How to structure, outline and tweak your online course to keep students engaged and raving about your course.
There comes a point in every course creators life when they have to sit down and outline their online course.
And whether you think you know exactly what you’re doing, or have absolutely no idea where to start, I’m going to share our tried and true process. It makes it incredibly easy to structure your online course and shares all of our insider tips to make sure your course is not only impactful, but thoroughly delightful for your students.
Ok, here’s the deal. When you sign up for Teachable, you’re also creating your own “school”, a school is where all of your courses will live.
For example, we created academy.teachable.com and built multiple courses within it such as Course Marketing Playbook and Create Your Online Course.
This is similar to the way something like WordPress works. When you create your first blog, you’re also setting up a dashboard that remains the same if you create multiple blogs.
Within your course you will set a “curriculum”, this is the outline of your content. A course is composed of sections that have lectures.
1. Sell Your Course Before All Your Content Is Created
Before we start breaking down our course idea into sections and lectures, know that you should never create all of your content before you sell your course.
Surprised? So are most of our Teachers (and so was I!).
The idea is this, when you sell your course you will start to get feedback from students about your content. This can be things like if you speak too quickly in videos, if your lighting is off, if your microphone is too soft. You’ll also hear good things, like areas where students want to hear more information, or things they love within your course.
You want to take these suggestions and tailor your remaining content to student wants and needs.
By doing this, you customize your course to your audience, which can be the difference between providing unparalleled value that students are willing to pay for and a totally bland mediocre review.
Ok, so what if you’re afraid to sell your course before it’s finished? What happens if you never finish?
Well, by creating and selling the first section, you will have more confidence in knowing you can deliver, you know what you need to add and you know about how long and how much effort it will take to finish it.
2. Get Students to a Transformation
Remember why people take courses in the first place - they want to change something about their life.
They believe that if they take your course, they’re going to get a solution to a problem aka they'll experience a change or transformation in what they know. Maybe they don’t know Java and their job requires them to learn - you teach them. Maybe they don’t know how to paint with watercolors - you teach them. Maybe they don’t know how to market their Etsy store - you teach them.
The key to a good course is that there is a transformation and by the end of the course someone knows something they didn’t before.
Breathe a sigh of relief, a successful course is a short and sweet shortcut to an outcome.
You don’t have to worry about how long your content is or how beautiful your slides are as long as someone learns from your course. You simply have to get them to the transformation, and preferably in the fastest time possible.
With this said, whenever you have questions while you are creating your course simply ask yourself, “Will this affect whether my students make it to the transformation or not?” If it is a yes, do it. If it is a no, then don’t worry about it.
If you want your students to stay with you in your course and maximize completion rates you want to keep them excited throughout the course. So how do you do that? There are four things you must do. Read on...
3. Get Your Students Results Early
It’s common for teachers to drown their students in theory and advanced concepts early on. Don’t be this teacher.
Instead, when you plan your course out, which we’ll do soon, make sure to get them on a journey of consistent little wins.
- A course on meditation: Have your students sit down and meditate for 5 minutes no matter how often they trail off (they’ll feel like they’re doing something)
- A course on vegetarian cooking: Have students cook something so easy they can’t mess it up and is delicious. Maybe a grilled cheese? Or show them different chopping styles and have them cut something up in those different styles. They’ll see progress in front of them.
- A course on language learning: Help students learn the 50 most used words in that language (usually comprises roughly 50% of that language’s spoken content) so they can quickly put their new skill to use.
- A course on coding: Have students create “Hello World” - the most basic coding program you can create and run for any language. It feels like progress, because it is.
4. Highlight Student Progress
Make sure to point out the progress your students are making. If your course is on building a blog, remind them of how far they’ve come e.g. set up their layout, set up their design, created a number of posts.
Try to set up your course so students can’t fail by walking them from beginning to more difficult content and challenges. Then highlight what was once a challenge is now almost second nature.
Be encouraging and positive whenever possible. Leave students coming out of your course feeling like they can do it versus they have homework.
5. Set Reasonable Expectations
Don’t overpromise to your students. Let them know they won’t be a pro the first time and communicate how much progress they should be making at each point. If you don’t - your students may turn to you as an example, which might be too far advanced for the course, or they’ll feel confused about if they’re succeeding or not.
You want them to feel like they’re succeeding.
For instance, our head of VIP instructors, Ryan, says this:
“When I am teaching my course and am going over complex ideas that students might not understand the first time, I tell them that. I literally say “Hey guys I’m going over some complex stuff right now so if you’re a little lost that is fine. Watch the video again and I promise you as you go through the next few lessons it will start to clear up.
Also at points in my teachings when I’m reviewing stuff they’ve learned before and should know I tell them that as well. I simply say “Hey you should remember how to do this from [some point earlier]. If you do then awesome! See how you are learning this without even noticing it.”
Vocal cues like this will go a long way for keeping morale up.
6. Keep the students involved
Keep students involved in your course by giving them small achievable tasks after each lecture. You can even directly ask students to comment or paste their projects so they can discuss with others.
This does a number of things. First it makes students feel invested and thus attached to the course if they’ve been producing things along the way.
When you engage students with you, the course and other students, it makes them feel like a part of something - and to be honest, they are.
Teachable has native comments within our platform, so it’s no extra work for you to enable a conversation like this.
7. Outline Your Course The Right Way
When you sit down to break up your course into sections and lectures remember that your end goal is to take students to a transformation. Every section should be a big step to the goal and you can create small lectures within each section.
To get them to that transformation make a checklist of skills they need to have and then place them in order of achievement/learning - this is your outline.
Your outline will most definitely evolve as you make the course and you’ll add lectures that you forgot about to connect the others.
8. Shorten Your Lecture Lengths
It’s very rare that people’s lectures are too short. It is much more common for lectures to be too long and drawn out. BUT a course is supposed to be a SHORTcut to an outcome.
People take your course to quickly learn something rather than trying to aggregate data online. You’ll win no bonus points for making the course longer than it should be. Quite frankly, you’re wasting people’s time.
While there are variations on what’s right and always exceptions, we generally keep lectures under 15 minutes and 4-8 minutes gives enough time to talk through something without losing student attention spans.
All the time, we have people say “but my video has to be longer.” Ask yourself - can you break it up?
Pretend you’re a student, you’re probably learning late at night or on the weekends, you are tired and you get to the next lecture. “Dang, this lecture is 40 minutes?!” Even at 20 minutes they’re asking themselves if they can make that time investment and wondering if they need to push until the next day.
If they come into your course and each lecture is just 5 minutes - well, that’s quick. There is minimal time investment on their part and next thing they know they have finished 4 lessons back to back because they are easily digestible. #munchablecontent
Try to keep each lesson to 1-2 key concepts. Break up longer video recordings. Don’t be overwhelming.
9. Title Your Lectures So Students Want to Complete Them
You lecture titles matter. First off, your lecture titles help sell your course. When potential students land on your course landing page - they want to know what they’ll learn and Teachable previews the names of your sections and lectures.
Additionally, think of what you do when you open a new purchase - you poke around. When someone buys your course, they’re going to navigate around and see what the course looks like. Clear and value-forward titles enhance the idea you’re providing value.
I tend to write them like sales copy: “Create mouthwatering content that leaves your students wanting more” for a lecture on creating content.
Ok, now that you know how to outline your content - it’s time to create.
Check out these additional resources for how to create your content:
- DIY Video Production in 12 Simple Steps
- DIY Home Video Studio Setup
- 3 Gorgeous Keynote and Powerpoint Templates [Free Download]
- 4 Steps to Create Great Presentations
- 10 Tips for Powerful Copywriting
What do you think? What small things do you do to make students happy? Any small tips or tricks? Share them below!