When learners first come across your online course, they want to find out whether the course is right for them. Within seconds, they need to know whether reading up on the details is worth their time, and they don’t want to waste time and money on the wrong course.
You, as an online instructor, also have an interest in attracting the right customers. If you don’t, you’ll have unhappy learners on your hands and will be handling refunds.
Meeting and exceeding your customers’ expectations is a great way of building a following of raving fans and getting great course reviews. Providing the information that helps align your customers’ expectations with your offer is part of your job as an online instructor. Make sure your learners get what they want, and you’ll get the customers you want!
Here’s a free, editable PDF template to help you speed up your course production. If you skip the article, make sure to not skip the template!
Much of the following may seem obvious. However, forgetting just one element is very easy and can lead to frustration and abandoned courses.
What Learners Want to Know About Your Course
Upon first contact with your course’s description or sales page, potential learners will be looking for answers to questions such as:
- Who are you addressing with your course? Who is the target group?
- What kind of previous knowledge is required? Does the course build on top of knowledge that they don’t have?
- How long will it take to complete the course?
- What kind of course is this? (Video, webinars, …)?
- Will there be a project to complete? Is it graded?
In addition, there are pieces of information learners normally don’t explicitly and consciously ask for. If you want to convince learners to buy and avoid confusion, you’ll provide answers to these questions anyway:
- How will they benefit from this course?
- What’s the protocol for group discussions?
- How can they reach the instructor if they run into problems?
Where to Place This Information
Regardless of where you publish your online courses, you can always find a way of educating your learners in time in order to avoid wasted energy and disappointment. The information that learners need is usually not aggregated in one place, but often distributed.
The usual suspects for clarifying all of the above to your learners are:
- Your sales copy: What learners see as part of your promotion activities.
- Your course description: What learners see if they are interested in details about your course before buying.
- Your course instructions: What learners see first once they’ve bought your course.
- Your introductory lesson: The first lesson that learners need to complete.
The elements above are not strictly defined. Sometimes, the introductory lesson is publicly available and thus is part of the information available before learners buy. Sometimes, course instructions can be made available publicly, whereas on other platforms they’re only accessible for buyers. Depending on your platform, not every potential information source is a good match for every piece of information. For example, it’s not a good idea to explain the prerequisites of your course in a place that learners only get access to after they’ve already bought the course. Use common sense!
I will call the combination of all your pieces of information the “course introduction”. The course introduction is where you take a stranger by the hand and guide them quickly through what you have to offer. The goal is to avoid confusing your learners in any way. When you confuse your learners, they’ll be struggling to understand how your course works. Instead of focusing on your course’s content, they’ll be trying to figure out how to move along or (worse) trying to make sense of why you’re presenting what you’re presenting. Their learning will be impaired, their level of satisfaction lowered, and your earnings will eventually take a hit.
What to Provide as Part of Your Course Introduction
Let’s look at the details. Here’s
- what you need to provide as part of your course introduction and
- when you need to provide it.
Course Information Before Learners Buy
Before learners buy, you need to give them all of the information below in order to be transparent and fair. You’ll build a good relationship with your customers and make sure they get what they’re looking for:
- Required software or tools: It would be unfair towards learners to have them buy a course only to discover that they can’t actually apply the knowledge of the course unless they buy an expensive software package beforehand.
- Course description: What is this course about? What course content can your learners expect? What kind of course is it? (Video-only, webinars, text, projects, …)
- Prerequisite knowledge: Same as with software tools, learners won’t be happy to have bought a course that they won’t be able to take for lack of knowledge.
- Learning objectives: Communicate your course objectives, and set up the right expectations. Why should learners choose this course? Which benefits are you offering? What are learners going to be able to do after completing your course?
- Non-objectives: What aren’t learners going to learn in your course?
- Instructor introduction: Who are you (the instructor), why should learners listen? People want to know who they’re learning from and what enables you to teach. The placement in this section is somewhat of a grey area. While this is not strictly necessary before buying, and could be moved to the next section, you’ll have a hard time selling courses unless learners know who’s behind a course.
- Learning time: Nobody wants to spend money on a course they expect to be in-depth and then discover that it barely scratches the surface. On the other hand, if people expect to learn your content within two hours, when they’ll actually have to go through days of video, they’ll be equally frustrated.
- Will you issue a certificate? How can learners obtain it? This is an especially important issue for corporate training.
Course Information After Buying Your Course
If learners have bought, you’ve obviously convinced them that your course is right for them. Now the real work begins. You need to meet or exceed their expectations, and make sure they get the best course possible (so that they will become raving fans, recommend your course to all of their friends and buy from you again). You don’t want them to become frustrated while trying to figure out how to start learning. Give them all the information they need at this point:
- Course outline: You’ll have provided a description of your course content before selling your course. During learning, a course outline or table of contents helps learners build a mental model of your content. You may use it to provide a golden thread throughout your course. Learners want to know where they’re at, and what more is yet to come. Many platforms allow you to mark learner’s progress in your course outline.
- How does your course work? Learners shouldn’t need to find out how to proceed in the middle of learning. This will disrupt their learning experience and hinder progress. Clarify anything that needs clarifying beforehand. Which types of learning objects are there? How do quizzes work?
- Contact information: How can learners contact the course author?
- Support information: How can help be obtained in case of problems?
- Are there exercises or quizzes? How do they work? How will they be graded? How can project results be uploaded and discussed?
- How can learners give feedback and suggestions?
While Learners Go Through Your Course
When learners have started studying, they should have most of the information they’ll need. However, you may still need to provide some explanations further down the road, and you need to make sure it’s available when learners need it.
- Rules and expected behavior for group work in case your course incorporates discussions, group work, forums, Facebook groups or other social elements. It’s OK to explain this just before the first project or homework is given. In fact, that may be better than explaining it days earlier.
- Explanations for course elements you use sparingly. Same reasoning here: If you have a single quiz in your course, explain how it works just before learners take it. That’s better than explaining it in your course introduction, and then wait for learners to forget until they actually get to the quiz.
We’ve discussed which information needs to be given to learners in order to satisfy their curiosity and make their learning successful. You’ve also gotten some ideas about where to put that information and when your learners need access to it.
So how do you make sure you never forget any of these elements and always have a reference? Well, you could bookmark this article. However, there’s an even better way (which will also help you streamline your course production):
Here’s a free template for you. It’s an editable PDF which you can simply fill in for every new course you complete. You can save it to your own computer and then simply copy information over to your course hosting platform.