Welcome to Part I of my 5 Tips to Rock the Learner Experience in Your Online Course blog post series.

Over the next 5 days, I’ll delve into five key learning design strategies that will make your online courses sizzle.

Why? Because each of these strategies is designed with the learner experience in mind.

And in today’s congested online course market, you need a way to stand out from the competition. By focusing on the learner experience in an online course market that seems increasingly focused on revenue generation vs. students’ needs, you’ll distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Focusing on the learner experience will give you precisely that competitive edge you need to attract and retain new and future students. Your students will know, like and trust you because you will be putting their needs ahead of your own.

Here’s what I’ll be covering over the next 5 days:

So today, let’s get things rolling with Tip #1.

Tip #1 – The Course Kick Off Experience

From the learner’s perspective, an online course is best experienced as a journey that follows a predictable narrative arc. That is, the course journey should have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end.

If you want to hook and retain your learners from the first moment they first set a virtual foot in your course, then you need to design a memorable ‘beginning’ experience for them.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to create an impressionable course onboarding experience. You just need to create a few critical course content pieces and follow some key guidelines.

Key Guidelines to a Successful Course Kick-Off Experience

First, create a “Getting Started” module or unit in your course. In this module, you’ll want to include content that addresses all ten of the following key learner questions.

1. How do I Start?
Explain or show (via screencast) students how to get started in the course and where to find various course components (course syllabus, course workbook, course handouts, course discussion forum, etc.).

2. What Should I Expect from this Course?

Explain the purpose of the course. Provide an overview of the course structure. List the intended outcomes of the course.

3. How should I progress through the course? And how can I keep track of my progress?

Advise students on how they should progress through the course. Offer suggestions for scheduling time to make consistent progress in the course. Suggest a recommended time frame for completing entire modules and/or individual assignments, so that students will know if they are spending too much (or too little) time on task.

4. How do I Get Around in the Course?

Show students how to navigate through the course with a screencast video or screen capture images and instructions.

5. What technology or browser settings do I need to access the course?

List the minimum technology requirements for the course. Suggest a recommended browser, if needed.

6. What technology do I need to participate and complete activities/assignments in the course?

Provide instructions and/or demonstrate how to use the course technology.

7. What technological proficiency do I need to participate in the course?

Be sure the keep the learner’s technical skill requirements for participating in the course to a minimum. Discuss the prerequisite tech skills a student will need to participate in the course. The goal here is to avoid burdening students with the instructional technology used in the course. The course technology is only there to support the visual design and pedagogy of the course.

8. Who is my instructor? Is the instructor or a support team available when I need help or have a question? Is the instructor present and available during the course? How long will it take for someone to respond to my requests for help or guidance?

Introduce yourself to your students in an engaging yet professional manner. ***Be sure to include instructions for how your students can contact you and/or your support team when they have course-related questions or when technical issues arise. Set expectations about the time frame for receiving responses to course questions and requests for help or assistance.

9. What is an appropriate way to engage with my instructor and other students in the course?

Discuss your course etiquette policies and your policies for peer-to-peer feedback. If students will be sharing and commenting on their classmates’ work [in the course], provide guidelines and examples for giving constructive feedback.

10. Who are my classmates? What do we have in common? How can we interact with and support each other during the course?

Provide a social interaction space and an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the course, so that your students can introduce themselves to each other.

So there you have it. These ten guidelines will help set the stage for an awesome learner experience in your online course.

And here are some links to resources that will help you create the perfect kick-off to your course.

That wrap things up for Part 1 of this five part learner experience series. Tune in tomorrow for Part II – The Course Visual Experience.

Recommended Technology for Designing a Course Kick-Off

And here’s an example of a Course Kick Off video. It’s one I created for my course, From ChangeMaker to eCourse Creator.

Please share your course onboarding tips in the comments section below.

Have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you.

Until Part 2…