5 Online Course Design Hacks for Learner Engagement

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I love hacks.

Life hacks. IKEA hacks. Computer hacks.

Sure, the word “hack” gets a little overused sometimes, but those unexpected, imaginative shortcuts in every area of life are just the best.

That’s why I set out to find some useful hacks for course authoring and design. Course design can be fulfilling and helpful, but it can also be tedious, time consuming, and repetitive. And we all know that any time you can make a ton of hard work into slightly less hard work, it’s a beautiful thing.

Check out these five quick ways to save hours of time, complete with a link library to help you get started.

1. Use a template

Templates are so outstandingly easy. You choose one you like, format it with an attractive design, and insert your original content… done! If you’re strapped for time, templates are a lifesaver. If you’re not a natural artist or designer, they make your work look polished and professional. And if you have a hankering for a gamified design, you don’t need one day of programming experience to bring it to life.

Bonus hack: Create your own template by designing just a single “master course” template that you can save and reuse. You don’t have to download a template if you don’t find one that suits you, but do check out the links below, since they’re full of great, free resources.

It leaves me wondering why we don’t have templates for everything in life…

Links to help:

2. Make accessibility simple

Accessibility is vital in course design. If not all your learners can access or use your content successfully, you’ve failed in your primary objective. You need to produce content that every user can, well, use.

How can you accomplish such a task when you’re on a time crunch or when you have limited accessibility design experience?

Skip the duplicate content and make your primary content accessible in the first place. A few extra steps, such as adding alt-text to images and choosing a readable font, can make all the difference. Combine this with the above hack and use or create an accessible template. That way, you only have to do this once! Life. Saver.

Check out the links below for more on how to make your material friendly for all learners.

Links to help:

3. Design inside your LMS

You know what bites? Carefully writing out all your material on your own program—be it Google Drive, Microsoft Office, or some other familiar program—and then watching the formatting go to die in an LMS.

It’s okay. We’ve all been there. I understand your frustration. Next time, avoid the headache all together by designing your work inside the LMS you’ll be using.

For this to work, your LMS needs to be course-design friendly, and you’ll need to know ahead of time what LMS it will be. So your mileage may vary on this hack if you’re a freelancer. However, for those who know these things going in, this hack will make your life such smooth sailing.

Links to help:

4. Let your learners do the planning

You’ve done the introductory course where you covered all the obvious, common sense things. But…now what? Your learners are ready for more, but you don’t know what to give them. You’re not fully sure what they need, let alone what they want.

Listening to managers and following benchmarks can give you a clue, but it won’t give you the full picture of what your learners actually know and what they need to know.

So why not let your learners tell you themselves? Better yet, why not let your learners direct exactly what your lesson plan needs to be? A learner survey might be just the trick to get some direction. You spend half an hour setting up a survey, and save yourself hours of hair-tearing-out trying to deduce what your learners want and how they learn best.

Links to help:

5. Have a toolbox ready

Toolkits are awesome. Convenient little boxes packed with everything you need to carry out any repair, craft project, or, ya know, IKEA hack.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a toolbox full of materials at the ready for your job too? Luckily, such things already exist. You can look online and find loads of link libraries and bookmarks for course authoring tools and materials, from the expected to the off-the-wall.

Links to help:

What course design hacks do you use?

Everyone has their favorite methods. What’s your go-to for getting stuff done in a hurry? What’s your favorite low-energy move when you need to put out great content but don’t have the time, or you have so much going on, you just can’t think straight? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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About the Author


Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.


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