So you want to create an online course. The potential for online courses is great, and there are a lot of opportunities to succeed. However, there are steps that you need to take to ensure proper creation and deployment of your course to not only attract visitors, but to create valuable content. I am no expert on this subject. I am not guaranteeing success if you follow these steps exactly. My online course isn’t teaching millions of people, however, my first online course has 800+ students learning innovation methods. Take my advice here with a grain of salt, but I still hope you find value in the overall process and resources I am putting forth here. I’ll detail from my experience a step by step guide to creating an online course in as little time possible so that you can start making your impact.
Why create an online course?
The very first step is to understand why you want to create an online course in the first place. The market for online learning and courses is growing at exponential rates, so it is important you understand why you want to be a part of the community. Are you an expert on this subject? Do you want to make passive income? Do you just like the idea of teaching to people? It can be anything, but make sure you have a clear, logical reason for wanting to create an online course. Nowadays, the internet is littered with a bunch of people pushing their “online courses” for hundreds of dollars, when in fact, these “gurus” are merely scams. Don’t fall for them, and don’t be like them when making your online course. It is completely fine if you want to charge for your course, but don’t charge an unreasonable price, and DO NOT guarantee your course will do wonders for the students. It is perfectly fine to believe your course can inspire people, but don’t push it like most of these online course gurus online. My online innovation course, for example, is completely free. Though I can charge as the number of enrollments continue to increase, I am more focused on providing quality content for my students.
Additionally, you do not need to be an “expert” on the subject you are teaching. If you are an expert, and you want to share your knowledge with the world online, that’s awesome. But don’t think that just because you have no professional title or expert experience that you can’t make an online course. The bottom line here is to simply figure out your purpose in creating an online course. For example, my purpose is to make innovation methods accessible and affordable or students and young adults. With a purpose, it will make the rest of the process of creating an online course much easier.
Find a niche
Once you nail your purpose down, find your niche. What do I mean by niche? It is unreasonable to create and market an online course that targets EVERYONE and teaches EVERYTHING. Find the specific subject you want to teach about (make sure you understand it well enough). For example, my niche is innovation and innovation methods. Innovation may seem like a fairly big topic, but by narrowing it down to teaching innovation methods, that market is not as saturated and a solid niche. If you are a coder, don’t just teach “programming.” Teach C++ fundamentals or teach website development with PHP. Just make sure you have found a small, yet big enough niche to create your course around. I know, that sounds a bit contradictory but you’ll see what I mean when you start looking.
Now, if you want to be sure that your niche is popular or relatively low competition for other online courses, I’ll offer up some tips and resources. For the most part, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is important. If you don’t know what SEO is, just think of it as ways to help you optimize your search performance on Google. You can perform basic searches online of “your course subject” + “online courses” to get a basic idea of what is already out there. Just because there are online courses out there already targeting your niche, you can still create an online course for that niche, you will just have to be a bit different than them. If you’re simply spewing the same information, you’re not going to get anywhere. Watch a few of their videos if you can, and see how you can maybe do something differently. If most of the courses are paid, maybe you can start yours off as free. If you want to get more technical than that, here are some great SEO tools and resources to perform good niche research:
These are good places to get started, but don’t see them as the holy grail. If you have found a niche you have a good understanding of, that is awesome. But if the niche has low competition and is fairly popular, that is even better. A lot of the times, niche research is unnecessary. I did not perform any niche research (I probably should have done a little), because at the end of the day it is about how you market your course. The reason I include this whole niche part is because it is easier to market in a low competition, high search volume niche. But if you are in a high competition niche, do not lose hope because I’ll show you ways you can still succeed later on in this blog post.
Understand your audience
This is a very important step. Once you have the topic and niche you want to teach, identify what your ideal audience is. For example, my audience for my innovation course include students and young adults. I’m targeting the teenage audience interested in entrepreneurship. Identify your age group, what the audience likes, and what the audience dislikes. This step is important to start reaching out to people who you think would be in your audience. This can include family and friends. Outreach can include a simple email or asking them if this is something you’d like to see or learn in an online course. Or you can get fancy and start running some in-person audience validation. What the heck does that mean?
For example, before my online course was even near being completed and published, I ran free innovation workshops at a local middle school for students to gauge interest. A great primer, and it turned out that students found the material fun and interesting. I am not saying you need to be running events and stuff, but be sure to have a clear understanding of your audience and what they would want and enjoy from you and your course.
Create a basic landing page
Now comes the fun part. You get to start marketing and branding your online course. You may be wondering why you should be creating a landing page before you even start planning and creating course content. Your landing page can do one of two things at this stage. You can set it up as a simple email building list for people interested in gaining early access to your online course when you release it. Or you can set up your official course website. I recommend you do the second choice and here’s why. Make your home page the landing page for an email list, but it can be useful to start designing other aspects of your website such as a template course catalog, a blog, or an about page. A blog is an important thing to consider as well, so you can start driving more traffic to your website. Here are some very easy tools to consider using when creating an online course landing page and website.
- Siteground Hosting + WordPress (MEDIUM)
- BlueHost Hosting + WordPress (MEDIUM)
- Wix Website Builder (EASY)
- Code it Yourself (HARD)
Design your curriculum
You’ve made it! Now it gets even more fun. Why? Because you get to actually start making your course content. To some, this seems like a daunting task, but we’ll take it step by step to simplify the process. The very first thing I recommend you do when you start designing your curriculum is to create a simple mission statement. This should be along the lines of the purpose you identified in the beginning steps and include your niche and target audience encapsulated in one or two sentences. Next, create your course syllabus. For example plan out each Week or Section and the title of each lecture and what they cover, whether you have bonus materials, quizzes, projects, etc. It’s important you get every thing down in this step to prevent conflicts when you actually start creating your content. This can be as simple as writing the syllabus up on a Word document or you can get fancy and make a plan using templates you can find online.
Some great resources to start planning your curriculum
If you’re stuck and do not know where to start, first create the headings of each section you want to teach. For example, if your niche topic is C++ for beginners, headings would include: Welcome, Variables and Data Types, Functions, Classes, and Wrap Up, for example. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Then, when you’ve done that, for each section, one by one, list the title of the video you wish to cover. For example, under the Welcome heading, video titles include “What you will learn,” “Get set-up”, and “Hello World.” Once you’ve done that, simply add any bonus material, links, and resources you think you’ll want to add on. And boom, done! Now that you’ve outlined your entire course, you can start creating actual course content!
When creating an online course, creating the actual content seems like an awful daunting task. You don’t know where to start writing, you don’t know how to film, you don’t think you’ll make videos with enough quality, etc. Don’t listen to those voices in your head doubting your ability to create an online course. I am going to outline the exact steps on how you can create a quality online course with non-expert writing skills and non-Hollywood video production (assuming you know the material you’re teaching).
Writing your course scripts
I am going to keep this short and sweet. You’ve already outlined your course curriculum so this should be easy. Open up a new google doc or word document, title it the first video of your course, and write a script. Typically keep your videos between 3-7 minutes long, depending on what you are teaching. Then, go to the next, until you are done. You’re going to need to go back and edit the scripts here and there, but don’t make this more complicated than it should be.
Filming/Recording your course
You most likely will have two options when it comes to filming the course content. You can be behind the camera, or you can record your computer screen. This entirely depends on the topic you are teaching and what you prefer. If you want to record your computer screen, there are plenty of screen recording options aviable including XBox Game Bar for Windows (BUILT IN), Quick Time Player on Mac (BUILT IN), OBS Studio (FREE), Bandicam (FREE TRIAL), Camtasia (FREE TRIAL), and the list does go on. Choose one. Film. And onto the next. Once again, don’t over-complicate.
If you want to film yourself, don’t worry. You CAN use your IPhone if you don’t have any camera you think is better. Simply set up the proper lighting, with natural light hitting your face, be confident, and teach. If you are by yourself, you can prop your script up to the side, or if someone is helping you, they can hold the script for you. However, if you are a university student, be sure to check the available resources at your university as some have green screen rooms available for students for free.
Publish and deploy your online course
There are a lot of options when it comes to publishing and deploying your online course. You can simply deploy your course to your own website (WordPress or Wix) using existing plugins, or you can upload it to course platforms like Udemy or Teachable. The path I would recommend when you are creating your first course, with not much traffic and fan base, is to deploy your course to Udemy, and simply link it from your website or landing page that you created in the previous steps. Udemy will attract a lot of users to register for your course (though most may not even take it), so it will help you gain slight traction. However, if your blog posts have been drawing good traffic to your website, feel free to utilize plugins like LifterLMS and LearnDash for your WordPress websites. These are Learning Management Systems which are specifically designed for online courses, so you can be sure they are high quality. LifterLMS and LearnDash are notably the best LMS plugins for WordPress.
In fact, for my first online course, I did the exact same steps outlined above (linked my Udemy course to my own website) and had 700 plus enrolled students within a week or two of deployment. If you want to start charging immediately for your course, that is perfectly fine. However, it is recommended you start the course off for free, gain some traction and reviews, and once your momentum picks up, you can start charging.
So you’ve found your purpose in creating an online course, identified a topic and niche along with an audience, you’ve gather emails and excitement for an initial release, you’ve created your course curriculum, created the content, and finally published your course for the world to see. Now what? You can do three things at this stage. If you’ve deployed your course to a hosting site like Udemy or Teachable, you can sit back and watch the enrollments increase for a period of time. Or you can fine tune your course more. Or you can start this process over with another course. Or you can continue to market your course through SEO, email marketing, or whatever. The point I am trying to make is that the next steps are up to you. Maybe this didn’t work for you and want to completely scrap the whole thing.
But if there’s one thing I want to leave you with it’s this. Creating an online course may have seemed like a hard task to do before this blog, or before you created an online course. But once you do it, you’ll realize there is not much too it except this process I just outlined. Take this mentality everywhere, and regardless of whether your online courses perform well to your standards, you will have gained the confidence to create content that matters. Always follow a process.