6 Tips to Help You Plan a Successful Online Course

Success in online education begins with thorough and thoughtful planning.

The fastest way online courses run into trouble is when they’re launched with insufficient planning. Without planning your course, you can easily create a series of lessons that miss their target audience, fail to meet learner needs, or don’t establish a strong course objective.

When developing new courses, creating checklists is helpful to ensure that you are covering all your bases. Here are six steps that can help you plan your online course, including finding your students and helping them succeed.

1. Research your audience.

Start by asking yourself who your ideal student is. Are your learners children or adults? Are they learning for professional development or personal enjoyment? This helps you build material that will be meaningful to them.

Learner profiles can also be a useful developmental tool. Learner personas are designed to be stand-ins for the types of students you frequently encounter taking your course, or who you would ideally want to attract.

As an example, if you were teaching a course on organic gardening, you might write your course to appeal to a student who lives in the suburbs or a rural area with space for a garden and with a spouse and children living at home.

On the other hand, for a course on auto repair, you might build a student persona of someone who likes cars and fixing things around the house, who knows how to change the oil on their car, but would like to learn more advanced skills.

The more clearly you can write your student persona, the easier it is to target them on social media ads and messaging. You can also identify your ideal student through research and surveys, or by asking questions of your blog readers. Remember that you want a reasonably detailed persona, but not one so specific that it begins turning away otherwise suitable learners.

2. Find your niche.

Finding a niche is so important because it helps you build authority in an area so that you can gain the trust of the people you want to take you course. A niche signals that you have built your course for them, rather than someone whose circumstances don’t quite match theirs.

However, identifying the right niche for your course can be more complicated, which is why it helps to build out some lists to refine your topic.

Here’s what students will look for before signing up for your course:

  • How do you stand out?
  • Do you feel confident and comfortable with the course material?
  • What are your credentials or experience in the area?
  • Are you among the best at what you want to teach?

Write down three things that you would love to teach others. Examples may include:

  • Teaching others how to teach small children
  • Show teenagers how to play baseball
  • Show others how to write poetry

What do you hate teaching? Write this down too. It can be general or specific.

  • I don’t like teaching teenagers.
  • I don’t like teaching grammar.
  • I don’t like teaching others how to use Microsoft Excel pivot tables.

To reinforce your “love” list, write down the things you love to do. There are probably some things that crossover with both your love and hate lists. For example, you may love to teach you dog tricks, but showing others how to do this is frustrating and tedious. On the other hand, you may love baking, and showing friends and family how to do so brings you great joy.

Similarly, if you love to learn and teach languages, you wouldn’t simply market yourself as a linguistics tutor. Instead, you would specify the languages you speak most fluently and describe your teaching approach. You might offer courses in languages where you have achieved native proficiency, but use a background on other languages to establish authority.

3. Determine the course objective.

It’s important to build a strong course objective. The course objective drives:

  • Teaching methods
  • Learning objectives
  • Creates a written synopsis of the material

The course objective will help potential students figure out if your course meets their needs. Don’t try to lure people in with generic language. You also don’t want to scare away students by being too specific. Just create a balanced, true assessment of what students will know after finishing the course.

Ideally, when you write course goals and objectives, you should also write out the assessment for the class. You want your students to know what they should expect to know at the end of the course.

For a course on early Egyptian history, a student’s goal might be to identify all the Pharaohs in the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. If they have learned that at the end of the course, you are bound to get a positive assessment from them.

4. Establish course milestones.

By establishing milestones, you can give students a better feel for the work they will do and how to evaluate their mastery of the material. Online courses that aren’t taken for academic grades typically don’t have a grade or formal test. However, you can provide online assignments and quizzes that students may use to evaluate their own progress.

A milestone signifies a change in development. It encourages students by marking their progress through the course. Learners who are regularly achieving milestones in their learning are more likely to remain engaged with the material.

5. Create check-in points for assessment.

The more specific you can make your assessment details, the better you will sell your course to prospective learners. So, instead of listing out “chapter check-ins” and “two quizzes,” tell students exactly what you will evaluate them on.

For example, if you are planning to test their knowledge after each lesson, tell your students that they will answer two to four multiple-choice questions before beginning the next module. Be being specific about what the assessment will be like, you can encourage learners to keep moving forward.

6. Help your learners build a community.

This is always one of the more enjoyable aspects for students. Building a community also benefits course writers because it gives you a place to interact with students and prospective students. You can create a community of verified learners through your course forum, or you can make your community open to the public by using social media.

An effective way to grow your student community is by encouraging learners to bring their questions to the forum and by posting regularly there yourself. You can even host webinars where you provide links to related course material, such as other courses you have written. Some instructors offer free reports or blogs to collect contact information for potential students.

A well-planned course can help learners through to completion.

Think about the ways you can support your students and potential students every step of the way. The more nurturing you do, the more pleased students will be to take your courses.

Author

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Let's Talk! | Twitter

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