How to Create an eCourse that Sells with Learner Centered Design

In this post, I'm sharing some essentials for creating an ecourse that sells well. If you're new to course creation, here's some more articles that cover the basics:

Choosing a topic for your online course

Outlining online courses

Creating course materials the fast and easy way

If you’re anything like me, you got into teaching online because you are excited about spreading knowledge and sharing your passion and expertise. You know that your content is awesome and that it has the potential to create real transformation and growth for your audience. The biggest challenge for us online educators is cutting through all the noise. After all, the internet is a busy, crowded, distracting place and we face intense competition for our audience’s attention. So how can we stand out and ensure that our courses resonate with our learners?

One way to do this is to put the needs of your learner at the center of your course creation process. Learner-Centered course creation emphasizes:

  • Building a relationship with your learners

  • Getting to know their challenges

  • Creating a practical course that is designed to help them succeed

  • Providing support and encouragement along the way

Here are some my favorite tips to help you implement this strategy and get you on the path to creating educational content that helps you build a strong brand and loyal fans.

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1. Know What Problem You're Solving

When you sit down to start planning out your educational content, how do you usually begin? If you're like most people, your instinct might be to start by outlining topics. This makes sense-- after all the information is central to what you're teaching-- but it's not necessarily the best way to create content that is going to have a major impact on your learner. So what should you do instead? I like to take a user-centered approach to design and follow a development process that includes identifying pain points: What does your learner need to know about your subject? What's getting in their way of success with your topics? Knowing the specific pain points for your audience is a great tool for creating a course that has a real, meaningful impact on your learners.

2. Create Transformation

One of the first questions I ask myself when I'm ready to start working on a new piece of content, whether it's a new course, a webinar, or even a blog post, is how does this create a transformation for my learner? This transformation does not have to be huge and earth-shattering, but making sure that the work I'm creating is designed to create positive change is one of my favorite ways to produce content that is purposeful for my audience. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you design content that creates transformation:

  • Does this content relate to a problem or challenge that matters to my audience?

  • Do I offer a solution or new approach to meeting that challenge?

  • Do I offer tools and tactics that are clear and easy to apply?

3. Build Your Course Around a Unique Process, System, or Framework

Building your content around a clear and memorable structure is a great way to create an accessible course. Having a clear sense of structure upfront is not only going to make people more likely to purchase your course, they will also be more likely to compete your material and feel confident applying the process you taught. 

4. Develop Your Voice

If I asked you what your favorite subject was in school and who your favorite teacher was, more often than not, it was that teacher who taught you your favorite subject. Sure, part of this might be because you had some natural interest in the subject, but it is also true that that teacher-- who was so inspiring, and energetic, and passionate about the subject-- was also a big part of why you loved that class. Your learners value connection & community, so be genuine. Let your personality come through in your teaching. Just as you did with your favorite subject in school, your audience is going to feel much more connected to the topic at hand when they feel connected to you, their instructor.

5. Speak Like You’re Talking to a Friend

We know you’re excited about your content (if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be making a course about it!). Sometimes though it can take a little practice to strike the right tone on a recording. It’s important to find a balance between excitement and a conversational tone. Imagining that you're speaking to a friend as you're creating your content can help with this. 

6. Be On Camera

In order for your audience to really feel connected to your curriculum, it’s important that they get to know the person who’s teaching them. The best way to do this is to make sure you show your face! This means that you can’t just rely on slideshow voice-overs or stock photography. If your course includes video content, at the minimum, it's a good idea is to start and end with footage of yourself.

7. Utilize Storytelling

As instructors and content creators, one of our most powerful tools for creating connections is to harness the power of storytelling. Telling stories gives your audience the chance to see themselves in your content. It also allows us to make our materials feel real and applicable-- an essential piece of successful educational content. Stories don't have to be long or complicated. They just have to ring true for your audience. 

8. Speak to Your Past Self

For many online educators, the learners we're speaking to have a lot in common with our past selves. If you find yourself having trouble writing copy or designing materials, think about what you needed to hear back when you were struggling to learn the content that you've now mastered. This can be really powerful because it allows us to not just create materials that are super useful, but also that emotionally resonates with your learners.  

9. Provide Encouragement and Help Learners Visualize Success

One powerful way to inspire your learners is to help them visualize what success with your subject would like for them. You can achieve this through a learner case study, or by telling your own story in a way that builds empathy with your audience. It’s also important to encourage goal setting and celebrate the progress your learner’s make throughout your program.

10. Know Your Audience

Do you know what your learner wants to get out of your course? Sometimes I talk to educators who have a really strong sense of what THEY want people to get out of their courses, but they are less clear on the learner perspective. Ideally, your goals and those of your learners will align, but matching your course design to what your audience needs won't necessarily happen by accident. So how can you clarify what your learner (or potential learner) is thinking? Start by doing some market research! Ask learners to reply to your welcome emails, include polls in your stories, keep track of the themes that come up in comments and questions on your posts. Market research sounds intimidating but it can actually be fun and really easy to get started with. Think carefully about who is taking your course. When are they logging in? Why did they sign up? The more you know about your learner, the more you'll be able to tailor your course to their needs.

11. Uncover Preconceived Notions

Learners are not blank slates. Most of your audience comes to your training with some kind of past experience with your subject. Identifying what your typical learner already thinks, feels, and understands about your content can help you further tailor your course to their needs. 

12. Be Concise, Purposeful, and Clear

Adult learners are busy! It is really easy to lose people if your content veers off topic, if you come across as rambling, or if the value of your material is not clear. While this doesn't mean that you can't have some fun with your training (you most definitely should!), it does mean that you are better off having a plan and clear objectives in mind when you start creating content.

13. Be Engaging

If you're a course or webinar creator, odds are that you've probably taken a few online courses yourself (or joined a webinar, or hired a coach). Thinking about these experiences, can you come up with some ideas about what made them valuable for you? Most likely, they were valuable because they were clear, useful, and engaging. The content was likely something you sought out because you were curious about it, because it solved an immediate problem for you, or because you knew it would help you achieve an important goal.When we were in school we mostly learned the information that was laid out for us by our teachers. As adult learners seeking to continue our education, our approach to learning is completely different. Unlike young students in school, adult learners are self-directed and typically motivated by an immediate need. As you design your own content, keeping the needs of your audience in mind can help you create materials that resonate with your learners (and earn you loyal fans and clients!) 

14. Make it Relevant + Practical:

Adult learners are usually trying to solve a problem or tackle an immediate goal. This means that you can connect with your audience right from the start by being super clear and direct about how your content will help them. Think about how you can emphasize the value of your content when you:

  • Create a title for your post/webinar/course/ YouTube video/etc.

  • Kick off your training or write the introduction to your post

  • Promote your content on social media

It's also a good idea to reinforce this idea throughout your content (especially when you are wrapping up).

15. Let Your Students Learn from Each Other

Your audience is made up of diverse people with a wide range of experiences and skills. Incorporate these experiences into your programming whenever possible for a richer experience and higher levels of engagement. Incorporating peer learning works so well because it:

  • Makes the learners who get to share their knowledge feel valued, empowered, and confident

  • Adds variety to the stories and examples that are shared within your program.

  • Helps develop a sense of community amongst your learners

The easiest way to incorporate peer learning is to ask your audience substantive questions during your training programs. You can also develop exercises that encourage sharing and utilize a private Facebook group or message board. This last tip is also a great way to develop and maintain a lasting learning community.

16. Think Like a Designer

What can online educators learn from designers? It turns out there are a lot of overlaps between good design and good training. While it is true that good visuals are a plus when it comes to online training, what I am really talking about here are some basic design principles. Just like good design, good training is user-friendly. This means that:

  • Navigating and accessing the training is clear

  • The structure of the training helps learners process the content

  • Content is engaging and appealing

  • The training has a clear goal that is useful to the learners

So how can we achieve these qualities in our training? One great idea is having a few learners beta test your product. Nothing gives you a better sense of what the actual learner experience is like than watching real learners go through your course.

17. Pay Attention to Layout + Design

Course design does not have to be fancy. In fact, simple, clear visuals are often best. It is important to make sure your materials are visually appealing and easy to read. If you are not sure, it’s better to air on the safe side in terms of font readability and color contrast. Slides should also be easy to process. Ideally, slides can be comprehended fully in less than 3 seconds. You may have heard before that multitasking is not actually a thing. If people are reading, then they are not listening to what you are actually saying (and vice versa). Rather than having all your information crammed onto slides that distract your audience, it’s best to use simple visual representations that help illustrate key topics. If you find yourself using graphics that don’t contribute to understanding in a meaningful way (random stock photos and clip art, I’m looking at you), it’s much better to switch back to a video feed of yourself.

18. Take Audio Quality + Lighting Seriously

Achieving pro-quality video can be expensive. Generally speaking though, I don’t think you need to worry about an HD camera or studio lighting to get started or to create great courses. The only things that really matter in my opinion are natural looking light on your face and audio. Audio is super important because while today’s audiences seem to enjoy or even prefer authentic looking, not overly staged video, nothing turns people off faster than scratchy, uneven, or distorted sound. This means that a basic audio set up is one of the best initial investments you can make as a new course creator. A $50 or $60 microphone will be a vast improvement over your computer’s built-in mic, but to really take it to the next level, I highly recommend adding a pop filter. Pop filters can cost less than $10 and they filter out "mouth noises," making your audio sounds smoother than if you were just using a microphone. Another easy tip? If you’re recording a voice-over, a walk-in closet may be the perfect location. All that clothing hanging around is great for absorbing sound and making your recording sound clear and rich.

19. Focus on the User Experience

Keep Your Training Fresh. Especially if you teach a fast-evolving topic, such as social media marketing, or anything related to a particular software or web application, keeping your training up to date is an essential component of providing a high-quality product. The ability to be updated seamlessly is one of the biggest advantages of digital products. Even if your content is fairly evergreen, it’s a good idea to give it a facelift every once in a while to make sure it remains a reflection of your current brand and style. When we think about the user experience of our learners, it’s natural to focus primarily on the course itself, but it’s also important to consider the steps leading up enrolling in your program. Make sure it's as easy as possible for your learners to find, buy, and navigate through your course. 

20. Provide Learning Objectives

Telling your learners upfront what you're going to teach them can really help clarify the material in your course. A great way to do this is by providing learning objectives. A learning objective is basically a statement of what your learners will be able to do upon completion of your course. As you're outlining, work to identify the biggest pain points your target learner experiences. Next, write learning objectives that clearly align with those pain points. Once you have these, you're ready to start designing a course that will align with the needs of your audience.

21. Incorporate Real World Exercises

One thing that comes up all the time in the course feedback reviews I get from students is relevancy. Adult learners LOVE when content is clearly applicable to their situation. One great way to achieve this in your training programs is to give your learners a chance to use their new skills in a realistic way. While exercises can be a little challenging to plan and pull off, especially for online learning, I am a big believer in the value that they add to training programs. To get the greatest benefit, try to design skills focused exercises that mimic how learners will apply your content in their day to day lives or careers.

22. Embrace the Niche

Probably saving the best for last here: Niching down your course topic is by far one of the best ways to create online learning that stands out. Having a specific niche enables you to create a course that speaks very specifically to the needs of a particular audience. 

Have you tried any of these strategies? What's the most challenging part of creating a course that stands out online? 

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Meet Rachel

I’m an instructional designer providing eCourse solutions for creative entrepreneurs. My focus is on helping you learn how to talk to your audience and validate your programs to take the uncertainty out of launching.

Have questions about creating your online course? Click below to learn how we can work together!

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Rachel Reclam