Many entrepreneurs are eager to share their wisdom in an online course. It’s a viable way to share your ideas and strategies on a wider scale versus sharing them with a handful of clients.
However, many online courses are built as mere content repositories rather than a learning experience for their registrants. Too many times, customers and how they best learn online is left out of the plans.
Here is what you need to consider when creating a wonderful e-course that is helpful to those who buy it.
Where Are They?
For the most part, your learners will be at a distance. You might be planning to see or speak with them from time-to-time in a web conference (i.e., webinar) or face-to-face session, but when they engage with your e-course they will be doing it alone.
When you create your next online course, keep in mind the experience and needs of your learners. This will make for a winning course.
Think about where, when and how your learners will access and engage with your e-course. They could be on a bus reading via their smartphone on the way to a movie. They could be at their work computer and logging in during lunch. Maybe they are flicking through your e-course on their tablet while watching TV or at a beach.
It’s exciting the number of ways people can access your e-course.
Just Me … and My Laptop
Before I provide some tips on how to meet the needs of your online students, I want to share my experience as a distance learner.
For some crazy reason, I decided to take copious amounts of learning and pursued three (yup, three) degrees. I chose to pursue online degrees because I worked and had other responsibilities.
I started this online learning path back in the dark ages of 1999 when technology was not as accessible, seamless or as cool as it is now. Because I worked and had other things to juggle in my adult life, I accessed my online courses whenever I could via my plunky ol’ desktop computer. I liked the convenience.
Loneliness is the Worst
It was lonely learning online. Sometimes a fellow student would post something online in a discussion forum at the same time as me, but usually it was just little ol’ me working away at some gawd awful hour, like 10pm on a work night or 8am on a weekend. Ugh!
During this process, I came to realize that distance learning, for the most part, involved just me and the computer. Albeit, most of my academic courses had a virtual learning community through discussion forums or web conferences; but, regardless of these offerings I was tackling it solo.
Along the way, here’s what I learned about best strategies for supporting happy distance and online learners.
Online Learning Must-Haves
This is where my research and experience comes in. I have conducted ample studies on the online and distance learner, and here is what I learned.
Often misunderstood, online learning differs significantly from delivering information in a face-to-face setting. Understanding the needs of online learners can guide you in developing essential support and creating a great learning environment to ensure happy learners.
Here are some recommendations mixed in with adult learning theories (as we learn differently than children).
Four key strategies include personalizing course content, providing immediate support, being flexible with learners, and offering an online learning community.
1. Personalized learning
When personalizing learning, there are two main issues to consider: People have different learning styles, and they want access to immediate information or resources when needed.
First, online learners want their learning to be personalized and not just a one-size-fits-all product. An effective way to do this is to deliver content and activities in various ways (i.e. via text, images, video, sound, etc.). This satisfies different learning styles that current (even free and affordable) technologies can support.
Second, having just-in-time learning for students on the fly means organizing your course so they can quickly find the most useful tools. You want your students to apply your ideas, so lead the way.
2. Support tools
There are different forms of support for distance online learners. They include supporting them on how to:
use the course technology,
learn best in your course,
understand the content and context, and
plan their next steps.
As well, the online learner is basically alone. Provide a variety of immediate support tools so they can continue their learning when technology issues or frustrations arise. Get feedback from your past and future e-learners on how to best support them.
Ever had one of those weeks when you set goals to attain and they never materialized? Maybe it was because life stuff got in the way, workloads changed, or your goals were a bit overly optimistic. The same circumstances apply to your adult learners.
Your e-course registrants need lots of flexibility to engage with your content. They might not get to it within a perfect time frame, or in the way you intended.
You can plan for flexibility by having continuous course access, extendable deadlines, easily digestible content, and multiple ways for them to express their ideas and work.
Last but far from least, the best support you can give online learners is to provide a learning community.
A learning community is made up of the instructor-facilitator (you), your learners, and perhaps an expert or two. These communities are havens of support for students to understand something better, get help when needed and share ideas. Think about how you can support your learners while they take your online course.
Though tricky to deliver well, a good learning experience includes engaging with an online community to feel less isolated and gain essential, just-in-time support.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Dr. Kelly Edmonds, founder of Wired Learning Designs, helps entrepreneurs and corporations create, design and teach online-based courses. A leader in the e-learning field she has won seven educational awards, published many articles, and presented at nearly 30 education conferences while helping thousands of people learn better through research-based instructional design. You can learn from her on how to create your next beautiful online course using her free offer, the E-Course Starter Kit. Connect with @wireddoc on Twitter.
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