How to keep your online course management from overwhelming your life.
One of the most appealing ideas about online courses for instructors is the assumption that, once the course content is created, instructors can leave their courses to run on autopilot and reap the benefits of passive income. However, as much as we might like this to be the case, there’s a laundry list of administrative duties, marketing tasks, and instructor responsibilities that can overwhelm educators if they aren’t prepared. And if that happens, these instructors may find themselves with dissatisfied learners and a cascade of bad reviews.
Many instructors try to reduce their workload by cutting time-consuming tasks. They avoid any interactions with learners, choose paid advertising over content marketing, and hope to get more from less. As a result, they have a harder time attracting new learners, have fewer high-value course items to offer, and struggle to get their course off the ground.
To effectively manage an online course, you must choose your battles. Your time is limited, so you need to be sure you’re investing it in actions that will pay off. This means reducing the time you put into tedious, low-value work, and increasing the time you devote to high-value work. Here are five ways you can accomplish this in your online course that will pay off in increased enrollment, better completion rates, and happier learners.
1. Automate administrative functions as much as possible.
Effective automation is at the heart of good online course management, but you do need to be sure you automate the right things.
For instance, the timing and release of course content is an obvious automation, as are most email reminders. Instead of trying to monitor how your learners are progressing through your course, an automation system can send them reminders if they don’t sign in for a while, and only notify you when the situation requires your attention.
Similarly, a lot of courses benefit from automatic grading, because this gives learners immediate feedback. However, there’s only so far you can go with multiple choice quizzes. It takes more work to grade long answer or essay questions, but learners will also gain more from this feedback, and the personal connection with their instructor may motivate them to keep going.
The key is to find the right balance. You can use automated grading for 90% of your course work, but by taking on a few essay questions per student, you can significantly raise the value of your course.
2. Encourage learners to work with each other.
We’ve written a lot about the value of community in online education. One side benefit is that, when learners work together to create a learning environment, it takes a load off your shoulders. Learners turn to each other for support and encouragement, ask each other questions when they struggle with material, and find motivation from the community rather than from you.
This isn’t to say it’s easy, or that these communities happen automatically. You will still need to moderate discussion forums, and you will probably want to take part in them yourself, because this will encourage members to post as well. But participating in your own forum discussions is relatively low-cost, and the energy it brings to your online community is well worth the effort.
3. Have your course content and marketing materials serve double duty.
Creating course content is a time-consuming task, so it’s no wonder that many educators feel they have little time to devote to creating extra content for marking purposes. Well, the good news is: most of your content can be used both places! If you run a regular blog, after time, you’ll have created enough material to gather together into a new course. And once you’ve created a course, you can pull excerpts from your videos to share on social media, or repackage the first lesson as a downloadable PDF.
Content marketing takes time, but on average, it has the highest return on investment of any marketing campaign. Not only does it drawn in visitors who are primed to sign up for your course, it reduces their hesitations by providing a sample of your instructional style before they sign up. And it’s far less costly than paid advertising campaigns. All considered, it’s hard to find a better use of your time.
4. Make “help” information easy to find and maintain an FAQ section.
What do learners do when they need help with the course? Can they find information on their own, or do they need to contact you for every question? Or, conversely, are they unable to contact you at all?
For your sake, you will want to create a prominent and well-maintained help section for your course. Create a syllabus with the most important course information, and post it where learners can find it. Create an FAQ section, and offer resources to handle the most common learners complaints.
But don’t cut yourself off entirely. There are some questions that only you can answer. So while you can offer some automated troubleshooting on your website, make sure learners can contact you if this fails to resolve the problem. And consider offering online “office hours” for learners who may need to discuss the course with you directly.
5. Pace your workload by using regimented enrollment periods.
It may seem counterintuitive to argue that you can grow your course by limiting your class size, but it can work. For instance, let’s say you have year-round open enrollment. If your course doesn’t require much of your personal attention, it may not matter to you some months see more new learners than others.
But what if you include a term paper as part of your course? A surge of enrollment in September could see you overwhelmed with grades come December, which is hardly ideal.
On the other hand, what if you limited the number of learners, opened enrollment at the beginning of each month, and closed it once you hit the learner cap? Contrary to what you might think, this strategy can actually raise enrollment by creating a sense of urgency. Whereas in the previous example many learners might put off enrolling till a later date, in this scenario, learners have a reason to sign up now—before it’s too late!
As a result, the number of learners you have to manage remains constant through the year, and you don’t have to worry about being crushed by an unexpected surge. And if demand for your course is so high that you’re turning too many learners away—well, that’s a sign you need to raise your prices.
The more you master online course management, the faster you can scale.
By managing your online course more efficiently, you not only cut down on your own stress, you also free up the bandwidth you need to bring in more learners. After all, a successful course means more students. Make sure you’re prepared for them.