To Structure A Great Online Course With Ease, Use Our Uncomplicated Format. Solve Customers’ Pain-Points, Explain Any Topic, Or Teach Anything. It Works.
There are lots of formats available online as templates for course-structuring. But there’s one simple structure that works every time, no matter what topic you decide to teach. It is based on learner psychology, and appeals to both beginner students as well as advanced students.
If you follow this simple structure you will feel like you have really provided handsome value for your target audiences – and they will agree. Because this one format is designed to get to the heart of any topic, locate the customers’ pain-points or learning goals, and address their needs directly in a thoroughly satisfying way.
Remember, all course content has to meet customer goals. That is how success is evaluated by students, who then spread word-of-mouth about your course to friends and colleagues.
At Solohacks Academy, we stumbled on this format by accident, but were surprised with the stupendous results it delivers every time. We thought it’s about time to let the world know that there’s a course format that works like the blazes. Try it out for yourself too.
1. Zero-in on your small but buy-ready target audiences with micro marketing tactics
It goes without saying that your online course structure should be bang on target for your target audiences. That means you have to focus narrowly on one small sub-segment of your total audience, and build your course for them. You can then build other courses for other such segments. Small but buy-ready audiences, with problems to solve, or goals to meet, are your bulls-eye. But how do you zero-in on the target segments of people with common problems or goals?
The micro-marketing approach, if taken, can yield great course topics you can exploit. To understand micro-marketing better, let’s take an example, say, from the real estate industry.
For starters, you would expect that any realtor would have a narrow enough niche. He may be targeting a particular suburb of his hometown. He cannot otherwise handle too many clients, or they’d be taking him all around town on house visits. But what if the realtor then decided to go even narrower? Say, into rental houses that are two-bed apartments within a certain price range?
Now, his own focus will grow with speed. He may see his target audience needs better than before. He may be able to distinguish the little nuances that affect 2-bed home-renting decisions. He may gain clarity on why some sales don’t materialize, while others do.
If he wanted to create courses online, he may be able to develop a host of ideas around some small but really vexing customer pain-points in the narrowed segment he is looking at. Or he could focus on the goals people in this narrow segment would wish to achieve. He could make every nuanced need the subject of some course. He could have courses tailored to small groups of similar buyers. Every course could nail a small but vital customer-query.
In narrowing his outlook, he would gain depth. The focus of the marketer would become “one inch wide and one mile deep”. It would go away from being as superficial as “one mile wide but only one inch deep”. This perspective would help him build his course structure to match.
The selling arguments such a marketer would use may show what an expert he is in two-bed apartments. He would become the “go-to” person for single people or small families. He would grow a reputation faster as an expert in “small apartment rentals”. Soon, the realtor would have less marketing to do. His previous clients would help find him more clients. How? This would happen naturally because people with common problems bond together.
That’s why micro-marketing gets easier with time and produces results faster. It works especially well with course topics that have small but sure audiences. It is easy to structure courses where you understand target audience needs, problems, or expectations with acute precision.
2. Locate your target audiences’ pains (stated as vexations) or goals (stated as desires)
A lot of entrepreneurs are not sure how exactly to find their audiences’ goals or pain-points, to begin with. There is a simple axiom I once read which has stood me in good stead. “People who are generally pessimistic in life usually state their needs as pain-points. People who are generally optimistic in life usually state their needs as goals.” In other words, vexations or desires are just two sides of the same coin. When problems are solved, goals are achieved. When goals are achieved, problems get solved.
Pain-points – or goals – can usually be broken down into categories like these:
- Monetary: Financial constraints are often the biggest need areas people have. They get frustrated when a lack of sufficient money stops them from progress or success in life. Lots of reasons may contribute to a shortage of money to act on something they yearn to. That’s why helping people find the money they need for something that vexes many of them – or suggesting cost-free or low-cost innovative alternative ideas for goal achievement – is so well-received. Money issues are among the eternal need areas that your resourceful courses could help solve for them.
- Learning: Another typical area where audiences in your niche may have needs could be that they’re having trouble learning the many new skills they require. This gives room to teach them many new strategies, tactics, and tricks to do with keeping pace with an ever-changing world. When some technology is new, or some new trends hit the horizon, there is usually a heavy demand from people who want to catch up. For your own safety, stick to topics that look like they will endure … otherwise, your course too will be off the radar if the fad does a disappearing trick too soon.
- Productivity: All people on this planet have needs for self-control and rigor to get work done. There are asked to build their persistence, patience, stick-to-itiveness, determination, or time and money management muscles. But all these are easier said than done. You could help people turn their areas of productivity-weaknesses into strengths by applying habits and systems. There’s perennial demand for productivity-related needs.
- Support: If you listen hard to conversations on social media or forums in your niche, you will invariably hear some target audiences lamenting about the lack of support in your niche. We live in an age of technology, which is fickle at best. Glitches will occur. Feature shortfalls will be felt. This could be your opportunity for building useful “self-help courses”, if your niche is filled with competitors who like to act blind or deaf to support-issues.
By no means are all these the only kinds of need areas people have. There could be more, but for starters, I wanted to give you some classic areas to look into. In general, the more you listen to people you want to serve, the more nuanced needs you’ll come across, which you can satisfy through differentiated and effective courses.
3. Plan how your course will state its objective as helping students with their objectives
If you always plan to state the benefits of your course using “verbs” and measurable results, your course structure will automatically orient itself towards becoming a justification of those benefits. People seeing the curriculum or structure will understand exactly how they will gain from the course.
People want practical, measurable outcomes. That helps them judge the value they get for the price they pay for the course. For example, if you state the benefit of your course as “better knowledge about home safety”, it sounds too general and mundane, But what if you stated the benefits of your course like this?
One benefit could be: “You can increase the safety of your home for your kids in at least 15 ways”. Another benefit could be: “You can reduce home insurance premiums by 15% by adopting these safety measures”. Do you see how the verbs and measurability help in quantifying the benefits?
It’s smart to see if the course is meeting your students’ goals. If your customers succeed, you automatically succeed.
When researching for the structure of the course, ask your target audiences 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?
This question will also help you judge if the course structure that you have in mind can meet the most important outcomes of the majority of your potential students.
At the end of the course, you can evaluate student satisfaction by reminding students of what they stated as their No. #1 goal during the pre-course research. 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?
For every course you structure, you need to keep checking if students feel they are gaining on their expected value from the courses. Your course structure must aid the positive transformation of students’ lives through the quality and sequencing of the knowledge you give them.
4. Structure the landing page of your course with highlights of your course curriculum
The landing page on your site for your course is the sales-clincher page. It’s the page where you want people to click the “BUY NOW” button with total confidence. Landing page construction is an art in itself, because it is where the rubber hits the road. It has to do a splendid job of converting last-minute ditherers to make that decision in your course’s favor.
Creation of your landing page before course structure helps you see what to highlight as course value
Let’s say you plan to create a puppy-training course for new owners of puppies. See the example below to know the elements that any good landing page should have.
(Click the image above to see an enlarged version.)
When you are forced to highlight four or five of the main points that your course curriculum has, it makes you think about how your course structure should be to get the customer buy-in. In the case of the example above, see how the landing page includes the key course structure points as bullets. These bulleted points not only cover the scope of the course but also give a hint of the kinds of solutions that must be included in your course-structure.
Oftentimes, instead of writing rambling notes about the structure of your course, trying to state them in brevity, as you would to “sell” to a customer. This makes your thinking on your course structure sharper. That’s why it’s a good idea to try and create a rough landing page for your course before you finalize your course structure. It straitjackets you to stay with four or five key points to elaborate in your course, without letting your course meander into subjects not of immediate usefulness to the consumer.
5. Use our 4-step structure as an effective template for different types of course topics
As I had explained in the introductory paragraphs, we, at Solohacks Academy, chanced upon a 4-step online course structure that seems to work on every kind of topic. I had also explained in the previous sections of this article that both pain-points and goals are but two sides of the same coin.
Based on these insights, our course-strucure’s basic principle is this: any need or goal, can be re-stated as an issue to be solved. If you do this, it gives you a way to structure a course that is seen as immediately practical and useful. So, always look for an issue to solve that stands in the way of need or goal achievement.
Here is an overview of our classic 4-step course-structure below:
If you have a well-ordered strategy as the backbone of your course, life becomes very actionable. The simple structure you see above will give you a clean, practical and immensely useful course.
- When solving a problem or need, first describe why the need 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 fix it.
- Finally, give something extra for those who are willing to take more risks. Show them a 5X, 10X or 15X solution.
You can easily adapt the 4-step formula for course-structure, for any type of course. Now, let’s go on to see how each of the 4 sections of the course-structure above can be elaborated.
6. In Course Section 1 describe the situation preoccupying or perplexing the student
Your course will be highly relevant to a learner if you begin with a first section that clearly describes the symptoms of a problem or the contours of a need the student may be experiencing. To instantly engage with a learner, you must begin your course with a good description of how the student may be “held back” from a solution to his problems, or ideas to reach his goals. You would also do well to explain the latest research on why the student may be facing his “stymied” condition.
Throughout this section, and the following sections, let’s take an example as we learn the detailing of course structure. Let’s say your course is about “Getting Things Done When You Just Don’t Feel Like Doing”.
This is both a problem and a goal for some people. They want to do as their daily schedule and inner intuition says they should act to succeed, but their feelings of blah-ness, laziness, or plain low energy or low-motivation may be in the way, sabotaging their need to get things done. People who feel this way often don’t even know why they feel this way when another part of them so wants to get things done and to progress in life.
You should structure your course with a logical step-by-step unraveling of the issue like this:
- Issue description: Describe the problem and how the symptoms of lack of energy feel, and how despite other feelings of wanting to get things done, people may from time to time let their feelings of lethargy get over them. Describe how this feels when it happens, and how the remorse feels later. Get audiences engaged with you by helping them identify such feelings when they occur in their own lives. Tell them about the stress that builds up due to latent internal conflicts. This part of your course structure may have to deliberately make the issue sound so irksome that a student begins to yearn for resolution and relief.
- Research findings: Next, give them some research statistics on why such feelings of dread to get up and get working occur, and also show them some statistics on why they are not alone in this issue because so many other people have it. Show them the latest research on the subject. This part of your course structure may have to make students feel that they are part of a larger crowd with the same issues and that experts are thinking through the issue and finding new solutions. The idea is to kindle hope of positive outcomes from better knowledge of what is going on.
- List reasons for issue occurrence: Give scientific reasons for why the issue seems to occur. Don’t list all possible reasons. Give just the top four or five reasons for the issue. As you list the many possible reasons, support every argument with an expert’s quote on why such self-defeating patterns of energy occur, and what could be the underlying probable causes of it. This part of your course structure is an ideal opportunity to show the student the depth and breadth of the research you have done on the topic, and display the fact that you are supporting every argument with an expert opinion. Students will begin to see credibility in your course if it is data-driven, and it is based on thought-leadership from various quarters respected for their expertise.
Here is the diagram of the first section of our course structure with our example course also shown alongside:
Remember: whenever your course deals with a target audience problem or goal, people like to know three things:
- The problems or issues they have, that hold them back, are common to a lot of people – and they are not alone.
- There is scientific evidence that supports the reasons why their problems occur that hold them back.
- The issues they face are not unsolvable. In fact, knowing why they occur is a large step towards the solution.
What you should aim to achieve through the first section of your course structure:
By the time you are through describing the issue or problem or goal-blocks, you should have your target audience nodding silently in agreement that they too can identify with some of the external symptoms you may have stated. They must also feel that “Aha!” moment when they realize what could be some underlying reasons for the issue that never struck them.
If you’ve got this far with the first section of your course, your structure has hooked the audiences’ attention. You have succeeded in your mission for your course so far.
7. In Course Section 2 explain your range of different solutions for the situation
In the previous section of the course structure, you have brought the issue at hand down to a list of possible reasons for its cause. Now you need to explode the possibilities of a solution. This is the best way to do it:
- Solutions for each reason: Take each listed reason for the issue, and give two or three solutions for it. Again, don’t try to give all possible solutions, restrict yourself to two or three top ideas. This part of your course structure must highlight your innovativeness with the solutions. It must also show that you are careful about your suggested solutions being quickly achievable, easy and practical, and cost-effective. Give an example of the solutions with small case studies.
- Explain the “why” behind every stated solution: Show why a solution is bound to work, and in what conditions it may work best. Explain the pros and cons of each solution. This part of your course structure must highlight the rationale behind the solution you are suggesting. There must be a balance between the intuitive rightness of each step backed by solid logic.
- Explain the “how” of every solution: There could be a series of steps in implementing the solution. Take people through these steps, telling them why this sequencing makes sense. Explain what to expect at each stage, and how to evaluate if the step is done correctly. This part of your course structure must show the methodicity of your own thinking. You have to show that you are paring down the steps so any student can try it out – whether the student is a beginner or an advanced learner.
Here is the diagram of the second section of our course structure with our example course also shown alongside:
Remember: whenever your course deals with potential solutions, people like to know three things:
- The solutions match their own wallets and abilities and call for no great stretch of their resources.
- The ideas are innovative and they have not seen these ideas elsewhere, so the course appears to be worth their time and money.
- Before they are asked to do something, they know others have tried it. The course students are not guinea pigs.
What you should aim to achieve through the second section of your course structure:
By the time you are through describing the solutions, you should have your target audience feeling entirely confident in choosing one or two solutions to try out. The itch to start “acting on the solution” has to born in them.
If you’ve got this far with the second section of your course, your structure has energized the audiences’ mind and body. You have succeeded in your mission for your course so far.
8. In Course Section 3 state what can go wrong with each given solution and why
After you have thoroughly discussed the potential solutions and ideas for the issue your course deals with, you have to deal with “troubleshooting” the solutions if they are not working as they should. It’s important to forestall problems people may have with the solutions you suggest before they get a chance to trash your course in the public domain saying your ideas are unworkable. Here is the best way to offer “troubleshooting” advice:
- State what can go wrong with each given solution: Take each listed solution you have outlined and show people why the solution may or may not work for them. Highlight some of the most common troubles they could face and if they do how to spot these and identify the possible causes. This part of your course structure must show people some caveats to follow when implementing solutions or setting up certain conditions for them to work at optimum. Show people how to anticipate and set out issues pro-actively, rather than reactively. Also, emphasize how prevention can be better than cure.
- Show people the triggers that can signal the need for solution-fixes: People would love to know when they should fiddle with a solution and when they should not. Often itchy hands can create bigger issues with solutions that fix them. This part of your course should highlight the idea of when it’s right to follow the dictum: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Just give it time to fix itself as it well may.” This is your opportunity as the course-creator to show that you care that people spend money and time wisely, and not before a situation really demands it.
- State what fixes can be readied for contingencies: There are lots of times when being prepared for contingencies is the best way to ensure they never are needed. If your students can be shown how to set up contingency plans for solutions that need a bit of tinkering to work properly, you can teach them how to do this. This part of the course will show people that you are a pro-active person and you teach people – your students – to be pro-active too. For every solution you have suggested, you can arm people with a “Plan B”.
Here is the diagram of the third section of our course structure with our example course also shown alongside:
Remember: whenever your course deals with solutions-fixes, people like to know three things:
- They will be able to spot triggers when something is going wrong and apply the dictum: “A stitch in time saves nine”.
- You have given them an idea of all that can go wrong so they are forewarned and forearmed, and not on their own during sticky times.
- No solution is useless. It may not have been given due care in its implementation, but even so, there is still a cure.
What you should aim to achieve through the third section of your course structure:
By the time you are through describing solution-fixes, you should have your target audience feeling more confident than before in try out solutions, safe in the knowledge that they know how to “make it all right” should things go south. They should feel a sense of competence to handle things that surprise them negatively.
If you’ve got this far with the third section of your course, your structure has incremented the sense of self-confidence of your students. You have succeeded in your mission for your course so far.
9. In Course Section 4 show a 5X, 10X, 15X solution for those ready to try for more
Till now your course structure has dealt with people who want tried, tested, trusted ways to solve problems or achieve their goals. But there may be those who feel they want to get more out of your course, because they are not averse to taking a few extra risks to get out-of-the-way results.
In catering to people who demand more of themselves, and your course, you actually make the earlier part of the course sound like child’s play. You give off cues that you also have solutions of greater amplitude for those ambitious enough to try them. This gives people – beginners and advanced learners – a feeling that they are ways to get more than expected value from the course.
To offer bigger, better and more dynamic solutions, here’s what you should include:
- Give people a 5X option: Risk-takers come in all sizes. So, begin with some daring solutions that call for proportionate risks. Explain the pros and cons of such solutions. Again tell people what can go wrong with such solutions, and what it will take for them to fix the solution if it doesn’t work as well as they expect. Ensure this part of the course highlights your own sense of daring in implementing some solutions for faster or more sumptuous results – but also show people they can go up a graded path towards taking only as much risk as they are ready for.
- Give people a 10X option: Ths is for people who have tried the 5X solution and now more confident to try something bigger. Again, show people the risks and rewards of choosing a higher solution than they tried before. Your aim in this part of the course is to show the extendability of your innovative solutions, and thereby also your own self-confidence in your subject of expertise. It takes a real authority to be able to toss our riskier ideas with nonchalance – knowing that you also know how to teach people to rectify things if they spiral downwards.
- Give people a 15X option: Let this one be the last resort option that may cost more than any other options, but also be very arduous and push people to their limits. You must give students the idea that it’s okay to push boundaries, break barriers, and find the money needed when you really need to change your life. Through this part of the course, you get your opportunity to encourage “going beyond one’s limits” and showing people that you value this principle and that’s why you are an expert.
Here is the diagram of the fourth section of our course structure with our example course also shown alongside:
Remember: whenever your course deals with more dynamic solutions, people like to know three things:
- The solutions may slightly overrun their own wallets and abilities and call for some stretch of their resources.
- The ideas are innovative and quicker with results, so your course appears to be worth their time and money.
- They’ll be asked to make commitments of time, effort, and money in public so they have to be ready for that.
What you should aim to achieve through the fourth section of your course structure:
People must be encouraged to make commitments and efforts that others can see, or where they have to spend higher costs. Most people find it harder to self-sabotage or fail in front of others or when the price of failure is very high.
If you’ve got this far with the fourth section of your course, your structure should have shown people how the courageous solutions to many an issue or goal are to voluntarily put oneself in a publicly visible place, where one’s self-esteem can either get amplified or eroded. If people are ready to stake their public-esteem for success, you have then succeeded in your mission for your course so far.
10. Wind up with a Call-To-Action (CTA) leading the student to the “next steps”
Your job in building course-structure isn’t quite over till you’ve applied your mind to the perfect next steps you want your consumer to take after finishing the course. That’s where you need to plan a perfect Call-To-Action (CTA).
The role of a CTA in any program is to not allow the relationship with the customer (in this case, the student of your course) to fall off your radar or your site. Someone who is making a big purchase, in the form of your course, has to be given an opportunity to make other big purchases.
Obviously, most students, when asked what they would do next after the course, would say, “We now have to implement what we have learned into our businesses”. So, your Call-To-Action (CTA) at the end of the course could be something that helps in the implementation of lessons and ideas learned during the course.
What could you offer that will earn you money as well as help the student implement the course? Off the top of my head, I can think of four things at least:
- CTA Idea 1: You could offer a one-to-one consulting or mentoring service to help implementation of ideas learned in the course. You should always throw in a bit of extra to make the consulting offer more attractive. For example, if your main course is about “Simple Website Creation For Solopreneurs”, you could include consulting help with an offer of a set of templates to make life easier for the customer.
- CTA Idea 2:You could offer another smaller adjunct course that details one of the fine points of the main course. For example, if your main course is on “Content Marketing Tactics As A Solopreneur Businessperson” the extra course could be on “How To Produce Content At 10X Speed For Content Marketing”.
- CTA Idea 3:You could offer a series of five discount coupons redeemable against any other five purchases made from among your products and services in the next year. A discount coupon offered before a next potential purchase always makes the customer itchy to redeem it – otherwise, it’s like unspent money lying idle with him that could be useful to him. This idea also binds his loyalty to you for another five purchases at least in a given time frame of one year.
- CTA Idea 4:You could offer a specially high “65% affiliate fee” only for students who’ve bought your course when they bring other students to you by word-of-mouth publicity or affiliate marketing. This is a very attractive ideas for students who’ve paid high fees for your course, who would like to recover the money spent by recommending others who may benefit.
As you can see, ideas for CTAs can be aplenty. They should also be smart. The idea behind your CTA must be three things:
- Induce a further purchase (or purchases)
- Build some solid long-term loyalty
- Create an influencer out of every customer
No course-structure design is complete without factoring in a way to get every course-purchaser to go a longer way in your company.
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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