Whether it’s getting fit or learning how to basket weave, learners use your course to achieve an outcome that will improve their lives. Your course is a product that helps them get there, so it’s time to start managing it like one.

After interviewing over 50 product managers for a new set of courses we are launching at Rice, here are 5 skills I learned from them that help me design and iterate my courses.

Skill #1: Build empathy

What are the biggest pain points students have that your course can address?

Interview users before, during, and after your course. Why did they sign up? What have they tried before to solve these pain points?

Interviews are a starting point, but it’s only through repetition and frequent interactions that you’ll understand their motivations.

Skill #2: Write user stories

“As a [blank] I want to learn how to [blank] so I can [blank]”

Break down what the learner is looking to learn into user stories. Example: As an aspiring UX designer I want to learn how to create low-fidelity mockups so I can quickly test my ideas. Connect these stories to your course’s learning objectives.

This is a great way to articulate assumptions about what you think they need.

Skill #3: Be explicit about what is in scope and what is not

Find out what students want before the first day of class.

Organize and synthesize what they say into buckets of topics and learnings. Set expectations on the first day. Explain why you included and excluded their requests.

You should be as transparent about your pedagogical approach as possible.

Skill #4: Prioritize for maximum impact with minimum effort

You will have endless options of what to include in your course.

Focus on getting 80% of the way there. If you’re at a university, work with other stakeholders to decide what is a must-have vs. nice to have. If you’re on your own, focus on the most low effort, high impact components you can add to the course.

You can’t build everything at once.

Skill #5: Iterate

Remember that your course is never “done”.

After each session, or weekly, capture what worked and what didn’t. Brainstorm ideas on what you could change. Try one small experiment each time you offer the course.

There’s always room to improve.