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[Making Of… #23] The Dog Ate My Homework

The Making Of An Online Course Part 23

In 2021 I made a new course, From WordPress To Webflow. This post is one of a series of behind-the-scenes emails I wrote as I went along, exclusively for my email list (start here).

Thanks for following along so far with my ‘sporadic-but-we-got-there-in-the-endMaking Of An Online Tech Course email series (catch up from the start here).

As Joan Didion said:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.”

And sharing this process with you has been incredibly helpful for me to figure out my own thoughts and beliefs about the course creation process along the way.

From your feedback, it’s certainly been helpful for lots of you too.

So, drumroll….

This is the final email in the series before the first “proper” course launch (kicks off later this week, in fact!)

I’m gonna wrap up here today by addressing why the course took at least twice as long to make and launch as I’d originally intended.

There are certainly lessons here for me to reflect and learn from, and if you’re a budding course creator then it might be pretty helpful for you too?

(I feel a bit like I’m making excuses to the teacher why I didn’t hand my homework in on time. “The dog ate it” isn’t going to wash with you though. )

A little background:

I first started thinking about making the course in early March this year, and didn’t even finish and launch the thing till late August.

That’s a fair old timespan for what was supposed to be a quick n’ easy course!

Why the long gestation period?

Here goes (this will get nerdy)…

1. I wasn’t very well

I’d started thinking about making a Webflow course in early March.

Normally, I’d expected to have been well into actual production by early April.

However, I’d had some major health issues for 3 months at this point, including an unplanned spell in hospital. I still wasn’t very well at all, and so progress was very stop-start.

Basically, blind optimism and faith in my own recovery were all present and correct, but my body often had other plans, dammit.

Ok, as excuses go, “I was very seriously ill” is way better than “the dog ate my homework”.

But I still gave myself a pretty hard time over how long it was taking to get going.

Lesson:

Despite your best-laid plans, sometimes you’ve gotta accept what life throws at you and give yourself a break.

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely my own harshest critic. I need to be a bit kinder to myself.

2. I hadn’t taught Webflow before

By the time I made my first online course in late 2017—No Stress WordPress—I’d been using WordPress for 10 years.

And I’d been using Elementor personally for over 12 months.

Plus, I’d been teaching that particular combo of tools a lot via my YouTube channel and free webinars.

Contrast that with Webflow:

I’d only started using Webflow a few months before, and had almost no prior experience of teaching it—barring a live ‘bootcamp style’ short series earlier in the year.

So I had quite a bit of thinking and experimentation to undertake, in how to best teach the topic.

A few times I’d make a start on planning a lesson structure, and even record some lessons, only to have a better idea and go back to the drawing board.

Lesson:

When making an online course, it’s best if you know your topic backwards and already have experience in teaching it (yeah, durrrr).

I would have made some free YouTube videos first, and also ran some teaching webinars and live bootcamps… but honestly, I just wanted to dive in and get the course out there.

3. The course expanded beyond my original intentions

Earlier in this series, I banged on and on about how important it is to keep courses as short and focused as possible… only for this course to end up pretty long anyway.

LOL at me.

I definitely intended to make a short n’ sharp course. Yes.

In fact, I ideally wanted it to be around 3 hours total… not the 8-9 hours running time it ended up as.

(Still nowhere near as long as NSWP though).

My initial planning was going really well on the “short n’ sharp” front, actually.

It’s just that when I really got stuck into making the course, it just… well… kinda… E X P A N D E D.

The problem was:

I found it very hard to draw the line in terms of the scope.

Why?

Well, the reason I made the course was to provide the step-by-step framework, workflow and methodology missing from any other training. Thatwas the point.

So ideally, it would have been great to say to prospective students:

“The prerequisite for taking this course is that you already know the basics of how to use Webflow. So go away and watch some other tutorials first and then come back and I’ll teach you about my framework from there.”

But…

My target audience are people coming from WordPress with NO experience of Webflow whatsoever.

And so requiring a certain level of Webflow skill would have constituted a prohibitively high barrier to entry.

So in the end, I decided to teach starting from scratch.

But rather than rehash Webflow’s own (excellent) training, I focused every step of the way on building up to using MY own framework and workflow, even in the very earliest stages.

It worked out great. And every day, more and more people successfully finish all the assignments and complete the full course, so it’s definitely not too long.

Lesson:

Ideally yes, try to solve the students’ problem and give them the result they want in the shortest time possible.

But if that ends up taking longer than you first hoped, either:

a) See that as a sign to split the course into multiple separate courses, or

b) Carry on making the course anyway, but aways be mindful of sticking to the original transformation you set out to achieve for your students.

And make damn sure each individual lesson is no longer than 10 mins.

4. My method of making courses

I’m a bit of a slowcoach.

Ok, yes, I do believe in executing quickly and shipping fast.

And with tech-related training, it’s especially important to ship quickly before the developers of the tool you’re teaching change the damn features and UI again!

Perfectionism really is the enemy.

But, a lot of people who make tech tutorials just hit record on their screen recording software and wing it, recording what they’re doing on screen and narrating it at the same time, without a great deal of planning.

It’s a pretty quick and easy method, yes.

But it often results in a lot of fumbling around on the screen, apologising for stuff not quite working as planned, in a cloud of waffle and “umm”s and “errrrr”s.

This can end up anything from distracting to downright annoying for the poor viewers who have paid good money for the privilege.

Plus, in my opinion, this isn’t really teaching. It’s just watching someone do something on screen.

Big difference.

It doesn’t help that I personally really struggle to carefully click around on screen so the viewer can follow along AND speak/teach coherently at the same time.

At least, not to do both of those tasks well. My brain just won’t go there.

So, to combat all of this, I often record in 2 stages:

First, I script what I want to say and record the voiceover, and then— separately—record the on-screen actions while listening back to my voiceover.

Doing this results in tightly focused lessons that are easy to watch, easy to follow, and that people feel confident investing their time in.

Yes, it takes longer to make. But it’s often the difference between “woah!” and “meh”.

And I’d argue that this difference has a far bigger knock-on effect and ROI than the extra time it takes to produce the product.

Lesson:

I’ve made peace with the fact that my method isn’t super-fast, because I think it results in quality that makes a measurable difference, to the students’ results and my bottom line.

I just always have a close eye on the perfectionism thing.

5. Recording in much higher quality

For previous courses, I’ve recorded the camera and screen both at 1080p.

Absolutely fine.

However, my latest camera is able to record at 4K… and 4K really does make you look better.

Plus, I know that if I record my screen at a higher resolution (like 1440p or 4K), then the UI of the software I’m teaching is a lot easier for people to see and follow along.

And…. recording at a higher screen resolution means I have a lot more flexibility in terms of zooming into key areas of the screen, which again is really helpful to enhance certain teaching points.

All noble aims. And the feedback on the quality of the visuals of this course has been amazing.

However: what I didn’t think of upfront is that 4K is 4x the file size of 1080p.

That means it’s also around 4x the transfer speed and requires 4x the storage space. ‍

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s say it was “fun and games” in the latter editing stages constantly running out of Dropbox space (me and my video editor were using Dropbox to share working files) and hard drive space, especially as—to add insult to injury—we were storing multiple versions of most of the files too, as a kind of version control.

The time it took to actually transfer files around between us was also infuriatingly slow.

(Granted, all these issues would have been eased somewhat if I’d have made a shorter course in the first place )

All this added on LOTS of extra time in getting the whole thing edited and uploaded and launched. Grrrr.

Is recording higher than 1080p necessary for a tech tutorial course?

Nope, definitely not. As someone in the Thinkific FaceBook group said:

“Why on earth are you recording in 4K anyway? Are your students all watching your course on huge TVs or something?”

Ouch.

And—Wistia (the course’s video hosting provider) delivers video at the most appropriate resolution for each viewer’s internet speed. Therefore, many of the students won’t (by default) see the full 4K quality anyway, nor probably care!

However, whenever other tech tutorial makers provide their videos in a higher quality, I know that as a viewer I really appreciate it. Especially because I can see what’s going on very clearly, which is especially helpful in ‘busy’, dense software UI.

And I definitely appreciate how much more flexibility I have to edit the footage to really enhance the teaching experience, when I have a higher resolution to play with.

Lesson:

I reckon I’ll record in a similar high quality for my next course, but just be aware of the 4x extra time and space it takes to transfer and store (and also just make a 4x shorter course in the first place, lol).

Thanks again for following along with the series!

I’m off to make the final preparations for the first “proper” launch of From WordPress To Webflow, kicking off later this week.