Empowering government to build better resident and employee experiences and get more value out of their civic engagement technology.

Learn More
Back To Blog

What Does It Take To Build An Online Course?


It’s fair to assume that most of us have taken part in an online training or course recently. Maybe you completed your company’s security training online or got a little curious about HTML coding and signed up for a free online course.

Just yesterday I clicked through an on-demand webinar about online optimization tactics. As I was browsing through and taking quick notes, I suddenly realized I had very little idea about what it takes to build an online course. I know how to create Instagram videos as well as the next person, but I had no clue how to build an online learning experience.

So I went to the experts.

Our GovDelivery learning team spends their time creating amazing online learning courses for government, and I knew they would have a wealth of knowledge with which to answer my questions.

My findings? It takes a whole lot of tech, planning and refining to create a learning experience. There is a ton going on behind the scenes but my helpful colleagues broke it down into four components:

1. Voice/Narration
Your online instructor probably was not the one guy in the office with free time on his hands that day. Instructors are selected based on who the audience will respond to. Do you need a subject matter expert who brings credibility to the training or do you need someone who is a naturally clear and even speaker? Once the script is recorded, editing tech comes into play. The sound file needs to be normalized to remove ambient sound, which takes audio editing technology. While this doesn’t necessarily require an expert, a fair amount of work and time is spent on the sound file to get the professional, even sound and tone we’re all used to.

Does the training have any sound effects? Well, now we’re talking about audio feedback. Every little “click” you hear or jingle as you progress from one slide to the next requires thought, technology to create it, and of course, editing.

2. Visual
The visual aspect of an online training is arguably the most impactful component of a training. The number one way to not make an impact? Use stock photos. Our learning team is adamantly opposed to stock photos – and for good reason. There is nothing tailored or specific about them, which is a missed opportunity for helping your audience engage visually with the course.

The training is ideally storyboarded using visualization tools like PowerPoint or Storyline. This is where the imagery or icon styling is determined so that it’s cohesive and consistent throughout the training. One-pagers or downloadable resources are a great way to augment trainings, and these can be created in Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or Microsoft Word for a polished and branded look.

3. Video
This is the most technical part of an online training. There are hundreds of tools out there, but Adobe products like Premier and After Effects seem to lead the charge among video-editing professionals. High-end products aren’t necessarily required to create a great video or training however. Camptasia and Captivate are rapid development tools that are relatively easy to use to produce a great result.

The video tools used are also dependent on the style of the course. Is illustration involved or is it a video featuring a speaker on a set? Embedding images and interactive content in the course will also determine the right technology.

4. Bringing it all together.
Clearly, an online training consists of more than a few moving parts. Bringing all the components, technology and content together is no easy feat – it takes in-depth consideration and planning. It also requires a platform that can host the interactive content that’s been created. This technology is referred to as a “Learning Management System” or LMS. An LMS is a robust platform that can document, track and report on courses or training programs. You’ve quite possibly already encountered an LMS – maybe it’s where you took your mandatory employee training or maybe you recently took a GovLoop Academy course!

But most importantly, the final product should satisfy this one condition: Did your audience learn what they set out to learn? For the course creator this means evaluating whether or not the course is instructionally sound. It’s absolutely critical that the learning objective is met for a course, training, webinar or learning experience to be successful.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about an online training you’ve recently taken? Were there any elements that you found particularly interesting or engaging? Were you aware that so much goes into the making of a single course? Share your thoughts below!