This article is for businesses and instructors that want to understand best practices for designing online courses. It’s based on our experience training more than 8,000 students. Since 2011 all of our students have used online or blended learning.
The benefit of online and blended learning are clear. Instructors and businesses can teach things that cannot be done with pure face-to-face training. You can teach extremely advanced material, quickly, to many students (click here to see designs of Net Zero Energy homes that were completed in a 100% online class) and most importantly you easily and cheaply VERIFY student learning and the implementation of the skills they’ve learned.
If you’re looking to build out your online trainings, here are the 5 tips we’ve found to be extremely useful. We use these to create our HeatSpring courses and when advising Cammpus customers. Click here if you’d like to download our entire HeatSpring Online Education playbook.
TIP 1: Have a perfect understanding of the characteristics of the best online courses before you start.
I’ll review the 5 elements below, click here if you want to read the entire article of the 5 elements needed for an awesome course.
Here are the characteristics of a great online course:
- Having material available all the time
- Access to the instructor with regular office hours
- Constant quizzing
- Access to other students
- A Capstone Project
TIP 2: Write down EXACTLY WHO the course is for.
Be extremely specific. General online classes are the worst type. Either make your course extremely specific or not do make it at all.
Here are examples of how specific course audiences are made for.
- LoopLink Certification: The class is specifically for experienced geothermal drillers and HVAC contractors that want a better tools for quickly designing and selling residential and light commercial projects
- Net Zero Energy Homes taught by Marc Rosenbaum on NESEA’s BE Master Series: The course is for architects, engineers, and builders that want to learn the theory, practical step by step process and tools needed to design residential net zero energy homes.
- Passive House Fundamentals taught by Katrin Klingenberg on NESEA BE Master Series. The course is for all of the professionals in the build industry, inspectors, managers, project managers, executives, that need to be very aware of what passive house design is but won’t be the ones personally doing the design work.
- How to Make Money in Renewable Energy. This is a course I teach on HeatSpring. It’s made for students, career changers and entrepreneurs that are trying to understand where their opportunities is in the renewable energy industry.
TIP 3: What are the TOP Learning Objectives?
Similar to tip 2, you need to be extremely specific about the learning objectives of the course. If the learning objectives are not clear before you outline the content for the class (the reading assignments, video lessons, quizzes, homework assignments) that class will not work and it won’t be awesome.
A few examples
- Viega’s Hydronics 101 Course: After the course the students should easily be able to differentiate between the components of heating and cooling systems.
- S+H Construction Solar PV Design Considerations. The course is for architects and engineers design solar PV projects in dense urban area. After taking the course, students should be aware of how solar PV projects are integrated into buildings, how solar PV impacts construction schedules, and what is the difference between a bad clients and a perfect client.
TIP 4: Verification of Learning and Implementation
After identify clear learning objectives, YOU MUST be able to answer this simple question “How do I know if the student has learned the material?”
The litmus test for amazing online training is that the answer to this question must be black and white. You must be able to easily and objectively tell the difference between students that have learned the material and those that have not. If you cannot do this, two things potentially are wrong.
- A – Your learning objectives are not clear
- B – You’re trying to teach material that cannot be taught online
There are typically 3 ways that we verify learning in an online course.
- Quizzes. Quizzes are best best done frequently, shortly and on specific issues. The purpose of these are to validate students are learning small concepts. Quizzes can be true/false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, identify elements in a picture/design/diagram and many other others.
- Homework Assignments. These are typically larger problems that students need to complete. Typically, they will download the tools required to do the homework, the question and then upload the answers to the teacher for grading. Here’s an example home work assignment from the Net Zero Energy Homes course: ”
Using the last week’s exercise in the Heat Loss Calculator, calculate the difference between the design heat loss with an AB specification of 0.25 CFM50/ssf and 0.05 CFM50/ssf
- Capstone Projects. Whether you use a capstone project or not will depend on how in-depth you’d like to make the course. It’s an absolute must for a premium course and it’s a maybe for a product or introductory course.
- For the LoopLink Certification Course: Submit full designs for a ground source heat pumps for a 25,000 square foot commercial building
- For the Net Zero Energy Homes Course: Submit a full design including energy models, home layouts, and equipment specifications for a Net Zero Energy home. Click here to see some of the students projects.
TIP 5: Create a Content Rollout Plan
You’ll notice that content creation is the last step in the process. While most people tend to think of content creation first it’s key that it is last, because after answering the other elements content creation becomes must easier.
The first step in the content rollout plan is to create a syllabus. Once you know exactly who the training is for, the learning objectives, and how you’ll know if the students learned the information, you need to outline how the material will be taught.
Click here to download Marc Rosenbaum training course syllabus to see detailed you need to make your syllabus.
Things to keep in mind when creating a syllabus.
- Curation and simplicity is very valuable. The students are taking your course so that you can use your expertise to tell them what is the most important information. This doesn’t mean that you need to create all the information yourself.
- Be extremely detailed in syllabus creation and create the syllabus before any content is made. Click here to download Marc Rosenbaum’s training course syllabus.
- Need to separate the content into logical modules and have a good mix of video and reading lessons for each section.
The second step is content curation. This falls into three segments, in order of their priority; existing content –> re-purposing content –> content creation.
- Existing Content: The best is reusing existing content that you already have. Typically this can be recorded webinars or recorded sessions of past face to face trainings that have been completed.
- Re-purpose Content: The second best alternative is re-purposing existing content. Typically, the involves re-purposing existing powerpoints, FAQs, spec sheets, and blog posts into presentations and reading assignments with audio to create video lessons.
- Content Creation: The last option, which is also the most time consuming is raw content creation. Starting from nothing and outline reading assignments and video lessons. In these cases, it’s the best to focus on creating online video lessons based on material that you cannot find in other places. This is your special sauce.