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Anyone can write a course but it takes skill and consideration to create engaging online content. In this interview Ammonite's founder, Tim Harris, shares his tips on how to write an engaging online course

How do you engage learners in an online course?

Ammonite's co-founder, Tim Harris, initially trained and worked as a builder, he enjoyed teaching and started teaching Carpentry at TAFE. During this time as a TAFE teacher Tim pioneered the use of technology in the classroom to help his students learn and engage. He started Ammonite in 2013 with guiding principles grounded around technology, vocational education, teaching and technology.

This article explores Tim's top six tips on how to write an engaging online course.

Keep your target audience front of mind

Construction worker doing online surrounded by tools, text about UX customer persona principles around student 'name' 'behaviours' 'demographics (gender, age, location) 'goals & needs' 'frustrations' text reads Keep your target audience in mind with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

The most important thing to remember is you must know your audience - Lewis Howes

When you are writing a course you need to keep your target audience in mind at every step. It needs to be written in unambiguous language. Students get frustrated reading unnecessary wording.

Some course designers use the UX concept of a customer persona to keep them on track.

Develop engaging content

woman on computer doing an online course using a VR headset text reads Develop engaging content with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

Engaging online content is well written scripted multimedia, virtual reality, 3D models, H5P, it's about continuing to be curious about new ways for students to learn.

Engaging online content is not a PDF booklet or a 60 minute class lecture that has been recorded online.

Assessment driven learning is key

woman on construction site doing an assessment on her iPad text reads Integrate Assessment Driven Learning pedagogy with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

When teaching at TAFE I would notice that students would not engage with content unless it was assessed. In courses I would often include an excellent resource with a well written value proposition statement yet still have questions around the content in class that was clearly explained in the course content.

Most students learn through assessment because it is something that they have to do.

Assessment is highly underrated, students need to apply the knowledge that they are learning rather than just going through the process of knowledge recall.

Good learning content is not the be all and end all, assessment needs to satisfy what students are learning

Keep it simple

scrabble letters say keep things simple text reads K . I. S. S with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

Students need to know what to do, they need a good flow to a course, assessment that aligns to the content and that is unambiguous and simplicity so they understand the expectations.

If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough - Albert Einstein

Einstein's theory was developed into a well known user experience design principle "keep it simple, stupid” coined by US Navy engineer Kelly Johnson in the 1960s.

As well as having two course designers review content we listen to our multimedia developers feedback when they are creating resources from our scripts. They come back and question the team if they find part ambiguous, our scripts need to make sense for non-content experts and language needs to be unambiguous.

Find a great LMS that has technology to override human mistakes

screen shot of Ammonite Trainer dahsboard text reads Use an LMS with technology that overrides human mistakes with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

Some of the most common mistakes I have seen in questions on courses over the years have been course designers writing a multi-choice question set and placing a capital letter on the line of the correct answer, or writing questions and placing a full stop at the end of the set of questions. Students quickly can differentiate this as a feature in a correct or incorrect answer.

Continuous improvement: Listen to feedback, review statistics and data

man sitting at computer analysing course statistics text reads Embrace conintuous improvement with the Ammonite logo on the right hand side of the text

As well as identifying human errors the Ammonite system has features to help course designers with continuous improvement in their courses. Within student profiles there is a "Struggle meter" where you can generally see how students are going on a course. There is a continuous improvement section with assessment to track how course designers change assessment over time and statistics within a unit to see over the timeline of a course how many students get it right and wrong.


Focused writing, engaging content, targeted assessment and peer review and continuous improvement go hand in hand with a robust LMS platform.