course creation mistakes

7 Course Creation Mistakes You Must Avoid When Teaching Online!

Various Teaching Online

Today’s technology allows us to set up online courses very quickly. In fact, it’s so easy it’s almost scary. Those of us who are used to hard graft think it’s too easy. There must be a catch…

Here’s the catch…

Intuitive course creation can lull you into automatically setting up courses without giving enough thought to meaningful outcomes. The truth about user-friendly technology is that it frees your mind to be more creative, more inspired and more cognizant of the needs of your students. While this freedom is almost unheard of in traditional education, it can take us to dizzying heights online and we can lose our way if we don’t reign ourselves in with creative constraints.

The reason why people like me get to write a lot about mistakes is that we’ve already made them.

Remember, just as you shouldn’t get dressed without your underwear, you shouldn’t run a course without needs analysis.


Here are seven mistakes you should avoid as you glide through the planning stages of your smooth and sleek course creation system.

1)  Failure to identify needs, expectations and skill level of students

The great thing about being a passionate teacher is that you get so many fantastic ideas you just HAVE to implement. However, just make sure that your potential students will be interested in them and that these ideas will help them to reach their goals efficiently. Sometimes, it can be hard to accept that students may not agree with your best techniques and methods because of their own personal and cultural expectations.

A clear course description mentioning the subject matter and level of your course should encourage the right students to join up. When the participant list is full, you can create an effective needs analysis form using a tool such as Survey Monkey.

Unlike traditional courses with printed coursebooks, you can adapt and change your course with students as you go along.

When you are clear about what your students need and want, the fun of creative content creation can begin. You can create focused PowerPoint designs, for example, whilst keeping the course open and flexible at the same time. Using flipped classroom and allowing students to build the course with you also allows the course to unfold in personalized ways.

2)  Overwhelming students with mammoth projects


Multi-media tools, social media interaction, students forums, and so on, serve endless buffets of teachable moments to us on a virtual platter. We see opportunity everywhere, mindmap genius implications, and then …..realize that our students are too busy to engage on multiple levels.

We can best serve our students through presenting them with manageable chunks of content and challenges, and allowing them to co-create the learning journey with us.

Also remember that too many choices can cause children to have temper tantrums 😉

Notwithstanding the above, however, we can still allow out students to explore if they so wish by providing them with categories of tools in virtual libraries ( for example, podcast, video, blog, comic ….and so on). This is much less overwhelming and the adventurous ones get to explore further, whilst different students can experiment with different tools that reflect their personalities.

3)  Underestimating the power of interactivity

The curse of knowledge can have us creating excellent content indeed…..

so how can it be a curse then?

Well, much of our knowledge and experiences of learning date back to the pre-digital age. Not only that, but many academically-sound courses in the pre-digital age were socially unsound. Most innovative educators today agree that effective learning must also be affective. In other words, students often learn so much more through collaboration with each other and interacting creatively with course content.

We need to unlearn teacher-led control and envision courses where  students communicate and create through social media;You Tube, forums, and multi-media environments as much as possible in non-threatening, streamlined situations.

Therefore, vision, facilitation and the courage to let one’s course evolve naturally can lead to outstanding results. The opposite would be a sense of isolation amongst students, high drop-out rates, and too many teachable moments would lost. Students cannot be deprived of connectivity though social engagement – it is the oxygen of online teaching environments.

4)  Creating Lengthy Videos

It is also quite challenging to get used to the idea that less is more. However, when it comes to video-making, this is even more crucial than ever. It’s all about attention span, cyber noise and busy students needing instant gratification via short contextualized sound bites.

Just as creative constraints focus our ideas, beautiful constraints are those that improve and enlighten by virtue of that which limits us.

Creating a shorter video forces us to get to the core message faster. What do our students REALLY need to learn in this short video? Which image, text and sound combination will drive the message home?

Short videos are brain-friendly bytes of inspiration that will teach students what they need to learn. They will improve the way you think about content creation, encourage students to create their own short videos, and they will have your courses hopping.

You are the DJ of your online learning entertainment.

5)   Focusing too much on content design instead of marketing

The danger of getting buried in creativity is that ….you get buried.

Don’t be a needle in a haystack.



Whilst creative design is compelling and inspiring, you’ve got to reach the wider world with your courses. A course is not a course without students, after all.

Marketing, itself, is inherently creative and socially driven too. My great inspiration is Austin Kleon, author of the book, Show Your Work. I do most of my marketing via social media. When you share your creativity you get discovered.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a discovery? Well, you are. Your students want to discover you, but where are you?

The great thing about sharing your work on social media via website, blog, You Tube, platform links, webinars, classes, slideshows and embedded multi-media is that you build up amazing trust amongst teachers and students all over the world.

Marketing is all about trust and over-delivery. Passion ensures that you over-deliver, and sharing reveals your teaching values in subliminal ways. You don’t even have to try, it comes out in your work.

6)  Low pricing and too high pricing

It’s hard to get this balance right – especially when dealing with world markets. If you price your courses too low, they may be undervalued and you may attract the wrong students. If they are pitched too high people will not be willing to invest or may not be able to afford them. A win-win situation can be mixing live classes with self-paced models so that you can deliver high-quality courses without being physically present 24/7.

If a sizable portion of your course is self-paced then you can afford cheaper rates as students are not exclusively paying for your time per hour but they are also paying for  content that you can use again for new courses.

Be careful not to make it too cheap though as you put a lot of work into content creation and course design. You need to look at student demographics, local economies and plan accordingly.

You could also have a tiered approach. Basic, open content for those who can’t pay and then more sophisticated layers of content (from freemium to premium etc.) for those who want to learn more and pay more.

7.  Using too many tech tools

If you are like me, you probably see tools in your sleep at night. I am the worst web tool culprit one can find, and yet, it defines what I do.

So, wherein lies the balance?

I am actually very selective about my web tools and know that, for me, students should only use tools that save time while increasing language acquisition and social intelligence.

Never choose tools just because they are cool. Find out what the course requires and then find a tool that will not only enhance your lessons but also help your students to become better people.


Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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