How to Make Your Online Courses Engaging – 6 Ways!

Written by Steve

Introduction: What are Online Courses?

Every so often someone asks me a question. They know it’s a contentious question and they know that anyone’s answer will be riddled with bias and opinion, so it’s impossible to know who’s right and who’s wrong. This question that I was asked a few weeks ago is no different.

“Hey Steve… (always dangerous when the question starts like that)… What makes an online course engaging?”

Online courses are so much more than a name or a category. There are so many different types of them. You can have self directed online courses, online lectures, hybrid courses, self directed, on demand courses, live, recorded, the list goes on and on.

What’s important to recognise is that at the heart of any online course or online lecture or (insert online education thing here) is that if you were to focus on one thing it would be TIP 2 – understanding what your learners need and then delivering on it.

The rest will take care of itself. You’ll see.. Every one of the tips below will be tied back to the learner, aka the most important person in your world. The Learner! Enjoy

Tip 1: Understand what is NOT engaging

The last thing you want to do is create a boring online course.. You know what I’m talking about, for me it’s the vomit inducing programs that offer 1000 hours of video training or 2700 lectures and a bunch of text to read.. GROSS! Not only is this boring, it’s making the assumption that your learners love you so much that they will wade through hours of your rubbish.

Engagement in online learning comes in many shapes and sizes but fundamentally you need to connect with your learners at their level and you need to provide the content in a WAY that makes them want to pay attention.

Maybe it’s shorter bite sized chunks, maybe it’s making sure they are able to apply the knowledge that they have learned via a template, a checklist or joining a group coaching session.

Engagement has nothing to do with the duration of your online course. It has to do with how you are able to capture the learners attention, keep their attention by making the program relevant to them and giving them the opportunity to apply what they learn. This will go a long way to making sure your online course is not boring and your feedback you receive from the learners will support this too.

Tip 2: Understand what YOUR learners need

As I aid in the intro, this is the tip that makes it all come together. You must understand your target audience aka your learners’ needs. The only way you can do this is to ask them. If you don’t have access to them you need to go and find them.

We advocate for a pilot program or a beta testing program where you get a small group of your learners to take some or all of your course and give you feedback. This might help you understand their needs, their preferred styles of learning, what format they would like the content and if the content is pitched at the correct level. 

When we work with our clients, audience analysis and target audience research is very detailed and thorough. So much so that we even draw a picture of the ideal learner, we give them a name, we know their favourite foods, goals, desires, fashion sense, the lot. The more you know about your learners and more questions you ask them the better positions your online course will be.

One thing to do after you get an answer from your target audience is to actually make sure you apply that to the way the program is structured. If you ask and don’t deliver this will lead to disengagement. 

Tip 3: Implement a diverse mix of course content

Today we have access to so much amazing technology. This tech helps us at Learn Awesome to create amazingly effective online courses for our clients. They are interactive and engaging and meet the learners needs. You can take advantage of this stuff too folks.

Normally when you look at a program you are trying to explain content in the WHAT, WHY, HOW, WHEN, WHERE format. But the most important W is missing, which is the WAY you can package or deliver the content.

There is a lot of argument and discussion out there about learning styles. Oh I’m a visual learner or I like to listen to content. I think what’s important here is that learning styles is basically the same as saying. I like skim milk over full fat milk. If skim milk isn’t available I will still drink the regular milk. Same goes here. If your sensory preference is to learn visually. It doesn’t mean you can’t learn via other mediums, it just means you prefer visuals.

Your online course content should be learner focused but you should look at providing the learner with a few different ways to learn and consume the content. If you’re shooting video, you can easily get it transcribed into text for someone to read and you can provide the option to just have the user play the audio instead of watching the video. 3 for the price of 1.

If the content must be visual then maybe you could break the video up into 2 min bite sized chunks and display them on the page in an engaging and interesting way. Maybe you can use an “authoring tool” (which is a fancy word for a piece of software specifically for online education) to package the content up in a way that would stimulate the learner.

If your program has audio, maybe you could look at doing a voiceover for your presentation. Instead of providing them with a static slide show, you could provide it and do a voiceover presentation over the top.

BONUS: – When we build programs that are video heavy, we will break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. We will invite them to pause the video and then go and complete a section of the work book or application. Then when they are ready they come back, press play and continue. This is a way that you can add interactivity and build an effective online course. 

Tip 4: Take advantage of online automations

Automation is not a dirty word anymore. In fact, it could be the very thing that saves you a bunch of time and effort, but increases the impact of your learning experiences for your audience. 

Think about it like this. Do you like reward and recognition? Of course you do. If you had 100 students taking your program, how long would it take you to type out a personalised email to every one of your students who completes the first module of your online course? A looooong time!!!!

With automation you can level up your learning experiences by setting up a series of templates, emails, sms messages, voicemail drops, etc that are triggered when a user does something.

So let’s say the learner completes module one of your program. You send them a sms or an email that says well done and congratulations. You might add a GIF in there and this little touch has a solid impact on motivation and willingness to continue learning (remember the little things)

When you automate your online course the right way you are able to save yourself some time but more importantly you are able to increase the positive experience that you are providing your learners. This is something we love to play with and something that our tool INTEGRATE does amazingly well.

Tip 5: Gamification… Keep it fun!

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.. This word would have to be the most overused and misused word in the online learning space today. What is gamification I hear you ask? Well there are so many ways to skin this cat, but gamification is NOT an online course leaderboard, it’s not points, badges and status. These things are just tools that when used correctly provide recognition and reward, let’s call it “incentivisation.”

Gamification is so much more. It’s a strategy and a process to let the user experience the program in a similar fashion to a video game. There is a story, there is a hero’s journey and the most important thing… THERE’S A POINT TO IT! When you just dump a bunch of incentives into your online course and call it e-learning gamification so you can have another dot point on your course sales page, you’re actually damaging the very fabric that gamification was built on (woah that’s dramatic) but it’s true. 

I think if you focus on the last part of this tip, the “keep it fun” part then you’ll be well on your way to connecting with your learners and delivering a real and fun experience.. Everyone is human (for now), so treat them like humans and be one yourself. You’re allowed to bumble and stumble your way through content. That’s what a human would do. You’re allowed to have a laugh or keep it light, I think we all like to have a laugh.. So do more of that.

At the end of your course if you want to provide some recognition in the form of a certificate of completion or email thanking them for completing the course, this will not go unnoticed by your learners. Just don’t give points without the point having a real use beyond just being something on the learners shelf that gathers dust..

We recently completed a virtual university for our client Loan Market. In this concept there were going to be some points, but these points were going to be used as a digital currency that allowed the user to then buy things on the platform that you could only buy with the virtual currency collected from completing learning within the virtual university. This then created a whole social learning adventure around it. Very cool and fun stuff.

BONUS Tip 6: Do it live by hosting a virtual event

Have you thought about turning your online course into a virtual event? One of the challenges of online learning is in order to get good online course engagement, there needs to be a social element (community) as well as some kind of live element. Not only does a live element of a program build connection and community, it also helps you as the course creator get real time feedback as to how your content performs/lands with the audience.

Running a virtual event is not difficult, there are simply a few logistical things you need to tick off as you go through. A simple zoom meeting can be the place to deliver your session and then, with a simple landing/registration page and reaching out to your network on social media or reengaging your existing customers or learners to offer them a chance to attend live, you’re on your way.

Events Lab has a bunch of content that you can consider when it comes to how you would go about running a virtual event, but the same considerations around understanding your learner as well as making it fun and engaging are key to success. 
Moral of the story, it’s all about the learner when it comes to online courses and online learning. If you get it right then not only will your program be popular, but it will help the learner achieve the goals of the program and learn new skills and knowledge. They will leave the program transformed and ready to apply their new skills you have taught them.

If you’d like to chat about how we can do some of the heavy lifting for you, then all you have to do is book a virtual coffee with us and we will happily talk you through it.

Keep focusing on those learners.


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