8 Questions to Ask Before Developing Your Online Course
How to define your objectives before creating an online learning program.
Starting an online learning program is an exciting and challenging endeavor. However, most courses take a lot of time to prepare, and you should know what you’re getting into before you start. Here are a few questions to help you think through your course idea so that you can start off on the right foot.
1. What knowledge level is this course designed for?
How much do you expect your learners to already know before they start your course? Are they new to the field, or do they have some experience, such as a college degree or a certain number of years in the industry? Or is this their entry point to a new profession?
The answer to this question will help you determine what information to include in your course and how to market it. Even for a beginning course, you will probably need to indicate to your learners a few basic requirements, such as access to the Internet and a familiarity with certain computer programs.
For advanced learners, you should specify exactly what the prerequisites for your course are. (i.e., “Learners should be familiar with CSS and HTML, or have 3 years of web coding experience.)
2. How much time will your course take to complete?
Some courses are open-ended, and may not require a deadline to complete. Learners sign up to them and expect to take them at their own pace, or they may plan to be subscribed indefinitely.
Or, your learners might be looking for a course with a strict schedule that they can complete within a certain timeframe. In this case, your learners will want to know how much time they need to plan on investing in your course before they start. You can deliver the timeframe as either a total number of hours (“this certification program will take 40 hours to complete”) or spread out over a time period (“this is a four-week course, requiring a 10-hour time commitment a week.”)
Obviously, some online courses are much faster than that. A 2-hour webinar offering a micro certification in a special field is a much easier sell than a multi-week course. Either way, both you and your learners need to know what you’re getting into.
3. Will your learners require one-on-one tutoring?
Most online courses are pretty hands-off, allowing learners to progress independently of the instructor. However, some courses may require individual attention, and if so, you will need to know how to handle the higher workload. We suggest limiting the number of learners who can be enrolled at one time so that you don’t become overwhelmed.
That said, personal tutoring sessions can be a big selling point for some learners. The promise of a 30-minute Skype lesson adds a lot of value to the program, allowing you to charge more per course.
4. Will your learners take your course at home or at work?
Some companies invest in online certification for their employees to improve training and nurture talent within the organization. In this case, you will probably be marketing to the business more than to the individuals. More importantly, employees will have a set time to go through materials and will be highly motivated to complete the course.
Learners who sign up on their own initiative, however, are more likely to be fitting their learning program in on the side. They may have strong personal motivations, but these are at odds with other life commitments. If you expect your learners to take your course from home, think about ways your course can fit around a busy schedule.
5. Will your learners be familiar with Learning Management Systems?
Familiarity with online courses varies widely among demographics. Most recent college graduates are familiar with some form of online integration with their classroom experience. Maybe they submitted essays through an online portal, or their teachers posted homework via an LMS. Either way, using your program won’t be much of a problem for them.
On the other hand, learners without any higher education, or those who graduated before the advent of online learning, may not have any experience with an LMS. In this case, you may need to include extra instruction to help them navigate the program.
6. Why will your learners pay money for your course?
What is the value of your learning program? Will learners be able to use it to advance professionally? Or is it for their personal gratification? Do you offer accreditation for your online course? Or are learners expecting to demonstrate the value of their training on the job?
The most valuable online programs are ones that teach a definable and measurable skill that can also be tied to professional growth. It’s easier to justify paying lots of money for a certification program if it is likely to land you a raise at work.
7. What will your learners gain upon completing your course?
It’s unlikely anyone will enroll in your course without a clear understanding of what they will be learning. You can define this by outlining the course syllabus, or by describing specific skills that the course is meant to teach. The more concrete examples you can offer, the stronger your value proposition.
If you had to add a section in the course description that promised outcomes, what would they be? If you need a prompt, start with “by the end of this course, you will be able to…” and then list everything you expect your learners to be able to do.
8. How will you measure success?
Once you’ve defined the course objectives, it’s a lot easier to measure the extent to which you’ve achieved them. If you promise your learners that they will be able to code their own website by the end of your course, you need to know if they can accomplish that goal.
Maybe that means writing a quiz, or maybe that means asking them to actually create and submit a website for your review. The more measurable the results, the more confident you can be in promising outcomes for future learners.
Don’t forget to beta test.
Asking the right questions before you start will help you create a more effective course. But even if you plan everything out from the beginning, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded until you put your course to the test. That’s why we recommend rounding up some beta testers, and using these questions to assess if your course is ready to be brought to market.