A course can consist of a series of emails, a series of blogposts published to a private blog for participants. A well-paced e-course will have a regular schedule, once a day, or for longer e-courses once a week. Posting or emailing at the same time each day ensures that participants soon get used to the schedule and can anticipate the next installment. The last e-course I took had a week in the middle that didn’t include any lessons and was deliberately scheduled for catch up work.
Using audio can be a great way to introduce yourself as the host. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out interview just a few minutes of introduction, hopes and aspirations for your participants. This introduction is also a good way to explain the pacing and expectations. It is easy to record and embed a video occasionally, keep them short thought, I recommend under 4 minutes. Photographic step by step instructions work, as do annotated screen shots. For all e-courses it is easy to take your participants on a web tour of resources using screencast software.
Create a community online for your participants to share their experience and creations if you have that type of assignment. The experience each individual when combined with those of the group builds, relationships form, and meaning is made almost independent of the content of the e-course. There are many places online for you to do this. You can use flickr to share photographs and have discussions. Another option is posterous where you can create a share blog and have it public or private, but participants can easily upload media rich content photos, video, audio, documents etc via email and even via mobile uploads. Other courses have used wordpress, others a Facebook group. Creating a hashtag means participants can connect and have conversations on twitter.
Creative Meta Activities
As well as imparting content knowledge e-courses that work well include activities that hit multiple areas of focus or have the potential too. The best activities offer a choice to the participant so they can customize the experience to their own level and strength. Send them on a journey traveling further with each activity building on the previous one.
For each section or chapter of your e-course create a rhythm as the days or weeks pass. If participants start to recognize a rhythm or pattern within the structure of the course they become anticipatory and can more easily juggle the demands of the course with the rest of their life demands. This will reduce any potential drop out rate. A weekly schedule might have a 6 day rhythm that would include audio introduction post, explore post, interview post, activity post, participation question post, and a final summary post.
Catch Up Time
Allow time in the schedule for catch up by participants. Prepare for those who start to fall behind and make it easy for them to stay on course.
Active Participation by Instructor
Interaction with the participants by the instructor is essential for success. Guidance, encouragement, inclusion can all be encouraged with a well timed comment here and there. It is important for everyone to be aware that you are there with them. Even if it asynchronously, they will see you there on a regular basis and are much more likely to get involved and feel part of something greater than themselves. Often it is appropriate to interact in a synchronous environment such as a webinar or a tele seminar.
If the participants are sharing created materials such as photos, videos, or comments it can be useful to aggregate this information in one place. This can be used by the administrator of the course or where appropriate shared with the group. The use of tags and rss can make this manageable and efficient. Resources can also be collected and shared in this way.
Summary Posts or Emails
It is useful to include in the schedule regular posts or emails that include a summary of the latest information and resources.
Guest or Expert Interviews
To add variety and introduce another level of expertise include interviews with persons of interest who have been along a similar path to your participants so they can add a color and guidance that can only come from personal experience. Guests and experts featured have the added advantage of gaining new fans of their work. Audio or video interviews don’t have to be a marathon, between 15-40 minutes works best. Successes acheived by previous participants is another area to explore.
Content is King
Develop generous content for your course and continue to supplement via blogposts and follow up emails. Without great content you don’t have an e-course. This is the main focus of your offering and is what people will remember. You have to move people from point A to point B as promised. Life changing e-courses get talked about, these type of courses have killer content. Does yours?