What Are the Signs of a High-Quality Online Course?
You want to create a quality online course for your learners. How do you know you’ve made it?
Most online course providers instinctively understand the value of a quality online course. It’s not just that they are excited about their subject and want to find an effective way to transfer that knowledge. They also know that a poor-quality course won’t sell.
The problem is that, with the focus on creating a great course, it can be difficult to know when you’ve arrived. How do you know you’ve created a course that’s ready to launch? And will your learners be able to recognize it as such when you do?
Fortunately, any online course worth its salt shares some common characteristics. If you’re wondering whether you course has met the right quality control criteria, read through these and judge for yourself whether your course passes grade.
1. You offer realistic and definable up-front goals.
You don’t want your course to be mistaken for a get-rich-quick scam. Instead, you want your learners to know what they’re signing up for. That means being clear about what your course will offer them, and how much commitment it will take from them to achieve that goal.
That doesn’t mean your course has to have a huge time commitment or a definite end date. You could be selling a language course on a subscription model that promises to help learners improve their Spanish with fifteen minute of practice a day. But if you can’t definite what it is you’re offering, it’s unlikely many learners will be excited about signing up.
2. Your course design is thoughtful and well-executed.
Creating an effective online course is very different from delivering a compelling lecture. If you’ve taught a course for several years and are expecting to create an online class simply by recording your lectures, you’re going to struggle with course completion and learner retention.
Instead, learn more about instructional design principles for online courses. Break up your lectures into more digestible pieces, and re-arrange your content to match the new structure. The outcomes will speak for themselves.
3. You have provided an accessible user interface.
A good user interface design isn’t just about looking sleek and shiny—it’s about being intuitive and usable for the learner. Look at some of your top competitors to see what kind of interfaces their courses use and whether your own matches—or even surpasses—their designs.
As you think about your interface, also consider your user. Are you designing a course for children or adults? Are your users elderly? Do they use a desktop browser or a mobile device? It won’t matter how valuable your course material is if your target users can’t access it.
4. You have cultivated a supportive community.
Communities are one of the chief lifelines for many online learners, who otherwise find the format of online courses isolating. A group of other learners can make the experience more engaging, and helps to encourage learners to come back when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
There are many ways you can build a community. Forums are a popular option, especially as they integrate with your LMS. However, blogs and social media are also a way to create a community. Your choice will likely depend on your course structure.
5. Your content is compelling and valuable.
We talked already about how a thoughtful course design and effective user interface are important for a quality online course, but none of that is to downplay the importance of the content itself. Choosing a topic of an online course may sound straightforward, but it’s actually a balancing act between your own passions, and content that will help the learner.
Research your course topic before you begin, and make sure you have a value proposition that will interest learners. If you’re excited about your own topic but can’t think of a way to sell it to learners, you may need to rethink your course idea.
6. You’ve offered instructor availability.
Having an instructor who is available to respond to questions and concerns helps learners feel supported in their course, and it will create a connection to your brand that will serve you well as you grow your business. That said, there are economies of scale at play, and you can only spread yourself so thin. The key is to strike a balance between responding to learners and protecting your own time.
If you only offer small group courses (with a premium course price), you may be able to offer “office hours” where learners can book a 30-minute Skype session with you to discuss their course progress. If you have a larger course where one-on-one interactions have to be kept to a minimum, writing a blog can help connect with learners while giving them a space to respond in the comments.
7. You have learner support mechanisms in place.
Community and instructors are one thing, but your learners will need other, more pragmatic support mechanisms as well, such as if they run into technical difficulties, or have an administrative concern about the course. If you’re operating your course independently, this may mean having a “help” email address which you check regularly. If you’re large enough to have a team of people, having some of them dedicated to customer service is an important investment in learner outcomes, as well as in the health and quality of your course.
Creating a quality online course is an iterative process.
There’s an immense satisfaction that comes from delivering your best work. When you succeed in creating a quality online course, you not only do yourself proud, you help your learners succeed.
But as an online instructor, your work is never done. Technology continues to change, new techniques for online course delivery emerge, and we still have a lot to learn about the science of learning. Don’t rest on your laurels thinking you’ve completed a perfect course that will never need revision, but also don’t hold yourself back with constant refinements. When you have something ready to launch, let it loose into the wild. It will never be perfect without user feedback, and it will never stay perfect for long.