The Secret To Creating Engaging Online Courses Is To Make Learning Less Of A Passive Activity. Add Content That Wakes Up Drooping Attention Spans.
The demand for online courses is only increasing. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing trends. But while students rush to enroll, many flake along the way, and hardly ever finish a course.
When they thus drop out of your course, they also drop out of your life. So, keeping students engaged, entertained, and interested – while getting educated – is critical to student loyalty-building.
There are two thumb rules you can follow. One, keep your course modules shorter than you think you need to. Attention is in severe deficit. Two, look for ways to create forums and groups where students can fraternize. Creating community keeps people engaged in the learning.
At Solohacks Academy, we believe that any topic for a course, no matter how valuable, still has to be pepped up innovatively to retain learner attention and achieve student transformation. The onus for that is on the teacher.
1. Course content that covers the “how-to” of anything always score on engagement
Why “how-to” courses are eternally popular
Whenever you go though courses online, you’ll find that you are instinctively drawn to give the “how-to” kind of courses a second look. Why are “how-to” courses so immensely popular? What is the consumer psychology that makes them an irresistible magnet?
Experts say there could be two key reasons:
- People feel that how-to courses will get straight to the action points rather than waste their time on introductory spiels. They expect to see practical, useful, immediately actionable steps to a process, rather the why’s and wherefore’s of it. They figure that knowing a process is more important than knowing all the conceptual intricacies of a process. Besides, who has the time these days to listen to long-winded tutorials? People are already speeding up unwanted portions of video tutorials to get to the “actionable stuff”.
- Technology is the No. #1 factor that gets people flummoxed. There are so many evolving technologies that are updating old ideas, that the learning curve of every consumer has to keep pace. In learning technology, you have to learn by doing. There is no other way that is truly a way to upskill. This constant change of technology is highly visible in these “how to do SEO” courses, for instance. Every time Google updates its algorithms, there is a new need to know “how to do SEO”. This is how, even if people have read many “how-to” articles on a subject before, if they see one more article or course on the same lines, they will still go for it – in the expectation that they may be something more to the process to make success faster.
Planning the course structure with our 4-step formula
Once you decide to go for a “how-to” course, we have a simple but powerful course-content-planning 4-step formula:
- When solving a problem, first describe why the problem occurs. Try to list the reasons. People may find a point of identification with one or more of these reasons.
- Then explain your range of solutions. For each solution say why, and then how.
- After that, state what can go wrong with the solution – and if it does, how to solve it.
- Finally, give something extra for those who are willing to take more risks. Show them a 5X or 10X solution.
2. Learn how to set up a home studio for professional looking slick video recordings
The basic minimum hardware and software requirements for creating video-based course content are these:
- A good video camera
- A good microphone
- Good lighting
- Video editing software that also allows screen-recordings when you demo what you are teaching
Even if it’s your first small course, don’t spare the money and make it ultra-slick
My sincere advice to you is to make your first course small, but make it look nothing less than a topnotch product … or you will never be able to sell pricey courses later.
Your brand cannot afford to give your first course a shabby look and feel. In fact, you can’t shortchange the initial impression you create, so you must dive into course-selling with at least a $500 -$600 set-up budget. Simple is okay. But you and should aim to give it all you’ve got if you mean to be in the courses business for long, and raking in the money.
You have to take that risk upfront, and believe you will succeed at selling courses, if you stick with the game and learn what you have to for succeeding. Remember, courses sell for as much as $997 these days. You can recover your investment with just one customer willing to pay you $1 above what you have spent.
How I too built my home studio like the one in this video
Like all newbies I tried everything that said “make video courses for low-or-no-budget” till I was seriously worried by the results (especially compared to my ultra-professional-looking competitors). Then I came across a video on YouTube (shown below) that settled it all for me. This video shows how to easily and affordably set up a great home-studio for smart and easy course-video production.
See how simply this idea works … just one central post, with arms added to it can fit on any desk. The three extendable and rotatable arms each carry one device – your camera, your microphone, and your lighting. You just need to adjust these gadgets to the best heights and arrangement to get the most professional-looking videos you’ve ever seen.
Use this video (and its description box in YouTube) to get and set up all the equipment needed (works out to about $391 or thereabouts).
3. Study authority figures to see how they speak on camera to teach their students
If you haven’t done any public speaking on camera before, you may get apoplectic thinking of launching your own spoken-video courses and tutorials. But remember, every fluent expert who speaks so professionally on camera today, went through the same anxieties when they first started.
There are a few small ideas that you can learn to use to start sounding more and more pro-like in your videos. Here are some pointers:
Pick a role model – any one speaker you really like – and watch a lot of their video classes on YouTube
Study everything about them, their language and tone, facial mannerisms, when they use their hands, what backgrounds they use, how they modulate their voices. What you pay attention to grows in you. Soon you may find yourself unknowingly aping their style. This will set you off on a path from where you can find your own nuances of personal style as you get proficient.
Learn to maintain and hold eye contact with an imaginary audience in front of you
When you’re speaking on camera, you should be looking directly into the camera lens. This would be equal to looking at your audience directly if you were in person. Looking into the camera will make you appear authoritative, confident, and knowledgeable. Contrast this with an eye-rolling or eye-dropping style that, on camera, suggests a diffidence and shiftiness. It will help your audience engage with you better when you look at them directly. They’ll feel like you’re talking directly to them, one-to-one, and not to someone out of the frame.
Practice, practice, practice (especially practice natural reading off a teleprompter)
You should always plan what you’re going to say before an important event, and then practice out loud to get into your flow. Speaking within your mind is easy. Speaking out loud is entirely different.
Some course-creators think that because they can edit the video later, they can just try to just “wing it” to sound casual. But editing a script that’s too casual into serious teaching is next to impossible.
Most experts on camera read off a teleprompter. This can be any screen with your script on it, that is placed at eye height very close to your camera lens. It can even be your tablet screen or your laptop screen. Adjust the way you place it so you look like your eyes are looking at the screen and not the text. Generally, it’s a good idea to hold in your hand a wireless mouse with a scroll wheel, so you can subtly scroll the text as you read it. Again, practice a lot because there’s so substitute for practice.
Don’t try to be someone else – a different personality – on camera
The camera catches fakeness with lightning speed. Better to be your fallible but natural self than an imitation of Richard Burton in Cleopatra with dramatic flamboyance. You’ll impress more with your thought-leadership than with any dramatic flair.
Dress to suit your brand personality
Now before you think I’m recommending a formal shirt or even a suit for serious, authoritative course-videos, here’s my favorite on-camera expert, Pat Flynn, dressed “on-brand” to match his motto on how “everything is teachable”.
Notice the tagline on his T-shirt, the seemingly homely background where, trust me, everything has been meticulously planned and set up to a T … he takes such care to create a look of being an authority, confident of himself, even without a neat office desk and pin-striped suit.
4. Know the many formats your course content can be delivered in and what works best
Courses can be taught using text, audio or video
There are many different formats you can use for courses. It may surprise you to know that video may not even be necessary. Some experts just teach using recorded voice files with some add-on course material given as text. Some others teach just through textual PDF files.
By far the most popular format though are video tutorials supplemented by downloadable worksheets and after-tutorial self-assessment quizzes.
The hierarchy of credibility among various course formats
In the hierarchy of course formats, experts believe people react best to video-based instruction. They also like to see the instructor’s face, and see him or her speaking. Credibility is the highest for this mode of delivery. The likeability of the presenter also has a huge impact on people.
But if you are really camera-shy, you can opt to record your voice, reading out a script to match what’s on the screen. Add a photo of your face on a corner of the screen. This is the second-best option, but not as powerful.
If your goal is to deliver the most value at a high price eventually, go for the video-instruction format with you speaking to your audiences on screen, with some inserts of screen captures for how-to instructions.
5. There’s a lot of choice among video creation tools for faster, easier course-creation
Choose the one versatile tool that helps with all aspects of video-editing and publishing
What about the software for screen capture videos and editing? Camtasia is my first, second and third choice … it’s a hands-down winner. Make sure you get the latest version. It costs $249 or so (one-time payment). Over 24 million people use Camtasia to create videos. You can try it out before you buy it.
Camtasia 2020 for editing and screen-captures
Four things your course-videos can achieve with Camtasia:
- Record anything on your computer screen–websites, software, video calls, or PowerPoint presentations.
- Drag and drop text, transitions, effects, and more in the built-in video editor.
- Camtasia’s free customizable templates can speed up course-videos production time (you get a fairly substantial in-pack library of free screen design templates, video and audio clips, and images you can use).
- Most important of all, their tutorial videos are great, because they teach you to use all the features in their tool, in a way that both rank newbies and experienced video-producers find very useful.
6. Course creation can be a whole lot simpler if you get to know your scripting basics
You don’t need to be as good at scripting as a Hollywood script-writer
Most of us, who balk at scripting, do so because we’re thinking we have to be as detailed and precise as movie-writers. That’s not needed at all. There’s no big secret to scripting. It’s just like blogging, except it can be more conversational rather than use stilted “writing language”.
If you’ve done a clear outline for your course content, just write a blog post on that topic, something long enough to read aloud in, say, 4-7 minutes. Once you’ve written it like a blog post, cut the overlong sentences, and make them shorter and smarter. Then read it all aloud to see if it sounds good spoken, rather than reading it mentally as text.
How to convert your content into scripts – the pro-method simplified
Once you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve covered all ground on the topic, as you wish to, try to visualize the entire video to see where the visual and audio intercuts need to be fitted into your speaking headshots. Where do the screens change and what transitions would you use? Where will you start showing screen captures? Where will the background sounds fit in, if they are to be used? Where will the bullet-points format be useful? Where will you give pauses to show famous quotes or let people savor funny cartoons on their own, without your speaking over them?
Find your own format to insert images, audio or video clips, bulleted text, or other inserts into the script. I started out as an advertising copywriter writing TV commercial scripts, so my scripts tend to look like this one below … notice how easy it is to visualize your entire video, and its inclusions, if you separate the script into two columns as “Audio” and “Video”.
Image courtesy: ScriptWriting.biz
7. Learn how to make your course content educative with life-transformational value
How can your course ensure that educative stuff doesn’t seem boring or play into attention-deficits of students?
There are two contrary principles – or at least, seemingly contrary ones – that challenge the creation of great educational courses. One, everyone comes to an educational class to learn something. But two, everyone has a fast-decreasing attention-span to learning anything. Especially, the older your students are, the less they can pay attention long enough to really learn.
The objective of any course should be to help transform the lives or work of people with some new learning. But you cannot achieve that if the minds of students shut down faster than you expect. In a real classroom, a teacher can probably gauge the fatigue-level of students to get cues to change tack and revive interest. In online classes, where you don’t see your students, you lose the opportunity to sense their body language and guess that their minds have closed down.
Three points where you can improve your course instructional material for easier attention are these:
- A vast amount of research conducted on instructional videos shows that learner education with videos begins to drop after the 6-minute mark. Actually, it drops even more dramatically after the 9-minute mark. It’s therefore imperative to deliver educational content in chunks not exceeding 6 minutes. See that each video module or lesson covers just one single learning task, and don’t bung more into it. It’s better to produce multiple short video modules, than to have longer and more multi-topic videos.
- Research studies also show that to create the best instructional videos, you have to be highly focused. When you try to explain a topic, reduce the use of on-screen text. Use more visuals to frequently to intersperse textual content. The PowerPoint slide deck model just doesn’t work anymore. And even when you use visuals, variegate them – use photographs, sketches, graphs, charts, diagrams, and so on. There should be no monotony.
- One great trick to encourage better learning is to make people write notes in longhand as they watch the videos. It has been known from time immemorial that anything written down by hand is long-remembered. Our age of keyboards and voiceovers doesn’t encourage note-taking anymore. Also, frequently introduce a question into the lesson that provokes some thinking. Don’t let the minds of listeners get lazy. It has been seen that when students take notes, or answer guided questions while watching lessons, they retain material better than students who watch in a passive mode.
8. Learn how to make your course content entertaining since attention spans are low
There are lots of ways to make a class online entertaining for students. Without that entertainment factor, the mental aliveness you expect to get dims somewhat. It’s often up to the teacher to give the students reasons to be joyful and exuberant. So here are a few ideas that work for us, and may work for you too.
Don’t give them the expected – flip your content so they are surprised by the angle of your approach
It’s a typical class module when you explain something first and then ask questions around it later. But what if you flip that style on its head? Raise some questions first, and unravel the reasons why you are setting the stage for the lesson that follows. Doing things in an unexpected way doesn’t have to mean goofing around or trying to be “fun”. You can be serious but your angle of approach to the topic can be totally refreshing.
Use storytelling a lot and demonstrate examples of what you are teaching
There are no two ways about it. Stories sell. Stories grab the mind. Stories make people anticipate their endings. Stories hold attention. Nothing like peppering your lesson with a lot of real-life case studies and examples of what you are teaching, explained in a story-like style.
Get students to relate the lessons to their own contexts
Sometimes, hearing about someone else’s case study can fall back into becoming a passive exercise. Instead how about encouraging students to relate the concepts you are teaching to their own lifestyles or work contexts? If you know your target audiences well, you’d be able to pull up their life situations to show them ways to adapt what you are teaching in their own lives.
Relate some odd stories of how past students understood (or misunderstood) your point
Students love a chuckle now and then. If you’ve had past batches of students and can tell present ones how older students understood – or misunderstood – what you are teaching, it may create an interesting way to tell students how to follow your lesson and what not to do.
Most often your gut instincts will tell you how far to go in making the class entertaining without losing its seriousness or learning value. Don’t become an entertainer, make the education entertaining. There’s a difference.
9. Learn how to make your course content experiential – experience is real knowledge
On the Buffer Blog, I recently saw a very interesting sketch of the real difference between learning mere knowledge versus learning knowledge via experience. Here is the sketch that explains how “knowledge is only useful if learners can make connections between what they know. Without experience, there will never be true knowledge.”
You have to aim to increase the experiential value of your online course if you truly want the course to stand head and shoulders above competition in its topic and content. Here are some ways to achieve this:
Encourage collaboration by incorporating social networking within the course
All your students doubtless have social accounts on Facebook. It would hardly cost more than your effort to create a free Facebook Group where students can interact with one another on your course questions. You can set up sub-groups that ideate together to simulate what happens in real physical classes. Networking is in and of itself a different experience for students every time they get together.
Use games-like activities to elongate interest and add experiential learning
A brilliant way I have seen one course teacher do this is to say to students, “Throughout this class, I will be giving you some mystery words that you have to watch out for and note down. At the end of the class, you have to email me the sentence that you can make with the bunch of mystery words you’ve noted.” In this case, the mystery words added up to a famous quote that explained the purport of the lesson in one strong sentence.
Allow everyday situations and activities into the online learning experience
For example, you can include experiences like role play. You can supplement teaching sessions with live multi-participant video to simulate meetings. You can create a course-related forums to solve difficult situations or recreate the environment of brainstorms, though opening up threads of discussion.
10. See that your course can satisfy your own goals as well as the goals of your students
Nothing can ever be better for your course than the word-of-mouth advocacy of a delighted student
There are many ways to track the performance of your course. Most often Knowledge Commerce entrepreneurs see if the course is meeting their own business goals. But isn’t it smarter to see if the course is meeting your students’ goals? If your customers succeed, you automatically succeed.
A student who goes on to achieve big success is the student won’t wait for others to ask. That student will burst at the seams to tell the world about you and your course.
The simple but powerful way to measure students’ value-perception of your course
There’s just one thing to add to your course to get answers from students on whether the course was a positive inflexion point in their lives. At the very start of the course, ask your enrolled students for their No. #1 goal in taking your course. Also, make sure to ask them how far they already are towards achieving their goal … are they 20% there, or maybe 30% there? That way you can assess the typical starting level, and the outcome expectation level, of each student starting the course.
Then at the end of the course, remind them of what they stated as their No. #1 goal at the beginning. Ask them how much further they feel they have come to achieving their goal, now that they’ve done the course. Do they say 60%, 70%, or 80%? How do THEY evaluate the value they have received, in the context of the goal they stated earlier?
Why is it important to remind them of the goal they stated at the beginning, when you ask them the evaluation-question at the end of the course? That’s because humans have a tendency to forget why they started something, and their goal-posts keep shifting.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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- How To Teach Online Courses With Great Skill … 10 Ways
- How To Build A Sales Funnel For Online Courses … 10 Steps
- How To Price Your Online Course For Big Revenue … 10 Hints
- How To Protect Your Online Course From Thieves … 10 Ideas
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- How To Make Your Online Course Better … Solohacks RoundUp
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