Imagine: you’ve got a great idea for an online course that you’re sure learners will love. You spend weeks, maybe months, building it on OpenLearning only to find that learners aren’t enrolling or engaging as you had intended.
What went wrong?
One of the key considerations most people overlook when starting a new course is not knowing their learners well enough and not knowing how their course is going to meet their needs.
A course isn’t a course without its learners, just like a product isn’t a product without its users. A successful course is one that knows its learners, knows what they need to achieve and has a clear strategy to achieve them.
Before you get too far with your brilliant course idea, here are some of the key questions you need to ask yourself.
1. Who are your learners?
Knowing your learners is key to creating a course that they will find relevant, meaningful and engaging.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- Where are they from?
- What do they do?
- How old are they?
- What do they know?
- How much time can they invest in your course?
The more information you know about your learners, the more you can tailor your course content and activities to suit their needs. For example, if your course is for busy full-time professionals, your course may need to be divided into smaller digestible portions and allow more time for course completion.
It’s also good to know the experience your learners can bring to the table so they can share with others and add another element of learning to the course.
2. What do they need to know?
What new skills, knowledge, behaviour or attitudes would you like your learners to be able to demonstrate by the end of the course? These are your intended learning outcomes.
It’s important to take some time to define these learning outcomes before you start building your course as your teaching, activities and assessment should be designed to best meet those outcomes.
Your outcomes will also help your learners decide if they want to enrol and provide a direction for regulating their own learning.
3. Why do they need to know it?
This is a question that is often overlooked and is not the same question as the above.
As important as your course may be, learners may disregard it if they don’t see the value or relevance of what they are learning. Ask yourself, how will your course contribute to your learners’ future goals – both short-term and long-term, and incorporate that into your course.
If you can tap into what motivates your learners intrinsically, they will feel more compelled to engage with your course and complete it.
4. How will they show their learning?
Your learners need opportunities to assess their skills and knowledge and receive feedback on their learning. This is so they can effectively measure whether or not they have achieved the goals of the course and take action if they require improvement.
The activities and assessments you use should support the learning outcomes you defined at the beginning.
For some courses, such as in architecture or the creative arts, learning can be demonstrated through building a portfolio of work.
Just last week, we launched the new automatic Portfolio feature on OpenLearning, so learners can showcase their work to prospective employers.
By asking the questions above, you should be creating a conscious alignment between outcomes, activities and assessment. This alignment is needed to ensure your learners meet your outcomes and are set up for success.
5. How will your course be facilitated?
Another thing to think about is facilitation.
Facilitation is a key factor for success in an online course as it adds social presence. The more that people feel they are connecting with real people, the more they are encouraged to participate and share their own experiences. Facilitation may also be required to keep learners on track.
Depending on your course content and activities, your course may need a little or a lot of facilitation. If you are poor on time, consider using activities that do not require full-time facilitation and rather, encourages community involvement.
6. What does success look like?
Finally, we all want our courses to be successful, but what does this mean?
Success will mean different things to different people. Your definition of it will depend on a variety of factors: the purpose of your course, the structure – whether it’s open and on-demand or available during certain times, your marketing efforts – whether you promote your course heavily or have learners enrol organically.
Taking some time to think about these factors will help you measure success more effectively.
These are just some questions us learning designers at OpenLearning ask but there are many others that may be of additional importance to you.
What questions do you ask yourself when designing your courses? Share in the comments.