Online courses are becoming an increasingly popular way for entrepreneurs and coaches to share their expertise and serve clients in a way that can reach more people with fewer resources. There is, however, a significant problem that is emerging as a result of this trend.
Many coaches and experts who teach other entrepreneurs how to create and launch an online course generally focus on marketing, which is great. It’s hard to sell a digital product without the right marketing, so you definitely need to know how to promote and launch your online course, or hire someone to do it for you. But marketing is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to online courses.
The other piece of the puzzle is how adults learn. The focus of many training programs teaching you how to make money with online courses is how to promote a course, rather than how to create a course that makes an impact for the learner, so entrepreneurs can get in the trap of creating online courses that do not meet their clients’ needs and expectations. These course creators are essentially selling a digital product that may increase their profits, but isn’t actually creating a transformation in their learners. This hurts entrepreneurs long-term because clients will see a disconnect between the course content and the promoted value and will not be repeat customers.
The good news is you don’t need a background in education or instructional design to develop online courses that help your clients from state A to state B (the transformation your course offers), but understanding some basic principles of instructional design can help improve your process as you develop your online course.
In this blog post, I share two key problems that many entrepreneurs don’t consider when creating a course and what you can do instead.
PROBLEM #1: Not knowing how much content to include in your online course or how to organize your content
The challenge for many coaches and entrepreneurs when it comes to creating an online course is knowing how much to include and how to organize the content in a way that promotes learning.
Learning occurs when the material enters our memory system and interacts with something called schemas. Schemas are ‘mental containers’ of information, and when we learn new information we try to find a way to organize these details into our existing mental containers or create new ones if none exist.
As an expert of a particular topic, you have already developed several schemas and know how to relate information to multiple contexts. These mental connections allow you to more easily recall information you need and use it to guide your decisions and thinking.
But your clients have not built the same mental connections and retrieval pathways as you have. It is your job as the expert to help your clients create new pathways and build upon their existing knowledge. Sharing all your expertise with your clients without proper organization will only confuse them and they will not learn anything. You cannot expect your clients to create their own schemas without facilitating the process.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself when deciding what to include in your online course and how to structure/organize it your lessons:
- What prior knowledge does the learner have?
- Are you adding to their existing knowledge or creating new schemas?
- Before you can teach your learners something, do they need to know anything ahead of time?
Download my FREE guide below with more questions to consider when planning your online course.
If your learners need to know something first before they can effectively learn the next topic, you need to ensure your lessons are organized in a way to support this learning. For example, if your clients need to possess a certain mindset before they can achieve the transformation you’ve promised, you need to include this very early in your online course. Once your clients have the required mindset beforehand, learning the rest of the materials you are teaching becomes much easier.
Additionally, presenting information in small, digestible chunks is essential. These days we are inundated with information all the time and our attention spans are becoming increasingly smaller.
Your clients are limited in the amount of new information they can remember at any given time without having processed it yet. If you are giving your clients more and more NEW information without giving them time to process and reflect upon what they are learning or allowing them time to take action, your clients will become overwhelmed and will not learn much at all.
A good strategy is to think of chunks consisting of 7 plus or minus 2 items. This means that you want to limit the new information you’re teaching your clients to no more than 5-9 items at a time with 7 being the sweet spot. To achieve this, try to have no more than 5-9 subtopics within each lesson or module.
PROBLEM #2: Not understanding how adults learn in online courses
Most of us know that adults learn differently than children, but what does that really mean? Entrepreneurs often don’t take into consideration how adults learn and this can be a problem when it comes to having your clients experience a transformation or reach a milestone after completing your online course.
We’ve touched on schemas and the ‘mental containers’ everyone has. This is important to adult learning, because adult learners often enter learning environments with a variety of past experiences and prior knowledge that affects how they learn new information and the types of information they retain.
Adult learners’ prior knowledge and experiences are incredibly valuable in learning environments; if you’re anything like me, you may have experienced that learning from your peers is just as valuable as learning from your own mentors. Be sure to allow your course participants to use their prior knowledge and experiences, reflect upon what they already know before and during the course, and connect with other learners who may share insightful comments and feedback.
Another key part of learning that is important for adult learning is motivation. When we talk about someone’s ‘why’ for enrolling in an online course, we’re talking about the motivation behind one’s desire to learn. Adults often enter learning environments with a desire to advance their careers and improve themselves personally or professionally. We are less motivated by passing an exam or getting a certain grade on an assignment and we are more motivated by material that is actually relevant and useful to our lives.
When your clients are able to take action and utilize what you are teaching them within the context of their own personal or professional life, learning will naturally occur. This means that the material you are teaching in your course should always relate back to something your client will be able to do. By making your lessons actionable instead of passive, your clients are more likely to experience the transformation from state A to state B which your online course promises.