Creating Your Own Online Course

The internet has expanded the scope of opportunities for creating and sharing content. It’s readied and provided the ground for the birth of new businesses and the expansion of old ones. It’s brought forth new types of entertainment and new forms of media. Of course, it’s also become a fertile environment where knowledge can be disseminated in new ways.

One of the main methods for sharing knowledge on the internet is through online courses. Online courses wear many hats – they are designed to fit different social and business models. For instance, online courses have allowed nonprofits, like the Khan Academy, to provide students from all over the globe with free, high-quality education. Of course, there’s also a lot of money to be made in the world of online courses (even for free platforms like the Khan Academy). For-profit organizations have raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling subscriptions, online certificate programs, and even education degrees. One such example is the popular course website, Coursera

Lastly, there are businesses that don’t revolve around online education, but integrate online courses into their overall marketing strategy. In fact, it’s safe to say that online courses – free or paid – have become an integral part of developing your business by engaging users, showing the audience that you’re the best at what you do, and earning more, should you decide to sell the courses or course subscriptions.

So – if you’re thinking about creating your own online course, you’re on the right track and in the right place. We’ll guide you through everything you need to know about starting your own online course – from coming up with topics and drafting your courses, to the entire production and publishing process. Whether it’s to expand your business or to try to earn money solely from creating online courses, the path is more or less the same. 

Why Should You Make Your Own Online Course?

Before we get started, the question you need answered is why should you create your online course at all? After all, it does require effort and commitment.

The two main reasons are earning money and promoting your business. 

Online courses can be quite profitable. E-learning is growing rapidly, with increasing numbers of people flocking to quality online courses with the convenience of attending them from their homes. According to Global Market Insights, online courses in 2019 were an industry worth nearly 200 billion dollars. Their projections for 2036 are that the value would rise to 375 billion. Not to mention that the global coronavirus pandemic has increased the demand for online education with approximately 1.2 billion children out of schools and learning from their homes.

And it’s not just children that are removed from the classroom – adults that may otherwise consider going to courses or seminars to learn skills or earn certificates are now seeking alternatives online. So where does this leave you? Well, people can earn up to six or even seven-figure incomes from online courses. From courses being sold individually, to monthly or yearly subscriptions, to course programs, people are charging anywhere between a couple of hundred and tens of thousands of dollars.

Even if you have an especially noble cause, like offering free knowledge to the world, you’ll still need to earn money for yourself, for video production, for your growing team, and for managing the fees that come with running a website (domain, hosting, web building, etc.). Take the popular yoga website DoYogaWithMe for an example. The website was initially envisioned as a platform that would offer free yoga classes to anyone with an internet connection. However, with time, as the website grew in popularity, more teachers were onboarded, the demand and cost started growing, and the owner naturally needed to earn more money. So, they found a reasonable (and generous) middle ground: offer some courses for free, and others with a yearly subscription.

The second important reason as to why you should create your own online course is promoting your business. Most entrepreneurs today are already doing it. Take Neil Patel, for instance, one of the best marketing specialists in the world. And guess what? He offers free online courses on this website.

Neil Patel offers free SEO courses on his website to promote his brand and show us he’s the best in the business.

You already know a lot about your business and expertise, and online courses are an excellent way to show that. You’re an expert – so let the world know that you’re great at what you do. Through online courses, you can promote the validity and potency of your product or service.

How to Create an Online Course

1. Choose Your Course Topic

First things first – you need to decide on the topic for your online course. Naturally, the topic should be related to your experience, knowledge, business, or passion. As we already mentioned, you already have knowledge stored in your mind on various subjects – so pick your favorite, the one that you want to share with a global audience, or perhaps the one that’s most relevant to your business.

Here are some questions you may want to mull over when coming up with a course topic:

    • What is your area of expertise? Consider what questions or problems people approach you with, and expect that you should know the answer or solution.
    • What’s a subject area that you’re interested in and have researched extensively over the years? Think over subjects you’re passionate about and find engaging. Is it permaculture, SEO, software development, cooking, tea making, or working-class history?
    • What are you good at solving, that others have a hard time with? Maybe you’re great at human relations, or excel at solving mathematical equations or developing successful marketing strategies. All of these require skill sets that not everyone possesses in their arsenal. These skills are your advantage and can benefit the audience of your online course.
    • Do you have skills that are in high demand? Building on the previous question, think about whether you have skills that are currently in demand. For instance, recently people have been increasingly interested in taking courses on software specializations, like iOS or Android development, microcontroller software, graphic design, UI/UX design, etc.

If you’re running a business and looking to promote your brand, you can pick a course topic that’s related to your business and that customers oftentimes approach you with questions about. For instance, if you’re selling audio recording equipment, you could create a course about how to use Audacity (free, open-source audio software) to record and edit.

If you’re planning on selling your online courses, go for a topic that you believe would be profitable. This is called assessing the profit potential of the course, and it goes back to the question of whether you possess any skills/knowledge that are in high demand. To assess the profit potential, do some research to find out if people are willing to spend money on learning about your subject. Would they pay for a book, a mobile app, a course, a seminar, or a service that offers it?

It’s important not to feel discouraged. You don’t need to teach at an academic level or have all the data in the world on a subject to be able to give a course on it. As long as you possess some interest and knowledge, you’ll be able to do a bit of additional research as you’re preparing for your course. In the end, all that matters is that you like the subject you talk about.

2. Validate Your Course Topic

In the first step, we talked about some assessment of the course topic’s profit potential. Now, you need to properly validate it by putting it to a test. So, how do you do that? Send out surveys? Ask for people’s opinions?

Not really. People will tell you that they’d just love to get into composting/woodwork/baking their own bread, and whatever else it is that everyone thinks they should be doing. Unfortunately, there’s a world between what people do, and what their projection of who they should be would know how to do. We create images about the person we’d want to be, but it rarely ever aligns with who we are. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it just generates a pile of untouched leaflets and newsletters and books. Just think over all the things you wanted to get into, and never found the motivation or time for.

So, how do you figure out if your course topic is profitable? Well, rather than asking for opinions through conversations or surveys, ask people to put their money where their mouth is. Before you even launch your online course, find your paying customers. Create a landing page for your online course, and ask people to pre-order (pre-purchase) it; perhaps offer a variety of pricing plans or even an early bird discount. This is a great way to motivate users to buy your course and to figure out whether you really have the audience for it.

Even though you haven’t created the course yet, you should already have an idea of what it’ll be about and what it’ll cover. Based on that, write a concise and attractive description of it and add some images or graphs that will have readers hooked, while further showcasing your big idea.

Make sure that your course description includes the course outcomes, i.e. what your students will learn or how they’ll put it into practice once they complete your program. You’re basically making a promise to your customers on what you can really deliver.

To feel out the market, send your landing page to existing customers and add it to your monthly newsletter, share it across social media platforms, and perhaps invest in some online advertising to make sure it reaches a broader, and probably targeted, audience. Calls to action, targeted ads, social media ads, and even banner ads can help bring visitors to your landing page, ultimately giving you a clear idea of what profits you can expect from your online course.

3. Do Your Research

Even though you already have knowledge of the course subject, you certainly will need to do some more research. Find other experts on the subject, books, articles, presentations, and include the best of it all into your own arsenal. It’s even a smart move to check out what your competitors have to say about the subject, or what people online are sharing on relevant forums. Make sure that you fact-check any information that you get from places other than those with established authority and trustworthiness.

Diligent note-taking goes a long way. Make notes of the most important stuff you find in your research that can help you develop your thesis and your talking points.

There’s a trick that I learned when I was preparing my thesis proposal for my master’s application (and it worked!) on how to narrow down a topic, which can also help you in your research. Write out some keywords and phrases that are floating around your head. Then, narrow the list down by crossing out the ones that don’t seem to fit and focus on the ones that make sense together. This will narrow down what you need to be researching.

4. Plan Out Your Module

Assuming that your online course will include multiple classes, this is a good time to divide up the topics and decide what goes where. For instance, you may begin with an introductory class, then go on to specific subcategories of your subject, and finish with a conclusion where you go over everything you’ve learned so far.

It would help if you grouped together similar aspects (content, tips, ideas, etc.) into individual classes to get a better idea of how to construct them one at a time.

5. Outline Your Classes

A class, whether live or online, is definitely not something you can just wing. It’s not enough to have the knowledge and to have done the research: you need to have a plan and course structure. If you are just throwing information at random without any order or connective tissue, you’ll probably fail to get your point across, and aren’t likely to be getting many returning customers.

And this is why it’s very important to outline your course well. Here’s an example of what your outline may look like:

  1. Introduction. Introduce yourself and the course subject. Then, quickly go over your main talking points, which you’ll flesh out throughout the course. Tell the “students” what they’ll learn.
  • Body. The body of the outline comprises your main talking points or arguments. This is where you get to go into detail about each of them. It’s a great idea to involve examples in your arguments so that your audience can better understand your point.
  • A – your first talking point;
  • B – your second talking point;
  • C – your third talking point;
  • Etc.
  • Conclusion. For a course, the conclusion has two roles. First, this is where you should make a definitive connection between the arguments you made in the “body” section. Second, you summarize everything you just told your audience, reminding them of the meat of the message, which ideally you have carried through all three parts of the course.

Keep in mind that this is a general outlining strategy and may not always be applicable. If you’re doing cooking classes, for instance, the outline will follow the cooking narrative 🙂 .

Whatever your strategy is, the main goal is getting the story across in a clear, fun, and engaging manner.

6. Prepare Some Visuals

Preparing visuals can help your audience follow your classes more easily. Images, videos, and screen sharing for how-to software tutorials are especially important to help users better understand what you’re trying to share with them.

For instance, the popular GRE prep website Magoosh has courses that help students prepare for the three parts of the GRE exam (math, reading, writing). Their video tutorials have visuals of sample problems, and the lecturer talks on top of the video content to guide the audience through what’s happening. It’s a very effective way of delivering content for this particular sort of online learning.

An example of a Magoosh GRE math class – the lecturer shows the method in the video while explaining it through the voice-over.

Even if you decide to share your online course through text, visuals can really help clarify things. For instance, if you’re creating how-to guides about building websites with WordPress, screenshots of the process will be invaluable for folks to understand what you’re talking about.

7. Choose Your Medium

This is where you choose what sort of method you want to use to create your online course. The three main types of media you will choose from are video, audio, and text. Video can be great for tutorials, audio if you’re thinking about making a podcast, and text for information that is better understood if it’s read rather than seen or heard.

University College Oxford offers podcasts of some of their classes

In general, video or audio classes are preferred by students as they’re more engaging. Deciding between these will depend on what sort of classes you’re giving. Again, if you’re creating tutorials on how to do something, visuals are very important, so video may be the best way to go. In fact, for classes in general, video is probably unsurpassed, as you can use it in different ways to help the audience learn.

For instance, you may be present as a “talking head” for a part of the video, addressing the audience, and then talk over visuals in other parts of the video. Or, as we discussed in the case of Magoosh, you may choose to just do the latter. If you’re showing your audience how to do a craft, like welding, you’ll need to record yourself doing it because that’s how practical things are taught.

Your method of delivery will also depend on your starting budget. If you’re thinking of doing video classes, for instance, you’ll need to invest in a digital camera to begin with. Of course, if all goes right, that camera would have paid for itself.

Basically, whatever medium you choose, you’ll need production equipment to get started and keep going. To begin with, having a computer is a must. 

If you’re doing audio-only, you’ll need:

  • A microphone;
  • Headphones;
  • Sound recording and editing software (with paid options like Reason or Reaper, or free, open-source options like Audacity).

This is the must-have equipment. The optionals, like a pop filter or a boom arm, will increase the expected cost.

If you’re doing video classes, your essential equipment will include:

  • A camera (preferably digital, doesn’t have to be too fancy, but we advise against using your laptop camera)
  • A microphone and headphones;
  • Video editing software (there are free options like OpenShot and paid options like Adobe Premiere Pro).

In the end, depending on what equipment you already have and what you need, the cost will vary.

In any case, you needn’t invest too much money when you’re starting out if you’re on a low budget. Start with simple tools and gadgets, and move your way up once you start turning a profit. You may also consider spending some of the money you earned from pre-paid classes to invest in some of the necessary equipment.

8. Decide Where to Host Your Online School

Once you’ve taken care of everything – planned your module, outlined your courses, chosen your medium, and created the classes, it’s time to decide where to host your online course. Bear in mind that if you intend to offer your courses for free as a lead magnet that’s meant to boost sales of your main product or service, you can even just embed a YouTube video to your website and not worry too much about the rest of the section.

In any case, here are your three options for hosting:

  • Online course marketplaces. These are platforms like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, and Udacity. Choosing to host your course on one of these platforms will allow interested students to find you more easily, but the platforms take a cut of your earnings and you have less control over your brand and your pricing. Plus, you’ll be more “removed” from your students.
  • Online learning management systems (LMS). LMS is a type of software used for online education that allows you to share courses and track the data and progress of students. They also feature tools like documentation and administration that will help you organize and analyze your program. You can use software to create a course website (covered in the next option), or use an online platform like Thinkific and LearnWorlds, which allows you to create a separate course website that you can link back to your main business website.
  • Add LMS plugins or LMS software to your website. You may wish to create your online course website using LMS software like Adobe Captivate Prime. Another option is using WordPress LMS plugins like LearnDash, Sensei, or LearnPress. Plugins are probably the easiest way to go and they allow you to turn specific pages or subdomains of your website into an online school. This is probably the best option if you’re looking to expand your business to include online courses, as it keeps visitors on your very own, uniquely branded website.

Where you choose to host your online course depends on what your aspirations for that course are. For instance, if you’re creating your online course to expand the influence of your website, the third option (adding LMS plugins/software to your website) is your best bet. On the other hand, if you don’t own a website, don’t have a customer base, and are looking for a way to earn money just from selling courses, you may wish to begin by selling them through an online course marketplace (the first option).

9. Price Your Courses

We’re very nearly at the end of this journey, yet we can’t go further before pricing your courses. Your pricing plan will depend on your expected outcome. Are the courses:

  • Free, and just a lead magnet that is meant to boost sales to your main product or service?
  • Meant to be an additional source of profit alongside your other products?
  • Meant to be your sole source of income, or an altogether new business for you?

A good place to start is to see how much your competitors are charging for similar courses. We recommend that you don’t go below it – if your course is too cheap, audiences will assume it’s not as good. Pricey courses result in engaged students. When people want to learn, they want to learn from the best, and trying to compete with the pricing can give potential customers the wrong idea. Of course, you should be doing something different and better to surpass the quality and allure of your competitors.

You also shouldn’t overprice your course, because you still want people to be able to afford it.

In general, the price of most courses begins at around $100, making it the bare minimum. Most courses cost several hundred dollars. However, if you’re trying to get more new students at the beginning, you can offer some discounts to get things going.

10. Market Your Online Course

You may just have created the most perfect online course imaginable. Relevant content with original delivery, beautiful visuals, and high-quality production. However, if no one sees it, all your effort will have been for nothing.

You need to create an online marketing strategy to draw in students and site visitors. That call to action we talked about at the very beginning, i.e. asking people to pre-pay for their courses to assess the profit potential of your online course, is only a part of the process. To make your course profitable and maybe even economically sustainable, you’ll need to approach your target audience through multiple online channels.

You can build your online presence by sharing information about your course through emails, newsletters, social media ads, and banner ads. You can also offer promotions for early signups and promote them on your social media channels. If you already have a brand with some recognition, you can use it to invite old, loyal customers to this new service you’re offering – your online course.

It’s also a good idea to boost your course website’s SEO through keyword optimization and building backlinks. Keeping your website higher up in the SERPs will make it more likely for people looking for online courses similar to what you’ve created to find your course.

Of course, you should continue marketing your course long after it has a steady customer base. As long as you want to sell, you need to market.

A Few Words Before You Go…

Hopefully, we’ve provided you with the knowledge and encouragement to help you create and launch your very own online course. With some good research, planning, and production, you’ll have a product worth its weight in gold. Remember, no one does it as you do – and your students will soon realize that as well.

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