You throw together a lot of text on lots of screens and ask a question or two.
Is this not boring, True or False?
That, my friend, is the recipe for BORING. Boring means your learners (your customers!) are likely moving into click-through-mode:
Click, next screen, scan/listen, click, next screen, scan/listen.
Their brains turn off and thoughts of sugarplums… and dinner… crowds out your content. Click, browse, click, browse.
“But, Jerilyn,” you say, “What else am I supposed to do?”
Ahhh, great question. Thanks for asking. 🙂
I know it’s tempting to think, “Hmmm, don’t be boring… So then I’ll be entertaining!”
You’ve probably been to in-person training sessions when the trainer was a hoot. They cracked you up, they were Fun! Fun! Fun! There were toys on the table and lots of interesting interactions with your classmates. But when you look back you realize you just didn’t learn much of anything. Darn it.
You’ve probably also had a teacher who loved their subject. Every aspect of it. And they could drone on and on forever about it. B-O-R-I-N-G.
Are you either of those teachers? The fun! fun! fun! one or the professor writing furiously at their chalkboard, oblivious of their students? Or maybe you’re neither but want to do whatever you can to not be the gal/guy with the boring e-course.
For Crying Out Loud, Don’t Make Another Boring eCourse!
You’ve got one thing in your favor. Your learner is clearly motivated enough about your topic to plunk down some money and buy your course. Fantastic.
Next, they need to choose to turn off their favorite TV show, switch off Facebook, put the kids to sleep, and not answer their phone. And then, open up your course.
That’s two big hurdles right out the gate. Now, let’s assume, for purposes of this article, that your marketing and pre-course materials have gotten them that far.
Make Your Learner Think!
Make ‘em work – but do that first by making them think. Seriously, you know how easy it is to click through some of these courses and stare unfocused at the slides? Or how easy it is to let the audio become background chatter to your can’t-make-it-stop monkey mind?
So, how do you encourage your learners to pause and think? How do you get them to engage with your course? How do you make a captivating course?
Tip 1: Tell Stories and Create Scenarios
One of the biggest faux pas I see amateur course designers make it is forgetting that teaching is about connecting what you’re teaching with another human. Not a robot. A human.
And humans are wired for stories. It started thousands and thousands of years ago, huddled around a fire in a cave.
So do not underestimate the power of a great story.
Tell your own. Tell your clients’ stories. Tell someone else’s. SHOW, don’t tell, as much as possible.
Leverage your stories to build curiosity. Include surprise twists. Tell them in such a way that your learners can feel what your protagonist is feeling.
[If this is intriguing to you and you want to learn more, check out Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. ]
One way to get even more bang for your buck is to write your stories like a real-life scenario. A scenario puts your learner in a situation they’ll likely encounter outside of the course.
Let’s say you’re teaching people to become a website developer and you’re working on the module about how to have that initial meeting with your new client.
Tell a story about Bob, an awkward, inexperienced web developer who bungles the entire first meeting. What did Bob say? What did Carol, the client say? What happened? Put your learner right there in the room with Bob and Carol. Make your learner squirm and get uncomfortable when the meeting goes haywire.
Great! Now you’ve got the learner engaged. They are definitely not bored and are, in fact, dying to know what Bob should have done differently. You’ve got them eating out the palm of your hand. Congratulations!
I’m telling you, even if you stop reading here and just focus on tip 1, your course is going to be hands-down better than many of them out there. But let’s try to get your course to be even more stellar.
Tip 2: Incorporate Frequent Check-ins
You tell, tell, tell, and people sleep, sleep, sleep. This tip is all about waking ‘em up and turning on that lively brain!
Before you blab on too much. Have a check-in. How often? The rule of thumb is to incorporate a check-in after about every 5-7 minutes worth of content.
Here’s some ideas for how to do that:
- Test your learners’ knowledge by giving them a good ole’ fashioned multiple choice quiz!
I know you hated them in 5th grade science but now, in adulthood, they become little mini-challenges to ensure you got the key points. Your learners will thank you!
If your course platform doesn’t have a built-in quizzing feature, check out an external quizzing sites (Qzzr is free, and although Viral QuizBuilder costs a little bit, it’s a WordPress plugin so the results stay with you.)
- Alternatively, you could ask your learners to jot down their answer to a particular question (e.g. “What are the 3 things you should avoid doing in x situation?”) and then provide them with a link back to the original page in the lesson in case they want to check their answers.
- Test their comprehension by asking a reflection question. (e.g. “What are the most compelling reasons you see for doing x?” or “What is one thing that you will commit to doing differently this week?). If you have a Facebook group or other gathering place for your students, ask them to post their response there.
The point is to get them to harness their fabulous – albeit wandering – minds and direct that focus to where it needs to be – understanding the content.
Tip 3: Create worksheets and assignments
Another way to captivate your learners and not be boring is by incorporating worksheets and assignments throughout your course. This is a great way to make your content real and actionable to them.
Let’s say your course teaches people how to write great sales copy. On a worksheet, you could have examples of poorly written copy with space for the learner to improve it using your 3-point checklist. Then you could assign your learners to write their own sales copy using that 3-point checklist. In this case, the assignment builds on the worksheet which builds on a segment of the course in which you, the instructor, teaches the 3-point checklist.
At each stage, the learner’s understanding of the content deepens and gets more relevant to them.
Logistically, how might you do this?
- You could have learners send you their completed worksheets. Then you would “unlock” their next module.
- You could connect learners with a course buddy or mastermind and request that they share their completed worksheets there.
- You could have learners link to their assignments on the course’s Facebook page and you could comment there along with the other participants.
Tip 4: Connect with Your Learners
You matter. Knowing there is a caring, helpful person on the other side of the course can go a long way towards engaging people and keeping them progressing through your course.
If you can put up with getting in front of the camera for a few minutes, please do show up in the course (at least in the beginning). Spend that time warmly introducing yourself and the course. Make a connection. You want to convey messages like, “I’m here with you” and “I really care about you and I really care that you finish this course.” (But don’t say it that way! :-))
Some gurus (like Amy Porterfield) are also fans of sending a personalized card in the snail mail (!) to make sure their learners know there’s a caring human being on the other side of the course.
Bottom line is to be present in any way you can. Learners who are more motivated by extrinsic motivation want to feel like the teacher cares if they take the course – and complete it. There have been experiments done that when people feel they’re being observed, they perform at a higher and more consistent level. Use that!
Bonus points if you can continue this approach beyond course completion while your learners are struggling to implement. Better yet, include a 1:1 coaching session for those in that boat who complete the course! Just this alone will awaken the sleeping learner and snap them to attention.
Tip 5: Remember, You’re Not a Professor!
This is sometimes hard for my e-course creation clients. When I read their draft course materials they can make me think I’m in some stuffy classroom and awk – who wants that?
Before you sit down to write your course, get clear on who you’re writing to. What are they like? What are they interested in? How do they interact with others? I suggest you even go so far as to find a picture of that person and cut it out and put it up next to your computer.
You’re talking to a human, not a scholarly journal.
You wouldn’t be boring if you were telling your friend about whatever it is you’re teaching. You’d want to make her laugh a little, see her eyes light up. Get her excited.
Do the same in your e-course. Get your learner THINKING. Get them CONNECTING your content with their life. Get them DOING.
And if you can do that – you won’t (I promise!) have a boring e-course.
Hallelujah! The planet is saved!
Now if you’re really jamming on this topic, I recommend you next jump over to “You Know So Much! Avoid Overloading Your Course With Too Much Content.”
Until next time! Ciao!