Scribbled list of ideas

~ 5 min read | Category: Newsletters

It was Summer 2020 and I was out in the back garden, scribbling in my notebook.

At the top of the page I’d written: “Ideas for Online Course Creation”.

I’d challenged myself to brainstorm ideas for making an online course as interesting and distinctive as possible.

In my view, too many first-time creators end up building courses that lack personality. I’m talking about bland, cookie-cutter courses that make learning a chore instead of an adventure.

And to be fair, it’s not really their fault.

They’ve probably studied a course or two themselves and figured “okay, that’s what an online course looks like” and built one in the same mould.

And I got to wondering what the antidote to that situation might be.

So I brainstormed a bunch of course creation tactics - some practical, some quirky, some just plain dumb - to inspire myself in my own course creation.

This morning I rediscovered that list while looking through some old notebooks.

And I thought I’d share a few of the ideas with you. Just in case one of them sparked something useful for you.

Quick warning: you’ll be drinking from the fire hose here. It’s a stream of consciousness and a (maybe unwanted) glimpse at the inner workings of my brain.

But here goes…

  • Create an inspiring manifesto for the course and include it at the front of the first module.
  • Admit your mistakes - “I used to recommend that people do X, but now I realise that’s actually bad advice.”
  • Include “Easter eggs” that reward progress (e.g., when an important milestone is reached, trigger an email containing a silly GIF or short video.)
  • Try using a PechaKucha format (20 slides each lasting 20 seconds) for creating lessons.
  • Include a fun quote in every lesson (e.g., Dr Seuss).
  • Create a video- instead of text-based FAQ with me answering common questions to camera.
  • Create a character who represents the target student, like Cathy Course Creator, and have her pop up at various points in the course to ask questions.
  • Instead of traditional quizzes, include images with puzzles or word searches that remind students of key concepts.
  • Create “hybrid lessons” with a short video and text that goes deeper - you need to study both to get all the information.
  • Rate each lesson and assignment in terms of difficulty and effort so students can plan their time and energy (Difficulty: Medium; Time required: 45 minutes)
  • Include some kind of fun on-screen course progress measure rather than just a percentage or bar (e.g., a graphical jigsaw that builds piece by piece.)
  • Get the family involved, e.g., include a video of my son explaining a concept in simple terms or congratulating students for completing an assignment.
  • Try to make sure there’s a clear “A ha!” moment in every single lesson and build the content around it.
  • Try using different colour schemes or design styles for each module so that each stage in the journey has a distinctive feel.
  • Make lessons feel more interactive by telling the viewer to stop the video at certain points and go complete a simple task. (“Press pause, go make your list of pros and cons, and I’ll see you back here in 10 minutes.“)
  • Have a theme running through the whole course, e.g., pop culture references, sports analogies, etc. (How could you make your course style as recognisable as a Quentin Tarantino film?)
  • Embed small clues in the video lessons (such as a word that appears briefly on the screen) that’s the password to unlock bonus content later on.
  • Use cliffhangers at the end of each lesson to encourage binge watching, e.g., ask a question that isn’t answered until the next lesson. (It doesn’t even have to be related to the course topic!)
  • Instead of just a simple spoken audio, use fun side effects at key points in a lesson to make it more interesting. (The answer to a tricky question could be accompanied by a “ding!“)
  • Include random asides that have nothing to do with the material to make things more interesting (e.g., if you’re using the fable of the tortoise and the hare to explain a strategy, include a weird fact about tortoises.)
  • Have outrageous lesson titles or subtitles like “Do You Even Know Who The F**k Your Course is For?”
  • Include photos of me holding up weird captions showing what I was thinking when I wrote a particular lesson.
  • Include hard-drawn notes, sketches or cartoons to keep things visually interesting.
  • Be super candid and pragmatic in my advice, e.g., “What if you’re too lazy to research your target audience thoroughly? Here’s what you can do to cut corners and still get decent results…”
  • Include fun “translations” of certain expressions and idioms for non-British students.
  • Use a “mixed media” approach where the training materials are very diverse in format. For example videos could be shot with different backdrops and in different styles. This could help keep people interested even just wondering what the next video will look like.
  • Illustrate different scenarios by acting out little scenes and sketches, with me playing both parts and cutting between them.
  • Treat each lesson like a Toastmasters speech and limited it to 5 to 7 minutes. Could also model lessons on the three basic speech types: informative, persuasive, entertaining.
  • Separate the “learning” side of the course from the “doing” side by keeping lessons and assignments completely separate - e.g., Learning Zone and Action Zone. Could also have Resource Zone with a library of examples and resources.
  • What if the personality of the course was “eccentric genius” or “enthusiastic nerd” rather than “experienced professional”, would that look like?

There are 30 ideas there. Maybe one of them will send your course in a useful direction. :-)

See you soon,


P.S. If you’re in the UK, stay safe during the storms! (The trees opposite my office window are taking a real battering right now - two large branches have come down already.)


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