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How to build an online course that sells

How to build an online course that sells

Field of Dreams?

So you want to sell online courses. Put your ideas online in an LMS course, and people will eventually find it. I mean there’s Google, right? And you’re such a great subject matter expert that people will line up and pay to drink from the fountain of your knowledge. What could possibly go wrong?

Plot twist! ‘If you build it, they will come’ is an idea that really should be consigned to the trash right from the off. With such large numbers of online courses out there these days, people have better things to do than sign up for an underwhelming learning experience. A more accurate phrase is ‘If you build it to solve a problem and create value, make it easy to navigate and use solid instructional design principles that ensure knowledge retention and a good completion rate – and have a strong marketing plan – they will come.’

That’s more of a mouthful, but it reflects the reality of selling courses online and puts a practical path before you rather than chasing a vague dream.

A very simple set of ideas

With the above in mind, courseindex.com are offering some free and straightforward advice to anyone who plans to sell courses online. It consists of a very simple set of ideas that helps to find areas where an existing course could be improved, while also offering a solid foundation for those starting from scratch.

Balanced delivery methods

The basic idea is to look at the content you want to get into people’s heads, and examine the different ways you can deliver it (text, images, audio, video,  forums, email, chat, quizzes, assignments and so on). Then you try to balance the learning inputs across the various delivery methods. This creates freshness and variety in a course and appeals to a wider range of learner types. So this gives your course a wider appeal and a better chance of selling well.

Of course it will need marketing as well, which is another reason why ‘build it and they will come’ is a fantasy: how will they come if they don’t know it’s there? Courseindex.com’s course marketing program is there to solve that problem. We will also build courses for customers if they prefer to outsource that work to us. Here, though, we are talking about the basics that any online course needs if it is going to sell and be popular. These are the same principles we use at courseindex.com in our course validation service.

The principles

We are about to give some examples of how different delivery methods fulfil good teaching principles. In our examples we use the Seven Good Teaching Principles proposed by education researchers Chickering & Gamson which aid in analysing the educational value of each delivery method.

Seven Good Teaching Principles, as per Chickering & Gamson (1987)

 

             Encourages trainer-to-student interaction

             Encourages student-to-student interaction

             Promotes active learning

             Communicates high expectations

             Facilitates time on task

             Provides rich, rapid feedback

             Respects diverse learning styles

A well-balanced combination of these teaching values makes for a rich, engaging and ultimately successful course that will sell.

These seven principles are related to 4 activity types that we think are most central to eLearning, and they form the basis of assessment for our course validation service.

The 4 dimensions of learning

 

             Delivery

             Discussion

             Activity

             Feedback

(After Conole and Oliver, 1997)

That’s it. We said it was simple. And it works! We have applied these principles to hundreds of courses and watched them sell in healthy numbers.

The  following example shows how the seven principles and the four dimensions are related, with specific examples of delivery media. As you read, think how they can be applied to the course you are developing to make sure it engages and motivates learners.

The examples mention features of the learning environment that might be different in the one you are going to use. So think about how to adapt them to your learning environment. Technical details will differ, but the ideas remain the same across learning platforms.

The list is not in any order of priority – it’s a series of real-life examples taken from a variety of subject areas, so there’s no need to assume that because you do not plan to implement some of the below in your course, that it would be a problem. The aim is to make you think about how best to implement what you do have and what you do plan to use, and how to balance the 4 dimensions and 7 principles across your course to keep learners engaged. So keep reading until you find the delivery methods you do plan to use and highlight them for development.

Examples of delivery methods, teaching principles and dimensions of learning from a real courseindex.com online learning environment

 

Delivery method

Examples of how this tool is being used

Good Teaching Principles the tool facilitates

Four Dimensions of Learning

Quiz

Practice quizzes

Mini quizzes

Surveys

Include graphics, charts, tables, links to other websites, streaming media, video, audio, etc.

  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Time on task
  • Trainer-student interaction
  • Active learning
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Chat

 “The feedback that we had from the students was that the chat room was a *very useful* feature to keep in touch with the tutor, answer questions, or plainly 'feeling like being in class.‘”

“What I like most about using the chat room this week, by the way, is my office hours. I used to try having office hours with webchat, and I had to keep hitting the chat button every minute or so, or I would miss someone. All I have to do is enter the chat room, turn on the sounds, hang my "sign" on the main page and then I just putter around and do other things.

  • Trainer-student interaction
  • Student-student interaction
  • Diverse learning
  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Promotes active learning
  • Discussion
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Table of Contents

Presentation of detailed content for each “chapter” or “learning module”.

  • Diverse learning
  • Communicates high expectations
  • Delivery

email

 “…email provides the necessary private link between students and staff in the course. A course-centred email address helps to organize and store mail specific to the course instead of getting mixed up in all the other email that flows into a trainer's system.”

  • Trainer-student interaction
  • Student-student interaction
  • Delivery
  • Discussion
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Video

Run clips of writers -- poets, novelists, and dramatists -- reading and discussing their own work.

Run film clips -- for film studies, for drama studies -- to illustrate staging, directing variations, etc.

  • Diverse learning
  • Delivery
  • Activity

Annotations

Use the Notes function to have students create their own annotations of various text or image documents posted within pages in the course – then have the students compile their notes and share them with the whole class. Opens a whole world of discussion regarding interpretation, how one approaches text and image, etc.

  • Active learning
  • Student-student interaction
  • Delivery

Course Map

Navigation and user orientation.

  • Time on task

 

Image Database

Use the image database to house images that the tutor has created, or where copyright is not a problem. Perfect for history classes (maps, images of current landscapes, diagrams of battlefields, architectural drawings, etc.); art and art history; cultural studies (advertising, etc)

  • Trainer- student interaction
  • Student – student interaction
  • Active learning
  • Delivery
  • Activity

Goals

List learning objectives for each content module or even each content module page. Tie this tool to self-test questions, which evaluate these learning objectives.

  • Communicates high expectations
  • Trainer –student interaction
  • Time on task
  • Delivery

Resume Course

Put the resume session icon on the homepage so students can pick up at the last place they were in the course content module pages.

  • Time on task
  • Delivery

Self-Test

Practice questions

Test your knowledge questions

At the end of a chapter or learning module, have several self-test questions which directly test the learning objectives for that module.

  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Communicates high expectations
  • Diverse learning
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Audio

Use sound clips of musicians, artists, poets, and writers, playing, reading and discussing their own work.

  • Respect diverse learning
  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Delivery
  • Activity

Bookmark

Provide the bookmark tool on content module pages so students can create their own custom shortcuts to key pages.

  • Time on task
  • Delivery

Calendar

Some use the calendar as the "hub" of their course. Outlining each day the activities a student should be completing and directing students to course resources and external URLs.

  • Time on task
  • Delivery

Index

Build an index to cross reference key terms and concepts to the detail content within the course.

  • Time on task
  • Active learning
  • Delivery

Assignments

Describe written assignments, such as papers, essays, and formal lab reports in detail. The grading criteria can be given and any external materials (example of assignment, files or URLs) can be suggested. It provides a forum for extended and meaningful feedback that the student cannot lose and can access at any time

  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Trainer to student interaction
  • Time on task
  • Delivery
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Glossary

Use the glossary to define terms but also provide media, such as images, audio, etc. that will explain the term more completely. For instance if this is a foreign language course, include an audio clip which pronounces the term correctly.

Students can access definitions in course without stopping to thumb through notes and texts.

  • Time on task.
  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Delivery

Homepage

Use the student homepages as an introductory “ice-breaker” activity so students can get to know each other.

Have students list websites in their homepage that are related to the course. Students can write a brief description of the site. This is a web adaptation of an annotated bibliography.

  • Student to student interaction
  • Respects diverse learning
  • Activity

Link

Use web links on content module pages. For instance in an art class, you could include the image of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, an audio clip of the song, and a web link to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

  • Time on task (helps students reach needed materials quickly)
  • Active learning
  • Delivery
  • Activity

Presentations

Use the student presentation tool to let students share their own animation, audio, video or archival information.

  • Trainer –student interaction
  • Student-student interaction
  • Active learning
  • Diverse learning
  • Activity

Progress

Provide this tool to students so they can quickly evaluate their participation in a class.

  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Respects diverse learning
  • Trainer – student interaction
  • Time on task
  • Feedback

References

Provide students with appropriate references which tap several types of media, i.e. journals, textbooks, websites, etc.

  • Respects diverse learning
  • Active learning
  • Communicates high expectations
  • Delivery
  • Activity

Discussions

I have an attendance forum where the online students are required to post a brief "attendance" message each week. I have a public forum for each major topic we cover in the course and I require the students to post a certain number of messages and/or replies to these forums. For example, I might have a forum called "Societal Issues and the Internet" where students can post their thoughts on legal and ethical issues, or post information about articles they have read that are related to the topic.”

  • Trainer-student interaction
  • Student-student interaction
  • Rich, rapid feedback
  • Promotes active learning
  • Respects diverse learning
  • Delivery
  • Discussion
  • Activity
  • Feedback

Search

Enable search on all content module pages so students can easily locate topics in the course.

  • Time on task

 

 

Best of luck with building your online courses – and remember to grow your customer numbers with the courseindex.com course marketing program when your courses are live!

If you need assistance with building your course and/or want an LMS without the hassle of hosting and maintaining it, check out courseindex.com’s professional services.