E-learning is experiencing a “boom.” From academic courses for high school and college credit to online training and development programs to courses that provide skill upgrades for career changes, to mini-classes for hobbyists, e-courses are just everywhere. With as much competition as there is, and with student ability to post reviews of courses everywhere, anyone who creates an e-learning course must make it engaging, powerful, and worthwhile.
Whether you are designing a course for an institution or as a mompreneur, looking to market it to businesses or individuals, you will have a high dropout rate and gain a poor reputation if you make some pretty common content marketing mistakes that have “killed” other courses. Don’t let yours languish in the trash heap of thousands of other e-course fails. Make it “sing” by avoiding these 5 content mistakes.
1) Not Stating the Course Goals in Simple Terms
Especially in academic and highly technical circles, it is easy to get carried away with wanting to appear sophisticated, knowledgeable, and a full expert. In doing so, however, we can use terminology and another vocabulary that is beyond our target students. Just reading those types of goals and objectives in the course description will send them away, in search of a course they think will be more at their level.
You need to put yourself in the place of the learner here. The course is, after all, designed for the learner, not you. The best way to describe the learner outcomes for your course is, to begin with, “By the end of this course you will…” and then state what it is they will know or be able to do in terms they can understand.
By the end of this course, you will have an understanding of 5 types of leadership and will have developed a style that works best for your personality and role within your organization.
Note: for academic courses that last as long as a semester, you will obviously have more than one goal; however, the same “rules” for simplicity apply.
2) Not Carefully Planning the Scope and Sequence of the Course
We have all had teachers and/or professors who have totally confused us from the beginning of the course. Where are they going? Did I miss something before this lesson? This is the response you had when a course just seemed totally disorganized and the instructor just hopped around from topic to topic. Don’t be that instructor.
For those who are not trained in educational jargon, here is the simple explanation. Scope refers to the depth of your course. If it is a course for beginners, how far will you take them? If it is an advanced class, what will you assume they already know and how far will you go from there?
The sequence is the order in which you will cover the units of the course. Most courses are sequential, so they begin with the basics and build on those, getting gradually more complex as you go along.
When scope and sequence are not planned out ahead of time, the units of study can become disjointed. Further, the learner can be overwhelmed at the very beginning, if the start of the course is too “deep.” Confusion, frustration and an attitude of defeat can result. You will have a high dropout rate, not to mention the fact that your course will get bad reviews. This will discourage others from taking it.
3) Not Making Huge Use of Visuals, Videos, and Conversation
There is no excuse for a course without visuals today. There are amazing tools to use to create them. There are also amazing tools to make your own explainer and how-to videos. Including the video tools that are now built into most smartphones. You do not need a professionally produced video. Think of yourself as a teacher in a classroom – film your explanations and how-to are just as you would present them in a physical classroom.
One of the biggest problems with e-learning is that students often feel disconnected from their instructor and from one another. You need to have lots of visuals and videos and methods by which students can ask questions and talk with one another. Using a conversational tool like Skype really helps. You also might want to experiment with live streaming video apps rather than pre-recording your videos.
The important thing is to engage your learners – you can’t do this with text and charts – You need to see one another. And anytime you can use a visual (chart, graph, infographic, pictorial example) do it.
Of course, there will be written material for learners to read and study. That is expected. But the challenge here is to write that copy in an engaging, clear, and easily understood manner. If this is not your forte, then you will need to find help yourself. Explain the type of learner you are serving and have a professional editor in the field review your copy and make suggestions for improvement.
4) Trying to Serve a Multitude of Learners with One Course
Learners are at all different stages in their understanding of course content and their skill levels. Course designers sometimes think they can design for all of these learners at once. They try to differentiate assignments and projects; they try to divide up lessons, pointing different levels of learners to a different unit of study. This results in a hodgepodge mess of a course. Learners are confused, are angry because what they are taught is either too easy or too difficult and generally leave such a course feeling as if it has been a waste of their time and money.
This is where segmentation and scope and sequence come in. If you want to teach all three levels of students (beginners, mid-level, and advanced), then you must establish your course scope and sequence from beginning to end and then segment it into the three groups of learners. Design three separate courses. And if you have your scope and sequence mapped out well, you can explain, in the course descriptions where each course begins and ends. Now you have given learners the information they need to choose which of your courses fits their current status. Do not be lazy – segment your course.
5) Believing that You Only have to Teach a Concept or Skill Once
You have finished a unit. Students have submitted their assignments/projects or have taken a test. Some did well; others did not. What will you do for those who did not master the content or skill? Will you just move on as if everyone has mastered it? If you do, you have lost those learners – they will either lose interest or drop.
This is where good teaching comes in. When you have learners who are struggling, you have to have supplemental resources and materials; you have to be willing to give the extra time of your own to help them. This is where flexibility comes in. There may be deadlines in terms of course completion, but the beauty of e-courses is that learners can put in extra time on their own to work on mastering what they did not the first time around. Your job is to have the materials available for them to accomplish this.
Planning and Some Hard Work
Whether you are teaching a drawing class or a college-level algebra course, the principle of teaching and learning still apply. Know the learner for whom you are planning the course, map out the scope and sequence, plan lessons that will engage and motivate, and always stay in touch with your students. Relationships and connections are even more important in an e-learning environment. If you do it right, you have a course that will be popular and endure.