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Have you ever wondered what a successful course might look like?

What is a successful course? Is it a course with snazzy graphics? Is it a course that has 10,000 different videos or is it a course with a number of modules that tend to go on and on and on?

It’s none of those. A successful course is one that helps your students:

  1. Learn something
  2. Retain what they have learnt
  3. Transfer the learning into their real life 

So, how can you make sure that your students are able to retain what they learn and transfer that learning to real life?

In this post, let’s look at some strategies that will make your course more meaningful, more effective, and more wholesome…in short, successful!

Set realistic expectations

This is by far the most important thing you can do for your students. Ideally, your students already know what they will learn in the course and more importantly, what they will NOT learn in the course. This is where a well-designed sales page and/or a vetting process/discovery call are super useful. And it works both ways–you get to showcase your expertise in front of the right people and those people have a very clear idea of the transformation they desire and the path they will take to attain that goal.

Think about it…let’s say you bought a lip balm because your lips were insanely chapped from the harsh winter winds. You had no other requirement. But when you put it on at home, you see it’s really runny, or it is tinted, or it doesn’t smell the way you expected. Now, this can go two ways–either the consumer is kicked about these extra features or they can be pissed about it. 

“What the hey! I didn’t want this frosty pink tint on my lips.” or “Wow, this smells different but it’s so soothing!”

But, there’s another side to this. Having unrealistic expectations is not only frustrating from the consumer but also the producer. Let’s say you are a fitness coach and you’ve enrolled students who want to learn about healthy weight loss. Now, here’s the thing, there are many ways of losing weight in a healthy way–which way are you teaching? Let’s say, you’re teaching keto diet but you haven’t made it clear exactly who should or should not enroll in your program or how much weight they should expect to lose by the end of the program. 

What happens next?

Someone who follows a vegan diet joins and is left frustrated because there aren’t too many vegan recipes. Or, someone joins with an unrealistic expectation of losing 10 kilos in 30 days because they read or watch a testimonial online that made it seem oh-so-achievable.

So, make sure your students know exactly what they can expect from the program AND what is expected from them while they are in the program (and probably before and after, depending on the subject area you’re teaching). Without these strict expectation parameters, both parties are just bound to step in unseen territory and either get lost or leave frustrated.

Establish relevance (aka“what’s in it for me?”) and relatability

This isn’t just about setting expectations–we covered that already. Establishing relevance and reliability are about incorporating storytelling in your teaching. 

Let’s say, you’re a recruitment coach creating a course on ensuring a high success rate in job interviews. 

Begin by conveying the benefit of completing this course (ideally you would’ve touched upon this in your launch sequence as well). 

Then, deliver your content using stories to build relevance and relatability. 

To do this, illustrate realistic scenarios (you could hire animators or actors to do this), provide examples of skills that translate to a successful interview but also provide non examples. Where possible, include statistics about the subject at hand. 

Think about it, you talking about how to ensure success at job interviews isn’t very interesting. But you showing how to ensure success at job interviews is highly rewarding.

Design interaction opportunities throughout your course

What does it mean to have an interactive or engaging course? Interaction can be achieved in three ways:




For a course to be considered “interactive,” all of the three touch points should be included in the course. For example, student-student and student-teacher interactions can happen in regularly-scheduled group meetings or activities. Student-content interaction, of course, refers to handing the navigation control to the student as well as have them click, drag, point, etc. 

Encourage human connections

This is related to the previous tip. The promise of passive income often leads coaches and business owners to leave out the real human connection from their courses. 

Let’s be clear about one thing…a standalone course cannot bring about transformations. For a course to be transformational, students need at least some sort of guidance, coaching, or mentorship in conjunction with the course.

So, do consider hosting regular office hours for your students. Whether it’s by rotating invitation or open for all Facebook Lives, interaction between the teacher and students is an essential element of a successful course.

Design a simulated learning environment

Humans learn best from experience. However, gaining experience often comes at a price–the price being an unseen and/or inherent risk. 

Now, you may not be able to provide a fully-functional, risk-free, real-world setting that places your students in a decision-making role.

But what if you could minimize this risk? One of the best ways to do this is to provide loads of low-stake practice opportunities. This may look different in different courses–it could be a bunch of analytical questions, it could be some reflective and focussed writing, it could be a group activity such as role play, and so on. 

If you read closely, there’s one thing that is common among all of these aforementioned practice opportunities.

Can you guess what it is?

They’re all scenario-based. 

Make all the practice opportunities scenario based. Place the learner in a realistic, authentic situation and have them work through the problem at hand.

Leverage powerful and relevant visuals

The course creation gurus are telling you to record videos because videos are how people learn best. To be fair, they aren’t wrong…but what they don’t tell you is that video is the best learning tool IF it is used to tell a story. 

By now, you must have seen the big theme emerging in this post. Our focus is on delivering content that has a real-world connect. So, absolutely create videos or animations that tell stories or depict situations or simplify concepts…but three hours of you speaking on screen and not a leaf moving in the background? I think not!

Take it from me–a professional course designer–in the online business world, videos are not being used as they are intended to be used.

Limit videos to screens which are meant to either inspire or mentor students. This could be the welcome screen, the summary screen, or a demonstration screen. Other than these three types of screens, don’t waste your time recording videos if there’s no real need behind it.

Instead, start leveraging other visual elements like infographics, images, animated typography, whiteboard animations, gifs….start thinking beyond speaker videos.

What is your definition of a successful course? 

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