The Definitive Guide to Creating a Winning Online Course
This is the most in-depth guide on creating online courses you’ll find. In this guide, you’ll learn everything about developing a course that people will love and will keep coming back to, along with all the things that go behind getting this done.
We’ve come a long way with education technology over the past two decades and online courses are quickly being seen as a way of delivering multiple wins at a fraction of the cost, be it in offering higher engagement, wider reach, or easier administration.
We’ve already stepped into the world of internet tutorials, quick how-tos, and online courses where trainers teach new skills, tips, and strategies to a virtual audience. In fact, the e-learning industry is expected to grow to USD 275 billion by 2022 owing to its massive potential.
The question is: how can you find and test your course ideas, develop a killer course from scratch and sell it in a way that it pays dividends? This guide answers that and so much more.
- Why create an online course
- Types of courses you can create
- Tackling your mindset
- Selecting your topic carefully
- Testing your course idea
- Outlining your course
- Creating your course
- Pricing your course
- Launching your course
- Deliver, Measure, and Improve
- Creating Your First Online Course with Edly
- Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Next Steps
Why create an online course
Quite simply because there’s a lot of potential of making money in online education. The e-learning industry is growing exponentially and online courses alone made $46 billion last year. From single-session courses to intensive boot camps, you can find an array of courses out there, with fees ranging from $100 to even $20,000.
To become an instructor, all you need is one of two things: some level of expertise on the topic or a huge amount of passion for it. As long as you manage to transfer this in a structured way to your learners, you can rest assured that your course will thrive.
This chart by Foundr contrasts how much online instructors make on average per month, compared to Youtubers and bloggers:
With billions of dollars of funding pouring into the industry and its market growing at 7.5% annually, it’s only wise to transfer your knowledge to willing learners and monetize the process.
Types of courses you can create
There are roughly 6 types of courses and you can pick whichever you’re most comfortable with.
This is probably one of the most popular types of online courses where an expert teaches a skill to learners who are intermediates in the subject. The learners take this course because of the trainer’s proven authority in the field and to further polish their skills through the trainer’s mentorship.
These courses are usually a few weeks long and are commonly used across subjects like:
These courses are similar to masterclasses in the sense that a field expert takes the role of the trainer. However, instead of teaching skills, these courses focus more on teaching processes that can be implemented for the learner’s improvement in the longer run.
Given the developmental nature of these courses, they usually span over a longer period of time and also include one-on-one sessions and consultations with the trainer. Coaching courses usually cover topics like:
– Business strategy
– Personal effectiveness
– Performance arts
– Relationship counseling
3. Corporate Training
Numerous companies across the globe are investing heavily in training their staff to achieve higher productivity. These trainings are either geared towards upskilling existing employees or to make them work better in a collaborative working environment.
It’s a great idea to go this route if you have practical experience in imparting hard and soft skills to professionals or if you can groom them to work seamlessly with others.
Some common topics in corporate trainings include:
– Leadership development
– Time management
– Emotional intelligence
– Business writing
– Workplace hygiene
– Workplace anti-harassment
4. Customer Training/Onboarding
These trainings are more common with software products where users have to be trained on the use of technology to serve their needs. Since more and more companies are adopting HR software, company communication platforms, ERP systems and marketing/sales automation tools, the providers usually offer preliminary training and also provide support during and after implementation to offer a seamless transition to the software for the clients.
A massive open online course (MOOC) champions accessibility and unlimited participation since it leverages pre-recorded material that can be consumed by learners at their convenience. Instructor support is mostly optional which makes most of these courses self-paced and evergreen.
You can teach a wide variety of topics with MOOCs as long as you focus on building a sense of community in your courses where students, TAs, and instructors can interact through discussion forums and social media groups.
Assessments and certifications are another core component of these courses. To keep the course challenging and engaging, you have to devise a variety of online assessments, assignments, and quizzes to keep the learners hooked. Similarly, course completion has to be incentivized by certificates that hold some value.
These courses are usually 2-3 hours long and don’t require nearly as much effort or commitment to make. You can repurpose content that you’ve published elsewhere and consolidate it in a mini-course to offer some structure. These courses usually act as teasers to a more comprehensive course and are used as pilots to test the demand for the topic.
They are a great way to build an online audience and to use as a lead magnet to get learners to buy more valuable content from you and can play a crucial role in your market research as they can forecast the success of your full-scale course.
Tackling your mindset
If you’ve ever taken up a timed project, you already know that flaky efforts don’t get you anywhere. This couldn’t ring more true when it comes to creating your own online course.
It’s a whole process that requires your commitment every step of the way so you really need to brace yourself for the road ahead. It’s not hard, it just requires discipline and as long as you stick to a plan, you’ll notice how smooth the journey will become.
The two main routes
In my experience in the EdTech industry, I’ve noticed that most instructors and trainers get intimidated by the idea of delivering a course where they are not experts. The way I see it, there are two ways to deal with this:
a) Teach a course where you are the expert
b) Teach the course as a curious learner
Going with option (a) eliminates this obstacle altogether but there are several ways that you can make option (b) work, sometimes even better than the other.
Teaching as a curious learner
One great way to do this is to document everything as you learn. So for instance, if you want to teach a course on videography, you can document the entire process where you learn the skill yourself and take the audience through all the steps. You can conclude your video snippets with teachable moments based on what you learned during each particular step.
This not only humanizes your whole course making it more relatable, but it also prevents you from skipping crucial steps that experts tend to do simply because they think they are too basic to teach.
Try to read at least 3 books on the topic you want to teach because that will automatically make you more knowledgeable on the subject than 90% of your audience. That is all you need to be able to deliver great value to your learners and keep learning new things along the way.
Selecting your topic carefully
When people decide to go ahead with developing their digital course, they usually have a vague topic in mind. As tempting as it might seem to go with your instinct and teach what you want, it always pays off to be mindful in choosing your topic. Ideally, your course topic should be two things:
– Something you’re deeply passionate about
– Something that will sell
You don’t want to settle for a topic that isn’t both because, in one scenario, you’ll spend all your time and energy on a topic that doesn’t have enough demand and therefore won’t bring you enough ROI and in the other, you’ll deliver an insipid course that neither has the spirit nor enthusiasm to resonate with the learners.
How to gauge your topic’s demand
The top-down approach
If you want to design the course around a passion of yours, you need to assess whether enough people are interested in the topic.
Leverage Google search to find out if people have produced content around that topic and if people have engaged with that content through comments, likes, or shares. This content can be in the form of guides, e-books, blog posts, videos, podcasts, and infographics so keep an eye out for each one.
Going through community websites and forums like Meetup will also help you understand if people are talking about your topic. Searching these niches will give you deeper insights into whether there’s an appetite for the course that you want to develop.
If you do find content or discussions on your topic, that’s a good thing (contrary to what you might think). It only goes to confirm that you will have an audience when you launch your course. It doesn’t matter if it’s been covered before because you have the platform to provide your novel take on it which can be just as valuable to learners, if not more.
On the flip side, if you don’t find anything online, you might want to reconsider the topic and try with a tweaked variation of it. This is not to suggest that you should only follow rather than lead on a topic because you can do that as long as you have some hints at a potential audience; it’s just a very quick and effective litmus test that will save you a lot of time that could be wasted on a dead end.
The bottom-up approach
This approach comes in handy when you want to solve a real-life problem through your course rather than teaching about a passion. The best way to go about this is by taking note of the things that people have already asked you or things that people around you struggle with the most.
These people could be clients, colleagues, students, business partners or anyone that you frequently interact with so you can understand their challenges in detail. If you choose to crowdsource ideas, you can visit Q&A websites like Quora where people are directly discussing challenges.
You can also use tools like Buzzsumo to see what popular content has been created around your target keywords. Another way is floating around surveys and polls on email lists and social media forums to get ideas on what topics will fare well with your audience.
By finding a real-world problem and eliminating it through your online course, you’ll be delivering actionable solutions to your learner’s most pressing problems which is a great strategy to develop a sound course topic.
However, you will have to conduct a fair bit of primary and secondary research to develop quality content. Unless you provide well thought out and novel ways to solve an existing problem, your course might not take off.
Conduct qualitative interviews with prospective learners, develop surveys, and leverage field research to gather insights that are not already out there.
Testing your course idea
You’ve got your course topic, that’s great! Now it’s time to put it to the test. If there’s only one thing that you take away from this guide up till now, let it be this: trust the numbers first and your instincts second.
Using a data-driven approach towards building your online course will help you fine-tune your approach and content so they have maximum impact and appeal. What’s more, the process will help you overcome biases over what you would have liked to teach so you can focus more on what your audience wants to learn.
There are two steps to doing this:
a) Pre-selling your course
b) Deploying a pilot course
Pre-selling your course
You don’t have to create your course at this stage. Just cover the following pointers and you’ll have all the data you need to decide whether you should go forward with the course topic:
a) Define success metrics: Whether it’s getting X number of registrants for the course or collecting Y dollars in revenue, you need to identify your goals for the pre-selling experiment so you know whether it’s been a hit or a miss.
b) Identify your target audience (TA): Create some profiles in your mind of your TA. How old are they likely to be, what countries or regions are they most likely to come from, what’s their expected educational/occupational level, what are their interests. Jot down the demographics and psychographics of this segment so your promotion has direction.
c) Create a compelling course landing page: This is your course registration page that has to be optimized to sell and you can create this page on WordPress. Spend a good amount of time on:
– Developing the imagery on this page
– Writing effective course objectives that clearly demonstrate the value of the course
– Researching the best placement of your call-to-action (registering/paying for the course)
– Writing a killer bio for yourself
– Adding a quick introductory video to this page (it doesn’t have to be fancy, just you speaking to your phone camera for 2 minutes on why people should be excited about this course)
– Integrating the right e-commerce gateways onto this page if you want to collect payments
d) Broadcast the landing page: Now that you have your TA defined and the sales page ready, it’s time to get to promoting. Here are a few ways to start:
– If you have a website, blog or a YouTube channel, start there with links back to the sales page.
– Promote dedicated blog pieces on social media either in specific communities or with paid ads.
– Add a link to your course in your email signature.
– Start a podcast and shoehorn your course in between by addressing relevant topics. You can start with free tools like Buzzsprout, Libsyn, and good ol’ Soundcloud.
– Start building an email list of people from your TA and push promotional emails.
– Host a 40-minute webinar on the topic. You can host one for free on Google+ Hangouts.
– Answer relevant questions on Quora and offer links to your course.
e) Measure the output: Give yourself a few weeks to gauge how your promotions are doing and keep a close tally of your achievements against your success metrics. If you see that your metrics have been met or exceeded, then that’s a win. Otherwise, absorb the feedback and go back to the drawing board to modify your sales page or promotional strategy, whichever you felt was lacking.
Creating a pilot course
A lot of people skip out on this step but it can be extremely helpful in getting you real feedback on your course from prospective learners. You still don’t have to develop a fully fleshed out course at this point but you do need some collateral to act as a prequel to your course.
Webinars are a great way of creating engaging pilot course content. You can record 1-3 webinars where you brush over your course outline, the tools you plan to teach, the kind of exercises that you have planned, and the application of your course.
If you choose to go live with these webinars, remember to open the floor for Q&A so you can participate in real-time discussions with prospective learners.
Alternatively, if you decide to promote these webinar recordings through your blog, email, social media, or on a video platform, encourage attendees to engage with you through replies or comments. Don’t forget: feedback is key at this stage.
Note: It’s important to charge a small fee for the pilot. If you didn’t charge registrants during the pre-selling stage, you can charge a flat fee for everyone at this stage.
However, if you have collected payments for initial registrations, you can make the pilot available to registrants for free to collect their feedback while new visitors.
How you fare in terms of revenue generation will clarify whether people will pay for the actual course and the feedback will help you tweak the content for the better.
Outlining your course
Preparing a course outline is just as important for the students as it is for you. Where on one hand, it lets your prospective students learn about the scope, pace, depth, and utility of the course in a snapshot, it also helps you map the transformative journey of your students and develop lessons that help them get from Point A (ground zero) to Point B (deriving actionable benefits after taking your course).
A clear outline also tells you what content has to be prepared by what time which is crucial feeding your commitment that spoke about at the very beginning.
It’s easy to get carried away here because there’s so much that you’d like to cover but developing clear learning outcomes and placing them in your course outline will save you from panicking when there are volumes of information that you’d like to share.
Try to start small: there’s no need for long, in-depth outlines that are daunting for both you and your learners. Break concepts down by how each module and lesson will help learners achieve the end goal and get them to that Point B that we were talking about.
Who will teach the course?
This is where you mention everyone who will be participating in teaching the course. If you have planned for guest-speaker sessions, one-on-one interviews with an expert, or if you’re partnering with another instructor to jointly conduct lessons, you need to put their profiles next to their lessons in the outline.
What will you teach in the course?
The answer to this ‘what’ will lie mostly in how to plan to take your learners through their transformative journey. Revisiting your course goals, objectives and benefits will help you set up a structure.
The results from your pilot course launch will also come into play here because your learner feedback will guide you in keeping what worked for them and discarding what didn’t.
How will you teach the course?
There are a few points that you need to address here:
Course pace: If you want to deliver a synchronous course, you have the option of hosting live sessions and real-time discussions. You will have to work with closed enrollment and relaunch the course periodically for new students.
Alternatively, with a pre-recorded asynchronous course, you can keep enrollment evergreen which works really well if you’re solving lingering problems rather than acute ones.
Learner Support: It’s relatively easier to provide personalized responses to your registrants during the pre-selling and pilot stage given their low volume. With your full course, however, delivering individual feedback can be a challenge which is why you should prepare for it. The best way around this is by deciding what kind of support you’re willing to provide.
If you want to deliver individualized feedback to each learner, you should hire TAs to help you with that. How you price your course is also relevant here because your effort will be factored into it.
Pricier courses mostly operate with instructors providing on hands-on personalized feedback but free/cheap courses usually don’t offer this.
Modularity: By developing well-organized modules, you create layers of understanding in the learning experience where with each new lesson, learners build on a concept that they already know.
By gradually moving from simple concepts to more complex ones through scaffolding, you enable learners to build a sound knowledge-base that they can easily apply in problem-solving.
Incentives: It’s a great idea to reward your learners over the progress they make. By acknowledging their small wins around activities like signing up for a course community, contributing to the course’s social media group, completing a bonus assignment, you will help build their confidence in the course material which will boost their accomplishments.
When will you launch the course?
Contrary to what you might think, there isn’t a specific season or month that’s ripe for ensuring the success of your course launch. A lot of experts say that the best time is ‘as soon as possible’ because you don’t want to wait weeks or months to release something that has value now, not to mention you have competition out there so launching your course early is your best bet.
The team at Mariaco highlight that after years of having launched hundreds of courses around the year, they’ve concluded that your course performance has everything to do with your content and marketing and very very little to do with the time of launch, especially for evergreen courses.
One thing to note here though: if your audience is mainly teachers, parents, or people who have to manage kids and you’re launching a synchronous high-activity course, perhaps it’s best to avoid the summers.
Most people are either too busy managing the kids during that time for high-involvement courses or they have planned vacations during that time. However, if aside from this one exception, there’s no rule here. So plan your launch for the day your course is ready and tested.
Where will you host your course?
When it comes to hosting your online course, you have three options each with its sets of benefits and trade-offs:
You can host or create your online course on a WordPress website but be sure to rent a good server that can sustain the active users that are expected to take your course without crashes or lags. Also, make sure to integrate your website with an e-commerce gateway like Paypal to enable easy and secure payments for your attendees.
The benefit of choosing this option is that it allows you full control over everything from the course material and pricing to the entire user experience. However, you might need some technical help in setting up a good-looking yet functional website that is also optimized for SEO, all of which takes time and money.
Online course marketplaces like Coursera and Udemy are your second option. These are platforms that host numerous online courses on a wide variety of topics from various creators. The benefit of going this route is that they offer great technical support in deploying your course and their massive learner-base gives your course a lot of exposure.
But at the same time, you have little to no control over administering your course and most of your decisions have to pass through their filter. This means that they decide how you price your course, how long your videos can be, how frequently you can communicate with your students, and whether your course can be self-paced.
3. Learning Management System
Partnering with a competent LMS platform provider lets you have it all. An LMS is a software that facilitates you in administering, documenting, tracking, and delivering all sorts of online education and training courses.
Their support team comprises of experts that help you with both the technical and business side of launching your course and as your dedicated partners, you get to define the terms of your agreement.
The plus side here is that all the pitfalls of self-hosting are taken care of by a team of engineers and account managers without you loosing any control over your course delivery and management experience. The only downside is that most solutions are pricey.
However, there are plenty of options out there that offer reasonable prices and are actually a great investment if you plan to scale.
Creating your course
There are 6 steps to creating your full online course. Let’s discuss each one:
1. Picking a delivery style
You can deliver your course in one of three ways:
a) Slides only: With this style, you need to prepare slides that contain your course content and use an audio overlay to explain the pointers in your own voice.
b) Slides & Video: You usually start these lessons with a short video explaining the objectives of the lesson after which you proceed to a slideshow where you elaborate on the concepts through a voice-over recording.
c) Video only: This style covers lessons where instructors use screencasts with a voiceover, video camera recording from an actual classroom, and videos of talking into the camera, to name a few. More on this later.
Remember that choosing your course delivery style will depend on what you are comfortable with, the kind of course you’re teaching, and what your budget is.
You don’t want to start talking into a camera if you’re extremely camera shy because you won’t be at your best explaining an idea and your audience will feel disconnected as a result. Similarly, using screen capture to explain how a graph shifts in microeconomics is a far better idea than to use slides to get your point across.
This is the phase where you sit down and plan. I know we’ve spent a lot of time planning already but you want to eliminate as many chances of rework as possible before you start writing your course material. Here are a few things you need to sort out before developing your course content:
Data: Organize all the insights that you gathered during pre-selling, from your pilot course, from surveys, and from your market research.
Assignments: What kind of home-work/assignments will your course contain? Will they have a deadline? How will they be graded and what will the weighting be? Will you and your TAs offer help here? Is there a particular feature or functionality (like video responses) that you will need? Having a fully fleshed out idea of the type, frequency, and scope of your course assignments will help you manage your budget and expectations better.
Assessments: Much like assignments, you need to know how you plan to assess your learners. If you’re delivering a highly demonstrative course, you might need to consider developing assignments where students show you how they reached an answer, versus just offering the answer. If you’re partnering with an LMS, you will have to convey your needs early on so they develop those assessment tools for you.
Collaborations: If there’s anyone or anything you need to book for the course, you should do it prior. Be it a videographer, a studio, or any specific location where you want to conduct a lesson, be sure to book them now so you can map your production schedule accordingly.
Course elements: Make sure you have all the equipment you need to record your courseware. If you’re using a technology that you’re unfamiliar with, first spend time to master it so there are no delays once you start production.
Rights: If you’re using proprietary information, you should get them copyrighted first. Similarly, make sure you come up with a course name and logo that is unique and reserve it so it can’t be copied later on.
3. Writing your course content
It’s finally time to start working on your courseware. Writing and recording your course material will be the longest parts of the production process and although it depends largely on your topic and course duration, give yourself between 6-8 weeks to wrap up the writing part.
Here are some broad category items that you will have to compose:
– Course tagline
– Course description
– Module and lesson titles
– 3-4 line descriptions for each module and lesson
– Video scripts
– Slide content
– Additional resources and guides
– Specific guidelines
Some tips for getting it right:
Keep a consistent tone and writing style:
You can set the tone of your course in any way you choose. You can keep it casual or academic, whichever you’re more comfortable with but make sure you keep this tonality consistent throughout your course.
Fluctuating writing styles can easily create a disconnect between you and your learners which can seriously hinder their learning experience.
Your students should know what to expect from a lesson and this should come from you delivering your lessons through a predictable structure.
The best practice here is starting things off with easier ideas and building conceptual complexity as the lesson, module, and course progress. Adding a real-word case study at the end is also a great way to amplify the learning experience.
Adding visuals to text is a great way to keep your course content engaging. Diagrams, infographics, and charts can immediately elevate your textual resources making them easier to understand and apply.
Just make sure that you choose images carefully so as to not isolate the visually impaired. This could include using high-resolution images, writing alt-texts, and avoiding the use of color to differentiate portions in a diagram.
Be mindful of using external material:
Although it is ideal to develop materials and assessments dedicated to your course, you might want to include external resources as well. If you do, try to use open-source content to stay above the law and if there are rights of usage, involve experts to get the right of clearance.
4. Recording courseware
You probably already have your slides, audio, and video scripts ready at this point so all you need to do is get to recording.
Regardless of what type of videos you use, make sure you optimize your online course with modularity. By developing bite-sized modules as compared to hour-long lectures, you help benefit both yourself and your students because:
1. You supercharge the learning experience for your students since they can easily find the information they were looking for.
2. You can easily edit and reorganize things because one module doesn’t impact the other.
3. You make your course content more shareable because it’s easier to link to.
For Slide-Only or Screencast Courses
For this format, you will have to record your slides with your voice-over narration. It’s best to speak into an external microphone instead of the built-in one on your computer. You can get USB microphones for about $40 dollars and the audio output is very impressive.
By using a tool like Camtasia, use screen capture to record your movement along with the slide and the pointer hovering on different points while you speak into the microphone.
Bonus tip: Try to record the audio in a quiet room that has padding, either in the form of curtains or carpets, to minimize echo. Believe it or not, your wardrobe closet can be a great spot for doing this.
For Courses with Video
To create the best video content for your course, try to maintain a 1:1 relationship with your learners by keeping good eye contact with the camera and keeping your tone conversational. According to experts at edX®, 3-7 minute video segments work best in keeping students engaged so if you have a complex lesson to teach, you should break it down into multiple video modules of shorter lengths.
Here are some common ways of capturing videos for online courses:
– Two-stream capture: This is where you record a video component and a tablet capture component for a video that contains both.
– Only tablet capture: Where you illustrate the lesson on a tablet and supplement it with a voiceover.
– Live capture: This is where teachers go live with their video broadcasts.
– On-location shoots: Teachers may travel to specific locations to shoot their lessons, for instance, traveling to a nearby river to demonstrate erosion.
There are another 5 major ways that you can record video snippets for your class:
1. Khan style: If you’ve seen Khan Academy videos, you know what we’re talking about. These are rather simplistic videos where the teacher writes in a tablet and the activity is recorded using screen capture. Such videos are ideal for demonstrative courses where processes need to be shown with reference to diagrams and models.
2. Handwritten recordings: You can use an overhead camera to record your activity on paper.
3. Classroom recordings: You can use a video camera to record your lessons while you deliver them in a physical classroom and repurpose them for your online course. You can interleave these recordings with your laptop’s screen capture since slide projections in classrooms don’t look very crisp on video.
4. Talking into the camera: The most popular approach is talking right into the camera through a set of bullet points on a paper or teleprompter that keep you on track.
5. Procedure recordings: If you have to demonstrate something complex on a device, you can use an overhead camera to record your hands performing the activity on a table. This is very common for instructors explaining electrical circuits or 3-D modeling architecture to students.
Here are some guidelines for recording your videos for maximum impact:
Background: Although we see this a lot but try to avoid recording videos in front of a plain wall. Pick a spot that has shows some depth behind you to keep your audience’s attention intact.
Lighting: You can leverage natural daylight by recording in front of a window. The only downside to this is that you will always have to depend on the weather and the time of day to record your videos. To solve this, you can invest in a 3-point umbrella lighting or a standing ring light which costs around $40 and $100 respectively.
Microphone: This is one item that deserves a lot of your attention. Since your audio narration will be an essential part of all your videos, you need an effective external microphone that captures great quality sound. Depending on your budget you can choose between a USB mic that records directly on the computer, an external 3.5mm jack to record on your phone, or a wire/wireless lavalier microphone.
Camera: The great news is, you can record directly from your computer webcam or phone camera as long as it records at a minimum of 720p. You can buy a DSLR for higher quality but it’s not a necessity because you can scale up to it as your class grows. Right now, all you need is a great lesson paired with a decent video to get the job done.
There are three tasks in this phase:
Once you have all your written and recorded course content ready, you have to sit down and put it all in order. From incorporating images and text formatting in your written material to adding pictorial overlays and transitions within your videos, there’s a lot of work that goes into preparing your content for upload.
You can hire a videographer to take care of these tasks but if you’re short on money, you can do it yourself too. Just be mindful of the fact that learning video editing is a complex process so it will take time for you to take it on yourself, especially if you don’t have any prior experience.
Once your content is ready, you can start plugging it into your website, course marketplace, or LMS; whichever platform you chose to host your online course.
Once your course is up and ready, be sure to give it a test as a learner. Test out everything yourself, from paying for enrolment to taking an assessment. Ask a few friends to do this for you so you can identify any bugs or obstacles in the learner experience and solve them before real registrants experience them.
Important Tip: Don’t get bogged down by technology during your course creation. Your course will thrive based on how valuable its content is and how well you market it because technology is just one piece of the puzzle. Carefully invest in the items that your budget allows and focus all your remaining energy towards developing a kickass course that your students will love.
Pricing your course
This is where most course creators come to a deadlock. Should you charge a premium price for your course and risk having few students or should you risk your course’s perceived value by lowballing on the price to attract a wider audience? All valid questions to ask and we’ll resolve them piece by piece.
Developing a good online course requires a lot of work which is why you deserve to make revenue off of it. Since it will take the same amount of time and effort to create a free or cheap course, you’re better off charging it at a premium. After all, your fee should reflect all the costs that were incurred during the creation and launch of the course.
You can start by calculating all your costs up till now. This should include all the equipment you bought, the services you used from professionals, the opportunity cost of your own time and the money you’ve spent in marketing the course.
You should then add room for taxes to come to the total cost of course creation and launch.
To keep things profitable, your expected revenue should be higher than the cost. Your expected revenue is a multiple of the course price and the number of people who enroll in the course.
Expected Revenue: Course Price x # of Enrolled Students
Your total number of enrolled students are the portion of your total audience that converted into registrants. It’s safe to keep a 3% conversion ratio for your given industry.
# of Enrolled Students = 0.03 x Audience
So effectively, your expected revenue is:
Expected Revenue: Course Price x 0.03 x Audience
The product of which has to be higher than your total cost to bring you the profit margin of your choice.
What you can control
As you can see from the revenue equation, the course price and audience reach are in your control. To reach a sizable audience, you need to build a healthy email list, clear learner profiles, and defined target segments to reach out to through your promotions.
Running paid promotions or using influencer marketing requires a marketing budget that has to be justified against your course price. See, if you price your course cheaply, you won’t have the budget to promote your course aptly which will result in a poor turnout. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to stop by pricing your course properly.
If it’s one thing that you take away from this pricing discussion so far, let it be this: don’t price your course cheaply.
Create Pricing Tiers
A great pricing strategy for online courses includes creating pricing tiers. Aside from charging your flat course fee, you can add some valuable services on top which you can charge extra money for. Here’s an example:
– Just the basic course: $X
– Weekly group coaching: $X + $100
– Bi-monthly one-to-one consultation: $X + $200
These tiers allow you to upsell your expertise during the course to learners who want to pay for it. Not only does this help generate extra revenue, but it also keeps learners engaged because the more they pay, the more motivated they will be to complete the course, especially if the higher tiers offer personalized resources.
Create Payment Plans
People love options and your learners are no different. By allowing them to make payments over a course of three or more months, you give them a sense of control over their payment schedule which makes them more inclined to act on it. What’s more, you can make more revenue from payment plans by offering your learners two options:
1. Paying the flat course fee in full upfront.
2. Pay a larger total fee spread out over a few months.
It’s a win-win situation with both options, with the latter just as much since those who pay for one month will most likely pay all subsequent months to see the course to the end, out of continuance.
Launching your course
It’s finally time to push your online course out in the market! Here are a few steps you should consider to supercharge your launch for success:
1. Confirm enrollment type:
You’ve already decided on this but double-check if you’re opening your course for evergreen enrollment or closed-enrollment.
2. Create a killer sales page:
Your sales page is your advertisement and it needs to sell to learners why they absolutely must take your course or why it’s worth getting your certification. You can improve on the page you used during pre-selling or the one you used in your pilot course.
Feel free to A/B test this page by changing up where you place your CTA buttons and your course introduction video.
Since this page is published weeks, if not months, before your actual course launch, you help learners decide well in time whether or not they want to enroll in the course. It also allows you enough time to build momentum for your promotion and dial-up (or down) your marketing efforts based on the registrations you gather. You can learn more about creating a great course sales page here.
3. Promote, promote, promote:
We’ve already discussed your go-to-market strategy early on in the guide and now is the time to put it all into action. If you’re affiliated with a university, leverage student newsletters and the institution’s homepage to market your course. You can also seek help from the alumni office to promote your course to alumni.
Engage with your professional network and leverage it to get the word further across. You should also consider writing and publishing a press release from a paid press distribution platform like PRWeb to maximize the reach of your announcement.
And of course, nothing beats marketing through your blog. You don’t have to be too sales-y, all you need to do is document your whole journey of creating this online course in your blog so you take readers with you and make them feel like your course is a marvelous output of your work, all in a very natural and human way.
As for your mailing lists, don’t start bombarding them with sales emails as soon as your launch plan is ready. Converse with them frequently by sharing snippets from your blog or exchanging information that’s relevant to your industry. That way, promoting your online course will come as a natural progression in your conversations as opposed to a ‘buy me, buy me!’ sales tactic.
4. Develop preliminary course material:
Make sure you have the following things ready in this phase:
– Course schedule
– Welcome announcement
– Welcome email and future email communication
You can place all these items on the course homepage to make them easily accessible for all learners.
5. Fine-tune student onboarding experience
This is where you work on making your students feel like they’re part of their transformative process. You can do this by sharing a series of onboarding emails with them that can be triggered as soon as someone new enrolls in your course.
These emails need to quickly address the course goals and expectations along with opening the floor for them to engage with you for details.
You can pre-schedule these emails using any top-tier email service provider like MailChimp. You might also want to conduct a quick kick-off call using Skype or Google Hangouts where you go over your course plan, delivery, and feedback process with your students via a video call.
Deliver, Measure, and Improve
Your course is ready, your students are thrilled to begin and you’ve started collecting revenue; that’s great! But things don’t end here. How you deliver and improve your course is what truly makes your course worth coming back for.
Once your course is live and running, make sure that you either handle this yourself or have a team of TAs to monitor course discussions to create a collaborative and supportive learning environment. Also address common issues frequently, either in discussions or as announcements to streamline the learning process for your students.
If you partner with an LMS platform to deliver your course, you can create discussion cohorts within your class. You can then create custom surveys, discussion threads, and group activities for these cohorts to boost personalization, relevance, and engagement.
Consider creating social media groups for your class to maximize your students’ sense of community, increase information sharing, and drive enrollments.
Remember that feedback is most impactful when it’s instant. Keep a close eye on your class performance and provide personalized feedback to your learners. Again, if you host your course on a competent LMS, you can leverage their rich reporting to drill-down on specific performance metrics to provide thorough and targeted feedback to students.
Trust the numbers
As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, you should track your metrics to make all your decisions. Use the executive reports from your LMS to closely monitor and maintain what’s working for you and eliminate what isn’t because your instincts can often lead you astray.
Sure, course completion rates are important but aside from that, you should also pay close attention to these metrics to know where you, and your course, stand:
1. Learner Progress
It may seem tedious to analyze how your students are faring per lesson and module but in the grand scheme of course completion, this effort can pay off in spades.
Check your learner dashboard to see which lessons and modules were completed by students and where most drop-offs took place. You can then investigate where your course provides the most obstacles to learners and fix it nip the problem in the bud.
2. Learner Competency
It’s crucial to know whether your students are really getting the benefit out of the course. Going through their assessment reports and assignment scores can provide a lot of insight into their conceptual understanding.
If the results are not favorable, you can review progress stats to identify where learners are facing difficulty, or create quick post-lesson checkpoints to reinforce their learning. You can also hold extra office hours where students can communicate with you individually to clarify concepts and obstacles.
3. Instructor Effectiveness
Enough of the students, let’s shift the spotlight to you. As an online educator and course creator, it’s always wise to test from time to time whether you’re doing your job right.
Frequently take student feedback through anonymous review forms to see what your students would like you to do differently.
By being agile in accepting their feedback, you’ll not only boost your popularity, you will give learners a sense of being co-creators of the course which will boost engagement and generate positive word of mouth for you and your course.
Creating Your First Online Course with Edly
Now that you have all the bases covered, it’s time to plug it into a learning management system that you and your learners will fall in love with.
First off, you need to book a demo with an expert at Edly.
Access your dashboard
After your demo is complete, use the credentials to our trial version to take a look at your dashboard. This space lets you look at existing demo courses for reference, create your own courses, preview them, and subsequently make them live.
Click on the “New Course” button
If you want to create a standalone course, just hit the green “New Course” button on the top right. If you plan to create a library of courses, you can do that too.
Follow the course builder
We’ve created an intuitive and fuss-free platform that helps you construct amazing online courses without the usual hassle. It helps you add details that are critical to your course along with a range of add-ons that help take your course up a notch.
Give your course a catchy title, write your course code, add your organization’s name, and define your course term.
After hitting “Create”, you can proceed to:
– Setting the start and end date of your course.
– Pacing your course: You can go by either having the learners move along at their own pace (self-paced) or follow a schedule defined by the instructor (instructor-paced).
Create your course outline
Once you define the preliminary aspects of your course, you can actually get down to building modules or sections, subsections, and units for each lesson.
With Edly, you have the option of setting the schedule and visibility for each section that you create. This means that you can determine when each section can be accessed once the course has been set live and who can access it. This comes particularly in handy in two situations:
1. When you want the learners to be able to access the next module after having cleared a prerequisite assignment.
2. For bonus modules that require extra payment.
Unit Components: When creating a unit for your course, you can choose between four components.
Discussions: Edly enables organizations to build robust communities in their online courses. We do this through smart discussion forums that allow instructors and learners to create topics, engage with ideas through responses, comments, and likes and build cohorts within the learner-base for more relevant conversations.
HTML: You can do a lot with the HTML component. It allows you to:
– Write text in a flexible visual editor
-Upload large high-resolution photos
– Import interactive non-graded exercises through iFrames
– Write html code directly in the code editor
– Use the zoom-in tool to allow learners to magnify parts of an uploaded diagram for clarity
These are just a few examples of the things you can play around within this component.
Problems: This is where you add your graded quizzes, assignments, and exams. You can choose between 20 different problem types when designing your assessments which all very simple to create. You can also assign weights to these assessments and choose between self, peer, or instructor grading based on your requirements.
Videos: You can link out your videos in this component and choose from numerous options like letting you add video transcripts, attach handouts, and make your videos downloadable, among other things.
With Edly, you can preview your course every step of the way to see it from a learner’s eyes. There are numerous links peppered throughout your course building journey to guide you through the steps to help you create a course that you’re proud of.
Write course updates
So much pops up when you’ve launched your course. Be it a new quiz, a content update, or deadline extension, you want a swift way to keep your learners in the loop. Edly lets you create announcements for your students that can be viewed in one place.
You don’t have to fuss about sending out mass emails every time something new comes up which makes your job easier. Your students can also view all the time-stamped updates when they sign into the LMS without going back and forth between their LMS and email accounts.
Upload files and textbooks
In the content section, you can upload multiple resource formats for learners. You can also upload textbooks by chapters keeping this section organized and digestible with relevant, bite-sized content.
Set your grading policy
You can create plain pass/fail courses or incorporate as many grade ranges as you deem appropriate. You can also define grace period deadlines on submissions along with assigning weights to assessments and adding the ones that can be dropped in computing final grades.
Add team members
Designing and running an online course is not easy and you may need help along the way. With Edly’s platform, you can co-create courses with other instructors and add Teaching Assistants (TAs) as members to help you moderate your course.
You can also create group configurations to control access to components and manage permissions across team members.
People love being rewarded which is why you should invest time and energy in creating a course completion certificate that’s worth fighting for. Depending on your course topic, you might want to arrange for a stamp of approval from an authority on the topic on your certificates.
You can easily plug these certificates on our platform which will be automatically customized to your learner’s name upon course completion and made available to them through their LMS account.
Cross things off your checklist
At Edly, we pride ourselves on providing round-the-clock customer support that’s always looking out to solve your problems.
Our platform also has a handy checklist of items for you to cross off to keep your course components on track.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
When you’ve taken up the project of creating a wholesome online course, it’s very common to lose your way by being too indulgent, too soon. Here are the seven most common mistakes that online course creators make that you should be wary of:
We all want our courses to be perfect but worrying too much about your content, your audience, and your launch can put you in a state commonly known as ‘analysis paralysis’. It’s one thing to be a perfectionist but if it’s getting in the way of getting the ball rolling, you won’t get your course live which is a bigger problem.
To avoid this, try to define basic success factors at the beginning of each stage and move past it as soon as they are achieved. You should also keep your course outline responsive so that you can adapt to changes on the go, even after your course has gone live.
Putting too much into one course
I get it, you’re really passionate about your online course and you want it to be the best one on the topic out there. The mistake that so many people make here is adding far too many components to a single course, most of which are irrelevant to the core topic.
To conduct a successful course, you should aim to make your learners specialists in a field but by overstuffing your content with everything you want to teach, you’ll end up with something that teaches too many things but nothing too well and there’s nothing that makes learners run away like generic blabber.
If you find yourself juggling with too many ideas, sit down, and think of another course that you can transfer them to. This can then be offered as a preliminary course to the main one or as a bonus course that supplements it.
Having predictable content
As we discussed earlier, the goal of your course should be teaching valuable ways of making your learners go from point A (not knowing the skill/process/strategy) to point B (being able to apply it). If your course content has redundant information that people can get from anywhere else, your course won’t do too well.
Your learners are coming to you for your insightful spin on the topic and to learn newer and more effective ways of applying the skills. If you don’t deliver on building a fresh, challenging, and complex course, your learners will not progress to the next module and won’t recommend your course to others either.
Using very long videos
The experts at edX® say that to keep the attention of your learners, you should cap your videos at 7 minutes where you break complex concepts into multiple short videos. This is beneficial for two reasons: you keep your course modular which makes it easy to consume for learners and your videos become easier to edit.
You don’t necessarily have to stick to the 7-minute mark but make sure you don’t exceed 20 minutes. A great way to manage your video length without compromising on content is to break your videos into one of these three categories:
-> 1-2 minute module introductory video.
-> 5-7 minute video explaining a unit in the module.
-> 10-15 minute video with a detailed concept.
Selling too early
Pre-selling your course is crucial but many course creators either do it too heavily or too soon. As a result, they end up creating and marketing course outlines that can’t be evolved in the light of external feedback or internal constraints.
You need to keep agility at the forefront in creating your courses so that it can be changed to meet expectations and demands that build over time. To do that, you have to make sure that you don’t over-promise aspects of your course that you end up leaving out because that can be a setback that your learners might not forgive.
Not listening to your audience
One of the biggest reasons for running your mini/pilot course is finding out what your audience thinks about it. Gathering this feedback is critical to shaping an online course that gives learners exactly what they were looking for since that is the only way to ensure registrations, attendance, and engagement.
Most course creators set their course ideas in stone where they don’t pay much heed to feedback and criticism. You don’t want to make this mistake because although it gives you more control over your content and pace, it creates a course that nobody wants and ends up in the virtual dumpster.
Forgetting to test
It’s important to test your course out with family and friends before you launch it. You may have skipped over an important call-to-action button, skipped a video, or missed out on an important assessment section that they can help point out.
When you’ve been working very long on something, it’s easy to grow immune to its tiny bumps. By having some fresh pairs of eyes review your course and learning experience, you’ll be able to squash those bugs and make those adjustments that would have gone by you unnoticed.
Hooray! Your journey has begun. You’ve made your way to the end of a comprehensive how-to guide to creating a kickass online course that’s much better than the lot out there.
We’ve discussed everything from researching and coming up with the right topic, delivering a pilot course, creating amazing courseware to sustaining the course for evergreen success. Now all you need to do is to head back to the first part and get going.
There are lots of tools mentioned throughout that will help you in delivering your course in the best possible way, however, the technology is just one piece of it all. Your course will sell primarily on the basis of how it helps transform people from where they are to where they want to get.
As long as you humanize your course content and include real actionable ways for students to derive value from your teachings, you will be way ahead of your competition. So buckle up because it’s going to be a slightly long but highly rewarding ride.