Trainings Education

Tips for productive online courses

A few ideas we learned about how to optimize our online courses in 47 Degrees.

I was going to share this as a tweet or a Twitter thread, but noticed it was a bit too dense, so decided to share write a short post instead.

Getting the most out of online courses might sound simple at a first glance, but as soon as you step into one you realize there is a set of things you might want to take into account. Note that some of the points could also apply to on site courses.

The cheat sheet

Keep in mind this is just what worked for us, os itโ€™s not like the definitive guide on how to prepare online courses ๐Ÿ™

๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™€๏ธ Know your audience

Gather knowledge about the audience some time before the course. Learn what they are familiar with, or if theyโ€™d learn more by going over a given topic. Think of their daily work and tweak your content according to that.

Your ultimate goal is to provide as much value as possible to them, so adapting content to match their needs is key.

โณ Get them set up

Meet the attendees a few days before to get them set up with tools and content. You donโ€™t want to waste half a day on that the first day. Simple, but makes a big difference.

If you could gather a list of who is set up and who is not youโ€™ll have the chance to help the latter. Put some time on making them aware of how useful would be such feedback for you. You can also organize a pre-course call to ensure everybody is ready ๐Ÿ‘

๐ŸŽฌ Prepare the broadcast

Meet with your marketing team mates a few days before to ensure connection, video and audio quality. Use that time to troubleshoot all devices you want to use. E.g: A tablet as a whiteboard. Or just do it by yourself if you are freelance.

Prepare fallbacks for all the strictly needed tools, like the streaming platform youโ€™ll use. Take the time to send a Calendar event to your attendees with the required links to the call and all assets.

๐Ÿ“… Course structure and agenda

Before starting the first day, share with the attendees the complete course structure and agenda. Be strict with the agenda to give them a sense of overall progress and keep control of the pace. Let them know youโ€™ll keep control of time to ensure the course moves forward, so they donโ€™t feel bad if you are in the need to cut some discussion at some point.

This point is specially needed for online courses given how counter productive interruptions can be over call and how easily people loses track and falls out of discussions.

๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™‚๏ธ Optimize communication

Before starting the first day, use a couple of minutes to ask everyone to get muted and ping in chat for questions. As the teacher you lead and give people the turn to speak. Ask them to use chat only for that. On-call interruptions are not as easy as on site, mostly when there are many attendees.

Keep this under your control, but at the same time be polite on letting them speak as soon as they raise their hand, if you have enough time for it. You want to hear them.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Keep people engaged

For an attendee itโ€™s hard to stay engaged on call for many days. Imagine you would be attending a super long talk given by the same folk for a week straight.

Be over proactive on asking attendees for questions, and making them participate as much as possible. Prepare content with that in mind.

Prepare the schedule so they have enough breaks every day for coffee, lunch etc. Shortening breaks for the sake of fitting more content is usually a bad take. It always works better to keep their minds fresh.

These little things will make you succeed instead of getting a bunch of people turning cameras off and fading out for long.

๐Ÿ“ฆ Bootstrap content

Offer the content as bundled as possible. You want them to have seamless access to all the content (theory, exercises) without the need for your help all the time. You donโ€™t want to be a bottleneck for troubleshooting during the course days, neither make them waste a lot time to get things running. Troubleshooting over call, one by one is not very doable.

Versioning is one of the most common issues. You are about to start with some exercises and then people finds issues when importing those on their environment, since they are using their already installed environment, plugin versions and so on.

A good way to shortcut this problem is relying on IntelliJ IDEA Edu for exercises. It carries latest stable versions for most of the language compilers, so by asking your attendees to download this environment you can ensure they got the versions you expect.

On top of that, it provides a very convenient way to encode your exercises as tests the attendees need to resolve sequentially. Each exercise comes along with a markdown or html description you provide, and a button to validate the solution.

๐Ÿช“ Leverage adaptability

Ensure you have content flexibility and the ability to jump and axe content on the go if needed. Audiences vary a lot and many times you realize the current one would get more benefit from going over some given part of the course first.

Many times you discover this live and gradually, following the questions they make.

๐Ÿง  Keep agreements in mind

Be conscious about privacy and contracts. Itโ€™s a course for your attendees, not for your Twitter followers. Always ask them or their company before sharing anything in the open. For marketing purposes it helps to agree on what kind of content you can share and promote before or after the course. Many companies wouldnโ€™t want you to take / share pics, and you definitely want to respect that.


And thatโ€™s pretty much it for now. Iโ€™ll probably add more topics to the list during the following days, as soon as they come to my mind. I hope it was useful ๐Ÿคž

Thanks to 47 Degrees for giving me the chance to learn about this.

Where you can find me

I share thoughts and ideas on Twitter quite regularly. You can also find me on Instagram. See you there!