Be direct, specific, exciting, and put your students first.
You’ve spent hours building an online course which you hope will instruct learners and help them take the next step forward in their career, learn a new hobby, or expand their horizons. All that’s left is the course description: your first (and maybe last) opportunity to inspire learners to sign up.
Not a problem, right?
Well, you wouldn’t be the first to feel intimidated by the prospect of summing up all your educational efforts in a few paragraphs—if that. And yet, what you write in your course description is one of the most important factors in convincing learners to sign up. If you can’t state your case in a clear and compelling way, your days as an online educator are probably numbered.
Fortunately, while this is a prime opportunity for writer’s block to stop you in your tracks, it’s also much easier to find your bearings once you think about what your course description needs to accomplish. Let’s break it down.
1. Consider the context.
Depending on how you’ve structured your website, or where you’re listing your course, the space you have to describe your course may vary considerably.
A lot of advice out there is to “keep it short,” and that’s not a bad idea… in some contexts. The problem I have with this advice is that it seems to assume that learners won’t bother to read a longer version. Well, if your learners won’t read more than a paragraph of course description, that does not bode well for the success of your overall course.
Depending on what you’re teaching, your course will probably involve quite a bit of reading, not to mention a significant time commitment. A lot of learners (though not all) will want to read up on the details before making that commitment.
You will almost certainly need a bite-sized version to use in a variety of contexts—like an elevator pitch. But if you’re also writing a longer course page—which I would recommend—it may help to start with the detailed version and then edit down to something in the neighborhood of 150 words. Then decide whether to offer the longer or shorter version based on where it will appear.
2. Be bold and inspiring (but not sales-y or fake).
Do you know what separates a bold claim from a fake one? Your ability to back it up.
You want to write exciting copy, but avoid generic copy or anything that is obviously beyond what you can deliver. Describing your course as the greatest course ever written or promising unbelievable results overnight is unlikely to impress anyone.
Instead, be specific in what you plan to offer your learners and the results they can expect to achieve. Promising that you can turn your learners into millionaires overnight is obviously false. Offering to provide actionable advice on how to build their customer relationships, improve their close rate, and reduce employee turnover is more deliverable.
If you’re really feeling stuck, begin your course description with a powerful statement or even a relevant quote.
3. Research the right keywords, but avoid jargon.
What might a prospective learner type into Google if they were trying to find your course? For instance, if I wanted to learn how to play piano, but couldn’t afford a private tutor, I might hop on the Internet to look for online lessons. Maybe I was specifically interested in learning to play Jazz piano, and had a few favorite musicians. These are all great things to include in your course description.
However, it would be less helpful to include a lot of terminology that I wouldn’t know unless I’d already taken your course. Think about what your learners want to know, and consider rewording any jargon you’ve already included in the course glossary.
4. Provide an action plan for your course.
Your course description doesn’t need to be a full syllabus, but it should paint a clear picture for learners so that they know what commitment they are signing up for when they start. If you have an app that you encourage learners to use for fifteen minutes a day, that’s how you should bill it. And if you’re running a more traditional course that requires a longer weekly commitment as well as specific assignments, then be clear about that, too.
5. Speak directly to your audience.
Finally, be natural and describe your course as if you’re talking to someone who is standing directly in front of you. Instead of saying “learners should expect,” say “you should expect.” And avoid any phrasing that may make you sound stuffy or snobbish. No one wants to take a course with an instructor who sounds like they’re talking down to them, and your course description will be much more lively if you use familiar language.
Your course description may be the most important selling point of your online program.
At the end of the day, your course description is the best reason your learners have for signing up for your course. Even if they have a general interest in a subject, or like what you’ve written on your blog, or have a good recommendation of your course from a friend, the course description is what confirms that this program is meant for them.
With so much riding on it, it’s understandable if you struggle to get the words perfect. But the effort you put in to developing this program will serve you well.