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The Most Common Mistakes in Online Course Creation and How to Dodge Them

May, 02, 2024
Tim Aleksandronets
Tim Aleksandronets
CEO at Blue Carrot

Introduction

In a post-pandemic online-driven education landscape, educational organizations put a lot of resources into creating online courses including writing scenarios, developing online platforms, arranging visual materials, and assessment tests. All this effort can be in vain if you make some missteps along the way.

This article outlines the most common mistakes in online course creation and possible ways to remedy those mistakes.

Get professional e-learning content development services from Blue Carrot to build an online course for effective learning. 🚀

Summary

  1. Not Understanding Your Audience
  2. Overloading Content
  3. Ignoring Course Structure and Design
  4. Underestimating the Importance of Interaction
  5. Overlooking the Technical Aspects
  6. Not Planning for Updates and Scalability
  7. How “Blue Carrot” Can Help Your Business

Not Understanding Your Audience

A mismatch between the course’s content and target audience is among the most common mistakes in online course creation and can be a major reason for students to ditch their studies.

Before beginning work on the course content, conduct a target audience analysis. Different age groups, professional levels, and learning style demographics require different content, information organization, and course styles.

Among the parameters to consider when coming up with the course’s content are:

  • audience’s age group,
  • background knowledge and skill set level,
  • learning purpose and motivation (for example, Spanish for work or traveling),
  • time availability of students (is your target group adults who work full-time, teenagers who go to high school, etc),
  • problems your target audience needs to address (for example, people living in a foreign country and learning everyday phrases, people wanting to become marketing managers but not knowing where to start, etc).

Additionally, online course creators should set realistic learning outcomes connected with their audience’s background knowledge and goals. They can base the course’s learning outcomes on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. This model describes the levels of learning objectives, from the lowest one, when students should remember and understand the information, to the highest level, when students can create something independently.

📌 Bloom’s taxonomy of learning consists of 6 levels of learning objectives varying in complexity:

  • Remember – for students to recall facts and basic concepts. The keywords for this level‘s learning objectives are list, memorize, repeat, state, and duplicate.
  • Understand – to explain ideas or concepts. Use keywords such as classify, describe, explain, recognize, report, select, discuss, identify.
  • Apply – to use information in new situations. When writing learning objectives, rely on these keywords: execute, solve, use, demonstrate, implement, operate, interpret, and sketch.
  • Analyze – to draw connections among ideas. The keywords for your learning objectives at this level include differentiate, compare, contrast, distinguish, draw, test, and experiment.
  • Evaluate – to justify a stand or decision. Your students should be able to support, critique, select, defend, judge, and appraise.
  • Create – to produce new or original work. Consider such keywords as design, develop, formulate, assemble, and construct.

taxonomy

Overloading Content

When creating content for your online course, single out the critical points to share while keeping your audience hooked and engaged. Overloading your students with too much content is among the most frequent mistakes in online course creation.

📌 According to a cognitive load theory, any learning experience has three components:

  • intrinsic load (degree of connectivity within the subject, e.g., understanding grammar rules or translation pairs)
  • germane load (level of mental load and effort necessary to reach the desired learning outcome)
  • extraneous load (effort not connected to the learning outcomes, e.g., badly designed course)

When designing a course consider the intrinsic load as it’s unavoidable in any learning process. Consider how hard it is to grasp and understand the subject. Avoid adding extraneous load when students need to put extra effort into focusing on the material. For example, a lesson is too long and has too high an intrinsic load.

It’s worth knowing that working memory has two channels for information acquisition and processing:

  • a visual/pictorial channel,
  • and an auditory/verbal-processing channel.

Too much information on one channel can easily lead to fatigue and drifting attention.

What’s more, you shouldn’t overload either of the channels. Keep the information balanced between both channels for more effective learning. Combine different content types that include both visual and audio load.

Consider segmenting content into digestible chunks, for example, lesson by lesson. Bite-size lessons, like 5-minute explainer lessons, can be great for effective learning. A recent study found that a median engagement time for videos less than 6 minutes long was close to 100%. The longer the video, the less engaged students became: the median engagement time with 9- to 12-minute videos was ∼50%, and the median engagement time with 12- to 40-minute videos was ∼20% (Brame CJ. Effective Educational Videos: Principles and Guidelines for Maximizing Student Learning from Video Content. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016).

👉 Another way to keep your audience interested is by adding visual signals highlighting important information. These can be highlighted or framed text parts, exclamation marks on the side, bigger font size, or animation.

Ignoring Course Structure and Design

A chaotic, badly structured course with no outcomes and purpose is among the common mistakes that online course creators make as it can be confusing and demotivating for the learners. A well-established structure is the basis of effective learning.

📌 To come up with an effective course structure, try working on:

  • tangible learning outcomes and a list of topics to discuss,
  • a clear course structure and timeline in the beginning for users to review,
  • goals for every lesson,
  • division into lessons and themes – one lesson should discuss one theme,
  • size of every lesson (for example, bite-size lessons less than 6 minutes long),
  • lesson formats (for example, video+quizz, video+discussion, etc.),
  • sharing information gradually, starting with simpler topics. Increase the complexity and introduce new tasks gradually. You can rely on Gagné’s nine levels of learning to build each lesson’s structure (Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W.. Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). 1992. Forth Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers). level of learning

📌 Your process of designing a course should include:

  • Building individual lesson plans – Include a hook activity for learner engagement and a starter task for assessing prior knowledge. Incorporate an essential question to foster critical thinking learning activities involving ‘learning,’ ‘recall,’ and ‘application’ of the course material and an exit task to evaluate learning progress. Plus compose extension tasks or home learning activities and outline all required learning materials.
  • Second stage review of LPs and scripts with SMEs – Subject Matter Experts review lesson plans and scripts, providing feedback to enhance the content and avoid e-learning content pitfalls.
  • The production process of the course assets – Outline all course assets that need to be created and establish a production timeline, collaborating with instructional design experts and production resources (videographers, graphic designers, copywriters, etc.).
  • Prototype testing – Inviting beta users to assess the course and give feedback.

Going through these steps gradually to compose a course can help you avoid course outline mistakes that disrupt the learning quality.

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Underestimating the Importance of Interaction

Leaving out any interaction is among the common mistakes beginners’ online course creators make. Passive learning might be demotivating and boring for many students. Learners can experience issues memorizing the information presented simply in a video lecture or text. On the contrary, active learning when applying the newly obtained knowledge and enjoying vivid, easy-to-understand, and interactive content, is a more effective study method.

We suggest that course creators use a conversational style, rather than formal language during multimedia instruction. Studies confirm that you should speak relatively quickly and with enthusiasm if filming an educational video (Brame CJ. Effective Educational Videos: Principles and Guidelines for Maximizing Student Learning from Video Content. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016).

📌 Some interaction ideas for your course include:

  • Interactive questions. A recent study discovered that students answering an interpolated question group performed significantly better on subsequent tests and reported less mind wandering (Szpunar KK, Khan NY, Schacter DL. Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures. 2013; Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 )
  • Chat for students
  • Guiding questions for activating germane load
  • Comment section
  • Q&As with experts
  • Quizzes and polls
  • Homework connected to videos. Remember that videos should be relevant to exercises. Research shows that videos that offered the greatest benefits to students were highly relevant to associated exercises (Brame CJ. Effective Educational Videos: Principles and Guidelines for Maximizing Student Learning from Video Content. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2016)
  • Practical exercises after each lesson or topic
  • Interactive videos, such as explainer videos, are an opportunity to fast-forward the video, infographics, and illustrations
  • Storytelling and real-life cases

We also recommend introducing gamification into your course. For example, you can offer rewards for completing lessons or getting correct answers on quizzes. Studies prove that challenge-based gamification can improve students’ performance by up to 89.45% compared to only being present at a lecture (Nikoletta-Zampeta Legaki, Nannan Xi, Juho Hamari, Kostas Karpouzis, Vassilios Assimakopoulos, The effect of challenge-based gamification on learning: An experiment in the context of statistics education, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. 2020).

Overlooking the Technical Aspects

What is a common mistake made by teams in online course creation that we haven’t mentioned yet, you ask? The answer is simple, ignoring the technical aspects. Don’t let technical issues spoil your students’ experience. You don’t have to be a programmer or designer to craft an online course. Instead, it’s best to collaborate with an experienced company that will undertake the tech part.

Slow page loading, design errors, and low video quality disappoint users and can even make them abandon the course.

Make sure your course is:

  • Available on a variety of devices (e.g., computers, smartphones, tablets) and browsers. In a recent survey, 20% of college students shared that they completed all their course homework from their smartphones, and 29% did so with some assignments (Korhonen, V.. Extent of mobile device usage for online course-related activities U.S., Statista, 2018; Statista)
  • Accessible. You can use the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) as a reference
  • Free of design mistakes that can confuse the students or prevent them from navigating the course smoothly
  • Able to load all videos, illustrations, and audio without issues.

If you are looking to enhance your online course with quality explainer videos, voiceovers, or animations, Blue Carrot is happy to help. We have dozens of success stories for e-learning content. 🤩

A thorough quality assurance process is essential before releasing the course to ensure no issues arise later. Your development team should check the parameters above, like technical compatibility and media files.

Not Planning for Updates and Scalability

The work on the course doesn’t finish when you upload it. Continuous course updates are necessary if you want the success to last longer than several months. Over time, the information you share can become outdated, especially in digital domains. Setting clear deadlines for updates, for example, every six months, is among the best practices for problem-free product maintenance.

Plus, you may grow and expand your e-learning product by adding new features or extending the content scope. It’s best to start with MVP and include the minimum necessary functionality that presents value to your users. For example, you can start with a set of educational videos and quizzes based on these videos on one of the existing e-learning platforms and later make your own digital platform.

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How Blue Carrot Can Help Your Business

Avoiding common mistakes when creating online courses is possible when collaborating with an experienced and dedicated content partner. Blue Carrot specializes in developing e-learning content and has created effective and interactive courses for clients in various domains.

👉 We offer the most effective learning approach for any topic from psychology to sustainable energy. For example, for our client’s course on healthy relationships, we conducted audience research, invited Subject Matter Experts, and facilitated focus groups to test the course before the big release. Everything to make the course truly useful and engaging.

Let’s make online education effective together. Blue Carrot is open for new online course development projects!

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