February 13th, 2018 Business

Researching your newest idea for an online course isn’t just about proof of concept. It’s also about making a better course.

If you’ve decided that 2018 is the year in which you finally launch your online course: congratulations. The market in online education is expanding, and there’s certainly room for more courses, more creativity, and more wisdom.

But if you were planning to launch your course without doing any background research, you might want to set aside some time for due diligence research. We’ve seen businesses invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of time into a product without bothering to look at the competition until the last minute. When it came time for them to launch, it was too late for them to adjust. Their ignorance of what the competition was doing caused them to release an inferior product at too high a price point.

The lesson here is simple: Your course is important, and there should be some urgency behind launching it. However, for your launch to be successful, you want to understand the market you’re about to enter. Go in blind, and you risk missing your mark.

Market research can help you nip potential problems early on, learn from the mistakes of others, and provide a better course. You can begin by learning about what materials your competition includes in their courses, and what learner expectations might be given these other course offerings.

Find out what other courses are being offered in your subject.

You can create a new online course in a vacuum. But why would you?

For one, you’re unlikely to have thought of everything, and for another, you need to know what your competitors are doing so that you don’t wildly over- or under-sell your course. It’s also worth knowing if others have offered a similar course before you and if their efforts were successful. (Note: if they weren’t, it doesn’t mean yours won’t be.)

The adage about how “good artists copy; great artists steal” is as true for online education as for anything else. When someone discovers a new way of doing something that works, it’s worth imitating.

For instance, both Coursera and Udacity offer programs in Deep Learning with similar syllabuses. If you plan to offer a similar course at a competing price point, it will help to analyze their course structure and learn from their success.

Maybe their programs will inspire you to add a new module to your own. Or, maybe you realize that your course is not as comprehensive, and decide to repackage it for a niche audience. If you’re not ready to sell a full Deep Learning course for $600, you may still be able to sell a $100 micro course on neural networks.

Read up on the experiences from learners and experts.

There’s a lot you can learn from other course providers. But you can learn just as much from education experts, as well as from the experience of online students. After all, a successful online education course depends on more than the course content. It’s also a function of the teaching methods used in the course and the technology used to deliver them to learners.

If you sell a course on data mining, but fail to cover key information in your course, it’s unlikely your learners will come back for more. But even if you provide a comprehensive overview of everything anyone could possibly want to know on that subject, your learners may still be dissatisfied if you don’t present it in an effective manner, or if your methods for assessing and grading student performance don’t make sense, or if students struggle to access course features on your LMS.

Fortunately, the more online education grows, the more experts there are to weigh in on subjects as diverse as the use of online proctoring to monitor test results or how to incorporate video into your syllabus. With such a new field, there’s plenty of innovation to go round. By reading up on what others are doing, you spare yourself the effort of re-inventing someone else’s discovery.

Online education graduates also have experiences to share. If you find someone complaining about a topic not being covered in your competitor’s course, you still have time to add it to your own. Or if you hear about a gamification feature that’s working really well for someone else, you can give it a try in your course.

Don’t use research as a procrastination tool.

Time is your most valuable resource. Because of this, you want to spend it wisely. You may feel impatient about launching your course, but ultimately, a little work up front can save you lots of time down the road fixing a problem that could have been addressed at the beginning.

That’s not to say you can’t get in your own way by delaying your course too long. Researching your online course ideas can help you build a better program, but it can also keep you from moving forward.

Once you’ve done enough research to know that you have a viable course idea that can match (or surpass!) the competition, it’s time to switch from the planning phase and into production mode.

The world is full of good ideas that never got off the ground, sometimes through lack of preparation, and sometimes through over-planning. The purpose of researching your online course idea is to conduct due diligence—to get a feel for the terrain before you set out, and learn from the mistakes of others.

But every good educator knows that you learn by doing. Your course doesn’t need to be perfect before you launch; it just needs to be competitive.

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