Tips for How to Teach Online Courses

Planning to teach an awesome online course? These essential tips will help you bring your A-game.

Thanks to the world wide web, anyone anywhere on the planet can learn new skills with one of many courses online. And every one of those online courses needs someone like yourself to teach them.

Whether you’ve been teaching for years or are just getting started, there are unique benefits and challenges to teaching an online course that you should keep in mind.

Ahead, we’ll unpack two styles of delivering an online course. Then we’ll break down our tips for teaching online courses—meaning you can knock it out of the park on your first try.

Two Methods: Self-Paced & Cohort-Based Online Courses

If you’re considering teaching an online course, the first major decision you’ll need to make is how you plan to deliver it. Generally, you can do this one of two ways.

Self-paced course

Traditionally, online courses have been designed so that people could enroll in them and complete the course material at their own pace. Teaching an online course that’s self-paced usually requires you to create a lot of material ahead of time, like pre-recorded videos, PDFs, worksheets, and more.

Teaching an online course that’s self-paced offers both you and your members a bit more autonomy in your day-to-day routines. Your members can complete your lesson material when it’s convenient for their schedules. And you can interact with them in a slower-paced, more curated way.

Still, self-paced courses have their drawbacks. More than likely, you’ll lose out on a greater sense of community: Because your members are all completing coursework on their own, there usually aren’t any opportunities for them to connect or collaborate with each other.

Cohort-based course

While self-paced online courses are a great way to teach a course online, cohort-based courses are a new option that is gaining traction. In truth, cohort-based learning is nothing new. In fact, it’s probably what you’re most used to from your own learning experiences.

A cohort is a group of people who’ve come together to accomplish a common goal. That goal could be anything from learning a new skill to solving a complex problem. In a cohort-based course, you create a syllabus for students structured around assignments, projects, and more that they complete together as a group.

The biggest difference you’ll have when you teach a course online that’s cohort-based is its heavy emphasis on real-time learning.

A cohort-based course is focused on giving real-time instruction to your students. You could utilize Zoom or Crowdcast to go over lessons, or host office hours to answer your students’ questions. The main benefit of this approach is that you don’t have to plan out tons of content beforehand if you don’t already have it. Instead, you can run the course live, building out content as you go.

Both methods can be great for teaching an online course, so it will ultimately come down to what you hope to accomplish by offering yours. Ahead, we’re going to explore essential tips for teaching online no matter which method you choose.

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Essential tips for how to teach online courses

When you take the time to learn how to teach online courses the right way, you’ll save yourself many headaches and long nights. We’ve curated this list of tips to help you avoid some of the growing pains that everyone will have when teaching an online course for the first time.

Plan your course outcomes

A rule that many teachers are taught early in their training is to have course “outcomes.” It’s the answer to the question, What will your students accomplish by completing your course?

Take a moment and answer this question: Why should people take my online course? There are a number of different ways to answer this question, but the simplest and most direct answer is that you are providing them with results & transformation they couldn’t achieve on their own.

This might seem obvious, but knowing concretely what and how your online course will help people achieve their goals will pay off in the long run. Here are some questions you could ask yourself to come up with your course outcomes:

  • How did I learn the skills and concepts that I’m now teaching my students?
  • What kinds of content can I produce that will best help my students understand my lessons?
  • How can I teach an online course that will push students to collaborate with one another?
  • How can I build a community around my course even when it’s self-paced so that students can learn from each other?

You can utilize your course outcomes in marketing material, in your syllabus, and as a checklist for your students to look back on when they do accomplish the goals you’ve set out for them.

And the most important thing to note is you don’t need to over-promise with the kinds of results you’ll deliver. If this is your first time teaching an online course, try a simple goal and nail it.

Offer different kinds of content

When you’re planning how to teach online courses, a big component to consider is the types of content you’ll create.

Due to the online nature of your course, you’re gaining access to a variety of tools and features that will help you appeal to different learning types. That means there’s plenty of room to explore and experiment with different kinds of content.

The more experience you gain, the better you’ll understand how to teach online courses. One of the most helpful tips we’ve found though is different types of content will increase the number of interactions you’ll have with and between your members.

If you’re stuck on what kinds of content you might offer, here’s a list of features you can try:

  • Videos: Live or pre-recorded lessons that utilize slideshows, graphics, and handouts. Recording videos in advance is a great technique to use for teaching an online course. But it’s also easy for students to zone out with this kind of content, so consider creating a worksheet that will guide students’ attention through the video. If you’re using live video, make sure to record your stream so you can utilize it as teaching material long after!
  • Discussions boards: When you plan how to teach online courses, a lot of your time will revolve around what you are doing to teach your students. But it’s important that you give your members the space to connect and collaborate on their own, too. Not only does it encourage interactions, but it also reminds students that their involvement in the course is valuable for everyone.
  • Polls, surveys, and Q&A: Get into the habit of creating content that allows your students to share their opinions with you, too. When you have a clear gauge of how students are responding to your lessons, you can tweak your content to best appeal to them.
  • Small groups: Before everyone starts groaning, small group projects are a great way to build community between your students and take the pressure off yourself to provide all of the insights to your students.

This is a lot of information and ideas all at once, but the big thing to remember here is that you have options.

If all of these features sound great, then implement them to your heart’s content. But you don’t need to do everything at once. If you’re still learning how to teach online courses, try to do a few things well and expand as you gain experience and learn what works for your subject matter and students.

Create a network of collaborative opportunities

A challenge that most people face when teaching an online course is getting students to interact with each other. Despite our best efforts, it’s easy to deliver an online course that forces people to watch many videos, read many posts, and interact with no one.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

You’re bringing together a group of people who are all motivated to master something interesting together. That’s a major asset. It doesn’t matter if your course is cohort-based or self-paced, creating opportunities for collaboration between your students is a major way to keep the energy high as the weeks go on.

If your students won’t be meeting each other IRL, consider integrating your course with a community space. A community space is great because you’re bringing together people from around the world who each have something to contribute. That’s a valuable asset for your members and a great chance for them to network and form connections.

If you’re wondering what collaborative opportunities might look like, here are few things to try:

  • Create small study groups. A great way to connect your students together is to group them up to work on your lessons together. This will be more natural in a cohort-based course where students are already expecting to work together, but it’s possible in self-paced too. In a self-paced course consider offering it as an optional thing, you may only have a few students that want to, but that’s completely fine. Small groups are a great way for students to build connections with one another in addition to taking the pressure off of you to run the show all the time.
  • Weekly video hangout. For some people, it will feel awkward communicating online with strangers. But communication becomes much easier when you know who you’re talking to. In addition to your real-time lessons (if you’re cohort-based) you can have hangouts where you facilitate casual interactions between members. If you want it to be course-related, you can have fun with games like Jeopardy! to go over lesson concepts. All you need to do is make a PowerPoint, share your screen, and learn your best Alex Trebek impression. Okay…not really, but it’s a great way to review material! You can use a platform that integrates with Zoom, or has its own native video option.
  • Allow students to share their work. Creating space for your students to share work is a great way to highlight their accomplishments and foster a community. You can allow students to post whatever they’re working on on a discussion board and then other students could provide feedback in the comments.

There are many ways to create collaborative opportunities in your course. Once you know your students more, you’ll come up with even better ways to get them to interact.

Set your boundaries and availability

A bridge that everyone who teaches online will have to cross is managing your availability and setting boundaries.

While the availability that online learning allows is often great, it can lead to overworking, and overextending to accommodate people. It’s great to want to be around to help people, but you are also running a business. You should have time off!

To protect yourself from getting burned out, set up regularly scheduled times where you’re available to answer questions and meet with students. Sticking to a schedule also helps your students manage their expectations and provides them a framework to manage their own time.

Ask your members for feedback

Do you know what the quickest way to improve an online course is? Asking the folks who’ve gone through (or are currently enrolled in) your course what worked and what didn’t.

Getting constructive feedback is always a good thing. No one does everything perfectly and that just means you can always find new ways of improving your work. A simple discussion board post, poll, or Q&A is a great way to gather feedback on your course content and figure out how to improve it going forward.

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Create your online course on Mighty Networks

We’ve gone through a lot of suggestions for teaching an online course, but the last thing you’ll need to do is pick a platform for your course.

Mighty Networks is a website builder and white label community platform that lets you bring your community, online courses, and content together in one place, under your own brand and domain name, instantly available on web, iOS, and Android.

When you create a Mighty Network you not only get powerful tools to create an online course (and do everything we talked about today), but you also get a world-class online community building platform. We believe that community is the key to making the world a better place, and your online course is stronger when your members are connected with one another.

On a Mighty Network, you can create small groups; charge for online courses and memberships, and enable connections between your students with direct messaging and more.

When you choose to build your online course on a Mighty Network you’re picking a platform that is continually evolving so you can bring your business to the next level.

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Time for the fun part

We covered a bunch of great tips for how to teach online courses. Now it’s time for you to put them to use— and we can’t wait to see what you build.

Are you ready to build your online course?

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