Thursday, 27 March 2014

Teaching an online course - top tips - Part 3

In the third and final part of my top tips for teaching an online course we look at what to do once your course is live and running. If you missed Parts 1 and Parts 2 just click on the links. (It's a good idea to start at the beginning!)
We've covered what your course might be about, how to structure the course, how to deliver the course and how to price it. But what do you do once the course is up - how do you deal with criticism, how can you improve your course for the future and how do you get people to stay interested or stay in touch? let's take a look... you'll be pleased to know this is a little shorter than the previous 2 posts!

Your course will be open to receiving feedback whether publicly or maybe someone will pop you a mail. I've received some lovely reviews of my course but then on one dark rainy day I got a thumbs down! I have to say, I was a bit gutted. I previously had a 100% positive response record (thumbs up!). The thumbs down person didn't leave a comment and their profile was private so I couldn't contact them to ask them why. I really genuinely wanted to know what they didn't like - so I in turn could learn from it and either make it right or carry the thought onto another course. I don't mind receiving constructive criticism, as a designer you face it quite regularly... but you have to be able to take it on the chin. So be prepared for the good and bad. You can't please everyone all of the time. Ask your students for feedback, if they all come back saying one particular thing you know that's something you need to improve on.

Despite my disappointment receiving a thumbs down, I know my course wasn't perfect and there's a lot I'd do differently now. I'd probably make it shorter and more focused, I'd try to record the videos better quality. Even if you get the best reviews in the world always strive to think of ways to make the course or the way you teach better or more engaging.

So your course has been running, you've got students and all is going well... but don't be complacent. How can you keep your course fresh and keep getting people to sign up to it? Can you offer competitions and giveaways? Could you include a new video or an update? And how can you stay in touch with your students to notify them of any new courses or updates? maybe it's a newsletter or facebook page. Keep in touch with your students best you can... build on those relationships. 3 years ago I thought having online friends was a bit strange but since taking part in some courses I've made many online friends who have the same interests as me, can answer questions I have about the industry and can share in frustrations with clients and general work. Build your online network!
Skillshare is good as you can keep in touch with your students, set new challenges with prizes or direct them over to a facebook page. We now have over 200 students in The Art of Typography facebook page which is a great way to stay in touch and stay engaged.
What other ways can you reach new students? Use your testimonials as a marketing tool and use social media - twitter, instagram etc. Have your students written a blog post about the course? don't be shy... share it!

Other useful links: for tutorial inspiration!

Phew... there we go - your 10 top tips! Are you ready to get pen to paper and start brainstorming your online course. Please add any comments or questions below. And do let me know if you run a course. If you decide to use Skillshare as your platform you could be very kind and use my referral link, be sure to let me know your course so I can sign up to your course! And if anyone is interested in taking my course The Art of Typography, you can grab 30% off with this link and use the code BLOGPOST. Or maybe you'd like to try out the Skillshare membership option where you can access loads of courses and see how other people do it.

I'm currently thinking of a new course, I've got the bug! To keep up to date with any updates please like my facebook page.

Thank you for reading and getting all the way to the end..!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Teaching an online course - top tips - Part 2

In mini celebration of reaching over 1000 students in my online class The Art of Typography, last week I posted Part 1 of Teaching an online course - top tips which you can read here. In Part 2 we will think about the best way to deliver your course, whether through video or the written word. We'll also be looking at pricing and marketing your course. And next week I'll be posting the final part (3) giving you tips on what to do once your course is up and running - dealing with feedback and keeping the course fresh... I hope you find it useful and would love to hear your thoughts on what course you would like to run.

I'd advise you to take a few online courses yourself before deciding on the best way for YOU to deliver your course. Some courses are entirely made out of video posts - whether that's talking to camera or screen recording tutorials in specific programmes. Some are held on a website where new content may be released each day or week like a blog post. Some are a mixture of both. A lot will depend on your course content and your character!

Videos are a great way to engage with people, or if you really can't stand the thought of recording yourself think about audio files just recording your voice over a series of relevant images or footage. I can tell you, I didn't feel that comfortable recording myself initially - everyone hates their own voice and I realised I had weird little habits when I spoke... (my nose and mouth seemed to do odd things!!) but the more you do, the better you get, the more confident you become and the more natural you sound so practise practise practise... And give it a go before you rule it out completely.

I recorded my videos using a mix of Quicktime and After Effects. Quicktime can do screen recording so you can record your screen if you are doing a tutorial, it will also record your voice at the same time. If you select Movie Recording it will record from your computers built in webcam. There are lots of other screen recording software available, like I Show U also. If you have a lot of background noise - whether that's a dog who might start barking, children or a general hum from your computer, invest in a headset - they aren't overly expensive. Although the dog and children might still be an issue! You could also set up a camera and record yourself talking - if your course is about baking, you'll want to show footage of you baking so get a friend who is handy with a camera to help.

In terms of editing your video I Movie is probably a nice easy option or something similar. Or if your delivery is perfect you might not need to edit (the perfect solution!). I used Adobe After Effects but I wouldn't recommend this for everyone. It's not the best tool for editing long videos as render times can take a while - I had a lot of additional graphics so found it useful, especially as I know the programme very well.

Try to keep any videos between 5-10 minutes. You can post a few videos for different sections but people's attention spans have decreased and like their info delivered in chunks! The maximum any of my videos have been is just over 20 minutes.

Skillshare work on a video basis - all their courses involve recording videos. But what if it really isn't for you...?

The written word
Think about how you can structure your course in the form of a blog - a new lesson posted every day or every week and everything is written rather than spoken. I've participated in courses like this that were equally as engaging as any video ones I've done, as long as it's done right! Well you are still reading this rather long blog post... but would you prefer a video of me talking? Or maybe mix it up with an audio file? Be sure to add engaging imagery to break up long text. (note to self - add engaging imagery!!!)

Just make sure it's relevant?!

The key is to keep your students engaged. Maybe set up a facebook page where people can show their projects? It's a good idea to try to get your students interacting with each other and conversing so facebook and other forms of social media might be your option... Pinterest could be a good route depending on your course content.

Do you want to make money from this venture or are you happy sharing your knowledge for free? Personally I loved the idea of teaching (I've always thought I would teach one day) but I also liked the idea of making some money out of it. You have to get the balance - if it's all about making money, you might not be a good fit for teaching! Or perhaps you think you could offer videos for free on you tube and hopefully make some money from the advertising. Work out your main reasons for doing this...

Skillshare classes (on average) cost the student $20 to enrol although there is now a membership option where you pay monthly. Please don't think I've made $20x1000!!! Skillshare take a cut, I'm always offering discount codes (see below), and I've signed up to this membership option where I make a fraction of the enrolment fee. But the time I invested in it (and still invest in it) has paid off, yes.
Other courses can literally cost £100s to sign up but then maybe the course numbers are limited and you get more one on one attention. If your course will run for a limited time, can you rerun it biannually maybe? Have you got the network to promote a more expensive course yourself? There's no point running a course costing £250 if no one signs up or hears about it.

Finally really think about what your course is worth. Some people said to me - are you selling yourself short selling a course for $20? I think the student gets a lot for their money but the bigger picture is anyone can sign up to that course. Almost like selling a photo on a stock photography site - the photo can be bought many times over. Personally I liked the concept of a site like Skillshare - affordable, accessible classes. I've also taken much more expensive courses and equally thought they were worth the money. Once you figure out the best platform for running your course on, the price will probably be easy to judge - but don't forget your research that we discussed in Part 1!

Oh yeah, if only we could all have Paris Hilton's money and contacts! This is a big subject and not an area I felt particularly comfortable with. You might be a marketing guru - hey your course might be teaching people how to be a marketing guru (can I sign up?!)... if so, brilliant! You don't need me to point you in the right direction. If you have no idea where to start, join the club... which is why I liked Skillshare. Although they don't pick up on every class they run and you are expected to do your own promoting, your course is still online at a website which gets a lot of hits. After the first 2 months I felt like I had totally exhausted my network of contacts and friends who might sign up to the course. So then you have to think of new ways to attract people - competitions offering free spots, getting a mention on popular relevant blogs, maybe even advertising in a magazine, using twitter and pinterest. Word of mouth too - will your students talk about it to friends?

So although I'm no expert in this field you need to think about it. You can create the best course in the world but if no one hears about it, no one will sign up. And don't wait until your course is launched, you need to start creating a buzz about it so you get lots of people signing up in advance!

Next week in Part 3 we will look at what happens once your course is launched. How to deal with feedback and criticism, and how to keep your course fresh. You can check it out here.

Here's some other useful links:

Check out Monica Lee from Smart Creative Women for being effortlessly natural in front of the camera. She does this week in week out - and all that practise has paid off in her relaxed style.

The online course The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design - my first online course I took, I was hooked! Module 4 starts on the 24th March and I'm thrilled to be involved teaching a masterclass in typography.

To get 30% off The Art of Typography follow this link and use discount code BLOGPOST, alternatively sign up to the membership option for access to lots of classes including mine.

Have any of you started to think about a potential course yet? please share you ideas and thoughts below...

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Teaching an online course - top tips - Part 1

In June 2013 I launched my first ever online course called The Art of Typography on the Skillshare platform. Nine months on, the course has reached over 1000 students. I'm pretty astounded by this and obviously very pleased with the success. And whilst I never thought I'd be one counting numbers, 1000 is pretty cool!

So in a mini celebration of this milestone I thought I'd share my experience of teaching an online course, the interaction with students and receiving feedback on the teaching. Hopefully this might inspire some of you to run your own courses as I've definitely learned and gained a lot from the experience.

This is Part 1 of my top tips. The post got a bit too long and I didn't want to bombard you with information. Points 1-4 are a really good starting point. Next week we will discuss the best way to deliver your course, videos, blog posts etc. and how to market your course.

It's all well and good deciding to do an online course but for everyone to get the most out of it (including you) make sure you are passionate about it. This will show in your delivery and should instantly make your course more engaging for potential students. If you are having trouble working out what's your real passion, ask your nearest and dearest. Sometimes they know you better than you know yourself. People would ask my advice about typography without me consciously thinking that's my strong point. I just love designing in general but realised other people saw one of my biggest strengths was type.

Once you've worked out your passion you need to work out if this is something other people would like to learn and know about. Be honest with yourself - there's no point putting your heart and soul into something if you and the students get no gain from it, you want people to sign up to your course! Introduce yourself in an intro video or post. But then focus the rest of the course on what the students will be getting out of it. Use examples of your experience and work to support your teaching but be careful not to just talk about yourself, people don't really want to pay to hear all about you... unless you have some sort of celeb status - then they might!

This is a two step process... firstly research your topic. Are there similar courses available - there probably are! And if there isn't you need to figure out why. You've either thought of a great course which will have huge success because there's no competition or there's simply no need for your course - maybe there's lots of free videos on you tube already covering the same subject. How can your course offer more or stand apart from anything already out there?
There are now quite a few typography based courses on Skillshare. Some are very specific, maybe on hand drawn lettering or page layout. Mine is more a general introduction to all elements of typography. There can be room for everyone to succeed. Just do your research.

The second stage of your research involves your course content. You probably don't know everything or need refreshing on certain areas. I learned so much putting my course together. Particularly about the history of type - I definitely needed a refresh in that area as it had been a long time since I studied it!

This is a very important step and it all depends on what you have planned for your course. Is it a short intense course that will be completed in a week with you on hand constantly to offer feedback, online chats or video calls? Or will it be a 6 week course where you devote 2-3 hours each week? will you set mini projects or one big project? will you be giving feedback to the students? Or maybe you are planning a series of tutorials? You'll have to decide whether the course will have lifetime access once signed up or whether there are set dates the course info is available. Ask yourself all these questions upfront before structuring the course content and working out how the course will be taught... videos, resources, pdf downloads etc.

So that's your starting point. Feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear your initial thoughts and ideas. Next week we will be discussing how best to deliver your course. I'd advise you to take a few online courses yourself before deciding on the best route for YOU. Some courses are entirely made out of video posts - whether that's talking to camera or screen recording tutorials in specific programmes. Some are held on a website where new content can be released each day or week like a blog post. Some are a mixture of both. A lot will depend on your course content and your character!

Useful links - some offer free classes or free trials...

Do some research this week, start making notes and take an online course or check out tutorials on you tube. If you fancy taking my The Art of Typography course I'm offering my blog readers a 30% discount if you follow this link and use code BLOGPOST - alternatively sign up to the membership option for access to lots of classes!

Next week - Delivery, pricing and marketing your online course...