Once you’ve found your bestselling online course idea and maybe even got around to put it to the test through buyer persona interviews, it’s time to actually roll up your sleeves and get to work.
This probably involves pulling content from your own blogs or other materials and the research you do in addition to that. Easier said than done, right?
Read more: 7 Easy ways to get out of the course creator’s research slump
The truth is that research skills are one of the most important ones to have as an online course entrepreneur. It takes quite a bit of digging, testing, and learning new information. With proper research, your courses avoid the following pitfalls:
- Irrelevant or outdated information;
- Inaccurate information;
- Misleading facts that tell just one side of a story;
- Repetitive information that’s freely available on the internet.
Once you start creating the content for your course in any form, this research should really enrich it and offer something extra to the learner, something which isn’t easily accessible to them from a simple Google search or YouTube video.
Research tips to know before creating your online course
For example, if your course is all about teaching small businesses how to grow, there’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of it is anecdotal. Think about all the success stories that conveniently leave out the fact that successful entrepreneurs started with a generous investment from their friends or relatives.
Read more: Leveraging your teaching and coaching skills to help other businesses
However, if you’re taking a more analytical approach, you can find studies and data related to businesses, which will tell you and your learners more about what it really takes to survive in such a competitive market. It’ll add some value since it’s not just your experience; it’s backed up by facts.
Here are some top tips that will help you do better and more in-depth research when creating your online course content:
Separate fact from fiction
Learning how to identify reliable sources is a skill that everyone should have, but not many do. It’s perfectly fine to go to Wikipedia first, especially at the beginning, when your research is broader. However, when you get to the specifics, don’t just be satisfied with the first Google result and call it a day.
As an instructor, it’s your job to verify the information and do background research on your sources, whether they’re articles, books, or podcasts.
Consequently, whenever you’re researching a topic, check different sources to see what they have to say. Make a note of every position. For example, even if different authors say different things, you can mention this in your course. Then you can make your arguments and explain why you think X opinion or choice is better than others.
In this way, your learners can make their own minds about something, and it’s hard to accuse you of trying to mislead them by only presenting one side of the argument.
Beware of confirmation bias
Have you ever attended a course where the instructor has been teaching the same thing as they did decades ago? With no intention to change their point of view, even after new evidence became available?
Confirmation bias means that we only cherry-pick the information that already agrees with our worldview and opinions. It’s hard to shake it off, and we all do this to some degree, but keeping an open mind really helps while doing your research.
In fact, be prepared to be taken by surprise and actually change your mind about something. You’re building a course with the purpose of offering the best information you can. The best teachers are also excellent learners.
Organize your research
You need a system. Period.
With this type of task, it’s really important to stay organized. Maybe you like using a project management tool such as Asana or Trello, which is great. I like using spreadsheets since it’s easy, I can also access them on my mobile devices, and it’s just a clean slate for me to add or delete whatever I need to.
You can do the same by adding your course outline, including module titles and headlines. Afterward, simply add learning objectives. Under each module, save the links to articles or other materials.
Pro tip: if you have a long course and don’t like working with course outlines first, just tag articles with keywords. For example, if I want to find “small business growth stages” I can quickly use the search function and find relevant articles instead of scrolling through all the sections.
Find an article curating tool
Sometimes you could be scrolling through your phone while waiting in line. You stumble upon an interesting article, but you don’t have time to read it all. Afterward, you have other things to do, so you forget about it completely.
I hate it when this happens. That’s why a tool such as Pocket or the Chrome Reading List comes in handy. You can save articles for later, even if you’re on your phone. Pocket also has a Collections section, in which their editors send you curated articles.
Additionally, it also removes all distractions such as ads, so it’ll be easier for you to read.
Read more: 7 Tips on how to curate content for your online course
Use a citation tool and avoid plagiarism
You’re not writing a research paper, but it’s good practice and common sense to give credit where credit is due. Unintentional plagiarism happens all the time, and stealing ideas outright can end up costing you a lot of money.
Additionally, you may need to pull exact quotes from books or articles. In this case, you absolutely need to know your sources and credit them. An easy way to do this is to use a citation tool, so you’ll always know where your definitions and ideas come from.
I like using the good old Google Scholar library, but there are also solutions such as Zotero and Mendeley.
Use search engine hacks wisely
Since most research is done online, how you do research is just as important as what you research. With millions of results from a simple Google search, it’s really hard to simply go through all the pages or just use the first page results, as we all know that first results don’t necessarily have to be the best ones.
The Google search tips are available to anyone, and yet they’re underused. For example, if you don’t want a certain item to appear in your results, simply add a minus sign such as “best content curation tools - Pocket”. You can also search by titles only, search for a certain file type, related websites, etc.
These tips will save you time and help you find more specific information, which is exactly what you need when doing research for online courses.
Follow new people for inspiration
Following experts or influencers on social media can be great, and it helps you find new ideas to research or incorporate into your course. I’m sure you’re already following relevant accounts, but it’s worth trying to find new experts in your field, no matter what that is.
That’s because when we follow the same people all the time, we tend to get stuck in a loophole and consume the same information that simply confirms our views. Think about social media algorithms and recommendations based on what you already consume - it’s really keeping you in a bubble.
That’s why it’s worth stepping outside of the bubble from time to time and read different opinions about a topic. It will make your course much better and more interesting, and you’ll be able to broaden your horizons as well.
Any online course creator should also have great research and critical thinking skills. However, don’t be intimidated by the sheer volume of information available. Use this to your advantage to narrow it down and only include what is relevant and helpful to your learners. Finding reliable sources, organizing your research, and using research tools are just a few ways to kickstart your research process.