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Top 5 Mistakes Course Authors Make

I just previewed a course on Udemy that wasn’t that well done. But it made me think, why was it so bad? Was it bad teaching, or just a bad presentation style in the video? After having watched hundreds of hours of online course video in the past year (I have 32 reviews on this site alone, and more that I previewed but didn’t review), I have some tips for course creators on the top 5 mistakes they can avoid when creating their own online course.

1. Background Music or Overly Elaborate Intros

I’ll group these both together. I recently watched a video that had some background music running during the entire video, and the teacher was talking over it. Please, save my ears. Don’t have an audio track running in the background while you’re trying to teach something. You want your students to focus on what you’re saying. The audio track is a distraction. Ditch it, or turn the volume way way down.

And don’t have a 10-second video clip at the start and end of each lesson. I know this adds a professional quality to your videos (hey PBS does it!), but to view your whole course I have to watch at least 25 videos. If 20 seconds of each video is an “intro clip” you bought on fiverr (basically just your logo in a 3D rotating animation with dramatic license-free music), that adds up to 5 minutes of my time you are wasting. Cut it down to a couple of seconds, and don’t do beginning and end. Or better yet, how about you run the title card at the bottom while you start talking?

2. The Bad PowerPoint Course

I’ve worked 20 years in software development, and I’ve seen plenty of PowerPoint presentations in my life (and created many as well), but try to avoid creating 20 slides of bullet points and then reading them one by one in your course. I can read. If your course is nothing but bullet points, you’re not adding anything of value by adding audio and recording a video of it.

Another bad PowerPoint technique is the unrelated image style. So you heard the advice about not putting up bullet points, but decide on finding some creative commons images on flickr and showing that instead. But how does showing a mountain range for 5 minutes while you talk over it let the video provide any information. You might just as well release that as a podcast or audio-book. Having no useful information on screen at all again wastes the power of having both audio and video together.

3. You Talking + Camera = Video Course

There are certainly some dynamic speakers in this world, who I can get value from watching speak. Ever seen Tony Robbins speak? His whole body screams energy, and he has learned the secret to drawing an audience in with only the power of his voice. You (probably) don’t have this power. As with the previous point, if the entire course is just the video camera pointed at your face as you talk, what value is the video bringing? You are wasting the visual channel for teaching.  I’m not saying never show yourself, just try to mix up portions of video where you are the main feature, with slides, drawings, and demonstrations of the topic. It’s all about speeding up the learning using both audio and video channels effectively.

4. Unfixed Glaring Technical Errors

This is a tough one. Say you’ve recorded this course, had it professionally edited, go through the blood, sweat and tears of producing it, and then you launch. And shortly after you launch, someone points out to you that you said something completely untrue in video #3. What do you do?

Do you ignore it? Do you respond in the comments that, yes, that was a mistake? Do you add a little disclaimer to the bottom of the video saying that you had this point exactly backwards? Or do you pull the video down and re-record it?

To me, having a major error in a course partly undermines the authority of the teacher and distracts from the experience. Yes, it sucks that you have to spend more money and time doing it again. But if it’s such an obvious error, you have to.

I’m not talking about a minor error or can be considered a matter of opinion or is debatable between experts in the field. I’m talking about adding 2 + 2 to get 5, and then using 5 as the input to the next equation. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. But you’re actually confusing your students by that, and if it takes each one 5 minutes to figure out that it was you that were wrong instead of them, multiply that over (hopefully) thousands of students and you’ve wasted everyone hours and hours of time. Just fix the error.

5. Launching Before The Course is 100% Ready

I can totally see the appeal of creating a 5 module course, and just launching one module at a time. You may even have a timetable in your head that you’ll launch one module per week for five weeks. Perhaps you think you’re doing your customers a favor by launching them when they’re done so that people don’t have to wait.

But the reality is that you won’t be able to launch one module per week. Perhaps you will reasonably be able to do one module in a month. And one month will turn into two months in the summer season, and around the holidays, and Thanksgiving… So many delays you don’t plan for. And some of you won’t get all the modules done ever – you’ll just stop half-way. And some customers will come in, complete all of the modules you have, and be left hanging waiting for the rest. And they’ll be asking when the next module is ready, and you’ll tell them something that turns out not to be true. And they will forget the first module by the time the second comes out. And they won’t ultimately learn what you’re trying to teach.

Why create that situation? Record your 5 module course and get it complete. And then launch. People who are fast learners can breeze through it in a weekend, while those that need more time can slowly digest what you’ve created at their own pace. Nobody will be disappointed. You won’t be making promise you can’t keep. And everyone is happy.

So that’s it. Those are my five mistakes to avoid when creating an online course. These are not hard and fast rules, but things I have observed from watching so many courses over the months and years. I just want you to create a great course, for me and for others, and successfully teach the world what it is that you know and are passionate about.

If you ignore these rules, launch, and then find few students stick around… you’ll now know why.

All the best!

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2 comments

  1. There’s one more…

    6. Filming Before You’ve Done Your Storyboards. Filming is fun and everyone is excited to do it, but filming is like good consulting. Every hour of consulting requires 5 hours or prep work. Every hour of filming requires 20 hours of prep work. How will you set up the frame? What graphics will you use? What about transitions? Figure it out, with storyboards, BEFORE you start the camera.

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