Through our recent online course planning and creation work, we have noticed that criteria to decide how online training should be planned and created varies tremendously between universities and companies around the world. In this article I will try to summarize our key findings that hopefully can help you to create successful online training stories.
Put yourself in a position of a university rector, human resource manager or just anyone responsible to make your students or co-workers learn and perform better through online courses. What is it that drives your decisions?
You could try to make quick wins through recording traditional classroom courses and distribute them as videos to the course participants. You could also invest in a new Learning Management System and expect your teachers and trainers to shine with it. Or could there be other ways to return your investment better? Let’s look into what should drive your attention when planning to offer online courses in your organization.
I’ll focus on the opportunities over a whole online course life cycle, i.e. from planning to closing down a course and point out how much time and effort their require. During the course planning and development phase, most attention is needed in the following five areas:
1) Choose the most appealing learning content for the right audiences
It is rather obvious that the course content must have value to the participants. But it can often be disregarded as the course planners feel that they know best what the participants need. E.g at universities most students take online courses, because they have to take them as part of their degree studies. Also many employees start online courses their company offers, because they have to participate in given training sessions. If you are developing online courses for the above mentioned needs, then you are pretty much ready to go. But if your target is to get new customers to your online courses, e.g. employees or anyone wanting further education on desired topics, then appropriate market research to understand the needs and capabilities of your future customer are crucial.
This first phase could take up to 10% of all the effort put into creating online courses.
2) Plan your course based on what your learners need and want
The same content can be packaged and delivered either in attractive and consumable way or in such a way that the participants stop following the course after the very first lessons. As online environment offers plenty of options to deliver courses, the planners should let their imagination fly and leave the traditional classroom model behind. Part of the course could be self learning through watching videos, reading articles and taking personal quizzes. Using the flipped classroom model, the participants could be required to watch topic specific videos prior to a discussion lesson in a live virtual classroom. Another part of the course could concentrate on engaging the participants to work together synchronously in live group work sessions. Furthermore, the participants could be asked to write blogs that the peer participants review and assess. To support self- and group learning, a course facilitator could be reachable through chat and during live webinars or topic specific live discussion sessions. These are just a few examples of numerous other options to deliver online courses.
My feeling is that this phase should take 40-50% of all the effort invested in planning and building an online course.
3) Acquire a suitable Learning Management System (LMS)
Provided that the course planning is done well and the course uses most tools and functionalities available for online learning, acquiring a flexible and feature rich Learning Management System makes sense. But if the content is rather simple without many assessments and much social interaction between the participants then almost any kind of publishing system would do the job.
Unfortunately we hear way too often that a company or institution believes that just buying an LMS will make their employees or students to learn online. When the focus is too much on buying an LMS, the end result can be a total failure.
I would not recommend to spend more than 10% of the resources or the effort creating online courses in choosing an LMS.
4) Create engaging and high quality courses that make your participants want to learn
After thorough planning the creation of the courses takes place. Writing textual course content and creating e.g. graphs must have high quality; therefore using most suitable writers and graphic designers is justified as long as the whole course budget holds. When it comes to writing scripts for videos and shooting and editing them can take huge amount of work and become very expensive. Having video recording possibilities in every smartphone makes all of us believe that we can record professional videos – well, we cannot. Most often the video looks dark and sound quality is low, which experienced video producers handle easily. Also using professional tools and equipment in e.g. video and screen recording can also make a huge impact on the course quality. Lousy videos and other messy content can easily ruin otherwise well prepared course.
Even if there is no limit to creating a perfect course I estimate that this phase could take 30-40% of all the course creation effort.
5) Test and pilot your courses and make sure to improve them all the time
Although it might feel that the course is planned and produced without flaws, it is always worthwhile to test the course with pilot users. Gathering feedback to improve the course helps to avoid possible problems with mass participation.
This phase could take 10-20% of all the course creation effort.
After the online course is published, the focus moves from planning and development to running the course. The more the course includes interactivity, the more it demands from the course facilitator. But that is another topic to be written about at another time.
Online courses are a great opportunity to distribute information effectively across organisations and markets. However, only with proper planning and realization, the expected benefits can be reached. Good planners create great winners!
I’d love to hear your questions and comments on this topic. Get in touch with me to discuss in more detail, challenge me on the article or get support to your online training.