Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

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A few months ago I wrote a post on how to put together a course outline.  Since then, I have seen several courses - some still in outline format - that I would classify into two categories: The Abridged Google Search and The Project Calendar.  Even though both styles have fairly good outlines, they leave me (the student) thinking “I could’ve figured this out myself”.

“The Abridged Google Search” course design

These courses are similar in nature to those websites that are nothing more than a series of links to other sites.  A course that is nothing but a series of links to other sites on the subject is more like a bibliography than a course; it is simply a list of additional reading sources.  

Courses put together in this manner suffer from disjointed material; content written by several different people with different writing styles, audiences, and objectives.  It is next to impossible for the student to know what the teacher intended to be the salient points.  There is no natural progression from one page (web link) to another and no transition between them. 

“The Project Schedule” course design

This type of course probably teaches better than the “Abridged Google Search” because at least the core content was designed for instruction.  These courses go something like this:

  1. Week/Topic 1: 
    1. Read chapters 1-3 (or watch video #1)
    2. Hand in Assignment #1 (or take Quiz #1)
  2. Week/Topic 2:
    1. Read chapters 4 & 5 (or watch Video #2)
    2. Hand in Assignment #2 (or take Quiz #2)
  3. etc.

So, after I read all of this material, on my own, take a test, and spend a couple of hours on an assignment, the instructor will get back to me on whether I got it right or not?  I might as well just get the book and read it! 

Add Value to Your Content

I believe that learning takes place in all sorts of ways; never myopically.  It is a must to include references and external links as often as possible. But I also believe that a teacher should be more than a traffic cop.  Directing people to look here and look there isn’t really what a teacher does.  Here are some ways you can teach, while still using a book, a series of videos, and external web links: 

  • Paraphrase and Summarize – Rather than linking to all those external sites, create your course content as though it is a thesis or book report.  Write your own content, referencing those external sources.  Add your own graphics or even audio, video, etc.
  • Combine ideas – If you really are an expert, you must have thought of “a better way to do this”.   Tell your students how you would do it, not how everyone else does it.  Adding tips and tricks is a good way to do this even if your subject matter doesn’t allow too much variation in method.
  • Compare ideas – There are as many versions of the truth as there are people speaking it.  This is truer with some subjects than others.  Even with a topic as based in fact as physics, there are opposing view points.  Offer your students a comparison of each of the major ideas, with the merits and pitfalls of each.
  • Tell a story, real or not, that puts it all together – A picture is worth 1000 words and an example is worth even more.  Even if you can’t write a fable that illustrates your point, provide an example or two that will give some life to your content.  Stories are easier to remember than lists of unrelated concepts.

Last year I wrote about copyrighting content and that I feel that the real value is in the teaching, not the words on the page.  You can not be copyrighted and you can not be copied.  Adding value to your content makes your courses invaluable, just as it makes you invaluable.  As a consultant, a trainer, or a business whose product success depends on excellent training, you can’t afford to be anything less.

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