Stop planning and start doing: why researching your course content is holding you back

Great courses have been well researched and are brimming with useful, implementable and factually correct information. So of course a bit of research is going to be on the cards for all of us Edupreneurs. 

However, way too many edupreneurs use ‘research’ as the perfect procrastination station and never get to market.

They get off of the course creation train here and they stop for a lifetime using the ‘I need to do more research first’ excuse until the next century. Nine times out of 10, anyone using these words is simply procrastinating (sorry).

One of my clients and now friends, Gail, came to my home in Western Australia in early 2017 for a one on one school set up and course filming day with me. 

The night before our session, she rang me and said, ‘Sarah I am going to have to reschedule our session tomorrow, as I am not ready and still have a huge amount of research to do first’. I let her finish and quite simply replied with ‘No. See you tomorrow’. 

You see, I knew from one quick skype call that like every other good Edupreneur out there that Gail knew her topic inside out. She told me she’d been ‘doing it for years’ and that she never stops giving people advice on her topic – which is exactly why she wanted to turn it into an online course. 

She was tired of ‘going for coffee’ so that people could ‘pick her brains’ for free. She was tired of so many people saying they wanted to come to her workshops but not being able to charge enough to cover the costs of the physical training venue. And she was tired of everyone saying they wanted to attend her workshops but never being able to find a day when everyone could attend them around their own life commitments. 

She clearly had a skill that people wanted and she clearly had a lot of experience sharing it. She needed to get this training online – but as soon as the reality of this new journey presented itself, a little bit of overwhelm, a bit of procrastination, and perhaps a little bit of fear all crept in and told her ‘you don’t know enough, wait, stay back, don’t move’. 

Here’s what I said to Gail, and what I ask you to also read at yourself if you are at the procrastination station of ‘but I have more research to do’….

A mantra for incessant researchers

  • ‘You already know everything that you know’. 
  • ‘You are not creating a course on “stuff you don’t know”, are you?’  
  • ‘So why do you need to do more research?’

Your job, right now, is to teach people what you DO already know.. Who comes to you and asks you to go for coffee to pick your brain about ‘things you don’t know’? Who wants to come on your workshop called ‘The Workshop About Everything Gail Doesn’t Know’? Nobody.

You are going to be teaching what you DO ALREADY know, and that’s it. 

If you don’t know it yet, then you shouldn’t be teaching it. Save it for when you do know it, and then guess what?  You can add it to your course later and give your students the benefit of ‘lifetime upgrades’ in doing so’. 

When you are in this space of ‘research freak out’, remember that perfectionism will kill you. You do not need an academic journal and university funded research team behind you to make a great online course. You only need to remember that the audience you are targeting are the ones that don’t know your stuff yet. That the entire reason they are taking your course.

If you are creating a course on healthy eating, don’t write it for the PHD Nutritionist with 50 years experience. Write it for the person that is most like you were when you needed the advice that you’re about to share.

Don’t make yourself feel overwhelmed worrying about every single piece of knowledge that exists in the world of nutrition! It would be an actual impossibility to know everything in your industry. Only worry about what you do know right now and share that. 

It’s never final

The best thing about online learning is that you can change, add and adapt any of your content as many times as you like, at any time really easily. 

My own online courses are never ever finished. I forever add to them. Every time I read a book or an article and come across a new tip that will fit into a course, I film a new video or write up a text lecture and add it in. 

If someone asks a great question in the course, I’ll film a new video with the answer and add it in as a new lecture. It’s not only a great way to overcome the overwhelm, but also makes a great excuse to keep adding value to your students journey and your programs. After a while I increase the price of my courses because I’ve added so much new content to it since its original publish date.

Things in this online space change too quickly to get hung up on perfectionism. I’m SO embarrassed of the quality of some of my first videos, however they still provide value and some of my most unplanned and low quality YouTube videos get the highest amount of views and comments to this day. 

Stop wasting time and start helping people

Also remember that procrastinating, researching and planning does not help ANYONE, it doesn’t help you either. The only thing that can help people is getting your content to them. So get it to them. You can update it later if you come across that ‘oh so desired’ piece of research that you seek. K

eep in mind that the number one thing that people want is the how-to tip, the strategy, the ‘what do i need to do’ answer they are looking for. Although highly valuable and important (especially to the left brain learner) the case studies and statistics and so on ultimately come second. 

Remember that the crux of your program is about helping your learner to get the results that they need, and I’m not sure if a well researched statistic has ever been behind any of my greatest successes if I’m honest.

Finally, always do your research AFTER you have your draft course plan together (yes DRAFT – nothing is ever final). 

A course evolves as it’s being built, even if you do start with having super clear outcomes. If you start researching as you are designing your course plan, you could risk researching information that is totally irrelevant or waste time gathering information that may not even be included in your final version of your course.

Where your research stage fits in the course creation process

I go into much more detail of the course creation process in my book Entrepreneur to Edupreneur, but the best way to begin your course creation in terms of when to do your research is as follows:

  • Compile your overall aims, objectives and outcomes
  • Write down everything that you already know that relates to the outcomes in ‘short tip form’
  • Put your tips in a progressive order of modules and lectures
  • Remove any irrelevant tips and information and add it to the ‘save for another course’ pile
  • Compose the content that you already know
  • THEN do any research to see what else you can find that you already know, that will contribute to what you already have.

Have your objectives and learning outcomes clearly placed in front of you when you start you research phase and make sure that you are searching for something specific to illustrate, back-up or ensure the delivery of that outcome. Random browsing is bad for course creation mojos.

Make sure that your research is even required in the first place. Too many edupreneurs research for the sake of ‘seeing if they can find ‘stuff’’ and just start collecting random piles of information that lead them off into a bottomless maze of wormholes. The information must directly support the tip being given or the outcome being sought; or it’s just fluff.

For each tip, piece of information and content that you are giving, ask yourself ‘does this really need anything else added to it, or am I going over and beyond what’s required by adding anything further to this?’. 

Online courses aren’t about trying to look smart – they’re about helping people

Online courses are not about showing how much you know, trying to look smart or playing in some silent competition to ‘have the most content’. They are about delivering the outcome to the learner as thoroughly and valuably as possible in the most straightforward yet engaging route there is. 

If what you are researching directly contributes to achieving a learning outcome for the learner, then most certainly include it. If it contributes to the learning process by opening up that content to different learning preferences or information processing styles, then include it. 

If it’s simply taking up space, either leave it out altogether or create a ‘Bonus’ section of additional reading in a bonus module so that’s it’s clear that it’s not a required part of the course, but is available for those who like to have more research information and further reading at their fingertips should they wish to consume the ‘over and above’ information.

If you find yourself at this procrastination station, remember that you truly could be researching for your entire life. Just get what you do know out there right away, and add new research as you do it later. The time is now, people need you and what you already have right now. That’s all you need to share.

This article is an extract from Sarah Cordiner’s book Awaken Your Course Creation Mojo.

Photo by Nick Morrison