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How to Create Effective Online Courses

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Create courses that inform and inspire using our best practices.

You want to empower your audience to crush their business goals by giving them an excellent online training course. 

But how do you create a course that creates value and holds everyone’s attention for an extended period of time?

Not to mention teaching adults comes with additional challenges: Working professionals have long lists of priorities, on which your course might rank pretty low. Knowledge workers are more overworked, under-rested and underpaid than ever, all of which can reduce motivation and perseverance in an online course environment. 

And just like high school, some people might only be there because they have to be. 

But don’t despair quite yet. You can develop your online training course so that learners don’t just retain your content. They take it to heart and channel it to improve their lives and their work. Awesome, right? Let’s get started.

Here’s how to launch a successful online course: 

1. Use your own educational experience for guidance 

As you start planning your online courses, refer back to your own experiences, whether it be a recent online education experience or even your favorite  psychology lecturer  

How do the most effective teachers differ from the rest? How do they get you excited about the material? How do they break down complex topics into something you can understand? 

And on the flip side, what de-motivates you in a learning environment? Keep those questions in mind as you begin building your own course. 

2. Know your audience 

If you don’t have a clear idea of what your learners already know, you won’t be able to develop an online training course that delivers value for them. You’ll waste a lot of time and money telling people what they already know — or drowning people in information they’re not ready to grasp. 

So before creating your online course, you need to understand where your learners are starting from. What do they already know and what gaps exist in that knowledge? What job titles are your learners striving for and what additional skills do they need to reach that goal? What technologies will your learners need to master to succeed in their roles?

You need to account for all of these factors before you start designing lessons. (If you’re not sure, incorporate these questions into your course’s registration form and send a survey asking for this information.) 

3. State concrete learning outcomes and your credibility 

If they don’t know what they’ll gain from taking your course, people are unlikely to enroll in it. So on your landing page and in your marketing materials, state your course’s learning outcomes. 

Learning outcomes explain, with actionable and measurable verbs, what the learners will be able to do by the end of your course. This includes: 

  • What skills will they be able to demonstrate?
  • What new knowledge will they have attained?
  • What feelings will they have moved away from or to? (This usually relates to insecurity or inadequacy surrounding the topic being taught.) 

Not sure where to start? To write a learning outcome, complete this statement “By the end of this course, you will be able to… ”

For example: “Upon completing this course, you will be able to demonstrate the 7 steps to crafting a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.” 

Not only does this tell attendees exactly what they’ll take away from your course, but it’ll ensure that you’re attracting only the right learners, which will improve learner satisfaction and outcomes.


4. Create a tight, logical course structure

School was tough enough when we were kids, and we didn’t have full-time jobs, kids, and finances to worry about. So it can be downright overwhelming for many adults to invest time and mental energy into taking additional courses.

If you demand too much time or mental strain from those learners, they’ll drop out before completing your course.

But if you build your course strategically, you can teach more material while minimizing burnout for your learners. Start by creating a course outline, which covers everything your audience needs to learn to reach their goals — and nothing they don’t.  

From there, optimize your course structure with the following steps: 

a. Give learners an outline

Decrease dropouts and improve motivation by creating a course outline. This way, your learners can check their progress and anticipate how much time they have left in a particular lesson or in the overall course. 

Need inspiration? Start with this great online course template from Thinkific. (Psst, BigMarker also integrates with Thinkific so you can publish an online course and deliver course content via on-demand video or interactive evergreen webinar. Contact us here to learn more!)

b. Divide large amounts of information into more digestible subtopics. 

Viewers can only sustain deep focus for 45 minutes before they begin to tune out. (That’s why webinars usually turn it over for Q&A at 45 minutes if not sooner.) So if you’re teaching a very complex or broad topic, break it into individual subtopics so your learners remember more of each lesson — and are more likely to complete the course.

c. Use a combination of text, audio and visuals

Similarly, people retain the most information when they engage more than one of their senses during a lesson. So complement your text-based content with infographics, videos and illustrations. This way, you’ll hold your learners’ attention for a longer period of time, and help them learn more effectively. 

PS: Host video-based lessons on a webinar or virtual event software. This way, you can interact with live audiences via chats and Q&A, then check their understanding with poll questions.

Or you can create automated presentations that roll all of your desired videos, polls and Q&As on a set timeline, even when you’re not in the room. Better yet, all of your audience’s engagement and viewing data is recorded, so you can identify which parts of your lesson are most and least compelling, then use that to improve your lessons going forward. 

d. Use a learning management software 

If you’re designing an engaging course, each module might have 10+ different pieces of text, video and interactive components. Multiply that by 10-20 modules and you’ve got a lot of content to keep track of — and that’s before you worry about designing and customizing your course so it looks visually compelling enough to engage your audience. 

That’s where learning management software earns its money. 

These tools allow you to create different learning elements. From there, you can organize all of that training content into a cohesive structure, create different course modules, add quizzes and transitions, and report on your learners’ results. This makes your course more effective and well-rounded and once you strike gold, you can replicate it again and again for future learners. 

PS: Build a learning portal on your webinar platform — or integrate your webinar software with an external LMS (We integrate with Thinkific, a leading online course provider). This way, your webinar software will capture your attendee and engagement data from each of your learning videos, then automatically push them to your LMS, where you can analyze that data and use it to inform new training content. 

5. Appeal to your learners’ emotions 

We’re more likely to remember information that appeals to our emotions, not our thoughts. That’s why so many lectures, keynote sessions, campaign speeches and TED talks emphasize their points with stories — not with stats. 

Because if you don’t deliver your content in a way that resonates with learners, they won’t view your content as meaningful and won’t remember it over the long term. 

So follow an emotionally-driven approach. Whenever possible, use storytelling and scenarios to convey your information. This way, people can relate to your content more personally and are more likely to apply any learnings to their lives and work later on. 

6. Encourage participation with interactive content 

Think back to college: It’s really hard to ace a class when all you do is show up to the lecture at 2 PM on Wednesday, then check out the remaining six days per week. 

But if you supplemented that lecture with a discussion section, self-made quizzes and a few videos, you’re way more likely to perform better on tests and, as an added bonus, actually learn something. 

Apply that to your online courses. You can’t expect your learners to passively absorb the material, then absorb it in one sitting. They need to interact with the content to test themselves and cement the learnings into their memory. To facilitate that deeper engagement, incorporate games, challenges, and other interactive content into your online course design. 

The more engaging your content, the easier it’ll be for your learners to remember what they’re hearing and why they should continue. Build a more memorable course by using a combination of the following content delivery tools: 

  1. Video: Video is far and away the most impactful learning tool: Viewers retain 95% of a video's message compared to 10% when reading text and according to Hubspot, 80% of customers remember a video they viewed in the past month. 

    So it’s time to get on camera. You could make like your weather person and film in front of a green screen: You film your content while sitting in front of a green background, then add a background image or video to the background while editing. (Feeling shy on camera? Conquer your camera anxiety with our tried-and-true tips.)

    For a lower-tech option, try screen recording: Use Loom or another service to record the contents of your screen as you talk through a process. This is especially useful if you’re narrating a complicated technical process that takes place on a browser. 
  1. Text: Complement your video lessons with a text recap. This way, learners can review specific definitions and processes without needing to rewind the video. They can also more easily copy and paste any important information into Google Docs or other note-taking devices as well, which improves their long-term recall of the material. 

    You can also link to external references and infographics in this space to give your learners additional context. (We recommend adding downloadable resources in the Handouts section of your webinars on BigMarker.) Because your learners can’t ask you follow-up questions, this communicates that you care about their progress and have taken the time to anticipate what other resources they’ll need.


7. Motivate your learners by providing regular assessments. 

Need to keep your learners excited over 8 or 10 weeks? Give them small wins in the form of periodic assessments. This reassures learners that they’ve successfully mastered the lesson and motivates them to move to the next one. 

That’s because our brains release dopamine — the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward, whenever we complete a small task, like say, scoring 100% on a module quiz. 

There are a few different ways to put this in practice: You can administer comprehensive exams at the end of each course or smaller quizzes at the end of each individual lesson. There are pros and cons to each: If your courses are very long, your learners may not remember everything necessary to complete the big exam. But if your learners only take one small quiz on each module, and don’t engage with that information again, they might forget it right after the quiz. 

So best practice is to give bite-sized quizzes (7 questions max) after each lesson, then giving a larger, comprehensive test at the end of the course. This way, you can provide continuous feedback and motivation boosts to your learners, but also ensure that they fully absorb your course’s most significant points. 

PS: Assessments only accurately measure progress if the questions are closely associated with learning outcomes — and don’t have one obvious answer. That’s much easier in theory than in practice. Use these tips to build more productive quizzes.  

8. Evaluate your learners’ progress 

Once enough learners have completed a lesson, check their quiz results to see how well they’re understanding the material. If the majority of your students scored above 80%, good for you! If not, cross-check your quiz with your content to ensure a) that you’re testing learners on the most important concepts and b) that you’re phrasing concepts in a way that’s easily understood. (Pro tip: Ask someone in your target demographic to sample your course, so they can spot any points of confusion and suggest alternatives.) 

Then once your learners have finished the full course, ask them to provide honest feedback about your teaching style, the level of support, content delivery and assessments. All of these factors will determine the overall success of your course — and all of them can be improved with time and experience.

Want to reward your learners for completing your course — and strengthen your company’s credibility as a knowledge provider? Consider granting certificates of completion on BigMarker. 

And if you're just getting started with webinars and virtual events, contact our team to schedule a demo and get started!

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