Creating the Structure for an Online Course

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“We are like tea bags—we don't know our own strength until we're in hot water.”

Creating an Online Course…

The challenge people have, when it comes to creating an online course, isn't normally the selection of a tool or platform. I spent the week with the guys from LifterLMS, and I can assure you their platform will do everything you need for your next online course. But that's not the challenge people have.

The challenge most people have comes in one of three forms…

  1. They don't believe they have something worth sharing
  2. They don't know how to structure the information they have
  3. They don't know which tools to use

I've written a lot on my site about tools—again, check out LifterLMS—I think you'll be surprised. I've also written a lot about believing in yourself (as well as the impostor syndrome).

So today I thought I would share with you one of the frameworks I use for creating the structure for an online course.

A word about how hard this can feel

Let me tell you, as we step into this, that the hardest thing ever is feeling like anyone wants to learn what you have to share. This is just your insecurity speaking. You'll still have these feelings next week and next year.

But here's the good news, the feelings don't have any impact on your ability to do the work. And over time you'll learn to give them less and less strength in your own life.

For now, just trust me. You can do this!

1. Start with the Problem

Here's what I know. When you start thinking about your course topic, you're likely to skip right past this section.

It's because you already know the problem so well. You know it so well you assume everyone already knows the problem too. And you don't want to waste anyone's time.

But the reality is that you need to start with the problem so that everyone is on the same page about what you're trying to solve.

So start with the problem. 

2. Then Look At Context, Efforts, And Mistakes

The problem you're tackling has likely been around for some time. Help people connect to the problem you're trying to solve by giving them context. Share the variety of ways people have tried solving it in the past.

Another favorite approach of mine is to step into the common mistakes that people make when trying to solve this problem.

This highlights your experience, but it also connects with an audience as they realized they may have made one or more of these mistakes.

There is incredible value in the sense-making that happens when people see their history in the context of something bigger. So as you navigate those mistakes and why they won't work, you're likely helping them understand their own past.

And it prepares them for the real stuff you're promising—in the near future.

3. The Simple Solution

While you can likely dig into the meaty substance of your solution, my strong recommendation is to start simply. Look for and explain how to solve the problem in a simple way. Sometimes that's all people want.

Again, I can't stress enough that your perspective and that of your audience may differ wildly here. You've likely been steeped deeply in the problem and have rich and complete solutions because you know all the potential issues.

But your audience may not have that depth. So starting out with a simple solution helps them feel like you've gotten them to an answer quickly. It's a payoff for moving through parts one and two.

Never underestimate the power of a simple solution.

4. Present Alternatives: Give them a Map

By this point, your student trusts your expertise. They're ready for an answer. They know you know your stuff and have even looked at a simple solution. But they want more.

They're going to want you to lay out the exact next steps. The perfect solution for their situation.

But every person's situation is slightly different.

Another way to say it is that every student going over your material will likely have a slightly different destination they want to reach. Your job is to give them a map and help them see how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

This map allows you to create an offering, a course, that meets several different needs – in a single solution.

But that's because you created a map, not a list of directions. That's where most people make a mistake. They create a prescription as if every student is the same.

Maps are better than prescriptions.

Giving people alternatives and a way to make decisions regarding those alternatives is key!

5. Deep Dives

Once your map is complete and the alternatives laid out, you have nothing left except for what I call thorns. The sticky issues that people really need to understand. The details they need to succeed.

That's what I call a deep dive. And you can have one, two or three of them. Issues that need their own lesson to help people grasp and resolve whatever issue you highlight.

But you know, when it's done, that they'll be prepared to step out and accomplish what your course set out for them.

6. Last Part{ Resources

The last part of a course, in this structure, is tthe availableresources for when someone wants to go deeper or step up to another level.

Sometimes this is a list. Sometimes it's more lessons, or more homework. Sometimes it's a book. Or the next course.

But you want to end with a call for that next step, so people who are ready to go, know what to pursue when they've completed the work.

Are you ready?

If you're wondering how to see this all lived out, in a real life example, I'm happy to point you to my membership course.

But what you likely need isn't just an example. You likely just need to sit down and start working on your outline.

And from there, it's time to start creating. Because we all want to learn what you know.

I started this post with a quote—about not knowing what you could do, your strength, until you were in hot water, until the pressure was on.

Well, consider this nudge that bit of pressure that will help you find out how strong you are. I know you'll be surprised.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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