A professional looking course. Sounds good, right? Here’s the thing: At the heart of one of these is a style guide. Yes, a good ole’ style guide. There’s no way around it.
Before you even set a proverbial foot into your course platform, pause, and set aside an hour or so to work through the things in this article. If you don’t, and you impulsively jump into your course platform, throwing in your content willy-nilly, you’re going to have a small nightmare – but still, a nightmare – at the end of all this.
Save yourself the nightmare.
Go through this article, step-by-step, and make yourself a course style manual before adding one thing to your course platform.
I’m going to cover:
- Creating your course’s brand
- Choosing fonts and colors
- Identifying a common lesson structure and course elements
- Thinking through your images
- Claiming your voice
Yes, it’s 5 things. That may seem like a lot but I promise – one hour of your time. And you’ll save HOURS of hassle later on.
Let’s get going!
Create your Course Brand
That’s the look and feel of your course. How similar or different will it be from your website/business branding?
Some people simply use their business brand identity and overlay that on their course and others tweak their brand identity just a bit for their course. Regardless, please don’t make the mistake thinking your course has to be totally different from your website or other business branded elements.
It shouldn’t. When your client or your audience is in your course they should recognize it and connect it to you and your business. The course should augment or build on your business brand, not detract from it.
If you haven’t intentionally created a brand for your business, then let’s just start with the course. Come up with 3 or 4 words that express the essence of your course:
- Funny? Straightforward? Serious?
- Friendly? Academic? Hip? Geeky?
- Calm? Energetic? Motivational?
- What else?
If you’re not a word lister, write a few sentences or paragraphs bringing the essence of your course brand to life.
Now take a step back. Are the people who’ve worked with you or who follow you going to see alignment between your course and their experience with you? Yes? Good! That means your course is aligned with your business.
If not, try again.
Choose Brand-Building Fonts and Colors
Now that you have your branding down, how will your fonts and colors bring your brand to life? Think of your fonts and colors as “speaking” your course brand to your audience.
Pick out a primary color and a few secondary colors. One fun way to do this is by finding a photo with the colors you like and using http://www.degraeve.com/color-palette/ to decode them. Or start with your website colors and find “neighboring” colors using that tool. But if you’re starting from scratch, I love, love, love this site – http://design-seeds.com/
Make sure you have chosen these 3 fonts:
- Header font
- Sub-header font
- Text font
Oh, and do make sure these fonts are available in your course creation platform (e.g. Thinkific or Kajabi, etc.) as well as on your computer (for creating your cheat sheets and other pdf’able type things).
Will you use your business logo? Will it be a certain size, in a consistent place? You don’t need your logo to show up 30,000 times throughout your course. You’re not going to be printing these screens out distributing these like you might with a PowerPoint deck. And you will have your logo on handouts. So, go easy on this! Keep the slides/screens clean and focus on using every inch for teaching.
I know, you’re wondering if you should have a course logo, too. I don’t recommend it – too much branding is too confusing. You want people to connect your course with your business. Keep everything as aligned as makes sense.
Identify a Common Lesson and Course Elements
Just like you don’t want your logos to get in the way of the learning, don’t let your structure get in the way, either. In other words, you don’t want the precious little cognitive bandwidth of your learner to get drained by trying to figure out the structure of your course. You want all of that bandwidth to go into learning the content of the course.
Because of this, I’m a big fan of consistency across your entire course.
Here are some recommendations for common lesson and screen structures for each of your lessons:
Include an Introduction
- Prime the learner by giving every lesson a short intro in which you lay out what the learner will get out of the lesson (the WIIFM -What’s In It For Me) and what is included in it.
- Label the intro so people can easily skim it before getting into the meat of your content.
Include a Summary
- Likewise, summarize your lesson briefly at the end. Again, label it so people know this is the section where they get the key points.
Make Modules and Lessons Roughly the Same Length
- If you do this, when people get into a rhythm they’ll know roughly how long each lesson will take (as long as their bus ride home from work? Just a part of their baby’s naptime?).
There are a number of other common script elements to think about but if you get these 3 you’ll be ahead of the game! I do go into a lot more detail about more of these in the blog post, “Tips for Structuring Your eCourse in a Way That Makes Sense.”
I also want to throw in here a plea for you to not go crazy with bolding and underlining and italics. Italics are hard to read on screens. Underlines can be confused with hyperlinks. CAPITALS feel like people are screaming at you. Bolding says “PAY ATTENTION TO ME” -yes, capitals… And try to mostly just use “quotation marks” for citations and dialogue.
Next, think about the common script elements you’ll want to use throughout the course. These are the things that you might work into each lesson.
Here are some ideas:
- “Myth busters?” or
- “Did you know?” or
- “Check it out?” or
- “Try it!” or
- “What do you think?” or
Do you want to have any of these script elements pulled out somehow from the text? What font? What size? Bolded or not? Underlined? Do you want to use an exclamation mark? Will there be a little icon next to one or more of these elements? What will it be? What color? Will they be in a box interspersed in the text or in a bar on the right or left or at the end of each lesson?
When you list related resources (like cheat sheets) how will you do that? Bullets at the bottom of the lesson? In a box on the right? How will that look?
Sketch out these things on a piece of paper so you can see how they all look together. Too many underlines?? Too many bolds?? Too many boxes or bullets?? Simplify!
Think Through Your Images
Beyond logos, courses are rich opportunities to use graphics, photos, and other images to support learning and engage the learner.
How will you use images? To summarize the content? To add humor to the course? To be decorative and break up the text?
Will you put them in the same places throughout the course or mix it up?
What kind of images do you want to use? Photos you’ve taken? Stock photos of people in business settings? No business settings, only casual settings? Vector art? Traditional artwork (check out The Met’s open collection)? One type or a mix?
My recommendation is to stick to a certain style throughout the course. Make it simple, make it predictable.
(Uh, unless you don’t want it to be. If that’s the case, use surprise or differences to support the aim of the lesson. But do so infrequently.)
Claim Your Voice
Try to keep your voice active, not passive. What do I mean by this? Use strong verbs and be clear about who is doing the action.
For example:Entrepreneurs research, review and evaluate business ideas. NOT: Entrepreneurs are involved with research, review, and evaluation of business ideas.
“Entrepreneurs research, review and evaluate business ideas.”
NOT: Entrepreneurs are involved with research, review, and evaluation of business ideas.
“Entrepreneurs are involved with research, review, and evaluation of business ideas.”
William Strunk dispenses the last word on this topic of voice (as usual):
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
– William Strunk Jr., Elements of Style
Okay! So now you’ve got your 5 things to focus on. Set aside a little time and start working through them. And do make sure you tuck away your style guide somewhere safe. When you start on your next course (gasp!) all you’ll need to do is pull this out again and get going. Yay!
Good luck! As usual, let me know if there’s anything I can help with.