5 Reasons an Ebook Isn't an Online Course

Have you ever purchased an online course only to get "access" to a PDF download? I have. And it felt like I'd been hoodwinked. You probably did too.

This trend of people marketing ebooks as online courses so they can charge more money needs to stop. It gets me fired up because I really don’t like to see you being taken advantage of.

But it's also an education opportunity. Because it's not cool to just say "You're doing that wrong." Instead, let's talk about how to do it better.

If you have an ebook that you want to turn into an online course, this article is for you.  It's a call to action, a list of reasons why an ebook isn't an online course and--most importantly--how to actually turn your ebook into a course. 

Why Does This Happen?

Let's give people the benefit of the doubt. Some of us don't know the difference between ebooks and online courses. We think courses are just ebooks with worksheets and checklists.

On the other hand, there are those who know the days of people paying hundreds of $$ for an ebook are—for the most part—long gone. Ebooks have become ridiculously inexpensive. Courses are the new high-dollar item. And some choose to take advantage of this.

A Few Examples

In fact, just yesterday I saw a PDF being sold as an online course for just under $500. When is the last time you paid $500 for a book? (Okay, maybe a rare edition of The Princess Bride, but that's totally warranted!)

And just last week, I bought a mini-course from someone I planned to have on The Zen Courses Show only to get a very underwhelming PDF. Bummer.

The Truth Is

Our customers are smart. They're going to know when they've been hoodwinked. So why would anyone want to be seen that way in the eyes of their audience? We can do better.

The 5 Reasons Your eBook isn’t an Online Course

Reason #1: eBooks May or May Not Be Designed for Learning

Unless you're writing a technical book, chances are you wouldn't start by asking "what should my readers be able to do after reading this book?" I'm not saying authors don't validate their topic before they write--the good ones certainly do.

But most ebook authors don’t involve their readers during the creation process. We usually just get an emails saying "I wrote this for you, check it out." Which feels nice.

On the other hand, great courses are built around learners. You find out what your learners want to learn, you pre-sell the course to your mailing list, you run a beta and get their input, you engage w/ them, you make changes based on their feedback, etc. In other words, when done right, your audience is very engaged during the creation of your online course. 

Reason #2: Because it's an eBook

Absolutely not trying to be snarky here. (Okay, maybe a little.) Books are usually consumed in a passive way. We buy, we sit, we read. Online courses should be active. We buy, we read or watch or listen, we apply what we've learned, we interact, we engage. You get the idea.

On top of that, let's say you or I wrote a book and formatted it as a PDF. Let's also say we happened to live in some lame universe where online courses didn’t exist, what would we call what we'd just made? We'd call it an ebook.

In other words, if no one were making online courses, most of the PDFs being sold as courses would magically be marketed as ebooks again.

Reason #3: eBooks have Limited Activities

Most ebooks don't ask you to do anything. If they do, the activities are usually checklists or simple worksheets. And there's no feedback or follow-up.

On the other hand, a good online course has multiple activities that support its learning objectives. Plus, most online teachers give their students access to them if they have a question with the material. Those are just two examples.

Reason #4: eBooks Lack Interactivity

When you buy an ebook, do you expect to interact with the author or other readers? Nope. If you're anything like me, you have a folder full of ebooks on your computer that you've downloaded over the years. How many of those came with built in interactivity or engagement strategies?

But when you buy online courses, they’re often designed with interactive or social elements like Facebook or Slack groups, live webinars, office hours, etc.

Reason #5: eBooks are Static

The ebook cycle usually looks like this: Write. Print. Sell. Market. Move on.

The online course cycle usually looks like this: Pre-Sell. Create. Market. Sell. Iterate. Repeat.

One is static and one is dynamic. 

Oh, and don't forget about revisions! It’s often years between book revisions. With a course it’s ideal to make ongoing minor updates to your course as needed.

How to Turn Your eBook into an Online Course

So maybe by now you're wondering how to properly go about turning your ebook into an online course? If so, I friggin’ love you. Here's how I would do it: 

Step 1 - Consult your learners.

  • Make sure that they actually want a course on your topic (and are willing to pay for it).

  • Also ask about format. They may in fact preferred an ebook or a workshop.

Step 2 - Ask the magic questions. 

  • WHAT should your learners be able to do after completing your course?

  • Then ask HOW they get to that point, i.e. how does the what break down into smaller learning chunks? This is called backwards design.

  • The WHATs are your learning outcomes. (Ideally you have more than one.) The HOW are your learning objectives for each module.

Step 3 - Figure out how the book chapters and course modules line up

  • Look at the chapters in your book and identify which ones support each outcome.

  • You may have information from multiple chapters in a module.

  • Create an outline where you list the chapters under each outcome. If you really want to be an all-star, pull out topics and sub-topics from each chapter.

Step 4 - Take that info and make a course outline.

  • Now that you know how the content in each chapter fits with your learning outcomes for your course, you're ready to start labeling your modules and sections.

  • Make sure your learning objectives are covered in each module. If you’re missing something, time to write more content or take a closer look in your book.

Step 5 - Define Success

  • Ask yourself what success (or mastery or competency--however you phrase it) looks like for each module, based on the objectives you outlined earlier.

  • Then, create a list of activities that would demonstrate that mastery. Add these activities to your outline for each module.

Step 6 - Consider Challenges and Resources

  • Determine if there's any additional information necessary to reinforce the learning for a particularly challenging topic.

  • Then think about the best way to present that information. Do you need a worksheet here? A webinar there? An extra homework assignment?

Back to You

What are your thoughts on marketing ebooks as online courses? Have you ever converted one of yours into a course? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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