The demand for online education is exploding.
The global market for online courses is estimated around $107 billion. A mind-boggling figure, right?
Imagine stuffing one-dollar bills into a 53-foot truck. Depending on how crumpled your bills are, you’d need around 1,000 trucks stuffed up to the roof to transport those 107-billion dollar bills.
Would you like one of those trucks to deliver a heap of money to you?
Then you must create a lesson plan so valuable that students get excited about buying your online course.
A high-value lesson plan motivates people to both study and implement your advice. It makes students so happy about their newly acquired skills that they tell all of their friends about your course. That’s how your course starts selling like hot cakes.
Ready to get started?
Step #1: Carefully assess your students’ needs
When developing a course on your own platform, the most logical starting point often seems to be your expertise.
How can you teach your skills to others?
This common approach is asking for trouble. Big trouble.
Because it’s hard to create a valuable learning experience when you think from your own perspective rather than from the student’s perspective.
Think about your course buyers first:
- Who will buy your course?
- How will the course transform them?
- Why are they interested in this transformation?
Imagine, for instance, that you’re a social media expert, and you want to create a course to share your Twitter knowledge. You could answer the three questions above in widely different ways:
- You might want to target Twitter novices who are hoping to build a Twitter following because they want more traffic to their websites.
- You might want to target freelance writers who want to connect with publishers and influencers because they want to write for well-known publications that pay higher fees.
- You might want to target small business marketers who find Twitter a time suck; they want to promote their brands in less time.
Each of these audiences requires a different lesson plan because they have different learning objectives and different levels of experience.
So before you create your lesson plan, define who your audience is and how you’ll help them.
If you’re unsure, read questions in relevant forums and check out the comment sections of popular blogs. Or, even better, ask your own email subscribers what they’re struggling with and how you can help.
Once you understand your audience and the overall aim of your course, you can start creating your lesson plan — the foundation of a popular course.
Step #2: Assign learning objectives to each part of your course
Courses often fail to deliver a smooth learning experience because participants lose track of their objectives.
Students become demotivated when they don’t understand the value of each lesson. They don’t see how your information contributes to their goals. They might even forget why they’re taking your course.
To keep your participants motivated, break the overall objective of your course down into mini-targets for each lesson.
You can fill in the blanks of this magical sentence for each target:
Learn [how this works], so you can [achieve so-and-so].
Each module, each lesson, and each assignment in your course should have a purpose. When participants understand the value of the information and how they’ll benefit from it, they’re more likely to engage with your course and implement your advice.
And what’s more, your valuable lesson plan makes crafting a sales page a breeze, too.
You already know who’s going to buy your course and why (for the transformation). You’ve already listed features (what people learn) and benefits (why they care about learning the information you teach). So, your lesson plan is the ideal selling tool for your course.
But how do you define the purpose of each lesson? And how do you make sure all of the lessons help students achieve their overall goal — their transformation?
Step #3: Create simple, digestible lessons
Ever felt overwhelmed when taking a course?
Or perhaps you’ve studied a course diligently, but were left wondering: “Now, what?”
Ensuring your course meets or exceeds your buyer’s expectations is a tough job. You can’t leave any gaps, but you also can’t overwhelm students by inundating them with too much information.
To avoid any gaps in your lesson plan, start with listing the steps you take to complete a specific task.
Let’s look at an easy example first.
Imagine creating a mini-course for cycling enthusiasts about packing a bicycle for transportation on a plane. You can create this course by making notes of the steps you take when packing your bike.
In this case, it’s even easier to record a video of yourself and provide a running commentary. But when you’re teaching an abstract topic, like leadership or digital marketing skills, it’s more difficult.
For abstract topics, reverse-engineer your processes
As an expert, you often accomplish tasks effortlessly. You don’t think about how you create a presentation; you simply put the slides together. You don’t think about how to write an email or give a client a quote. You simply perform the tasks.
To break down your processes, start by asking yourself, “How did I arrive at this result?”
Imagine creating online training materials for senior managers. One skill you want to teach is conducting performance reviews that motivate staff members and make them more productive.
You can picture yourself going through the process:
- How do you prepare?
- How do you ask your team members to prepare?
- How do you conduct the performance review?
- What type of notes do you take?
You can mentally rehearse your latest performance reviews and break down the complicated parts. You can play back how you dealt with an underperforming team member. You can think about the questions you asked to help you understand what your team member was struggling with.
You’ll find that you often need to mix different types of digestible chunks, especially for complicated topics or advanced skills. For instance, in my Enchanting Business Blogging course:
- You learn how to write headlines, subheads, opening paragraphs, the main body text, and closing paragraphs — these are all different parts of a blog post
- You learn how to generate ideas, outline, write a first draft, and edit — these are all different stages of the blog writing process
- You also learn how to tell a mini-story, use metaphors, and include specific examples — these are all different writing techniques
You have to dig deep to distinguish different parts, chop up a process, and pinpoint techniques. You have to understand the essence of your topic and the foundation of your skills.
In the Da Vinci course from Sean D’Souza at Psychotactics, for instance, you can learn how to draw cartoons. But first, what’s the foundation of drawing? The course begins with drawing circles.
Now you’ve reverse-engineered your process. You’ve created a lesson plan that’s logical and enticing. Each lesson has a clear learning objective, and your valuable lesson plan is nearly ready.
Step #4: Motivate students to implement your advice
Consuming information in digestible chunks is not the same as learning.
To give your students real value and create raving fans, encourage students to implement your advice. At the end of each lesson, create an assignment for them.
For example, my guide for writing About pages, co-written with Julia Rymut, is a five-day mini-course.
Each day features new information plus an assignment so you can implement what you’ve learned:
- Learn how to order the key components of an About page to create an engaging flow. Review how your favorite websites communicate the essential components of an About page (analysis of other people’s work helps reinforce the lesson).
- Learn how to generate ideas for your About page. Complete a 23-point questionnaire so writing about yourself becomes a breeze.
- Learn specific editing tips for About pages. Edit your page to make your content credible, persuasive, and enjoyable.
Remember, a valuable lesson plan doesn’t simply share information. It inspires students to implement your advice by suggesting activities and assignments.
Step #5: Avoid the biggest pitfall in lesson creation
You’re an expert. You’re brimming with enthusiasm for your topic. You want to share your knowledge and teach your skills. You want to inspire people.
Your red-cheeked enthusiasm is both a huge advantage and an enormous potential pitfall.
While your teaching materials will likely reflect your enthusiasm and get students excited about your course, your enthusiasm may also make you prone to overwhelming your students.
Because you want to teach them everything. Each method. Each trick. Each example. Each exception. And you risk leaving your students gasping for air.
Sharing everything you know is not necessary. Go back to the objective of your course, and ask yourself, “What’s the minimum students need to learn to fulfill that objective?”
Then evaluate your lesson plan:
- Can you eliminate any learning material that’s not absolutely necessary? (Instead of scrapping lessons, consider turning them into bonus material.)
- Does each lesson have one, straightforward learning objective, or have you muddled your program by sneaking multiple objectives into one lesson? Try cutting lessons into smaller chunks.
- For each exercise or assignment, have you covered the relevant knowledge and skills?
- Do the learning objectives follow each other in a logical order?
- What could prevent students from implementing your advice? And how can you help overcome those hurdles?
- Have you warned students about common mistakes?
- Do the learning objectives match your overall promise?
Too much information makes students feel overwhelmed and leads to inaction. Not enough information leaves students confused and defeated. Good teachers inspire their students by giving exactly the right amount of information.
When running a test drive or beta version of your course, keep a close eye on the questions people ask.
Is important information missing? Are specific assignments stumbling blocks? Do students need a pep talk halfway through your course because they’re losing confidence? Or do you need to slow down and recap the lessons so far?
As a good teacher, do more than share information. Encourage. Motivate. Inspire.
Set the foundation for a thriving online training business
Some say that online learning may be more effective than the traditional model of classroom learning.
People can study at their own pace. They don’t waste time traveling and can save energy by studying from home. They can connect with like-minded people across the world.
But online learning only works if we, as providers, deliver a valuable learning experience.
Creating a valuable lesson plan can be tricky. I’m sure you’ve taken courses that left you confused, cross-eyed, and without hair. Or perhaps you gave up long before that. Defeated, you moved on to the next shiny course. Without making progress.
Your students deserve better than that.
So don’t simply share your knowledge. Create a course that teaches a real skill. Make your course so inspirational that people are begging you to create another course next.
Your valuable lesson plan is the solid foundation of a thriving training business.
Can you hear that truck honking?
The driver leans out of the window, a smile on his face. He’s waving at you, ready to deliver a heap of dollar bills.
Build Your Online Training Business the Smarter Way
- Are you currently planning or developing an online course and looking for practical advice (from a proven expert) that will put you in a position to have a successful launch?
- Do you already have an online course that you’re looking to improve before your next launch?
- Or are you simply curious what this online course craze is all about?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the three questions above, then you’ll want to check out Brian Clark’s new course: Build Your Online Training Business the Smarter Way
Brian walks you through every step of starting a profitable, sustainable online training business using the time-tested principles of instructional design — even if you’re not yet sure what type of online course to create.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on August 18, 2015.