I have previously talked about what curriculum really is and the various types of design it entails. That article was mostly theoretical, aimed at giving you an understanding of the concept beyond “it’s a summary of the topics”.
You surely already have a preferred style of designing learning materials – whether it is learner- or problem-centric – and now need to sit down in front of a digital blank page and come up with the best curriculum for your next successful digital learning endeavor.
Here are a few practical steps to take to achieve that goal.
1. Find the right topic
Selling online learning is all about timing. You have to come out with a product that is in demand at a particular moment. Even if you are passionate about one specific subject and would love to turn it into an online learning module, it’s best to test the waters first.
That is done by finding your audience and checking what is hot in their neck of the internet woods. See what subjects are trending, what questions are asked most frequently, and what problems need solving. Your course has the best chance of success if it is an answer to one of these ardent problems.
2. Check with the audience
Once you have a list of potential subjects, test them with your target audience. Even if you came up with them after looking at what they are discussing, it’s still best to get feedback before you get to work.
The thing about the age of the internet is that preferences and trending topics change really fast, so you need to stay on top of that and, if at all possible, get the buy-in from your potential clients even before you start. It may be a good idea to even offer early-bird specials to those who agree to participate in your polling and offer you input.
3. Establish the learning objectives
Even if the goals are supposed to be reached at the end of a learning journey, they are the starting point when it comes to instructional design. There is an actual backward process that happens – once you know what your customers want to happen (the end-objective), you have to figure out the steps and checkpoints necessary for getting there.
The key to good learning objectives is that they have to be SMART. Crafting them by this measure will ensure that learners know what they bargain for and have a good way of quantifying their own success.
4. Break the content down by topics
Curriculum design is mostly about knowing your milestones and what it takes to reach each one. With the end-result in mind, you should put down the sequential ‘chapters’ of the learning journey.
Having the content divided into smaller units will help you identify the best teaching methods and the additional resources necessary for each one. If the general subject permits it, you should consider microlearning as a means of information rendering – creating bite-size modules that work both individually and as a unit.
5. Identify the best teaching methods
Curriculum design is not just about the content but also about how it is rendered. Blended learning is very hot these days, so you will want to vary the ways of delivering information while staying true to what the audience prefers and requires. There will probably not be a great appetence for lectures, for example, but you can include them if they are necessary.
The key is to even that out with some engaging form of content – like interactive videos or games. It’s ok if you have more than one method for each topic; just make sure you have it all down, and it is well balanced.
6. Check for consistency
If the steps above were all focused on smaller pieces of the puzzle making up your course, the last one is about looking over all the individual lessons and seeing how they function as a whole. Some items might be more relevant than others, but all learning objectives must be given the proper amount of time and attention.
If something seems to be overshadowing the other units, you need to figure out if it needs some trimming or quite the opposite, should be made into its own online course. If unsure, poll your target audience; they are the most capable of working it out for you.
You are good to go!
With all the information written down, the course creation process will surely go smoothly. Keep in mind that the curriculum is supposed to help, not hinder you, so if you find that one particular item is not working, you can change it. The important thing is for the end-product to be precisely what you have envisioned and what the learners need.
Raluca Cristescu has over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.