You’ve got something to share: knowledge, experience, a skill, insights. You know it’s valuable. You’re ready to monetize it. People want to learn, and you’re willing to teach them online.
You’re just not sure how.
Whether you’re a fitness coach, a language teacher, a cook, a ferret trainer, or anyone else who can show someone how to do something, building an online course is a great idea. You won’t just enhance someone else’s skill set. You’ll evolve your own abilities, by gaining the insights only teaching offers. You’ll also grow the kind of personal reputation and branding cred that can be the foundation of a business.
But it won’t work if you’re not engaging
No matter how much you know about your field, no course can really stand out if you’re not hooking your audience, empowering your students, and creating a memorable experience. Here’s how to make your online course shine.
I’m in a unique position to discuss education as a marketing tool. That’s because I’ve worn two main hats in my professional life. In the first phase, I was a full-time educator, teaching and working in administration at the high school and university levels for over a decade.
Eventually, I came to see both the power and the limits of traditional education. Ultimately I chose the entrepreneur’s path, creating our alternative to conventional business school, The $100 MBA. So as an entrepreneur, I’m still a teacher. Even the marketing for my other businesses, like WebinarNinja, are based on an educational approach.
As a teacher/entrepreneur, I’ve learned something: lessons are meaningless without results.
Learning isn’t relevant until it produces a tangible outcome. And the only way to produce results, to produce outcomes, is to engage students in those shared, tangible goals. If the students aren’t invested — personally, emotionally — it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how good your advice is.
Your lessons have to give your students a win. And then another. And then another, until together you reach a place where your students can do (that’s do, not know) what they couldn’t before.
The first thing to do when planning the actual content of your lesson (we’ll get to the delivery below) is to establish the course goals. You’ve got to apply what formal educators call “backwards design” lesson structuring.
Put simply, you start with the result you want. Teachers often use the abbreviation SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To). Any decent lesson plan begins and ends with the SWBAT goal. This way, everything you plan to do — talk, give exercises, demonstrate, etc. — is student-oriented, not you-oriented.
If you’re teaching an online course, start with your SWBAT. By the end of the course, your Students Will Be Able To…play intermediate-level songs on the guitar. Improve their golf handicap by 10 points. Lose weight, sink free throws, finally get their ferret to do celebrity impressions. Whatever.
The point is to establish a measurable difference between now and then, rather than just “teach them about….”
Next, break your overall course goal into smaller micro-goals, one for each individual lesson. If your overall goal is to get students “To Be Able To” build their own website, then the micro-goal of lesson one is to design an effective homepage layout. If it’s a fitness course, a micro-goal could be to master a push-up technique.
You get the idea.
Each time your students achieve a micro-goal, they get a feeling that no amount of lecturing can produce: the feeling of a win. Every win builds faith and confidence not just in themselves, but in you. Most importantly, every win improves the most important metric in any paying student’s view: the ROI on their time and money.
Of course, the greatest content in the world is useless without effective delivery. The course and its structure have to be engaging, but so do you!
Use the following very simple, but way too often overlooked, strategies to keep everyone awake, interested, and open to your instruction:
Interact. Don’t lecture; converse. Every course needs to have some way in which the students can interact with the teacher and/or each other. It can be as simple as a space to put comments or a chat box. A forum, a Facebook group, or even a small email chain will do the trick.
Whatever you do, make sure that you’re not just talking, but listening and adapting your teaching to the students’ needs.
Use visuals, and not just of your talking head. Any relevant imagery, even basic “B-roll” footage, will help keep your students’ brains engaged in what you’re trying to convey. Even basic editing skills will allow you to create lively lessons that maintain everyone’s interest. For a great example, see Brian Dean’s YouTube page, where he offers lessons on SEO. It’s a dry topic that Dean’s clever editing brings to life.
Set expectations. One practice I’ve never understood is when online teachers hide the duration of a lesson.
Every student should know exactly how much time they’ll need to put into each lesson, so that they can mentally commit to it. Even written content can have an approximate read time. Doing so creates a focused space around the lesson, reducing multitasking and committing the student to the shared micro-goal of the day.
Use examples. Engagement is all about relevance. If your students can’t connect the content to the real world, you’re likely to lose them. You’ll notice I often use the examples of fitness coaches or music teachers or trainers of various housebroken rodents. Whatever you come up with, the content needs context.
Less is everything, not just more. Fewer words, shorter videos, less time in front of the screen. Keep. It. Tight. If you take an hour to convey what could’ve been conveyed in half an hour, you’ve stolen your students’ time. The value of a course is in the time-to-results ratio — there’s a reason most episodes of The $100 MBA Show are 10 to 15 minutes.
Speaking of The $100 MBA Show, we’ve got several episodes specifically designed to help you build your online course. Some of them are from our early days (we’re at over a thousand eps), so you’ll have to subscribe to the show to get access via the podcast app of your choice. Otherwise, check them out on our website:
How to Create an Online Course, episodes MBA325- MBA327
Online Course Pricing, episode MBA351
Sales Videos for Online Courses, episode MBA511
Remember, teaching is a skill. It takes practice, years of it, to get really good.
Whatever your field of expertise, keep teaching. The more you teach, the more you’ll deepen your own understanding of the topic, and the more you’ll hone the skills of engagement that make yourself truly valuable to your audience.