You invest a tremendous amount of time and effort into creating content for your online course. From the time you begin researching the subject to the day your course is finally ready for launch / delivery, you’ve likely spent countless hours – both individually and collectively, as a team of writers, designers, etc.

Unfortunately, all that effort won’t pay dividends if all or part of the content becomes irrelevant after a single semester or redundant after just the initial delivery.

So, how can you design “evergreen” content that’s intended to remain relevant for years and survive multiple semesters / course deliveries with minimal time spent editing and updating? Here are a few best practices to help you create content that lasts.

Designing Online Content That Stays Relevant Through Multiple Iterations

Evergreening through Technology Choices

Many content creators may not realize this, but your choice of technology may also determine the “shelf life” of your course materials. By making strategic decisions about your LMS/content-creation platform, you could be either dating or “evergreening” your courses.

This also includes the formats and subject matter of the media you include in your course. Is it better to include an MPEG or a QuickTime video? A .wav or an .mp3 file? A case study that cites a 10-year old PBS news clip or one that cites a cutting-edge technology that may not still be in fashion a year from now?

Evergreening through Modular Design

Where your course relies on content that, by definition, needs to be continually upgraded to stay relevant, it might be best to use a modular approach to keep the course evergreen.

For instance, a course about the Income Tax Code can be made perennially relevant by producing content about the core topics (background and history, basic definitions, applicability) as one segment that remains intact from semester to semester. Meanwhile, content that’s likely to change regularly (like tax tables, slabs and rates, etc.) can be provided as a separate module. Then, when those rates do change, only a small portion of your content will require updating, thus saving you from huge amounts of rewrites.

Evergreening through Podcasts

If you offer audio lectures as part of your course, here’s another case where modular design can come in handy. By breaking your lectures into smaller segments, you’ll only need to update the segments that are affected by changes in your field rather than updating the entire course.

When using this technique, you should archive your old podcasts or audio segments and keep them easily accessible in your editing program. For bonus points, add labels to the sections of your audio files within your program so you can easily find the sections that may need to be updated later. For example, in the tax code course mentioned above, you might label certain sections “new 2017 rules” or “2017 rates;” then, you can save editing time later by just reviewing those sections before the next semester. (Here’s a quick 3-step guide to adding text labels to audio files in Audacity.)

Evergreening through Neutrality

One simple way to improve your content’s “evergreen”-ability is to base it on gender neutral material. For instance, if the first iteration of a particular course will be delivered only to an all-girls’ school, you may be tempted to personalize your content by exclusively using terms like “she,” “her,” or “herself”. But if that course is then made available to a gender-neutral or all-male audience, you may feel compelled to update your pronouns accordingly.

Instead, using gender-neutral references like “the investor,” “the operator,” or “the owner” will avoid any potential disconnect between audience and lesson.

You can also use a similar approach with case studies, use cases, or course exercises that may be used across multiple industries. For example, instead of making them specific to a particular title or company (The Finance Director of Brand XYZ), use a more inclusive title (Senior Finance Management) to maximize relatability.

Evergreening through Classic Popular References

Including pop culture references and topical case studies may help students stay interested in your lessons, but what’s currently popular or topical may not have long-term relevance. Or, its current meaning may rapidly shift.

For example, if you frequently include pop culture GIFs or memes in your content, you’ll probably need to update them every few months. By comparison, older media may not be as trendy, but if something that’s 20+ years old today is still recognizable and relatable for your current audience, odds are it’ll also be recognizable well into the future.

How Can CourseArc Help?

CourseArc’s course design tools were built with flexibility in mind. You can create and replicate modules across multiple courses, re-use the same boilerplate to reduce editing time, establish a master course template, and much more!

Image: “Masterpieces” by Randy Robertson, via Flickr Creative Commons License