Today at my other job (I also work for a large state agency), I was faced with an instructional designer’s ultimate challenge. It was kind of like when the bakers on Cupcake Wars get some off the wall secret ingredient like squid ink that they have to incorporate – even though they’ve never heard of the ingredient.
I am working on a multi-module gardening curriculum to train volunteers in horticulture knowledge. I do pretty well with that content. We have some amazing subject matter experts on board, and an incredible project coordinator.
However, we are at the end of the amazing content we have. And there’s one last module to be created.
We could not get anyone on board to provide content on soils. This is a huge gap because improving garden soil is the ultimate key to improving your landscape. We are late in the project – we launch in two months. This content has yet to be developed, as we had no base content to go with.
Now, my undergraduate degree is in agriculture. I have taught many a botany and gardening class at the elementary school level. I’ve designed and developed elearning modules for plant diseases and other units in this gardening basics curriculum.
I had no background to develop soil science content from scratch. So what’s an instructional designer to do? I can’t stop the project in its tracks. We’ve asked, the project coordinator has asked – and nothing.
So we put it off in hopes of someone – anyone – giving us content. I had a single PowerPoint from years ago and a very short chapter in a training manual.
Cue getting creative.
I combed the other modules for anything we had on soils. Bingo. Concepts were beginning to emerge. The need for deeper levels of information emerged. A search yielded research sites to pull that deeper information from. In a matter of a couple of hours, we had a skeleton of a great science-based soil-water-plant nutrition course.
Now to move on to the next few days of fleshing out the skeleton.
What information is absolutely necessary?
What information is needed?
What information is nice to know?
We want and need learners to get a certain skill out of this module – the ability to conduct, submit, interpret and respond to a soil test. With that focus and the collected knowledge of all the other modules, we are well on our way.
Even without an active contribution from a subject matter expert, we were able to pull together a whiz-bang module that will get learners the response the project coordinator is looking for.
Creativity is part and parcel of the mindset of the instructional designer.
Without creativity, we are nothing but PowerPoint pixel pushers. With creativity, we make magic out of what sometimes seems like nothing.
How More Engagement Increases Scarcity
You want to know if people are “getting” your content. You want to know if it is making a difference for anyone otu there.
You could quiz them to see if they are “getting it”, but that reeks of boxy, standard elearning content.
You can use the business standard of “if more people bought it today than yesterday, then people are getting it” standard. To an extent, this is more helpful. If your content convinces people to share it with their colleagues, neighbors and friends, then you’ve got some good content.
Sharing = social approval, social approval = more customers
A better way to go is to see if they are increasing engagement. Engagement means that they are wanting more of what you are offering.
This means that they are interacting with your social media content. It means that they are commenting on your blog. It means that they are converting to a higher value purchase in your value chain.
Of course, this means that you are obliging that engagement on social media by liking back, following back or answering their questions. It can also mean a shout out @mention when you blog about a question they posted after you asked your followers what they want more of from you.
Yes, you should be asking what they want from you.
Success with an online course means that you should see an overall increase in your online traffic on all fronts.
This also means that you are tracking and have baseline information for all of your analytics, your socials and your other types of traffic like shares, likes and followers.
This is the kicker. It means you need a value path for people to follow. It means you can’t just have a one-off way for people to interact with you. Your course is not an end point for people. It’s just a different kind of introduction. Introductions are rarely the end of a relationship. Of course, there are those people you meet that you never see again, but the real value of a relationship is one that provides mutual value.
You need to have more than one offer.
Everything you have to offer is a means for people to communicate with you, to interact with you, to have access to your expertise. The more access to the expert you provide, the more relationship they’ll perceive they have with you and to some extent, it will be true.
Will you reciprocate and participate in a relationship with that person? Can you win that person over as a client for life?
I see a lot of subject matter experts who want to rid themselves of a client group by brushing them off toward their online content. The audience is either old hat for them or it’s not “profitable” either in terms of sheer revenue or in terms of future value that might be obtained from the audience.
Do not make the mistake of putting content for this audience online then forgetting about it. Launching an online product is like having a kid – it changes the game permanently.
If you want to rid yourself of an audience, find someone you can groom to better serve that audience.
Don’t relegate your audience members to your online content.
They’ll come back to haunt you later like those Taco Tuesday from that sketchy place your friend recommended.
I used to dismiss programs that were personality driven. I used to say that once the personality at the wheel moved on, the program would fall apart. I’ve seen that happen, so to an extent it is true. But the audience doesn’t disperse like so many flies after a picnic – it stays with the personality. The personality carries that audience forward to the next project. The people follow the personality.
This audience is interested in something from you. You and no one else. If you want to groom someone to take that audience over, they will have to have the IT factor sought by that audience. Expect them to follow you to your new endeavor.
They want access.
They want to have a relationship with you.
Because they want to be special, too – and being in your follower group asking you questions and getting your attention makes them special at that moment. Then they get to tell their friends you @mentioned them or that the practice they adopted came straight from you to them. You’ve blessed the advice, and the implication is that you’ve blessed them, too.
That’s scarcity in a nutshell.
That’s the paradox of engagement.
By doing more of it, you increase scarcity.
Scarcity increases demand.
Your blessing on their activities is what your followers are looking for. Cultivate this kind of celebrity, and you’ll cultivate followers for life. They’ll want everything you have to give.
Just make sure it’s worth receiving – that it’s honest and true and genuinely helpful.
In turn, your audience will make it worth your time.
One thing I love about my job is looking for and testing out new toys. I also love a bargain, so I always look for cool free stuff – or cool cheap stuff. This is my list of the coolest free stuff I’ve found lately.
If you want to start making videos, but you’re nervous about your face appearing on screen, this is the tool for you. Sign up with your Adobe account and go to town creating your own videos. You can select from several pre-scripted formats like “Teach a lesson” or “Explain Something”. Select from several formats with preselected fonts and color schemes. Select the visuals you want from the icon library or select photos from Dropbox. The app even keeps track of the appropriate credits for all of the icons and images you use in your video. Choose from several music options, then voice each slide one by one. Don’t worry about writing a script as the app prompts you when you add a slide. When you’re done, you can share to your social media or save it to your camera roll. If you’re concerned about ADA compliance, import the video into Camtasia or other video editor and add a captioning track before you produce and share it.
These two free image sources are my go-to image bank. I use these images for backgrounds, crop them for social media images, and do image-fills that take my buttons and interactions to the next level. Unsplash allows you to download their images any time. Death to the Stock Photo will email you a set of 10-12 images once monthly.
This is my favorite animated video creation platform. If you’ve never worked with video, Powtoon is a great place to start. Their get started webinars and training materials will catapult you to animated awesomeness in no time. Select from their wide range of templates, select a character, add some voiceover and you’re well on your way. The bonus with Powtoon is their overall approach. No animation works without a supporting story. They encourage you to work on your story first. I wholeheartedly agree. Find the drama, the decision point, the deep question – then plan your animated video around that. Other approaches to creating on this platform will fall flat. Easy to use – easy to learn – hard not to come back to time and time again.
I use this to aggregate the content I share on social media. I have papers for all of the social media accounts I manage, which means one paper for each brand or offering we have as a business. It searches the web for the things you tell it to, then creates a newspaper with all of those topics represented. I review everything in my paper, then decide if it’s worth sharing with my audience. This also helps keep me up to date on what’s going on in my field. Your audience members can also subscribe to your Paper to have it sent straight to your inbox after you curate it and OK it.
This one’s purely self-indulgent. I love to learn new things. Highbrow brings me new and interesting things daily into my inbox. There are literally hundreds of courses you can choose from – but you can only be subscribed to one course at a time. That’s the only bummer here, but the course is broken down into such small chunks that it leaves you wanting more – which doesn’t appear in your inbox until the next day!
We all love free toys, especially when they all work really well. I would not put these things on my list of favorite toys if they didn’t work splendidly.
Do you have any favorite toys that should perhaps make the list next time?
Formats for online courses are as varied as their instructors. The determining factors boil down to budget and what your audience expects.
Remember that there’s good, fast and cheap – and you can only pick two of the three. If you’re going to invest time in developing online course content, do it the right way. Invest in as high a quality production as you can.
If your audience loves video, your course needs to be video. If your audience loves to read, your course should be text-based. Most of the time, audiences will be mixed in the kinds of modality they prefer – education professionals use that term to refer to whether learners listen, watch, read or interact with content.
This decision will also impact the budget and timeline for the course production. Let your Instructional Designer help you with this decision as you discuss your audience in detail with them.
This is a great place to start thinking about format. This list is by no means exhaustive:
- Video: For visual, “just show me” content. The things learners are supposed to get from your material is best shown to them. This includes skills and things that cannot be adequately described in text. Videos can be “talking head” shots of you presenting, or can be animated explainer videos. Many online courses rely on video content.
- The downside: High-quality video production can be expensive.
- The upside: Video production can be fast to help you capture the market.
- PDF: This is similar to selling an e-book, but the e-book is more like a workbook with homework to be completed by the learner. This is great for coaching material, self-reflection and for skills that can be adequately described in text and diagrams.
- The downside: This requires you to create an initial manuscript and work with a copyeditor before a graphic designer lays out your course. It can be a long process.
- The upside: The PDF can be delivered as a single file or broken up chapter by chapter and dripped out as learners finish the previous chapter.
- Interactive modules: These are multimedia presentations that can be like a “pick your own adventure” experience. Learners click, drag, sequence and interact with the content in a media-rich elearning experience.
- The downside: Good interactive modules take time to develop, and require regular input from the client.
- The upside: Interactive modules look and feel professional, are designed to hold learner’s attention and bring polish to your content in a way you never dreamed.
- Email: This approach works best if you’ve already worked to cultivate your email list. Use your email provider to set up campaigns with purchased elearning content.
- The downside: You may need to upgrade your account to provide auto-responder capabilities for this kind of campaign.
- The upside: Converting your content to bite sized chunks appropriate for an email campaign takes willingness to think about your material in a very different way.
- Mixed: You can mix and match formats above to achieve the perfect elearning course for you and for your audience.
The point here is not that you make a perfect choice – making a perfect choice can sometimes delay the fact that you just need to start somewhere. Get used to the idea that your first version of the course will not likely be the version of the course that becomes a hit.
Just start somewhere. You’ve got great content. You’ve got great ideas about how it can look and function. Let Instruction Intelligence help you make that reality. We live to see people become successful with their elearning ventures.
Who doesn’t want a piece of a $15 Billion industry that’s projected to keep growing like mad?
The real question is why NOT an online course?
As specialists, we all have a folder full of old presentations dating back years and years. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ve got so many PowerPoints that there is no hope of finding them all. We could speak on just about any given topic in our fields of expertise at the drop of a hat.
The problem with this is that we are limited to the audience right in front of us at the current moment – whether that’s a professional development event on a Saturday or at the annual professional conference.
And you and I both know that by 5 minutes in, only about 30% of the audience is paying attention. The other 70% are starting to feel their hangover or are more interested in their social media feeds than in your slides.
So what’s the problem with that? Doesn’t everyone know that this not-paying-attention deal is part of the gig? For those of us who don’t want to cast our pearls before swine, this is a huge problem.
We put hours into developing material, finding images, perfecting the right anecdote. Of course, we want people to pay attention and actually get something from our presentation.
So – why NOT an online course?
You can go back and re-use those old presentations that you think no one is interested in anymore (mainly because you’re not interested in it anymore – but that doesn’t mean others would not eat up every word you had to say).
You get to chunk your material in smaller pieces so that your audience can take it in as they have time for it. They can also go back and review it as they need to – because people don’t always get it all on the first round, and sometimes your kid comes in with a boo-boo needing some TLC.
This can be a passive income stream for you. Remember – the online course business was a $15 Billion industry in 2015. Why shouldn’t you capture a piece of that pie?
Don’t know where to start? Don’t let that stop you. That’s where Instruction Intelligence comes into the picture. We develop and distribute elearning to the adult continuing education market all day, every day.