Are you ready to turn your in-person workshop into an online course (and serve oodles of people without working 80+ hours a week) — but have no idea even where to begin?
When I first made the switch from classrooms to online nearly 20 years ago, I was terrified that I’d:
Lose the transformative impact of my course
Be completely overwhelmed by the technology
Create a course that no one wanted to take
Instead of failing miserably, as I had feared, students loved the course, and I eventually got the total freedom of location-independent livelihood.
There is nothing magic about creating online programs that get students the same results as your in-person workshops. Before I got into the specific tips for making a smooth transition, here are three big differences about online teaching that you should always keep in mind.
Online learners have miniscule attention spans. It’s a drag that we have attention spans of a gnat, but that’s the reality. While students are working on your online course, they will also be checking social media, email, or text messages. Converting your workshop means you have to assume students will be bombarded with digital information while learning from you.
You have no non-verbal cues about how the content is landing for your students. No eye contact, no body language, no brows furrowed with confusion or bright faces with expressions of understanding. You’d be surprised at how much you depend on the nonverbal communication from your students to know if your presentations are going well. In online courses, you have to devise other means to get that feedback.
No walls mean no boundaries. A group of people learning together in the same room creates an energy that can be magical. Without 4 walls, online courses run the risk of feeling boundless. Your online students will love you for constructing solid boundaries – virtual walls – so they can thrive in your course.
Here are my top 5 tips for converting in-person workshops into online programs.
#1 – Get Specific
Many workshops cover enough ground for several online courses. When you teach online, you need to focus your course on a very specific topic. Ideally, your topic should only need 4 to 6 modules. Getting specific like this helps overcome the short attention spans and the lack of physical boundaries.
Another reason to get specific is that it will help you niche your market. Narrow your topic by defining your ideal student, then find some of them and ask what their biggest problem is related to your subject.
For example, if you teach an in-person workshop on meditation, your ideal student might be millennial female yoga students with no meditation experience. You would then reach out to a few of them and ask them: what is your biggest challenge in getting started with a meditation practice? Based on their feedback, choose which aspects of your workshop you should develop into an online course, making sure that the full scope can be covered in 4 to 6 modules.
By creating an online course from just one or two parts of your workshop, you will also have room to grow by adding courses related to the other topics in your workshop.
#2 – Use the FAQs
Create new content from the questions most frequently asked at your workshop. Sure, you can also set up a way for people to ask questions online. But if lots of people tended to ask the same question in person, rest assured, many more will be asking the same questions online.
One way to determine the biggest FAQs is to just jot them down from memory. If you’ve done the same workshop for many years, this might be all you need. If you want to be more precise, try one of these techniques:
Take notes during your next several workshops. Write down the questions as they are asked. Also, ask how many others in the group have the same or similar question, so you can gauge the scope.
Record your next several workshops. If it is challenging for you to take notes while talking to students (would be for me!), then use the voice recording app available for a smart phone. Just as you’d do if you took notes, ask how wide-spread the question is.
Use a Question Box. Ask each participant to write down their top question for each session of the workshop and drop them in the Question Box. You can use this as a way to consolidate answers while also having a record of the most frequently asked questions.
If you won’t be doing any in-person workshops before creating your online workshop, contact several participants from previous workshops and ask them to recall what types of questions they had while participating.
#3 – Build a virtual meeting room
Since your online course won’t have physical boundaries of a room that help keep everyone focused and moving forward, you have to build some virtual walls to hold the group in a space for learning. Some best practices for creating helpful boundaries in an online course include:
Keep each lesson short. You don’t have to dumb things down. Just chunk the material into very bite-sized pieces. Nothing feels more boundless to a student like being overwhelmed by huge amounts of information all clumped together.
Provide consistent and structured format for each lesson. If you just throw up a recorded slide presentation and call it a lesson, students will be completely lost. Give them a road map of how to approach each lesson and what they will be able to do after each lesson.
Repetition is your friend. Say what you are going to say. Say it. Say what you said. And this is particularly important for directions for learning activities.
#4 – Use recorded live content wisely.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make converting from in-person workshops to online course is to slap up videos of your live presentations in their entirety and call it a course. Unless you have extremely high production value and superior presentation skills (think TED Talks), this strategy will fail.
If you have recorded either video or audio of your live presentations splice sections of them into content that you build specifically for the online course. The same goes for your slide deck: you will have to change it to meet the demands of online teaching plus you will need a much stronger container for each lesson than just a recorded slide presentation: Lesson hook, Introduction, Road Map, Learning Activity, Opportunity for Interaction.
#5 – Provide leadership for interaction and dialog.
Remember: no eye contact or body language. You can’t rely on the informal conversations that happen in your workshop. If you want your online course to be interactive, you will have to formalize the interactions. Creating these can feel a bit awkward in the beginning, but your students will thank you for them as they build relationships with other students and you.
You can create kick-ass online programs that match – or exceed—the ones you teach off line.