What sets your course apart from others teaching on a similar topic? The answer is Y-O-U.
The course you create is more than an organized arrangement of useful information. While I’ve heard an online course defined as a “shortcut to an outcome,” the guide that steers you to that “outcome” is every bit as important.
We remember people. We connect with people. The enthusiasm behind their ideas are what inspire and shape us. Don’t believe me?
- We follow people on social media, not things. Why do you think we do that?
- In the arc of your life as a learner, do you remember the granular pieces of information you learned from a class long ago, or a passionate instructor who pushed you to excel?
I bring all this up because before we can engage in a conversation on building your credibility, it’s imperative we understand first what drives us as people and learners.
When a person commits the time to learn something new, be it through an online professional development course, an enrichment class at your local college, or by enrolling in a full-fledged degree program, what does that action represent?
They’re attempting to grow. They’re allowing themselves to be vulnerable in order to learn something new. On some level, it’s a leap of faith.
Now, how far that “leap” is, is where we can begin to discuss this idea of credibility and why it’s important.
When you evaluate the merits of taking a class or program, you likely base your decision on a number of variables, like:
- What school or organization am I learning from?
- Who will be teaching the class?
You ask such questions because you’re trying to ascertain whether you can trust the learning provider and their level of expertise in helping you achieve your desired goal. This is credibility.
More specifically, ‘credibility’ is defined as “the quality of being believable or worthy of trust.”
In the context of selling your course to an audience, what kinds of credibility indicators might prospective students look for in evaluating the quality of your course and, ultimately, you as an instructor so they're willing to take that "leap"?
Where have you worked? How many years have you been working in your chosen field? Do you have any articles or recent work published? Are you affiliated with any professional groups or associations? If you have limited professional experience, do you have a website or blog that can showcase your ideas and knowledge? You’ll want to make sure always to step into the role of those assessing your competency as an instructor. Ask yourself: if I was reading my instructor biography, would I take a class from me? If the answer is 'no’, what steps might you need to take to enhance your credibility? What strengths do you possess that might supersede some of your limited experience?
In addition to your professional expertise, students and educational program administrators will often pose the question: “Have you taught this course before?” If you do not have traditional classroom teaching experience, you may need to be slightly more creative to convince someone considering taking your course. Have you been a speaker on this topic at a conference or event? Do you offer the course online through an online learning marketplace such as Udemy or via your own Teachable school? If so, how many students are enrolled? Would you be willing to let a school administrator audit your online course to get a sense of your subject matter knowledge and teaching style in order to hire you? These are all questions to consider depending on where you're trying to connect with a new audience.
“There isn’t some special club I had to join before working on my book. You don’t have to either. Just teach what you know, add as many credibility indicators as possible, and get to work. Ignore those who say you aren’t qualified. Give a talk at a local university or corporate office of large companies. I’ve spoken on design, code, and marketing at Boise State University, not as a professor, but instead as a speaker at a Boise Code Camp, a conference held at the university each year. I can still say I spoke at the university.”
The key takeaway here is there are actionable steps you can take if you are perceived to be lacking in demonstrable teaching experience. Further, there are numerous informal touch points into a school, college, or university that will allow you to gain the requisite experience, as well as provide the opportunity for you as an instructor to leverage the name brand of the school itself. You just need to know where to look.
Where did you attend school? What type of degree did you earn? Do you hold any professional certificates? While some educational pedigree is important in the eyes of those who are evaluating whether or not to sign up for your course, don’t get hung up on it. What you know is not indicative of where you went to school. Times they are a changin’. Obviously, if you possess a relevant degree or certification, share it; if you do not have one, make sure you’re able to supplant it with other meaningful experience. I might also recommend experimenting with building your own lifelong learning transcript on Degreed to demonstrate what you’re learning right now. That, in and of itself, might be more useful than a degree you earned long ago.
Establishing credibility is not an exact science. There is a degree of subjectivity to it, and that’s a critical thing to remember. Each individual will have their own decision-making processes on determining what deems you trustworthy as an instructor, course creator and, really, for just about anything you do.
At its very core, though, earning credibility is a continuous process of cultivating and nurturing relationships.
"I’m 100% sure that these people said yes to promoting me to their audiences…even as a newbie because we had a personal connection. That’s why live events are important. You can’t build your business alone, without a community of people who know you in real life."
Credibility begins with the person right in front of you. Now, go find places where you can meet them.