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7 Essential Elements of a Good Online Course

  • Natasha LaneNatasha Lane

One of the more obvious benefits of living in the digital era is our ability to access information at any time via our phones or computers. This ease of access enables us to learn just about anything and make good use of the plethora of online courses available to us. 

However, there are courses that can actually teach us something, and then there are courses that are simply a waste of time and money.

If you’re looking to create an online course, take a look at the seven essential elements of a good one. They’ll help you ensure that your students learn a lot and also have a great experience throughout the process.

1. A Clear Layout

First, your online course needs to come with a very clear layout. Define what the course will be about and describe the topics you will be covering. You need to be very clear about the objectives and the expected outcomes and write clear, concise copy. The aim is to make it understandable for people who have little to no experience in the topic you’re teaching. 

You should also feature a list of all the tools and resources that will be required during the course. This will allow your potential students to prepare in advance and determine whether or not they are interested. 

Ideally, you’ll also provide some general timeframes. Show how long a lesson will take, how many assignments there will be and how much time they will require, and so on. This will help your students come in fully prepared and aware of what is expected of them, so they don’t have to face any unnecessary frustrations. 

For inspiration, take a look at how Skillcrush outlined its courses. All of their course pages give you plenty of detail about the outcomes and the tools you will be using, but they never overwhelm you with too much information. 

You are able to make an informed decision and gauge if the course is right for your knowledge levels and desired course-taking purposes. This is key in order to attract just the kinds of students who would benefit from your course the most. 

2. Focusing on the Essentials

Stick to top-level information when writing your course description. The only time to go more in depth is if you’re creating a course that is highly specialized and advanced. That type of course would require a certain level of knowledge from your course-takers, so they’d be able to follow a more complex description. 

But for a standard course, a fair portion of potential students won’t have a firm grasp of the subject matter. When a course is described in specialized terms, they will likely feel a bit awkward, and their confidence will waver. On the other hand, when they feel like they understand what they will be taught and how it will help them, they are much more likely to sign up for the course. 

Remember that most of your audience is combating digital distractions at every single step. Their attention span will be incredibly short. If they need to read a lot of material just to understand what a course is about, they are likely to give up. 

3. Readily Available Live Support

The best way to learn a practical skill is to see someone do it well. This is why it’s important to offer your students live support as well as the opportunity to attend a live online class. 

You don’t have to teach all of your classes live. Instead, you can offer them after each section or chapter (if your course has them). The key is to make your students feel like they can access you in person, even though there is a screen between you. 

If you opt to hold live classes, make sure to set up a class schedule in advance, so your students can book the time to attend on their calendars. You can hold Q&A style classes or information sessions too, where you focus entirely on what your students have to ask. Be mindful that people can be a bit shy in these types of situations, so come prepared to break the ice and have plenty of talking points that you can rely on until someone speaks up and asks a question. 

Ideally, you want the class to have a chat option, and yourself to be the only one on camera – the anonymity helps people be a bit more forthcoming. 

4. Useful Visual Aids

While your course certainly needs to be built on solid foundations in terms of knowledge, you shouldn’t forget that it also needs to look good. There are countless courses across all the online platforms that could be so much better if the teacher had only taken the time to consider their visuals. Some of them are brilliant, but the austerity in the visual department makes them difficult to digest. 

First, you need to consider the type of visual aid that each segment and lesson will benefit the most from. Here is are some possible options:

  • Screenshots
  • Charts and graphs 
  • Timelines
  • Family trees
  • Stock photos
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Animations
  • Characters
  • Comics
  • Printables
  • Visual guides

For example, if you are analyzing gender roles in Fire and Blood, a family tree and a timeline would be of huge help. On the other hand, if you are doing a course on yoga and meditation, a visual guide can help learners grasp some of the more complex asanas.

Your visual aid needs to match your content and enhance it. Don’t just throw random images on a screen: make sure they are truly learning aids. Don’t forget that all of them also need to be of the highest possible quality. A grainy image won’t go down well.

The question of whether you need to create custom visuals for your course is a difficult one to answer. If you are able to, always create all of your own materials. Even though this will be the much more time-consuming route, it will help you stand out, brand your course more effectively, and you will be able to tailor everything to your teaching style and the interests and knowledge levels of your students. 

5. A Space to Collaborate 

Your students will also need a space to chat and collaborate. A big part of the appeal of online courses is the chance to meet other people who are in the same niche or share your interests, so don’t neglect the social aspect of your course. 

There are plenty of chat apps available that you can use. Set up two channels on the app: one of them should serve as a lounge, where your students can discuss the class, ask questions, and exchange ideas without you. The other will be a place for more informal discussions with the class.

Group meetings on Zoom are a great way to catch up with more people at the same time. Plus, it provides that classroom feel that’s usually missing from online classes and that often makes online learning feel a bit more lonely. 

You can also create a private Facebook group where your students can meet each other and discuss course- and non-course-related topics. And if you’re looking to foster the participation of a larger crowd, online forums are also a great choice.

6. A Sense of Accomplishment or Transformation

Your students should feel like they’ve accomplished something or achieved a transformation of some kind when they get to the end of your course. While you may not be providing grades or certifications, you still want them to feel good about themselves, the overall learning experience, and to feel that the effort they’ve invested paid off.

Whether you come up with some digital badges, hold an end-of-course online celebration, or send each student a personalized note, do your best to help everyone feel that sense of accomplishment. 

Of course, the best sense of accomplishment comes from achieving the goals or learning objectives of the course. So if your course provides the transformation you promised, that is the single best way to leave your students feeling proud and accomplished.

7. Honest Testimonials

As noted in this post about finding an Amazon FBA course, results and testimonials speak volumes louder than any advertisement. So, you’ll want to make sure that your course has plenty of testimonials from students who have already taken it. This will help you gain some valuable traction and ensure that future students choose you over someone who has had more students than you. 

When a student completes the course, thank them for their time and effort, and ask them to provide a testimonial. Then add the ones you like the most and that you feel will appeal to other students to your course website or description. 

Ready to Design Your Online Course?

Bear these seven elements of a good online course in mind when you design yours. While some of them may take a bit of time to implement, you will see the result of your efforts sooner rather than later. Put in the effort now, and you’ll soon have plenty of students eager to learn with you. 

Now go forth and start designing your winning online course!