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Even seasoned experts might create subpar courses. Learn what 10 mistakes to avoid.

10 most common mistakes in online course creation

While popular eLearning solutions provide a multitude of flexible and convenient ways to create online courses, many of them perform much worse than their authors expected. All in all, the courses are very different and their goals and audiences differ a lot, which requires different  approaches. We will list 10 most common mistakes in online course creation below to help you avoid such situations.

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Member of the Board, Raccoon Gang

Sergiy has 18 years of experience in eLearning and management. Creating educational programs, career paths, online and offline courses he is making the educational world better as a co-founder of RG.

10 most common mistakes in online course creation

Online course creation, especially the one with profit in mind, can – and should be compared to the process of writing a bestseller. Here is a pro tip from one of the bestselling book authors: deliver what the audience WANTS, not what it NEEDS, no matter how sure you are that you know better! This author browsed the Amazon in search of reviews of other books in the same genre and collected both positive and negative reviews. This way he was able to determine what the audience liked or not – and delivered all they wanted and all the other authors missed, so his books were always a success.

This list is comprised of mistakes from the least to the most impacting, based on our experience.

  1. Not doing your homework. No matter how big an expert in your field you are, while creating your first course (and, preferably, all of the following ones), you should read A LOT of guides and advice on best practices in online course creation. When people succeed in this area, they are likely to share their experience in order to exchange ideas and improve even further. These pieces of advice, along with many others will benefit you greatly.
  2. Not getting continuous feedback from students. The customer is always right, because he pays the bill and in order to persuade him to open the wallet you should provide EXACTLY what he wants. The same goes for free courses, as you want people to enroll and finish them. Negative feedback is the most crucial tool in getting this data, as people are likely to point out the weakest points of your course, which helps you get directly to the point and rectify all of the flaws. Publishing a brief pilot course for a pre-deployment testing by a group of students and continuously getting the maximum feedback from them is an invaluable tool of product improvement, as described in this great course from Michigan University, available at edx.org.
  3. Not using the gamification. Millennials are the biggest population strata in the US now (79 million and growing) – and they adore gamification. Provide some mid-course challenges with badges for achievements, deliver some competition (the best student of the week, the quickest homework completion, the best problem solution, etc.), so that at any given moment the student is engaged and thrilled with new goals to compete for.
  4. Not making a bite-sized course. People nowadays have generally shorter attention spans and in the age of information overload delivering 45-minutes-long theoretical parts just doesn’t work anymore. This is described in details in this brilliant report from the Information Overload Workgroup. In addition, many students consume online courses via mobile devices, meaning they can spare little time to listening to the theory. The best longevity of a video with a theory is 2-9 minutes, with 15 minutes being an absolute maximum. Such portions of theory can be consumed while commuting, having a snack, waiting for an ad break to end amidst the movie, or even while visiting a WC.
  5. Not meeting students’ commitment timeframes. Many students, especially the ones from the corporate sector, cannot commit 8 weeks of their life to gaining a new skill. They prefer micro courses, which provide the absolute minimum of theory and maximum of practice, so that new skills are gained and honed faster, in a matter of hours and days, not weeks and months.
  6. Not allowing the student to interact with the video. Simply listening to a video is boring, interactivity advances the learning to a whole new level. When a student can view the video and choose amongst the answers at once, view the graphs and examples of the theory explained, when there are mini-quizzes amidst the theoretical part – engagement level is high throughout the course.
  7. Not diversifying the testing methods. Quizzes are great yet they are not ideal for knowledge level testing. The students should be given various kinds of testing in order to achieve the best knowledge comprehension ratios. For example solving a practical exercise in full is better to simply choosing a correct answer, etc.
  8. Not using helpful handouts. Complex parts should not only be covered in videos, you should also provide textual and graphical handouts to ensure better understanding by the students.
  9. Not defining the skill of course participants. Being an expert poses a threat of taking many things for granted and forgetting that your students can be unfamiliar with them. Obviously, the course for newbies in some area would be nearly useless for professionals seeking ongoing training. There should be separate course modules with different difficulty levels, so that you provide useful basics for newbies and in-depth hints for seasoned veterans. A pre-course questionnaire like the one here helps the students determine their knowledge level, so that professionals can skip the modules they already know.
  10. Not positioning and marketing your course right. People tend to consider the course price a mark of its usefulness, so that a course worth $1500 is valued much more than a course worth $150, and more effort will be invested into the former. Don’t forget about advertising and marketing! Your course can be mega amazing, yet if you just  put it on your site (unless your site is in top-000 of Alexa) – there is a big threat that too few people will even know your course exists.
  11. A bonus advice: don’t underprice your course!
    Before putting a price tag on your course make the following:
  • Research the price other course providers with similar level of authority (we mean both institution and presenter) sell their courses for; don’t be much more expensive than the market average
  • Take a look at introductional materials they use. The higher the price tag the bigger amount of money you should spend on teaser, course design and course marketing itself.

In addition, there is a trend to divide courses into small modules, so that people can invest time and money exactly into the skills they need and get the best results. Thus said, splitting a huge course into a bundle of smaller ones can help serving a much wider audience without actually losing the revenue.

Avoiding these mistakes greatly increases the chances of launching a successful and popular online course on any eLearning solution – but it does not guarantee the jackpot. Active collaboration with skilled course creators is recommended in order to ensure your efforts do not go in vain. We wish you the best of luck with creating your online courses!

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