How to create an online course, part I

12 October 2020


The search for our secret formula

In this series of articles, we will discuss how to make an online course. A good one. This first article is about how to create a learning formula. The secret recipe that describes what you want your courses to achieve, and what ‘ingredients’ your courses will need to achieve it. If that sounds suspiciously like cooking, that’s because it is.

How do you create an online course?

How do you create an online course? It’s a good question, really. There’s no unified theory on how to design and develop an online course, and no consensus about what makes an online course ‘good’. E-learning is still a relatively young field of education, and it has not been formalized nearly as much as traditional classroom education.

When we asked ourselves this question of ‘how to create an online course’, we took a good look at how other pioneers in the field made their online courses. Some were inspiring and innovative, and we learned a lot from them. But we found that most providers made their online courses through the same bland and unimaginative formula.

More than just a video on the internet

Most online courses were either just online recordings of a classroom lecture, or a compilation of standalone videos of someone speaking at the camera. These video formats aren’t a flaw in themselves of course. There’s nothing wrong with the format. What we took issue with is that people put a video online, called it an online course and left it at that.

It doesn’t matter how many marketing buzz phrases you slap onto it and how well you package it in a modern and sleek-looking website. When your product is just a series of online videos with no thought put into the format, you’re left with what is ultimately a hollow learning experience.

Writing a recipe

But that’s completely understandable for such a young field of education. Those online courses certainly had their merits, make no mistake. But we decided that we wanted to avoid their pitfalls. And so we set out to create our online courses with a clearly defined and effective learning formula. To write the recipe for a great online course, so to speak.

The next question, then, is how do you define a great online course in the first place?

Codify your mission statement

In order to find out what makes a great online course, we didn’t look outwards to copy other successful providers. Instead, we looked within and started with our mission statement. Our mission is and always has been to make online learning fun again.

This is the cornerstone of our organization, our True North. In the end, our online courses are a means to this end. After all, we’re not just creating online courses for the sake of creating online courses. That would be silly. A great online course is a course that helps you achieve your mission statement as an institute of education.

Pick your ingredients carefully

In order to contribute towards our mission statement, we determined that our courses should be fun, accessible, useful and effective. To achieve these goals, we utilized two theories of knowledge transfer, the principle of bite-sized learning, the subject theme of Productivity, and last but not least, our passion and drive. These are what we call the ‘ingredients’ to our learning formula. Finding them took many nights of soul-searching and poring over dusty tomes of educational theory, but in the end we are happy to say that we were successful.

Ingredient #1: Usefulness
Productivity as our subject theme

Online courses need to be useful. Far too often do students appear to find a vast trove of knowledge, only to find that very little of it is directly applicable in real life. Lifelong learning is about developing yourself through knowledge and skills that you can actually put into practice rather than just learning interesting facts.

All our online courses are aimed at improving students’ productivity. Helping them do the things they do better and faster. Every course teaches students a subject that can be applied directly in practice and will help speed them along in both their careers and daily life. In productivity we have found an umbrella term for the majority of knowledge and skills involved with lifelong learning.

Ingredient #2: Effective knowledge transfer
Diverse learning aids and goal-oriented learning

An online course needs to be the effective in how it teaches its content. To achieve this we have utilized both Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and Kolb’s theory of Learning Styles, two theories of learning that describe effective methods of knowledge transfer.

Ingredient #2a: Effective knowledge transfer
Kolb’s learning styles

In order for an online course to truly be effective, the learning methods must suit the learners’ learning preferences. Kolb’s theory of Experiential learning taught us that everyone has different learning styles. Learners benefit differently from specific types of learning aids, such as watching videos, reading text, looking at infographic charts, self-testing through quizzes, and so forth.

That’s why we provide as wide as possible a range of learning aids. We want learners with all kinds of learning preferences to benefit from our courses, rather than just a few. An additional advantage is that the multiple learning approaches enhance one another, resulting in a more rounded learning experience than one would receive from just one approach.

Ingredient #2b: Goal-oriented learning
The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

Online learning should be goal-oriented. To achieve this, we decided to make use of the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. This is a theory that revolves around classifications of learning goals and using these for conscious goal-direct learning. We absorbed this theory into our online course formula so that each of our courses would make use of goal-oriented learning rather than delivering knowledge through a disjointed scattershot approach. Learners should know what they’re trying to learn and actively work towards that rather than just passively listening to someone talk at them about a subject.

Ingredient #3: Accessibility
Bite-sized learning

Online courses need to be accessible, so that learning can take place flexibly. We do this by using the principle of bite-sized learning. In the world of professional education and lifelong learning, time is always public enemy number one. Whether it is our ever-decreasing attention spans (it’s not your fault!) or our ever-busier work lives (only a little bit your fault!), we all seem to be scrambling for time.

To combat this, we make sure that every lesson in our courses can be completed in roughly twenty to thirty minutes, of which each video takes only four to five minutes. Learning should be accessible and easy, rather than take extensive periods of intense focus.

Ingredient #4: Fun
Passion and drive

But the final ingredient may be the most important. Naturally we believe that beside being effective, goal-oriented and accessible, learning should also be fun. But how do you make something fun when it is generally perceived as a tedious chore?

The answer is to have fun at what we do, and to do everything we do with unrivaled passion and drive. We believe that if we put our heart and soul into our online courses and listen to feedback from learners all around the world, we can make a difference. There may be some hiccups, and we’ll never be perfect, but with your help we’re sure we can achieve our goal to make Lifelong Learning into a lifestyle; to make learning fun again.

So now that you know how to create a learning formula, the basis for designing your online courses, it’s time to really get down to business. In the next article we’ll be discussing the actual work required to make an online course, the boots to the ground-approach to getting things done. Because once you have your recipe, you’re going to have to start cooking eventually!

Go to part 2

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