How to create a purpose driven and effective online course

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

You may be a teacher, trainer or entrepreneur interested in sharing your knowledge, skills and expertise with the world using an online course. This industry is projected to be worth over $319 billion by 2025, so if this is an industry and platform that you want to use, there are a few basics that you need to get right if you are to meet the needs of your learners....and really this is the starting point....everything must flow from this.



If you are looking to build your reputation as an online teacher or trainer, or perhaps you are interested in the mechanics of successful online course building, you should consider seriously the following checklist:


  1. Work backwards

instructional design, teaching online, digital education, course creation

Begin the design and planning of your course with what your students will learn and be able to do once they have completed your course. Identify these learning objectives and goals at the beginning and this will keep you on track. If you are unsure - ask potential students what they want to learn and think about how you can meet those needs. Visit Reddit and Facebook groups in your related niche to identify pain points that your potential students are facing and start building up ideas around these.



2. Be crystal clear in your communication

teaching online, digital education, course creation

Nothing will demotivate your students and kill your online course quicker than a muddled course offering. Identify the purpose of your course, the modules, the expectations, the tasks, assignments, the synchronous and asynchronous aspects of the course and be available. This doesn't mean that you need to be accessible in real-time around the clock. It means that you need to interact with your students by responding to messages, engaging in asynchronous or synchronous text chat, creating live webinars, sending out email updates and/or uploading video feedback or welcome videos. Social presence is key to a successful online course and the teacher or instructor must be a presence in the virtual room.


3. Use Microlearning

how to teach online

When you have your course outlined clearly (read my blogs about instructional design models ADDIE, SAM and the Systems Approach Model) you should consider the way in which you are going to teach the course. What you need to accept is that all students will learn in different ways and have preferences for different modes of the delivery of your course content. This doesn't mean that you have to create hundreds of variations of the same information. A better approach is to use what is known as Microlearning. This is also known as 'chunking' as it offers students bite-sized chunks of information that they can digest easily. You can use short videos and quizzes to check their understanding. Uploading very long videos in lecture format is a passive learning experience for students of all ages. Attention spans are reducing, and research has pointed to an 8 second attention span on average, so keep your delivery short and manageable to keep students engaged and motivated.



4. Be consistent

how to create courses online

When constructing your course, try to ensure that there is some uniform approach to its design. This means that each module should look and feel the same. You can use the same templates, colours, buttons, structure and task expectations. The students need to understand how to navigate the course easily and once this is understood, this navigation flow should be replicated in each module. You can see how this can be set out in this course.



5. Create engaging activities

online course creation

In order to captivate your students and ensure that they get to the end of the course that you have spent hours creating, you need to construct engaging tasks and activities. Irrespective of your course niche or topic, you should aim for authentic tasks that incorporate some elements of a real-world issue to be solved.


If you are teaching something that is theoretical, your task is unlikely to invigorate your students if it is just fact-based and multiple choice - there is a place for such tasks, but this should not form the entirety of the instrument assessment. You could offer case studies or scenarios that you ask your students to solve or comment upon using the theory that you have taught.


Your tasks can involve some form of problem-solving or design based approach so that the students feel that they are (and they will be) applying what you have taught them to something real.


This is essential to engage students and keep them and you motivated.


You will also learn more about your students when you set them free from the constraints of the basic multiple choice question. They will in turn feel empowered and have actual examples to discuss in interview situations or to apply in their jobs. No one ever referenced an interesting multiple choice task as evidence of achievement in a skill or aspect of knowledge, but a carefully constructed and interesting scenario based task will provide food for thought and the students will use what they have learned with you and apply it to their own real-world context. This will serve to improve student satisfaction with your course. Allowing students to be autonomous in their responses or choices of examples, strategies, solutions etc will give them agency and make the learning they develop more meaningful to them.


If you are interested in taking my Creative Thinking Masterclass, please click this link for immediate access.

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