Online MBA Resources: Writing content for online finance courses

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On Process: Whether it is quality assurance, productivity, or a decision to scale up, there is one common denominator that determines how good a job you could possibly do. That denominator is process. Fix the process and everything else will fly. Ignore the process and thou shall wilt, wither away and die. Do not fall in love with your process. (Reboot, August 2009)

Here are the guidelines that we follow for writing our online finance courses.

Guidelines for writing content for online finance courses

1. Before any of us write content we have to imagine who is the ultimate end user of our products and under what environment will he be using our courses. Our ultimate end user is someone between the ages of 25 – 50 years, who wants to learn something new and different and would like to use the net to do that. There are a few scenarios that you can play with to put things in perspective

a. He is probably working late at night or early in the morning, is probably working with a lamp light in a dark room that is forcing him to go to sleep. So you have two enemies. He is tired and he is sleepy and he is somewhere that is literally screaming at him to drop this and go to sleep. How do you keep him up? You can only keep him up if you keep him engaged. If you talk to him and ask him to do things or throw things at him that are interesting or relevant and that he can associate with. So we post questions about what is the right price and how can you figure it out. Or here is a puzzle; try and solve it. Or even present things at an intuitive level (Stop reading. Try and think this through before you move forward.)

b. Scenario b is even more complicated. Now the same guy is working from office and needs to learn something in a hurry either for a meeting or a conference call or simply because he has to understand this before he leaves for home. In this scenario it’s important that we use a different approach. What are the seven key things he needs to know about ratio analysis. Why is it important? How does it make sense at an intuitive level? What is the shortest and easiest route for him to understand these? Once again engagement is important because it gives him a sense that he is picking up something. It also allows him to focus on doing something rather than reading it.

What is the bottom line? Write engaging content

1. Think of yourself when you are tired, sleepy or in a rush and then think. How would I react to what I just wrote if I was in that state of mind? What can I do to make it more attractive for myself?

2. Don’t use definitions. Use creative ways of showing people what you mean. If you have to use a definition don’t go beyond a couple of words (one short sentence is all that you can play with)

3. Use lots of examples and opportunities for engaging and interacting with your customers

4. Use real life brand name exciting examples and real data. God knows there is enough out there

5. Keep it simple, concise to the point and attractive.

Online Finance Courses: Suggested Course Structure

The outline serves a key purpose. It is a blue print of what we want to teach. What is it that we want the customer to walk away with when he is finished with the course? What is it that he will retain when he is done?

1. The key is to remember the objectives behind each section of the standard definition format.

2. Notation and Terminology are only meant as introducing base definition and material. These items are generally too basic to warrant a full course or too simple to be covered as a standalone concept

3. Basic Principles is what you want to teach. What are the six things you want the person to remember, retain, and learn at the end of the course. In the first few iteration the focus should not be on generating content, but more on identifying and designing the course objectives and figuring out what is the best way of covering that material. As the course outline get more defined and we are able to identify even smaller concepts that we would like to teach, we start focusing on what is the best way of teaching the material

4. Our objective should be that courses should always be taught by example. Avoid long unbroken chains of text that elaborate on definitions and concepts. Always engage the customer with an example that he can related to and follow in his head. This is the best way of teaching. People tend to get lost in the abstract

5. Application. Application will always be a comprehensive walk through case that lays out what needs to be done and brings together the material covered in Notation and Terminology and Basic Principles. This is really important. If it didn’t warrant an inclusion in the case, it should not be there in the first place. On the other hand if it’s important enough to be included in the preceding material, it has to be illustrated in the case.

6. Sometime we may need two separate cases to cover all the concepts covered in a course. When this happens, we need to be more careful about how the course is structured. The best possible solution in such a situation would be to break the course in two parts

7. Finally remember that the customer has to have a sense that he walked away with something. That he achieved something and learned something. This has important implications for motivation as well as the optimal course length.

Once the standard outline has taken shape, we can go ahead and start filling in the content. However it may be advisable to repeat the same exercise for the concepts at a lower level.