From January 6, 2014 - February 14, 1014, I had the unadulterated pleasure of running my first ever e-course. This was a HUGE step for me and a big learning curve. Having run in-person groups, classes and workshops for over twenty-five years, you would think it would be a cakewalk. Let me tell you, it was a TOTALLY different experience in almost ALL ways. There is practically nothing at all in common with teaching or running a group in person and setting up, designing and writing the content for an online course. Wow!
I'm not even sure I've integrated all that I've learned from the experience...still letting it soak in. Some time and distance will sharpen the focus so I can grab specific gifts and tools and add them to my toolbox. Right now--110 pages of course content written, 30 web pages set up and designed, plus dozens of quotes and photographs gathered later--I'm still basking in the afterglow of having done it.
It was sweet, delicious, magical, moving, energizing, heart opening, veil lifting and SO MUCH MORE! It extracted from me deep pulls of fresh dewy, creative nectar straight from my Muse's well. Witnessing the profusion of words spilling onto the pages of the course, knowing they weren't my own private writing, but gifts of inspiration and tools for others, left me in awe over the simple beauty that was emerging.
Then there were the women...beautiful, creative women who showed up brave and ready to join this special maiden voyage! So much love, support, wisdom and vulnerability flowed from their souls. I love the creative sparks that were ignited and illuminated within our Facebook group. It was a delightful journey, buoyed by the effervescence of a shared passion and deep commitment to the creative process. Deep threads of memories were stitched into my soul from the experience...the first time I do anything, it tends to stick with me and remains a reference for all similar experiences that follow.
It was, of course, also an enormous amount of work. Good rewarding work, but many, many long hours in front of my computer, writing, designing, adjusting, managing all that content so that it could be easily accessed and received. But I'm happy to have done it...happy that I pushed through the fear, the resistance and the sometimes daunting task of pulling all that content together, because each week I was blessed with seeing the lives it touched, the meaning it added and the people it connected.
In the end, though, what REALLY knocked it out of the park for me was knowing that I had passed on the over-the-top joy that comes when one connects with the Muse! THAT'S what really mattered to me...the chance to be able to share that, point the way and help the women in the course open that sacred door inside of themselves. There is NOTHING better than that for a creative woman! NOTHING! It keeps the fires burning, knocks down obstacles and taps into the vast, world of infinite ideas and wisdom. LOVE THAT!
Back to the learning curve....
There is simply no comparison between an in person group, workshop or retreat and an online course. Each have completely different qualities and benefits. What they have in common is the course content and perhaps with a Facebook group, the sharing and connecting. However, I must admit, I genuinely missed the face-to-face love fest that happens when a group of people gather in a circle around a shared passion....the eye contact, the body language, the nuances of vocal tones and all the unseen telepathic communication, tapping into the collective unconscious...all of it.
Also, one of the HUGE differences between in person and online is that with an in person class you're presenting the material verbally, so your preparation might be an outline and some notes, but often there is material you present that is impromptu and anecdotal. This takes a lot of the pressure off in that you don't have to write every single thing down you're going to present. With an online course, unless it's presented primarily in a teleclass, webinar or video series (all of which are viable options and may be something I explore more in future e-courses), you have to write ALL of the material. With a six-week course, that's A LOT of writing, let me tell you. The wonderful upside is that all that juicy material can then be turned into an e-book, which, as a writer, is an amazing bonus!
So just in case you're considering offering an e-course, here are ten things I learned:
- Do a pilot run of the course. This is one of the best ways to learn the ropes and find out what works and what doesn't, what feels good and get some good feedback from a small core of committed people. You should charge significantly less for the privilege of being in this initial test group and in exchange, tell your students up front that their help, support and feedback is expected.
- Choose a good format. There are SO many ways to set up an e-course. One way is to email the lessons straight to people's inboxes. Another is to set up the course as either a blog type page or as I did, a series of individual web pages on my site accessed through a hub page. Another way is to create a book that students purchase and then hold weekly teleclasses. Some people pay a fee to use Ruzuku which has a pre-designed format and all you have to do is plug your course material into it. Still others pull together a group of teachers who do videos on different topics and you access one video per day for a period of a week or longer. I added some audio clips at the beginning of each week, but since I'm a bit camera shy, I haven't made the leap into video yet.
- Work with a designer. Even though I did all of the photo selection ( a combination of my own personal photos and some stock photos), I had artwork created by a graphic designer friend and client who did the artwork for my website. It made it SO much more colorful and visually interesting. If design isn't your strength, partner with or hire someone to help with that.
- Work with a proofreader. I admit, I didn't do that, but I still think it's a good idea to get another set of eyes on your writing. Offering free tuition to a student in exchange for proofreading would be win-win on both sides. It's probably something I will do in the future. Typos interfere with the flow and look unprofessional in any writing. Better to get that handled.
- Establish a good pace. Good content alone is not enough. It needs to be delivered in just the right amount with just enough time to absorb it before moving onto the next lesson. Knowing how much and how fast is something I'm still learning, which is one of the reasons I recommend doing a pilot or beta test of your course. With enough feedback and experience and through taking a few e-courses others offer, you'll learn what works best. There's no magic formula because different material warrants different pacing, however, tuning into your students and letting them teach you how they're handling your material will help you gauge what makes a good flow.
- Stay connected. I don't know about you, but I don't much care for pre-packaged do-it-at-your-own-pace e-courses. The energy seems stale and dead and disconnected from the instructor. Also, just like a gym membership, many people buy it, but rarely use it. The exception might be video courses, which have a more dynamic feel, however, I prefer knowing that the instructor is tuning in and present in some way while the course is happening. Again, this goes back to one of the main reasons I've enjoyed teaching in person workshops and classes--because it's live, fresh, interactive and in the moment. One way to accomplish this is to run and participate in a Facebook group created just for the members of your course. This keeps everyone tuned in with each other and gives everyone a place to share.
- Develop material of interest to you. Only teach what excites and jazzes you up. Passion is the fuel that lights the fire for others and it's contagious. People can feel when you love what you're teaching them. it will sustain your interest and theirs as well. Nothing less than that will do. Reach for the stars and NEVER settle for mediocre to make a buck. Share only what makes YOUR heart sing.
- Offer teleclasses or webinars. As I mentioned earlier, mix it up a bit. Offer a combination of different formats: writing, videos, teleclasses, etc. It makes it more dynamic and interesting and also accommodates different learning styles.
- Provide lots of related resources. Set up lists of recommended books, videos, retreats, websites, experts in the field, etc., so that students can expand upon the course and deepen their experience of what they've learned. I did this up to a point, and then ran into some wonky issues with spacing in the right-hand column of my hub page, so I didn't get as much listed as I would have wanted. In my opinion, you can never have too many good resources.
- Use Survey Monkey to get feedback. You can create simple online survey for free using Survey Monkey. This is an excellent way to gather comments and feedback from your students once the course is finished. You can also ask for testimonials this way, which will be invaluable the next time you offer your course. This is a wonderful way to learn how to improve your course and it may reveal things about the course you were unaware of.
Oh...I forgot to mention...I did my first e-course while living nomadically without a home base...created in the midst of a practically constant state of flux, give or take a few extended pit stops! If I can do that, you can surely do it while staying in once place!
Soon, I'll be offering Creative Alchemy again and piloting a couple of other e-courses this summer and fall. Stay tuned! If you're planning you're own e-course, best wishes with it and may it bring bucketfuls of joy to you and your students!