You love the idea, right? Create an online course and receive passive income for years to come? Sure, you have expertise to share. You know your clients will be getting great information for their money. But what you may not know is that if you’re wanting to make a real difference in people’s lives – and if you want the word of mouth about your course to be positive — there are particular ways your course should be structured. And those ways may contradict what you’ve heard in the past about creating online courses.
- First, the course is not for you, it’s for your students. If your primary goal is to make money, your course isn’t going to appeal to people very long. If you market it well, you may get a surge of people signing up, but if your content and methods of delivery aren’t engaging to the students, you’ll only have your allotment of 15 minutes of fame.
When you design a course, you want to think like a student. When you choose an online class, you’re not merely looking for information to be presented. You could buy a book for that purpose. You’re looking for something more than that. You want to be able to take what you learn in the course and apply it in a way that will make a real difference in your life. How will the course you’re creating do that for your students?
- Respect what your students bring to the table. There’s a balance to be struck when deciding how to structure a course. How much time should you spend on material that is for early beginners? How advanced can you get without losing your audience?
One way to bring everyone to the same level is to offer a few free educational videos to potential students. This will give a common base to all those who sign up for the course, and it will also serve as a powerful marketing tool; a preview of the quality they can expect from the course.
In your course materials, you’ll also want to acknowledge the life experience that participants bring with them. While a student may be coming to you to learn about one thing, he or she is likely to have a great deal of wisdom on other topics. Your teaching can reflect respect in the questions you ask, the examples you give, the metaphors you use, and the level of your language. You can also ask them to share their opinions and insights, which brings us to…
- Provide ways for your students to interact with one another in relation to the material. This is a tricky business. Online students often don’t want to be bothered with making a profile or introducing themselves in small discussion groups (though there are higher stakes courses in which those kinds of techniques could work). You want your students talking with each other, though, because that builds excitement and generates new ideas that might be useful, even to you!
One of the best ways I’ve seen this work is to simply ask people to comment on the same page the course material is offered on your site. If each lesson is offered via a video (most people’s preference), have a separate page for that lesson with the video at the top, and ask participants to share their thoughts about that topic in the comment section below. Another option is to have a Facebook group for each course you run. Old students can stick around to mentor new ones.
- Give homework. You might think that adult learners would be averse to assignments they have to do outside of course time. Au contraire. Intelligent people who sign up for online courses aren’t expecting to learn only by listening or reading. They know (and you should make it clear from the beginning) that it takes engagement and practice to get better. And they want to get better! Some of the most successful courses out there give refunds to their students only if the students show that they’ve done the homework! That’s because those experts know how necessary it is to get your hands dirty to really get good at something.
Of course, these assignments need to be designed so that they actually teach what you intend to teach. They won’t be effective if they’re just fluff or busywork, nor if they’re too difficult or time-consuming. People want to have fun when they learn. This is where a professional course designer can help. We understand how people learn and what kinds of activities can get the message across.
- Stay engaged as the expert. This is the hardest one for most people to accept. When they think “passive income,” they have the idea that they’ll just put their course out there and not think about it again. That’s a mistake.
Your students don’t want to engage with a course, they want to engage with you. They want to feel your presence; they want to know you care about whether they’re learning or not. They want the personal touch. If you just want to present the material, again — write an e-book. In a course, you’ll need to be available. You’ll want to respond to comments; check in with individual participants; perhaps even offer critiques of homework assignments. These personal touches are vital to long-term course success.
You also don’t want to let the course material get stale. You’ll want to keep up with changes in the field, offer your perspective on new insights found both from research and the comments section of your own blog, and weigh in on current events related to your topic.
That said, it’s never going to be as difficult once you’ve created the course. You can tweak without re-doing. And it’s easy to engage as an expert when you’re keeping up with your topic.
The best way I’ve seen to stay engaged is to offer the course at particular times during the year. You can provide the same four-week course every January, for example, and spend a few weeks in December tweaking the sessions and boning up, then block off sufficient time in January to be available to students in whatever ways you’ve structured into the curriculum.
If you’re sincere in your desire to be of service to others, your course will be designed accordingly. The opposite is also true. Your clients are your best marketers, so respect and take care of them. Your attentions will make you a success in every sense of the word, and a very satisfied human being.