Do you feel like a fraud when you offer an online course with fewer materials?
Someone I know crafted a beautiful online course with a 300-page manual to go with it. I asked her what her clients thought of the manual. Her response was, “They find it difficult to get through it.” She’s now reduced it to 180, so I believe she’s on the right track.
Still 180 pages isn’t like reading a novel on the beach. People still have to work through it. Would a thick manual help you decide in favor of a course? Would that be the first thing you would ask to change, if you were the participant?
It’s becoming clear that with the non-stop flood of information we experience, traditional learning methods of “cramming more” aren’t working.
But if adding more information isn’t the selling point for people who need to hear something 20 times before they “get it,” then what is?
Instead of loading more information into our online course, we have to task ourselves to make the course practical and actionable. The distinction between these terms may blur, but you’ll see that one can’t be effective without the other.
Practical content isn’t always actionable, and actionable is not necessarily practical. So ditching the 180-page manual or reducing it to 10 pages doesn’t sell the course until it’s both practical and actionable.
In this post I’ll guide you on how to achieve both so you provide double value for the clients.
What makes a course practical?
The dictionary defines practical as something resulting from practice and action. Most of my MBA friends tell me they wish they’d had more “hands-on” College professors who were running their own businesses, instead of talking theory.
Think back to your school days and remember those “trade” fairs. The people who came and spoke there weren’t teachers but industry professionals, and that’s what made them effective.
We could tell immediately that they taught from experience and expertise, not textbooks.
You may not hold a “teaching” degree per se, but you have a lot more value to offer if you were to teach your trade to others because your vision isn’t cluttered by complex theories and ideas.
Here’re some points to help you create a practical course (even if you’re not a teacher):
Note: choose 1 topic before going through this checklist:
- List some things you wished you had known before you knew something.
- List the tools that make you more efficient in doing a specific task that you wish you’d had access to before.
- List the ways that helped you discover the tools/systems to improve your efficiency.
- List the mistakes you had made and seen others make when looking for a specific solution.
- List strategies that helped you excel at your skills more quickly than others.
When I created my Smart Online Teacher’s Hub program, my goal was to make it practical and actionable for online teachers moving beyond 1:1. I knew there was a lot to teach on the subject, but my goal was to give only that which would help my clients get the quickest return on their investment.
So here’re my answers:
- Before I taught anything online I wish I’d known how to define my niche, my dream client and my core message. It would have saved me years had I known that, so I included that into my program.
- Writing helped me answer the questions above, so I incorporated questionnaires and worksheets into my program.
- I discovered many new approaches by asking questions and challenging assumptions. That led me to incorporating a chat into my program so I can ask participants more questions before I give answers.
- The mistakes I’d made had to do with lack of feedback, so now feedback is an integral part of my delivery as it cuts out a lot of aimless wandering around.
- What helped me excel is learning how to delegate specific skills, so I incorporated a delegation training into my curriculum.
Take any topic that you would like to turn into a course and use these points as a guide. What will emerge is an outline that’s practical and ready for implementation.
How do you make your course actionable?
If “practical” means stemming from action, “actionable” has to lead to action. A practical course may not lead to action even if it’s full of useful tips and time-saving strategies.
What leads to action then? – Making the practical tips your own.
Imagine going to the store and looking at clothes. You end up buying because you like what you see, but is it you?
We tend to cut the corners and use luck to shop “all practical strategies,” but the tips may not work until they’re ours.
You make them yours by “trying them on,” setting them into your context, evaluating, setting deadlines and completing.
“Real Artists Ship.” – Steve Jobs.
If your course content isn’t actionable, participants don’t “ship.” They don’t implement and complete on time.
Consider these strategies for actionable content:
- Help your participants internalize what they’re learning by adding reflection sheets.
- Help them take note of what they’ve mastered and what they’re struggling with by adding progress tracking sheets.
- Help them create realistic to-do lists based on the things they have to apply.
- Create quizzes with questions after shorter sections so your students can go back to what they’ve been learning and refresh it in their memory.
- Break down content into smaller and manageable steps.
- Add online events: Q&As, workshops, virtual office hours in your course community to help them tackle the questions they struggle with.
- Communicate often that you’re available. Sometimes participants want to rough it on their own or they feel dumb when asking a question, so it never hurts to remind them that they don’t have to be stuck and can ask for help.
When you make your course practical and actionable, you’ll find that you no longer need too much content to prove to your participants that what you offer is valuable. The results your members experience will be the value that communicates deeper than the 300-page manuals.
So do you have a course and how do you make it practical and actionable? Please share in the comments!
Elena Mutonono is one of the authors of Opted Out of the *Real Job* – a handbook I wish I’d read before I started my online teaching business. The 12 chapters and 72 pages would have saved me 5 years of aimless and labor-intensive online teaching. Now I want to share it with others because smarter online teaching gives you more fulfillment and enjoyment from the business you’re running.