I’ve been working with the RightMessage team on creating a powerful online course as we prep to launch the platform. I thought I’d take you behind the scenes a bit and share how I work, including some of my processes, workflows, tools and tech to create an online course.
Planning and Strategy
Online courses and learning experiences can be a powerful part of a content strategy to help your audience understand or solve their problems and how you’re uniquely suited to help them. RightMessage and I collaborated on an online course that would help not just prospective customers but all marketers (even if they don’t think of themselves as marketers!) better understand the importance of personalization and how personas and segmentation are crucial aspects of delivering a personalized experience.
Brennan Dunn, one of the co-founders of RightMessage, already had an outline of the course, and in fact had produced a few videos for it as well. Together we created a vision for the course and what the outcomes should be for the learning experience. Some of the takeaways were:
- The course shouldn’t be a primer for, rely on, or “secretly sell” RightMessage. A person should be able to experience the course and get a lot of great value whether or not they ever become a RightMessage customer.
- Solve some problems. RightMessage is a tool about personalization, but for people to get the most impact they need to be segmenting their subscriber lists. And before one can segment, they need to attract the right people, which involves understanding and building personas for their customers. Yet, surveys show as few as 11% of companies are actually using segments in marketing, and of those most are doing the most basic kinds (which, hey, is better than nothing). Brennan was finding this in his real-world experience too – early adopters and prospects were excited about RightMessage and understood its value right away, but they weren’t clear on segmentation, how to do it, or even what it was.
- The course, then, should aim for developing understanding and skills around why, what and how to build personas and segmentation.
Notes and Scripting
Over the last year or so I’ve moved to Apple Notes for my basic note keeping (which I do a lot of) because of its simplicity and stability in the cloud and working across devices. For a project like this, and with the communication and processes we’d worked out as a team beforehand, I didn’t need to worry about submitting scripts for review, collaborating with other writers, or other typical instructional design processes. This was ideal, because I could just work the way I work best – which sometimes means words on a screen but other times means random sketches or ideas bullet pointed. Generally, it went like this:
- For some lessons I’d essentially write the entire script in Notes, mentally separating slides (which I’ll talk about next) with a paragraph or line break.
- But sometimes I had a visual or animation in my head that I knew would create the content, so I’d either sketch that, create loose notes around it, or just get to work.
- Some of the scripting was structured and liner, while other parts were loose and organic. This isn’t an unusual create workflow for me – sometimes I “structure” just enough to get off the runway and then I go where the energy and inertia lead me.
Can’t say this enough – it was great to have the confidence of Brennan and the RightMessage team to just put my head down and go. I’d check in on the team Slack for some reviews, but as the team was preparing to launch the product and new website they had their hands full. I was happy to contribute my part from my happy island, and they knew this wasn’t something they needed to worry about or micromanage. It was an ideal environment.
Layout, Structure and Animation
I love working in Apple’s Keynote because it’s just so easy. Whenever I have to jump to Powerpoint I struggle because it’s just so bloated, and what feel like obvious tools are hidden away behind panels or menu items. Keynote lets me get to work.
The design vocabulary for the, including colors, fonts and iconography were informed by presentation materials Brennan had already been using at conferences and speeches as well as the direction the new website was heading. The RightMessage brand identity was evolving at the same time as course production, in order to hit launch day, so there weren’t opportunities for creative review. My goal, then, was to stay consistent and simply not veer wildly off from what I was seeing as other parts of the product were being created.
One of the things I love about Keynote is how easy it is to quickly build animations, and I believe animation is key to great storytelling in learning. Metaphors, concepts, transitional ideas – these things are all often so much more elegantly described using animations than with simply words or images on a screen. But the flip side of that coin is animating for animation’s-sake. Unnecessary blinking and sliding and moving. Page transitions on every single slide. This stuff frustrates viewers and learners, whether you’re in an online course or delivering a presentation. So my personal rule with animations is simply, does this help tell a story. If not, it has no place. So I’ll use page transitions, for instance, if I’m using language like, “Now if we go back to where the subscriber first heard about…” – and on “back” I’ll literally move them back in time a few slides. This creates such an important connection in learning.
The other thing animation that’s done right does is create delight and visual interest. The minimum one expects is simply information on a page. Many, many online courses are just text, images or talking heads. In fact that approach might be the status quo. Animation done right sets a product apart from others, and in all ways helps deliver a more premium learning experience.
Delivery and Screen Recording
I used an app called Duet to create a second monitor to my MacBook Pro with my iPad Pro, and I’d run the presentation on my MacBook and use my iPad for the presenter notes on each slide, which I’d copy from the Notes app to be my speaking guide.
I used an application called ScreenFlow to record my MacBook’s full-screen presentation of my slides. My microphone is a Rode NT1-A. So the workflow in real time looks like this:
- (Mostly) write in Notes
- Copy lines to Keynote presenter notes
- Build design in Keynote to illustrate concepts
- Play full-screen presentation and record screen in ScreenFlow
- Use Duet to connect iPad as a second monitor and use it to read presenter notes
- Speak into Rode NT1-A (and of course indicate this device as my input recording device in the audio settings for ScreenFlow
ScreenFlow has easy editing capabilities, and if one wants to you can zoom in on parts of the screen, animate typing, drop in titles or words and all kinds of effects. Since Keynote handles all of my design I didn’t need to do any of that, just simple cutting and moving to clean things up. I’d use ScreenFlow to output a clean and 99% perfectly edited version of the lesson.
I’d then take that version and bring it into Premiere Pro. All I used Premiere Pro for was overlaying bumper graphics or animations and tidying up any stray issues. I created the bumper graphics and occasional lower-third in Apple’s Motion app, in After Effects, or using the slick new Essential Graphics panel.
Brennan had already set up a Podia destination for this course and in fact had a roster of early adopter customers, so we had no need to move away from Podia. I’d upload the new content and we could broadcast to customers the new courses and changes.
And that’s about it! The final product at launch involves 10 videos and about 2 hours of content, all really great, actionable stuff. We’ll iterate and evolve the course a bit as feedback comes in and as we realize new things that could benefit the learning experience. I also envision a 201-level course at some point that really gets into more of the technical aspects, particularly connecting the RightMessage tool itself to automation platforms or using its built-in segmenting tools. For now, it’s exciting to have this be part of the RightMessage launch initiative. I hope you’ll check out the course here and let me know what you think!