A series of easy self-check tools to optimize your online course

Summary

Why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t know. But we know why bad eLearning courses happen to good educators. It’s complicated, though if you really want to know, we’ve outlined every mistake in the chapters below.

The reality of eLearning is simple – miss one step and your course will nose dive. That’s why we prepared a series of easy self-check tools that will help you improve your eLearning content. Subscribe below and we’ll ping you the chapters as we update ’em.

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Chapter 1:
Mapping out your online course


Are you talking to yourself? Or how to make sure your audience is – t h e r e –

It all starts with the who and the what. Don’t think I’m unaware of the paralysing effect of the question: Where do I start?? * gasp * And even if you know where to start, are you sure you’re heading the right way?

Demystifying target audience

Primary research is a killer tool to kick yourself out from the limbo state where you’re drowning in the I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing misery. It is also a must-do part of the job if you don’t want to end up talking to yourself. Here’s an easy self-check to pinpoint who your learners are and what they need.

Whoops. Watch out!

Now, be aware of your students’ limited availability. The course should only focus on the topics that are critical to achieving the learning objectives. Don’t include something just because you feel it could be interesting. No one has time for vaguely important reading and that’s where the learners start dropping off.

Now that you have broadly identified who your learners are, what they need and why they need it, you should dig deeper until you hit the source of knowledge. And there are many ways to do it:

  • scour professional forums and discussion groups for insights,
  • check what ideas are flying around on social media;
  • look at similar courses – who are they targeting?;
  • test the audience demand with a guest blog;
  • look at keyword data to see what people are searching for;
  • do it. Pilot the course with a small group of your target audience. Then learn from your mistakes and do it better.

 

When you gather more data about your students (age, location, gender, level of knowledge), you will be able to recalibrate your course objectives to zero in on learners’ needs and ensure they get more out of it than they were expecting.

If you’re revisiting your audience analysis because the course hasn’t turned out to be as successful as you’d hoped it would be, the process is the same – and don’t skip any steps, however easy they may seem. When you get your hands on this kind of data, you will realise what a huge difference it makes to truly understand your audience.

 

First you need to do an e-learning audience analysis, so you know who you’re training, what they already know, and how to communicate with them. Nicole Legault, E-Learning Heroes

 

Developing an eLearning course that offers informative, well-written content, and high-quality design elements are essential to any successful eLearning project. However, knowing your audience can make the difference between an effective eLearning course and an eLearning course that falls short of expectations (even if you’ve spent countless hours and resources creating a unique eLearning course). As such, one of the most invaluable eLearning tasks at your disposal as an Instructional Designer is an eLearning course audience analysis. Christopher Pappas, eLearning Industry

 

When you are hit with a new training or eLearning project or even an idea for a project, you need the facts before you can proceed. The goal of an audience analysis is to help designers and developers understand their audience to serve them most effectively. Connie Malamed, theeLearningcoach.com

 

If you have to deal with a middle-man

You’re no novice when it comes to designing an effective training course, but analysing the needs of your primary audience is every bit as challenging as it used to be in the beginning.

Most likely because you never get to ask the learner what s/he needs and wants to gain from the course. In reality you have to deal with the person who is appointed to get the team trained but is actually oblivious to the knowledge gaps in their organisation.

Sounds painfully familiar? Well, cheer up, because everyone is pretty much in the same boat. One thing’s clear, though – you shouldn’t give up on the best audience analysis technique – asking questions.

If you can’t interview your primary audience directly, pose your questions to whoever is responsible for arranging the course or, if all fails, set up an online survey.

Don’t assume – ask. And ask the right questions

Here are the essential questions that will help you to get a better handle on your learners and their learning objectives.

Demographics

  • What is your learners’ age group?
  • Are they mostly men, women or a good mix of both?
  • What’s their educational background?
  • Are there any cultural aspects that you need to take into account?

Level of knowledge & experience

  • How much do they know about the training subject?
  • What are the grey areas that need to be improved?
  • What is their motivation to learn?
  • What tone of voice will suit this audience?
  • What is your audience’s learning preferences?

Technical questions

  • How tech-savvy are your learners?
  • What software / hardware will they be using to complete the course?
  • Do they have any additional learning resources?

Avoid disappointments

  • What are your learners’ expectations?
  • What’s your learners’ availability? How much time and participation can you expect?
  • Have you asked them what they don’t want? (in terms of design, delivery and content)
  • How are you going to measure the course effectiveness?

 

If you’re gearing up to start an eLearning or online training business, here are 6 practical lessons from Pasha Mansurov, Founder & Director of a successful (& unconventional) eLearning business – Principal Chairs.

Have you set clear goals and objectives for your online course? (are you sure?)…

Without clearly defined learning goals, your course is nothing more but just another thing online.

You can look at it this way: goals give your course a purpose and help you shape it in such a way that it maximizes learning opportunities and guarantees tangible results. By defining your course goals, you will automatically get a good grasp of the learning levels of your target audience, and the skills and knowledge that you’re trying to convey to your students.

Or this way:

Before shooting the arrow, you need to aim;
If your course lacks direction, your students will fail.
And who will be blamed? Exactly. [insert your name]

Now that you have identified your primary audience and you know what your students are expecting to achieve with the course, you can the do something about the learning objectives. And by that I mean you can make sure they’re perfectly aligned with learners’ expectations.

Learning objectives. As a result of completing the course, your learners should be able to demonstrate observable skills. Laying out the descriptions of these skills at the beginning of the course is what you call learning objectives. Measurable and achievable milestones; something your students will be able to boast about to their colleagues or friends. So be sure to give them some meaty (and realistic) promises.

Good learning objectives are based on four basic rules:

  1. they focus on the learner
  2. they reflect cognitive skills:
    • knowledge/remembering
    • comprehension/understanding
    • application/applying
    • analysis/analyzing
    • evaluation/evaluating
    • synthesis/creating
  3. they use action verbs
    • define, list, recognize
    • characterize, describe, explain, identify, locate, recognize, sort
    • choose, demonstrate, implement, perform
    • analyze, categorize, compare, differentiate
    • assess, critique, evaluate, rank, rate
    • construct, design, formulate, organize, synthesize
  4. they are measurable

Some verbs are vague and should be avoided (in the same way you avoid awkward people). For example, understand, appreciate, know about, become familiar with, learn about or become aware of. How do you measure if your students have become aware of something? And how is that an achievement?

Be real. People want practical skills that they can put to practice right away. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Here’s an example for you.

After completing this course, you will be able to collect, organize, display, and interpret data about financial industry trends.

Hurrah. You’re practically selling the dream. Now you just need to uncover the ideal mix of learning tools to awaken your students’ brain and make it happen.

The secret to eLearning success is not only setting goals, but setting the right goals. In order to achieve the required end results, understanding the difference between the different types of goals and when each is appropriate to use is very important. Clarifying goals since the beginning will impact your course content, the way it’s structured and developed.Karla Gutierrez, Shift eLearning

You’ve included a great mix of learning activities. But are you catering to every style of learning?

First, let’s take a quick look at the different learning styles.

Visual Learners

Visual learners think in pictures and tend to create vivid mental images to retain information. To help these students access and understand new information, you need to employ visual teaching tools such as videos, maps, charts, pictures, visual metaphors and analogies. And they’re big on text, too (as long as there are lots of pictures), so you’re safe with reading assignments.

Aural Learners

Auditory learners learn by hearing and listening. It’s also fair to say they love reading wordy descriptions and explanations, however, have an easier time understanding spoken instructions than written ones. Auditory learners often read out loud, because they store information as it sounds, and use repetition as one of the mnemonic devices to memorize new information. The best advice is – don’t save your breath with these guys.

Verbal Learners

Verbal learners are language geeks. They think in words and are usually elegant speakers. Students with verbal learning preferences tend to be avid readers and are note-taking masters. You will notice they have no trouble translating abstract concepts into elaborate essays and most often prefer to learn through words. Arm yourself with a plethora of winged words and you will keep their learning motivation fueled.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners are a bit of a tough case. They love hands-on learning activities. If you’re showing them diagrams or describing how something works, they get all fidgety and are probably slowly dying inside. Students who are kinesthetic learners learn best through doing and find it easiest to understand new concepts when the physical aspect is involved.

**

Why am I telling you all this? Mostly because it’s critical to your course’s success, but also because I’m a verbal learner and I survive on words. Now, what does it mean in practice? Perhaps, it’s time to talk about instructional design.

Instructional design, quite simply, is the practice of building learning experiences that are engaging, effective, interesting and meet the learner’s needs. To create stellar eLearning courses, you need to pay a lot of attention to your learners’ expectations, knowledge level and learning preferences before you get on with content creation.

Mind you, no one said it would be easy, but as you’re already reading this, let’s make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste.

Have you chosen an appropriate mix of learning activities?

The easy approach would be to “try a bit of everything”. The right approach is to “study your audience, understand their needs and learning preferences, recognise your limitations, formulate measurable learning objectives and choose the types of learning activities that will help you achieve them”. Piece of cake. :)

Now, what are we choosing from?
Alternating between learning activities means you’re communicating the information to your students in their preferred learning style. As long as you keep this in mind, you can find ways to adapt the most popular exercises to all learner personalities.

Demonstration Case Studies Dramatic Presentation
Visual learners Yes Yes, if illustrated with plenty of images Yes, if you employ charts, graphs, maps, images, etc.
Aural learners Yes, if accompanied with verbal explanation Yes, if you also recite the story Yes
Verbal learners Yes, if accompanied with verbal explanation Yes, if they can also read it Yes, if you give them notes-worthy chunks of info
Kinesthetic learners Yes, if it’s also a DIY instruction Yes, if they can replicate it in practice Yes, if it covers practical knowledge

 

It’s quite simple. When you pick the activity that best suits the type of information you intend to deliver, all you need to do is consider different elements that may enhance the learning experience for students of each of the learning styles.

Imagine you’re telling a story to a bunch of friends.

To make it more compelling, you will try to add details that you know they will appreciate: you will describe colors, shapes, and textures to those thinking visually; you will use background sounds, dramatic pauses and sound imitations to appeal to those who pay a lot of attention to how it sounds; you’ll give detailed and elegant descriptions of everything to entertain language lovers; and, finally, you’ll spruce it up with some live demonstrations aimed at those who need the physical aspect to stay focused.

Now, does it sound like something you can pull off without prior preparation? Perhaps not. That is, if you want to keep all of your learners engaged and on their toes.

The study has shown that “for the instructor-based learning class (traditional), the learning style was irrelevant, but for the web-based learning class (e-learning), learning style was significantly important.Naser-Nick Manochehr Information Systems Department, Qatar University

 

  • Click here to read our interview with Sponge UK, one of the leaders in custom-made eLearning solutions space
  • Click here to read out interview with an award-winning online video maker Animoto
  • Chapter 2:
    Mistakes that are killing your course: have you fallen for them?


    Here are the most common instructional design mistakes that drive learners away. (So now you know why)

    Cheesy stock photography

    Recently, as part of the promotional campaign for the new comedy “Unfinished Business”, Vince Vaughn & Co pulled a pretty cool joke on the incredibly boring stock photography images (see images below). Although a marketing stunt, it was also a well-deserved (and well-crafted) parody. Do you really think it’s that much fun to work in a call centre or sit through hours and hours of business meetings? It’s generally a soul-sucking experience and your students are more than aware of that. Why not use real photographs that are surprising, captivating and that people can relate to? After all, that’s the whole point of including visuals.

    Solution: You want something that’s unique, but not too polished; high-quality but not overly photoshopped. Although hard to find, free (and high quality) content is still out there. Here are a few websites that have a great deal of striking professional images – just be sure to pay attention to creative licensing and attribution.

     
    istock-unfinished-photos

     
    Jargon & smart talk

    It’s often thought that using big words and serious terms adds credibility and makes the speaker come across as the expert in the field. While, in reality, all it does is creates a barrier between the communicator and the audience, builds a wall of confusion and pushes the listener to the point of quitting.

    By joining the course, your students are basically telling you two things: 1) they trust you with their education; 2) they feel they don’t know enough about the subject. So why patronize them with a smarty-pants approach? Encourage them to explore new terms and concepts while communicating like a human being, in words that everyone understands. It’s not so hard when you make the effort. Kapeesh?

    Solution: The easiest solution is to pilot the course with a limited group of students and seek feedback on everything from design colours to language to the usefulness of the course. You may not always want to hear what they say but it’s the only bulletproof tactic to improve your content.

    If, however, you think it is too much of a hassle, try to drop a few of the terms you use in the course into your regular everyday conversations. Then observe people’s reactions. This technique is called the snobmeter and, I promise, it works just fine.

     
    Overdone slides

    We’ve all seen these slides at some point in our lives. It’s a horrible memory but also – an invaluable lesson. If you’ve ever worked on an important PowerPoint presentation, you know how easy it is to get carried away – suddenly every word and image and exclamation mark become critically important. Yet, if your students have all the information on the slides, why do they need you? It’s one of the biggest eLearning no nos, which often leaves no chance of recovery. Lose your students on this one and it’s a permanent goodbye. So be merciless to your slides – cut out all the nice-haves, build a clean, robust storyline and stick to it.

    Solution: Pop over to slideshare.com and compare your slides to some of the featured ones. What can you improve?

     
    Unrealistic examples

    One of the best methods to make the course more interactive and turn passive listeners into active students is to use scenario-based teaching. If you allow your students to make decisions and follow different scenarios, they feel more in charge of the learning process and are significantly more engaged with the material. That is, of course, if they find the scenarios or examples you use relevant to what they do or who they are.

    Undeniably, Hollywood is a source of inspiration for many of us, but do try to steer clear from unrealistic examples that happen once every fifty years. Above all, what causes the most trouble and drives people insane are the everyday disasters.

    Solution: The best advice you can ever get is – ask. Ask your students what their recurring pain points are, the most common problems they’re facing, the issues they’re struggling with. If you can’t talk to them directly, do your research online. The most important thing is to be relevant and hit the right note at the very start. Basically, don’t talk to sales people about the struggles of introverts and to gardeners about the implications of bad engineering.

     
    Boring everything

    Boring tone, boring slides, cheesy visuals. In general, boring everything happens to people who try to digitize a standard training course without acknowledging the differences between face-to-face and online learning. Unless someone’s got a gun to your head, completing a boring everything online course would prove to be both – a test to your inner zen and a serious intellectual challenge. In this age, one could only expect such a sizeable commitment if there’s a bag of bonus checks waiting at the end of the journey. Otherwise, there’s a pretty easy solution…

    Solution: It’s a bit of an existential question, really: how not to be boring? You can experiment with taking a few courses yourself to see what helps you stay engaged and what’s a complete turn-down. Work on your material like it was an olympics-opening-show-kind-of-serious. Do something outrageously different – wear a hat, use fun facts, make a joke. Think from your students’ perspective and seek feedback. And whatever happens, don’t use clipart (unless you’re making a joke).

     
    No assessment or evaluation

    Research has determined that students don’t like to be assessed at the end of the course. They’d rather have nimble assessments after each section and get immediate feedback on their progress. What’s more, neurological studies have demonstrated that frequent tests, which require students to recall new information, speed up the transition of newly acquired knowledge from the working memory to the long-term memory. It means students have significantly higher chances of remembering things even months later.

    Another area where frequent assessments may turn out to be invaluable is measuring the effectiveness of your course design. If certain sections are a constant stumbling point for your students, it’s very likely you’ve overlooked something and need to rethink your choices.

    Solution: Arm your course with a variety of quick quizzes and tests to make sure both, your students and yourself, are meeting the learning objectives. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s all that deep.

     
    Consistency

    Some of the online courses resemble heated arguments. They touch on so many subjects that by the end of it you have no comprehension of where it started. It’s hard to stress enough the importance of consistency when it comes to designing an online course.

    However, it’s not only the subject matter that needs to be laid out in a straightforward fashion. The style, structure and delivery methods need to go hand in hand to create a smooth and pleasant learning experience. If you keep switching between different knowledge levels, hopping from one color palette to another, and changing the way you give instructions or evaluate your students – you will essentially leave them more confused than enlightened.

    Solution: Consistency is a matter of preparation. Plan it out and make it your priority. Colors, fonts, graphic and navigational elements – it’s the visual voice of your course, so be sure to shape it with care.

     

    Chapter 3:
    Understanding the brain: are you using these memory hacks?


    Memory is built on storytelling.

    01-memory-storytelling
    Connecting new pieces of information into one coherent narrative makes it astonishingly easy to recall it later on. Tell stories to yourself to give your memory a boost – whether that means rhyming, creating associations or making use of old jokes. Whatever floats your… brain.

    And that’s important because… Now you have a scientifically-backed excuse to tell bad jokes. Stories are the best vits for the brain.

     

    We learn by forgetting.


    The secret to remembering things is to learn, forget and then relearn. That’s how our memory cements new information. Well, it’s also enough to just break your attention from whatever you’re studying – no need to wipe your memory entirely. Just saying.

    And that’s important because… For the new information to be transferred to the long-term memory, it will need to be rerun several times and in different forms.

     

    It turns out, a quiet place to learn is not such a good idea.


    Recalling new information becomes remarkably easier if it’s been studied & memorized in a rich environment. When you’re invisible and untouchable in a crowded place kind of rich. After all, the pleasant humming vibe of a coffee shop turns out to be an effective way to massage new information into your brain.

    And that’s important because… Apparently, background music isn’t that weird. Communicating this to your learners can help them improve their results.

     

    “I’ll just wait for it to come out as a movie”. Rings a bell?

    04-text-image
    Visuals make a huge difference. Pairing text with relevant images significantly improves novice learners’ ability to retain new information. It also goes easy on the eyes, so the act of memorizing suddenly becomes a therapy. Kind of.

    And that’s important because… Mixing in some beautiful images maximizes the learning outcomes. Show, not tell – right?

     

     

    So you think you remember…

    05-memory-youthink

    We don’t pay attention to everything and we don’t attempt to remember everything. So when faced with a blurry aspect of a particular memory (what was the colour of that car?..), our brain simply fills in the gaps and makes us think we remember. Basically, we’ve been living a lie.

    And that’s important because… We know the brain is prone to guesswork, so it’s best not to leave the important information to chance.

     

    If you worked in the memory library, you’d be the busiest librarian that ever lived.

    06-boxes

    A new memory is broken down into little bits and stored in different parts of the brain. One box for visuals. One box for smells. One box for emotional impressions. And so on.

    When we try to retrieve a memory, it’s like putting a puzzle back together. At a supersonic speed, of course.

    And that’s important because… The more senses are involved in the learning process, the easier it becomes to retrieve the information.

     

    I feel therefore I remember


    Have you ever been haunted by embarrassing childhood moments? Or ever wondered why you keep reliving a random moment from your past? It’s likely your memory has classified those bits as important due to the emotional intensity associated with them. Emotions tinge memories with certain colours and make them stand out among other files in the brain.

    And that’s important because… You need to touch the heart to buzz the brain.

     

    Test, don’t let the brain rest

    08-no-brain-rest
    Calling up information from memory during an initial learning session helps students retrieve that same information significantly better even months later. The usefulness of a new fact or idea is partly determined by how often we have had reason or tried to recall it. Every time we retrieve information from memory, it changes the brain and flags it as something important to remember. Classy, huh?

    And that’s important because… Quick tests are a shortcut to robust memory, so why not?

     

    Separate must-haves from nice-haves

    09-must-nice
    Sometimes it’s enough to just know where to find the information. It’s better to simply look up what you don’t recall than struggle trying to remember the right answer because the brain registers the persistent attempts to remember as a new memory, so you’re actually learning the “error state” rather than making the right answer stick.

    And that’s important because… You need to be as selective about stuff as the brain is, otherwise we will all end up googling things again.

     

    Chapter 4: Have you added these elements to make your online course more compelling?


    Interactive experiences

    The difference between passive listeners and active learners is that the latter group tends to do things. So make your learners click, switch and scroll to get the information they’ve signed up for. Scenarios that have students physically involved (even if that means moving one finger to touch the screen) are notoriously more effective than stiff bullet points. Prove me wrong if you can.

    screenshot-elearning.net 2015-10-19 12-31-06

    screenshot-elearning.net 2015-10-19 12-31-37

    eLearning Game – Concentration. See more.

    Formative feedback

    Linear storytelling is slowly becoming the thing of the past. Why not experiment with the decision-driven interactions that require students to make choices for the person or character in the example? Let them take the wheel. Paired with formative feedback on each choice, these right or wrong decisions will give students a much better understanding of how the knowledge can be applied in real situations (as well as keep them wide awake).

    screenshot-spongeukweb.azurewebsites.net 2015-10-19 10-23-18

    screenshot-spongeukweb.azurewebsites.net 2015-10-19 10-24-34

    Talk Talk Network Understanding Module designed by Sponge UK.

    Bursts of laughter

    Adding laughter to your course is a great way to boost your students’ mood, engagement levels and even their memory. Numerous studies have shown that laughter improves memory retention, so throwing in a couple of well-tested jokes after a tough learning session elevates the experience to new heights. Remember, little humour never killed a course (boredom did).

    duolingo

    Duolingo app

    Rising blood pressure

    Teaching devices that make use of timed decision-making activities, branching scenarios, fully immersive, game-based design and formative feedback are absolute winners when it comes to keeping students flushed with excitement. They are one step closer to the learning by doing approach and can only be criticised for being too much fun (if applied correctly, of course).

    screenshot-www.interactivesolutions.co.uk 2015-10-19 11-35-49

    St George’s University of London created the “Taste of Medicine” to support students in their transition from secondary education. It is an immersive, game-based learning experience that puts you on the edge… The countdown starts at 100 and works down to 0 – that’s how long you’ve got to perform the surgery. See more.

    Every-10-minutes rule

    This one’s fun. And again, it’s to do with the brain… Studies show that our brain disengages after 10 minutes of focused attention. So at 9 minutes 59 seconds you need to pull a rabbit out of a hat or do something at least remotely as exciting as that to get the students’ blood pumping and their attention back to you. The best way to create connections with your learners is to evoke emotions and come up with topics that are super relevant. Just… whatever you do, don’t be predictable.

    screenshot-tryruby.org 2015-10-19 11-36-52

    “Try Ruby” by CodeSchool is based on the learning by doing approach, so you never really get the chance to feel bored and since you have the full control of pacing your learning, the 10-minute-rule loses its power.
    See more.

    Feast for the eyes

    People love with their eyes. Capture your students’ imagination with fresh and compelling visuals. Don’t tell them – show them. Maintain a certain image style to reinforce the message. Replace large chunks of text with colourful graphs, unexpected illustrations and video. Stimulate your learners’ curiosity and transform complex subjects into visual journeys.

    The-Importance-of-Visuals

    Image credit to the Optimal Targeting blog

    blog pointer

    Image credit to socialmediamktg blog

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    Chapter 5: So this is how you rock eLearning videos
    Top production & hosting tips

     

    We love video and the powerful, all-encompassing experience that it creates. Basing your online course on video lectures is a super-smart decision, though like everything else in life it comes with its own quirks. To get it right, you have to follow a few simple steps.

    Video has the power to engulf its viewers in the story and you can create engaging video content without having to spend a million. We have partnered with the amazing team at GoAnimate to help you avoid the most common video production mistakes. Have a think about what value animated videos can add to your course.

    On top of that, we had a quick catch up with Neil at Three Motion to get valuable practical tips from real video pros. And to finish with a bang, we also add a full library of articles and videos to guide you through the production process.

    Action! Let’s roll!

    The only thing worse than no video content is poor quality content

    Like any art form, shooting great-looking video can be hard to achieve. Professional camera operators hone their craft over many years, countless shoots and by learning from their mistakes.

    The rise of video marketing, e-learning and video hosting sites such as vzaar, present an opportunity for the online instructor, amateur filmmaker or digital marketer to create and share video content. Whether shooting training content, online lessons, promotional videos, customer case studies or product videos, there has never been a better time to build ‘in-house’ content.

    However, before you pick up your camera and start rolling, keep in mind; the only thing worse than no video content on your site is poor quality content. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes many rookie camera operators will undoubtedly make.

    PLAN

    A successful shoot is a well-planned shoot. Consider who the audience is, what’s the story or objective, and where the video will be deployed. Having a clear goal of what the finished video will look and sound like will help you when you come to shoot.

    rsz_deathtostock_medium9

    PREPARE

    Be prepared and avoid potential failure. Make sure you know your kit, have everything you need and all batteries are charged. Take spare video storage cards and create a shot list or storyboard of what you plan to shoot. If capturing interviews, create a list of questions and desired ‘cutaway’ material.

    rsz_splitshire-8881

    LIGHTS

    Okay, so it’s not always possible to take studio lighting to every shoot. Lighting can be expensive, difficult to transport and time-consuming to set up. However, the difference between a poor-looking video and a great-looking video can often be the use of lighting. Wherever possible, if you can use any form of lighting, do so. Even kits of a modest budget will make a huge difference to the quality, vibrancy and depth of your colours.

    rsz_lights

    CAMERA

    Smart phones, tablets and entry level DSLR cameras are capable of capturing satisfactory video footage. Understand the limitations of your kit and keep it simple from the start; walk before you run. Remember, capturing great professional audio is equally as important as high quality images. Wherever possible, do not rely on ‘on-board’ sound. For interviews use clip/lapel microphones and always wear headphones to monitor your sound. Trying to remove the noise of the passing siren will always be more difficult than re-shooting a scene. Remember the adage: quality in = quality out! If you’re unsure of the various functions on your camera, use the auto setting and be aware of changing conditions in your environment that might affect your picture quality.

    rsz_splitshire-3080

    ACTION

    Professionals shoot with the final video in mind. They’ll use a range of angles, movements and focal depths to add variety and visual interest to the production. Add as much movement to your shots as possible, follow action and try to have subjects in the fore and background. Investment in a tracking dolly will add dynamic movement within your scene. Adhering to the rule of thirds will maintain good composition. Leave space at the start and end of each shot; enough time for you to adjust scene if necessary at the edit stages.

    Most importantly, learn from your mistakes. Take the time to practice the art of video production; refining your craft on each shoot. Your videos will improve with time and experiencing different recording environments. Be patient and before you know, you’ll be shooting like a pro!

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    Chapter 6: The easiest way to measure your course effectiveness

     

    Putting your content out there must be a truly thrilling experience. Just as thrilling, as it is horrifying to start measuring the effectiveness of that content. But fear not, my friend. Let’s break it down into easily digestible chunks and make the most out of it.

    How many learners have signed up?

    Excuse me for asking, but how many learners have actually signed up for the course? It may seem like a completely irrelevant and unimportant question (at first), however, that is not the case. It’s nosy, for sure, and you’d love to graciously extend your middle finger while silently mouthing “none of your business” to whoever dares to challenge you over this. But hold on a sec… It’s you who has to challenge you.

    So here’s why it is important to entertain the question:

    1. You will find out whether you have correctly identified your target audience: does your intended learner group need the course?
    2. You will learn whether your learning objectives and course description satisfy learners’ needs: have you captured learners’ imagination with your course description?
    3. You will uncover whether your promotional campaign was successful: do learners know this course exists and how to find it?

    There are no silly questions, just unanswered ones.

    Pre- and post-tests

    before_after_image credit to borderscoupon.net

    Image credit to borderscoupon.net blog

    It’s an obvious one – the before and after transformation. Did you manage to convey the information in a way that was accessible and helpful? Best not to answer this without proof. So use pre- and post-tests to compare learners’ level of knowledge at both stages and assess how much of the information they were able to absorb. There are various test formats, yet scenario-based evaluations are the ones that demonstrate practical knowledge and can give you a real insight into your course’s strengths and weaknesses.

    “Rate your skills from 1 to 5”  is a popular approach, but it can hardly be an objective assessment tool. What if I just think I know and am able to do something? It’s a better idea to create situation-based tests that require students to employ the skills they were supposed to gain during the course. If you teach smart, test smart. :)

    How are they progressing in the course?

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    Again, simple is genius. You see that a certain amount of students has signed up for the course. They’re slowly moving through your carefully designed chapters, accomplishing milestones and all is well… that’s until a number of them stop abruptly and disappear into the wilderness of the Internet. “Wait, you haven’t reached the best part yet”, you want to cry after them, but no sound emerges from your mouth. The sadness takes over you like a gloomy smoke. But what can you learn from these hard break-ups?

    Well, analytics give you all the key information: who left, at what point and what their level of knowledge and learning goals were. Now, your job is to figure out why they left. Was it due to their limited availability, lack of relevance or incentive? Has the course failed to meet their expectations?

    The easiest way to find out is to ask them. Most likely, you have their email addresses, so why not drop them a quick email to gather all the pieces of the puzzle? And while you’re at it, email the other bunch that’s still actively reaping the fruits of knowledge – just to let them know you’re there if needed.

    Don’t run yourself down about the drop outs. People change their mind about everything, all the time. As long as there are no serious flaws in your course design and it taps into an existing niche, you will find your audience.

    How many learners have completed the course?

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    It’s proving to be an emotionally straining checklist, isn’t it? Bear with me.

    If you seek to gather feedback that holds value and could help you improve the quality of your course, these are the people you should target for your pre- and post-test evaluations and learner satisfaction questionnaires.

    Yet, before you get into the feedback-gathering mood, check the scores. The pre- and post-tests scores will be a great stepping stone to your analysis. But you should also look at other parameters, such as: how many times certain questions were attempted? Have students went back to rewatch some of the videos? Have they used the additional reading material?

    Learners that have completed the journey, have the most reliable view on the quality of content, the flow and structure of the course, the usefulness of practical tasks and the general sense of whether it was an enjoyable learning experience.

    Think carefully about the questions you’re going to ask them. Be as specific as possible and have clearly defined factors that you want to measure: whether it’s the structure of the course, the relevance of the content or the effectiveness of your teaching methods. The sharper the questions are, the more eye-opening answers you’ll get.

    And then what?

    Here we are. You’ve got your feedback. If you were genuinely interested in improving your course (as you should be, obviously), then you need to consider revisiting the course to tweak the bits that raised concerns among your learners. This is not to say that you should listen to every single comment and change the course accordingly – that would drive you insane – but rather to look for emerging patterns or stumbling points that have a tendency to resurface every now and then.

    And then you’re a star. Take it away.

    Chapter 7: Did you do a good job at marketing your course?

     

    oops you didn’t do it. a-hem.

    I hope it doesn’t come
    as news to you that you
    should have started marketing
    your online course at least 3
    months before the big launch.
    Building a responsive and engaged
    audience takes time. You pour
    your soul into this project and spend
    countless hours obsessing over words,
    colours and cranky jokes, so when
    it’s finally time to publish the course,
    the very last thing you need (and want)
    is to get zero response; or 2 random emails
    from some discount-loving over-achievers
    asking to take the course for free to
    provide you feedback.
    Thanks but no thanks.

    Hold back the tears if it didn’t cross
    your mind – you can still make it.
    Here’s how to market the hell out of
    your online course.
    You’re welcome.

    Step 1. Build your online home.

    Don’t go all trip-to-Ikea excited just yet.
    Think more Google: what’s your online story?

    It’s almost certain people will look you up before taking the course – unless you’re kinda sorta celebrity in your circles (but I’ll assume you’re not). Which brings me to the main point – who are you and why should I pay for your course?

    Building strong presence online can be intrinsic to your project success. And that means you need to personally take care of it by carving an online space to showcase your expertise and personality. It earns you extra bonus (and I’m talking big bucks here).

    So, first off, you have a decision to make. Will you a) create your own website to host online courses or b) use elearning platforms to reach the audience? It’s a decision you need to make early on. If you choose to stick with scenario a), you will need an appealing About Me/About the course page to ensure your course goals align with your personal brand.

    DeathtoStock_CreativeSpace4 11.45.06 AM

    The next step will be to adopt a blogger’s perspective. Starting a blog before you release the course is a must. The absurdity of not doing so would equal one where you buy a phone without a charger. It’s that kind of serious.

    Blogging about the subject matter of your course has numerous benefits. It’s an opportunity to:

    1. create buzz around the topic;
    2. find and grow your audience;
    3. increase your visibility;
    4. demonstrate your expertise;
    5. test the demand for various subjects;
    6. market your course.

    Sharing valuable content on your blog is probably the best strategy to building credibility. And it shouldn’t be too painful if you know what you’re talking about. Right?

    Step 2. Start actively building your learners list

    So you got yourself a nice bubbly blog. Good. Now it’s time to make it work for you.

    Make your readers care about the topic you’re exploring: ask them to share their experiences and thoughts as well as to contribute to the conversation. Remember that your content has to be relevant to be liked.

    When the traffic to your blog starts picking up and you see the percentage of returning readers grow, you’ll know that your work has found an audience. That’s when you should invite the readers to subscribe to weekly, fortnightly or monthly newsletter that you’ll pack with even more valuable content.

    You could, of course, invite them to subscribe to it right away, but then you’d be running a risk of losing them on the way, while they’re still trying to decide whether they really need to learn what you’re teaching.

    Consider the people who keep coming back for more content and then sign up for the newsletter as hot leads – they are active, engaged and willing to learn. They will give your course a serious thought.

    + this. Offering high-quality content is one of the most effective ways of growing and nurturing your community, yet it’s not the only one. You may also want to consider such tactics as competitions, forum curation, giveaways or hosting guest bloggers. Give your blog readers that gentle extra nudge to join the list.

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    Step 3. Be generous and give a lot of good stuff for free

    When it comes to content planning, it should always be Christmas on your blog.

    You will find that alternating between formats of the content you publish is a shortcut to reaching the most diverse readership. And you want that because the new readers can eventually become your online students.

    So what formats are we talking about?

    A fab idea would be to try and find a partner in crime to host a joint webinar, co-write an ebook or a whitepaper, or co-create a knowledge test. Depending on your area of expertise, you should also investigate the demand for interactive learning experiences – these may require more elaborate work, but they’re also more likely to go viral.

    Teaming up with a subject matter expert in your field would not only boost your credibility, but would also put you in front of their audience – and that’s a big win for someone who’s plotting to release a stellar online course in the not-so-distant future.

    Don’t get spooked by the idea of co-writing an ebook. It doesn’t need to be a 100-page literary work. You can easily get away with 15-20 pages of original, high-quality content. Split that between two eager educators and it’s a one day job.

    When you offer such ever-green content in exchange for readers’ email addresses, your mailing list thrives.

    Step 4. Real opinions from real people

    Testimonials can work wonders, therefore they’re mega-important. They’re so important that I’ll go as far as to forbid you to market your course based solely on the I-promise-I’m-good message. You need something a little less biased and a little more vibrant. Something like video testimonials.

    Yes, you could go on and on about the benefits of your course, but why not step back, let your students do the talking and shed a proud tear? Killer marketing tactic right there.

    If you’re worried because it’s your first online course and you don’t have ex-students to vouch for you, there are perfectly viable workarounds: 1) create a free mini course and collect feedback from people who sign up for it; 2) ask your colleagues, blog readers or peers to shoot a recommendation video verifying your credentials and expertise in the field.

    One thing you want to keep in mind though is that it’s a bit of a touchy-feely subject – over-positive opinions can come across as staged, so if you go down this road, stick to the facts. (And no childhood stories, please.)

    Step 5. Create introductory videos of your course

    Consider these as trailers of your course or as blurbs that we so often rely on when picking out our next read.

    It’s not easy to convey all the advantages of your project in 30 seconds or in 30 words, so it’s best not to try that. Focus on a single idea – something that is uniquely inherent to your course. Game-based exercises, live feedback, animated videos, interviews, and real-life examples – with a little imagination, all of these perks could be turned into gripping sales pitches. A tasting tour at its best!

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    Step 6. Mini courses are the way to go

    The thing is, people are really truly unwilling to spend money online when it comes to things they feel entitled to have for free (because these things are online) – like movies, music, e-books or online courses. If it’s online – it belongs to everyone… right? Well, not really, but good luck arguing with that.

    So here’s an idea for you: give them what they want. Just less. Like a lot less.

    Creating a free mini course is a wonderful way to showcase the strengths of your course and give the future learners a taste of what’s coming. Convincing the e-generation to splash some $£€ online takes a little more than a flashing red buy button.

    Step 7. Be flexible: offer different versions of the course

    This one is not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely worth thinking about if you feel that your audience is particularly diverse. Often trying to cater to everyone’s needs leads to a bunch of unhappy customers and, as it happens, unhappy customers are a lot keener than the satisfied ones to talk about it online.

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    If you have time and resources to diversify your content targeting students at different levels, you stand a great chance to attract more people and provide better learning experiences. Developing different versions of the course should not require a huge amount of additional resources, just be sure there is a need for it before you commit to extra work.

    Step 8. Harvest your inner circle

    You may have heard about the Rule of Seven. It’s an old marketing mantra, which claims that a prospect needs to hear or see your marketing message at least 7 times before making the decision to buy from you. The concept has been around for years and, frankly, it deserves your attention. Not because of its slightly mystical take on sales conversion, but due to the current state of the marketplace: it’s crowded, noisy, and needy. To really communicate your message clearly you have to get in front of your customers. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what everyone else is thinking, too. So how do you stand out?

    Ask for help. Beg for help if you need to, but involve as many people into your marketing efforts as you can. Imagine how many times your new blog post, newsletter, tweet or Facebook post will be seen if you personally get in touch with every friend, colleague, peer and family member and ask for some social sharing love. There’s no shame in that and you always have the option of throwing a little thank you party with home-baked cookies and a lot of beer. Fun.

    Step 9. Tell the world

    Given the reality of our daily lives, where we spend almost every hour of every day logged onto social media networks, news websites and emails, being active online seems like a no-brainer.

    Yet, being active online doesn’t mean you get people to listen to you by talking at them. If you only log in to social media sites when you have a new message to transmit or a new sales announcement to make, you’ll most likely be disappointed with the results these messages generate for your campaign. Do you clap with joy every time a pop-up ad jumps up on your screen? Exactly, no one likes a hard sell.

    WBWKY1FQ2I

    There are other methods that you can use to tell the world about your online course. Ask a lot of subject-related questions, read complaints, look for pain points and then think what you can teach them to make their life easier. Beyond the obvious social networks that you need to keep an eye on, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Reddit, there are more serious discussions platforms such as Quora or Quotator that allow you to build your credibility through offering commentary and insight. Be reactive to conversations online and you will be heard.

    The key takeaways

    1. Start indirect marketing of your course 3-6 months before the launch date;
    2. Consider your online identity carefully: create and shape your online profile in such a way that it reinforces your personal brand (what results would Google return if you searched for your own name?);
    3. Start a blog and invest your brain power into creating unique and valuable content;
    4. Harvest the partnership potential: team up with subject matter experts to co-create such ever-green content as ebooks, whitepapers or webinars;
    5. Give all this great stuff away in exchange for readers’ email addresses and start nurturing your mail list;
    6. Create a weekly or monthly newsletter to grow your prospects list;
    7. Make use of the positive student feedback by turning it into video testimonials;
    8. Explore the idea of creating trailers for your course to grab people’s attention;
    9. Demonstrate the perks that your course can provide by allowing your students to take a free mini course before they commit;
    10. Create different versions of your course to tailor the content to all levels;
    11. Use your inner circle connections to spread the message about the course on social media

    .

    Go get it, tiger! ;)

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