about every element of the online course experience – from what content to include (and how to create it), the arrangement and sequence of the content, the assessments and their frequency and the metrics of success for the learners.
It’s also a good time to explore different methods of delivering learning, particularly in this age of online-based learning models. Your course could have synchronous or asynchronous elements in it. It could be based entirely online or follow a hybrid, flipped or blended model of learning. To know more about these terms, check out our blog post on learning design.
All in all, this is the time for you to focus on not just what the learning will constitute but how that learning will reach the learners. What topics will you cover and how will they flow into each other? How difficult will the assessments be? What variety of content formats should you include to not only inform but also keep things interesting for the learners?
All these small but essential questions are what make up the final learning experience. And the best part about this step of the process is that you, the course builder, get to make the call! Based on what you know about the learners (from question 1) and the learning outcomes of the course (from question 2), you get to plan every single aspect of the journey the learners will go on!
5. Did you generate enough interest for your course?
Now, here’s a question that we wish more people would ask themselves while building their online course.
Of course, it’s crucial to do the learner research, to set clear outcomes from the outset, choose the right platform and design the perfect learning journey. But the hard truth is: sometimes, all of these important steps amount to nothing if the online course you put so much hard work into never reaches the people it was intended for.
That’s why it’s so important to market your course to your target audience – yes, even if it is designed solely for internal use within your organisation.
A good online course must be able to establish the value it offers, even before the learners have signed up for it. Learners should be able to understand exactly what they’re going to learn in the course and more importantly, how that will be valuable to them. Will it help them save time? Will it make their workday more productive?
Make sure that the communication around the online course is at all times clear and relevant to the target audience. Consider reaching out to potential participants specifically on the platforms and channels that they frequent instead of casting a wide net. The information you gathered about the learners earlier will be helpful here, as your messaging identifies their pain points and offers relevant solutions via the online course.
Note: It’s also useful to add an incentive for learners to participate or complete the online course in the form of certificates, prizes, perks or recognition!
6. How do you keep your learners interested?
So now you’ve got the learners where you wanted them: they are excited, raring to go and ready to learn something valuable from the online course you’ve built for them. But how do you keep the momentum going? How do you make sure that you don’t lose your learners along the way?
If drawing your learners in is half the battle won, keeping your learners engaged takes care of the other half. And there are quite a few ways to achieve high learner engagement that you can take into account before, during and after creating your online course.
- Send targeted reminders: Keep your learners on track by giving them a little friendly nudge every now and then. This is where a smart online learning platform can be a valuable tool to have — especially one that analyses user data to automatically and periodically send reminder emails without prompting.
- Build a community: People love learning together – and there’s ample research to show that people learn better together, too. Harness the power of social learning and create spaces in your online course where learners can comment, discuss and share opinions freely. Don’t just build an online course, build an online community and your learners will never tire of the learning experience.
- Engage with learners and offer feedback: It’s great when learners have each other to foster discussions about the learning experience. But online courses also often benefit from having moderators, facilitators and even instructors stepping in to give direction to the program. Try to incorporate opportunities for live webinars, Q&A discussions and feedback sessions to help broaden and enliven the course experience for your learners.
7. Did you get all the insights you needed from the online course?
And finally, we come to the last and perhaps the most humbling step in creating an online course: learning the lessons ourselves.
For all the considerations, intentions and efforts that you put into building your course, there will always be things about the learning experience that you just didn’t anticipate. Maybe one of the modules was too long, or an assessment was too difficult. Maybe the learners struggled with a definition, or were already familiar with a topic and found it repetitive.
Remember, these ‘flaws’ are not a reflection of your course-building skills – they are a perfectly natural and crucial part of the course-building process. Behind every great online learning program lies a long, useful series of insights and feedback.
And how do you gather this feedback?
One way is to hand the mic over to the learners themselves. You could incorporate end-of-course surveys into your programs, initiate feedback discussions within the course or follow up with learners through email or phone calls.
The other way is to harness the capabilities of your online learning platform (which is why question 3 is so vital). Some online learning platforms offer you the option of tracking course and learner performances in real time. This allows you to make quick tweaks while the course is running so you can view the impact of your adjustments without waiting for an iteration to complete.
Some learning platforms are also adept at connecting the metrics of your course performance directly to your organisation’s business goals. Instead of showing you dry learning data, these platforms compile the most relevant information to directly offer feedback and recommendations on what to change up, how to do it and why.
When you take all this feedback in stride, while exploring brand-new ways to improve the learning experience for the learners and your organisation, you’re all set for a successful Take Two!
And with that, you are all set to build your very own online course.
Remember that while these questions cover all the basic nuts and bolts of course-building, there are possibly hundreds more questions that will pop up during the experience. But when it comes to building learning journeys for others, the more questions you can take head-on, the better. Every question is an opportunity to give your learners an extra helping hand, and an opportunity to learn something new about online learning.
At Claned, we welcome questions about building online courses with open arms. And we’ve built an online learning platform that pre-empts all the questions a first-time course builder might have, and answers them swiftly with ease of use and a variety of beginner-friendly features.
Try Claned out for yourself! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.