How To Create Engaging Online Courses
I met with a client to review his course content and was immediately concerned. The online course would be twenty-two sessions delivered over six-months. The Learning Management System could certainly handle the delivery. My concern, however, was student retention.
I've worked with a lot of individuals and organizations to create efficient, effective, and engaging educational resources. However, I had never worked with a client with a prescribed number of lessons and time frame. I also had never created a course that would be delivered over six months. This was certainly a challenge!
It was clear that reducing the content wasn't an option. So, I was left with the most challenging Instructional Design assignment I had ever faced. As I worked through the content, I learned a lot about how to create engaging online courses and keep learners coming back. Let us have a look.
1. Keep The Learning Modules Short
The attention span of learners is much shorter than most learning modules. Traditional education wrongly convinced us that students will pay attention for forty-five minutes or more. The truth is they were never paying attention, they just didn't have an "off" button. With online learning, the option to turn off the presentation is readily available. No one has to keep watching and, if the content isn't engaging, they won't.
I use fifteen minutes as the target for learning modules. If the content is produced well, students will stick with it for fifteen minutes, but not much longer. Some modules will run a little longer; others shorter. The important thing is to chunk the content so it can be delivered in smaller bites.
2. Use, But Don't Overuse, Video
I've tried creating engaging content with audio over a presentation created in PowerPoint or Keynote. That works for a short time, but it isn't effective for an entire course. Another client had a very successful course, but he was intrigued by my claim that I could make it even more engaging. He accepted the challenge. Upon review of his successful course, I discovered every lesson was audio over Keynote. The content was great; the delivery was atrocious.
I suggested we get the content owner on video speaking directly to the camera. That would give students the feeling that he was speaking directly to them. The videos were shot and I added some graphics. The result was significantly better than the original course. He doubled his price, maintained his enrollment, and made twice as much money. That leads me to my next point.
3. Keep It Simple
Professional videographers cringe when they hear me tell people to use their phones and a wired lapel microphone to record course videos. Professional videos do look better, but a simple video can get the job done. You can purchase a tripod mount, microphone, and extension for less than $50.
Resist the urge to use recordings of live presentations. They make the students feel as if they are listening in on someone else's conversation. When we reduce students to spectators, they'll give in to the urge to do something else. They need to feel the emotion of the speaker and connect visually.
If you can afford to have a professional shoot video, do it. However, don't let a limited budget keep you from delivering content that connects with the student.
4. Create Interactive Elements
Most Learning Management Systems include various tools to facilitate interactivity. Simple quizzes are one option. By placing a single multiple choice question at the end of each lesson, you can evaluate student engagement. Of, course, you also can use some of the more advanced tools. The trick is to give learners something to do.
Discussion boards are also effective learning elements because they give learners the opportunity to engage with one another. This can be a big boost to the learning experience because it negates the isolation that many students cite as a reason to not engage in online learning.
For the twenty-two lesson course, I installed a Learning Management System on the client's site that included event-triggered auto-responders. So, if students don't log in for seven days, the system will send a personalized email asking them how they are doing. After fourteen days, the system administrator also receives an email. I also created an autoresponder sequence that follows the completion of each lesson and one that announces the availability of the next lesson. The automatic emails help establish an atmosphere of accountability.
The bottom line is that you can create engaging online courses if you understand how learners learn and how to leverage technology. But, keep in mind, a boring presentation recorded and made available online isn't an online course; it's a boring presentation with an "off" button.