Today, I have a little treat for you all. Ainslie Hunter, the mastermind behind Courses That Matter, has agreed to talk with us here at BlogWorld about a topic that might interest you if you’re looking for ways to monetize your blog – online course creation. In my opinion, she’s the undisputed queen of online courses, so I’m really excited to share her tips with you guys and gals! Ainslie and I met on Twitter through our love of Glee and some mutual friends (Jade Craven was likely involved, but let’s be honest – when it comes to networking, when isn’t Jade involved?), and have been friends ever since.
Check out the interview below, and make sure to check out her site, sign up for her free Teachers Lounge newsletter, and follow Ainslie on Twitter @ainsliehunter.
Allison: Thanks for speaking with us, Ainslie! How did you first get started as a blogger and online course creator?
Ainslie: I started blogging in 2009 on a site about Study Skills . It wasn’t a very popular topic but it gave me an opportunity to practice the craft of blogging. From there I became a staff blogger for parent and education sites. Last year I started my second blog with my dad. We write about the sport of cutting horses (http://cuttinghorselink.com)and teach others in the horse industry how to use blogging and social media to promote themselves and their business. And finally early this year I started Courses That Matter – a culmination of my teaching and online education experience.
I created my first online course in 2006 whilst completing a Masters of Online Education. The first online courses I designed were for students, parents and other teachers. I used closed intranet sites, or platforms such as Moodle or Blackboard to create the courses. For the past 6 months I have been creating online courses using email, membership sites and Learnable. I also help other bloggers create their own online courses.
Is it harder to teach online courses than typical in-person courses?
It is definitely harder to teach online. When you teach online you don’t get immediate feedback from your students to know whether your content, instruction or activities are helpful or confusing. As a teacher in front of a class I know straight away whether my explanation or activity is working for my students. You don’t get as an online teacher.
I love your “teach people, not topics” motto! Can you elaborate on that a little?
The motto is everything I stand for as a teacher and a reminder to all that want my help that I will demand the same from then. Teaching is not pontificating about your area of expertise. Teaching is communicating and connecting with your students, at their level.
What are some of the biggest problems you see with current online courses available?
The biggest problem I see with current online courses is a lack of teaching. By that I mean explicit instructions or activities that get their students to use the knowledge or content for their own benefit.
Let’s say I was teaching a course about writing a blog post. Many courses provide great content about headlines, blog post types and even SEO.
But not many courses break the content down into tasks and give explicit instruction on how to achieve all the tasks. “First write 5 headlines…Then write a plan….Then write a post….Now edit it using this checklist….Now check SEO….And now let me offer you some feedback”
I personally find that offering feedback is one of the hardest parts of teaching in any setting. I know it never helps the student to sugar-coat things, but I always worry about coming off as mean even when I’m trying to be constructive. Can you give us some pointers for how to best offer feedback to students of an online course?
Feedback shouldn’t be scary; it is the way we learn. As a child we learnt to walk because of the feedback from the floor. Then as a student we learnt spelling, writing and reading from feedback our teacher’s gave us. Children aren’t afraid of feedback, but adults are. Adults do everything not to get feedback.
So firstly, don’t think that feedback is negative. If you think it is negative, your students will think the same way. Then all you have to do is offer feedback that is constructive. Feedback is not “that is wrong, do it again”. Feedback is stating what went wrong, and offering a suggestion on how to improve the lack of understanding. For example “you have a habit of repeating yourself in your writing. An example is in paragraph 2. To stop yourself doing that I would read your work aloud and circle any passages that sound the same?”
Is teaching an online course right for everyone and every topic?
Let’s start with the second part of the question. I think that if you can write a book about a topic you can write a course about the same topic.
But can anyone be a teacher? The answer is no. Not everyone wants to spend the time connecting with students and doing everything they can to make sure their students understand what they are teaching. Not everyone wants to create activities or offer feedback.
What’s your single best tip for someone developing an online course?
Make sure your course involves lots of doing. Create lots of activities and tasks that your students will need to complete. And make the activities meaningful to your students and their problem. An online course without activities isn’t a course but a text book.
In closing, can you give BlogWorld readers some examples of great courses out there that they should consider?
Ohh, that is simple. Try and spend some time in a classroom. Take an art class or join a gym. Or better yet, head to Blogworld Expo. Watch how teachers explain their passion, connect with students and break down concepts into manageable tasks that everyone can attempt and achieve successfully. Those same principles can be used online; you just need to become more aware of them in real life.
I swear we didn’t pay her for the BlogWorld plug! Thanks again for the awesome info, Ainslie. Readers, remember to check out Courses that Matter to sign up for her newsletter and follow her on Twitter @ainsliehunter.