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Online course creation for professional certification

There are no set guidelines for creating an online course but it does require the creator to love what they are generating. Without a keen interest in the course material being produced, candidates pick up on this and will struggle to remain engaged. Before getting started, course creators should carry out extensive research to understand:

  • What courses currently exist
  • What demand there is for the knowledge
  • What e-learning materials resonate with learners

The cost of creating an online course can vary from nothing to thousands of dollars, depending on the type of material being created. This is important to consider as it will impact the price-point of the program and how long it takes for the program to become profitable. Fortunately, there are many platforms for hosting online courses so creators won’t have to invest in building a learning platform from scratch. Following materials, marketing the program is often considered the hardest part of being a provider of online learning. Understanding the audience, where they spend their time, and what they want from online learning helps to simplify the marketing process and will prevent wasted spend.

Choose a course topic

Although this may seem to be the easiest part of the process, “we are subject matter experts, so we will offer a program that covers this course idea in detail” - there is a caveat. You are an expert, but your audience is not. Simply offloading everything you know about a topic is a sure-fire way to decrease engagement as learners quickly feel overwhelmed. Professionals are expressing a demand for short-term, affordable, and valuable programs that will look good on their resume and help them to move the needle on their career. They need the topic to be explained in a way that they can understand. If course materials are full of industry jargon or quickly become complex, it will block the accessibility of learning to a large portion of the target audience.

An effective method of meeting this demand is to break the subject matter down into easily digestible, bite-size modules. Learners can engage with these modules and gain new skills around their job and family responsibilities. Learning journeys that are easily accessible and provide materials that are available for frequent review are the most effective. The downside is that it can be difficult to convey the value of these modules with traditional credentials such as paper or PDF certificates. Space is restricted to provide evidence of demonstrable skills and applied learning. To combat this, our providers use digital badges issued on dedicated credential pages to represent module completion. The space provided on credential pages allows for detailed context on what skills, knowledge, and experience was gained for the given award.

Select a platform for online course creation

There are many different online course platforms for hosting e-learning programs. Course creators can opt for a dedicated Learning Management System (LMS) for online course creation such as Canvas, Moodle, Teachable, and Thinkific. LMS’ are software platforms used in learning environments to store, deliver, and manage educational content. We have a blog that explores the Top Performing LMS Platforms including customer ratings, availability of free trials, and how they integrate with Accredible. Alternatively, courses can be built on the learning provider’s own hosted website using website building tools such as WordPress or Webflow. It requires more effort to create a learning platform on your own website compared to a LMS but provider’s have increased control over features and how materials are delivered.

You should also consider the preferred payment gateway for accessing courses, if courses are hosted on your own website, payment processes will need to be maintained and kept secure. Website builders such as WordPress provide access to free plugins such as PayPal which also need to be kept up to date for security. LMS platforms and course marketplaces simplify the payment process and provide additional secure options for payment, although there may be additional fees to cover the cost of this service.

Many LMS platforms support the delivery of certificates; however, these are typically issued in PDF format which can restrict how recipients engage with their award. PDFs aren’t supported across the majority of social media platforms which prevents shareability. They are also insecure, and can be amended without authorization using apps such as Mac preview and the Adobe Suite. Digital credentials provide protection against fraudulent creation or spoofing of existing certificates. This helps to protect the integrity of the award and prevents course providers being affiliated with fraudulent credentials. Accredible offers dedicated integration for a variety of LMS systems. Where dedicated integration is not yet available, our digital credentialing solution supports automated connectivity through Zapier or our robust, easy-to-use API for integrating with bespoke systems.

Identify the target audience

Determining the target audience will help outline the topics and choose the ideal materials that will engage learners. It’s important to get specific when defining the target audience, mistakenly thinking that anyone with an interest in the topic will automatically sign-up can lead to failure. Identify key demographics of your audience including age, gender, level of education, employment status, and if they have taken or are taking similar courses.

Social media groups and interest forums can be excellent sources of information for discerning the target audience. Ask group or forum owners for permission to run analysis using polls or to start a discussion thread around what you hope to achieve through the program. Engage with users to understand what they want from learning materials, are they looking to improve their employability, expand their knowledge, or change careers? Investigate what format they prefer, for example video content, webinars, one-to-one sessions, written content, or interactivity supported by gamification. Finally, ask about what has been lacking from other courses they have taken or expressed an interest in.

Create course content

After performing target audience research, course creators should have a better understanding of what materials and format their learners will enjoy and engage with. It’s now time to start structuring and packaging knowledge in the format content will be delivered.

Video

Video lessons are one of the most engaged form of content online and can be uploaded to course marketplaces such as Udemy. If video content is the most requested in your research, time needs to be taken to write, review, and test scripts for effectiveness. A graphic designer is required to create supporting assets such as imagery used to explain concepts covered in the video. Equipment will need to be acquired, either through purchasing equipment that can be used in the future, or booking a reputable media company. Finally, time is required after recording for video editing, this ensures your content is polished and ready for distribution.

Filmed sessions don’t need to look cinematic in quality but audio quality shouldn’t be compromised on and must be clear and understandable from start to finish. Audio that is distorted, too quiet, or constantly interrupted with pops or crackles not only contributes to a poor learning experience but can be infuriating to the listener.

Webinar

Webinar content can be built in a number of programs such as PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote. Webinars require a basic screen recording set-up using a platform like Zoom or OBS that enables the presentation and the presenter to be recorded in real-time. It’s important that slide decks also hold up by themselves so these can be distributed to learners for easy-to-review materials. There are plenty of webinar templates available to help you get started and will provide guidance on what contributes to an engaging webinar.

Podcast

A podcast is a recorded audio session that can be distributed across platforms such as Spotify, RSS.com, and Spreaker to name a few. As a podcast is simply audio it can be one of the cheapest ways to build a course, however a transcript should be made available for material review. Only certain distribution platforms support monetization options so carry out research to identify the best service for your needs prior to launch.

Interactive Content

Depending on the platform chosen, interactive materials can be created via the LMS or using a supported plugin if hosted on your own website. Gamification is implemented using digital credentials, mini-games, quizzes, and hosting leaderboards - or anything that adds relevant game-like elements to the learning experience. Quizzes used to support gamification can be as simple as selecting true or false statements and memory matching games. Or more complex using dedicated mini-games that have been created just for the program, for example the games that are used to improve type speed and accuracy.

Planning Course Content

Content should be delivered like a story, with logical connections between topics and a gentle slope of increasing complexity. If content is made up of a lot of disjointed facts without explanation or story-driven progression, learners will quickly become unengaged. Write out the different topics that are going to be explored and break these down into subtopics that naturally progress from one to the next. Make sure that each lesson has a clearly defined objective that is communicated to learners in the tutorial, introduction, or course outline.

Engage learners

The more engaged your learners are during the program, the more successful your online course will be. Learners are engaged through dedicated spaces for community discussion and the exchange of ideas using social media, such as Facebook groups, and online forums. Providing a means for communicating with the course creator also helps learners feel their learning journey is important and helps to support engagement. Once your course has a good following, you may also consider building a dedicated membership site for your online course business that provides space for forum discussion and learner Q&A.

Gamification provides another element of engaging learners. The games mentioned previously help knowledge retention and feel less like a process than having to work through traditional worksheets. Digital badges are used to provide gamification for online learning through incremental awards that incentivize progression and course completion. The added bonus of using digital badges in this way is the ability to provide detailed contextual information on what the learner has gained through each achievement. Digital badges give learners a tangible record of their progress and a representation of the skills they have gained as they progress.

Reward achievement

Learners want to be rewarded for their efforts and have something easily accessible and shareable that they can use to provide evidence of their earned skills, knowledge, and experience. Traditionally, education is rewarded using physical certificates, such as degrees and Master's certificates. More recently, platforms such as LMSs have included the delivery of PDF certificates to provide evidence of course completion. These types of rewards are common but outdated and restrict the recipient engagement after they have completed the program. PDFs aren’t supported by many social media platforms, can be easily reproduced or spoofed, and lack the space to convey the true value of the course. Physical certificates face similar challenges. Recipients need to take extra steps to share and often these certificates get filed away and forgotten.

Digital credentials provide a modern-solution to combat the downsides of traditional and PDF certificates. Integration into existing platforms and bespoke platforms automates instant delivery of digital credentials via email so there is no waiting for the physical certificate to be received. The dedicated credential page provides plenty of space for providing course detail, evidence of applied knowledge, and test or exam results.

Digital credentials are easy for recipients to share in one-click to social media platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Recipients can also embed their digital credentials into email signatures or on personal webpages, and add their digital credentials to their LinkedIn profile. For use and verification on the go, recipients can add their digital credentials to a digital wallet card on their smartphone and present their credentials on-site, during interviews, or during employment reviews.

For the course creator, digital credentials provide easy verification without creating additional labor for credentialing teams and allow the issuer to retain full control over validity and expiration. They also eliminate the cost of editing and resending certificates that include spelling or design errors.

Monitor learner progression

Learning pathways are a great way to encourage course completion as learners move through topics in increasing difficulty but can also lack transparency for the course creator. If the move between difficulty levels is too steep or early courses aren’t engaging, this can lead to learner drop-off. The learner flow tool in Accredible’s credentialing solution enables issuers to track the progress of their learners as they move through a ‘collection’ of credentials. For example, the first online course or beginner course, a level two course, and finally a diploma stage course. Using learner flow, course creators identify how many learners are advancing to the next credential or where they have stopped. The data is used to identify if intermediary courses are required to simplify the complexity between levels. Issuers can also identify if early courses aren’t engaging enough to encourage progression and encourage learners to join at a higher level or increase the difficulty of the introductory course.

Visibility of the next step in a course or the next recommended course in a topic is a great way to motivate learner progression. Using digital credentials, course providers can include a link to the next recommended course in the credential delivery email as part of an email marketing strategy or on the dedicated credential page itself. Increased visibility for the next step learners should take also helps to boost revenue, especially when courses are charged on a per-certificate or per-course basis.

Market the program

Once your materials are together and the structure of the course is in place with tools to engage learners and monitor progress, it’s time to start marketing your program. It is not enough to simply launch a new program and expect it to start generating revenue straight away, especially if you are delivering a course in an already competitive market.

Pre-sell the program

If you have previously been involved on social media platforms and forums, use this opportunity to pre-sell your course in these spaces. Motivate learners to enroll with early bird sign-up discounts and keep enrolled learners up to date on the expected roll-out date of the program. If you decide to sell online courses prior to an official launch, make sure to stick to promised deadlines so you don’t disappoint your keen audience. Additionally, to increase interest and begin engaging learners, some course providers offer their first online course as a free course that serves as a 'taster' for a broader program.

Build a website

A website is a great location to host details about the program and what makes you the expert in the space, even if the course is hosted on an LMS platform or course marketplace. The website should include a homepage and dedicated landing page or sales page for each program. The landing page provides a dedicated course page to describe what the course is about, the benefits of your program, what learners can expect to get out of the course, FAQs, and any pricing details. After learners have started to complete the course, this is a good space to gather social proof including customer testimonials, reviews, and ratings. The course page serves as part of a content marketing strategy and should be built around the search terms, phrases, or keywords that the audience are using to find similar services.

Harness the reach of your recipients

Supporting learners with digital credentials to represent their module or course completion will supplement your marketing efforts. Easy-to-share digital credentials encourage learners to showcase their latest achievements to their friends, family, and peers. We recommend including a digital credential informational page on the website that details what the digital credentials are, how they can be used, and provide step-by-step guidance for sharing. Recipients are encouraged to share in the moment as digital credentials are received instantly via email once learners meet the goal criteria, i.e. completion of a module or course. Add an appealing call to action in the credential delivery email that motivates recipients to engage with and share their credentials. If there is a specific social media platform that is a part of your marketing strategy, this can be included as a CTA, for example ‘Share to Facebook’ or ‘Add to LinkedIn Profile’.

Learners often share a large portion of their followers with your target audience which helps to reduce marketing spend - in particular on LinkedIn, the self-proclaimed professional social media platform. Engagement, shares, and referral clicks can be tracked within the Accredible credentialing solution. This allows online course creators to compare the success of recipient shares compared to paid media advertising and reduce PPC spend accordingly.

Scale with demand

Automating parts of your online course helps to reduce the effort of scaling as learner numbers increase. For example, name changes and typo errors are a common occurrence and correcting edits can create a time commitment which is better spent elsewhere. Accredible’s digital credentials support automated corrections for simple one or two character name changes. More complex changes can be authorized with a simple click of approve or disapprove. Broader, retroactive edits can be made in bulk across live credentials should the core information require updating, such as a stakeholder name or signature. This also saves on the cost of re-issuing credentials. If the average cost of issuing and delivering a physical credential is around $5 a piece, this saves at least $500 for every 100 credentials that require edits.

Automation can also encourage recipients to return and reskill by setting expiration dates for credentials. Once a credential is nearing expiration, recipients receive an email notification reminder and a further email once the credential has expired. The credential itself is updated with a visible banner to state it has expired and can no longer be verified. The increased visibility of expired credentials serves to boost enrollment as learners want to keep their skills portfolio up to date.

Simple one-click verification that is handled on the credential itself reduces the time commitment of credentialing teams. Team members are not required to man a telephone line or email inbox and verification can happen around the clock, which is helpful when issuing credentials to candidates around the globe and across many time zones.

Summary

Creating a successful online course isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ process. A great course requires engagement of learners through:

  • Defining clear learning objectives
  • Delivering preferred content
  • Providing access to online communities
  • Marketing to the right audience
  • Monitoring to ensure learners are getting the most out of your program

Digital credentials support each step of the process for course creators and their learners through gamification, increased visibility, monitoring through learner flow, and automation that simplifies scaling and reduces program costs.

Get started with digital credentials today with a free user account that enables you to issue credentials for up to 20 unique recipients. To issue digital credentials for over 20 unique recipients, contact the Sales team. We can help you get started with integrated digital credentials, designing fantastic-looking digital certificates and digital badges, and additional features such as Branding and White-Labelling credentials.

Further Reading

Looking to use digital credentials to support an existing program? Read our guide on how digital credentials are used to increase course completion and boost enrollment. The ‘How To Increase Course Completion with Digital Credentials Guide’ helps organizations to identify pain points around enrollment and course completion and ease the process for their learners. Utilize the features detailed in this guide to:

  • Motivate enrollment by conveying the value of credentials
  • Gamify the learner flow, encouraging course completion
  • Support recipients with easy sharing and verification
  • Make education accessible for all types of learners

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