These days, more people are looking for novel types of quality content to explore online, especially when it comes to learning new skills. One way to cater to this rising demand, while also generating revenue, is to create and sell an online course.
Imparting knowledge and expertise via an online course will allow you to position yourself as an authority in your field, foster a community of like-minded individuals around your business, and expand your reach - all from within your home.
This guide will walk you through the different steps of how to create an online course. From choosing the right topic to creating a website for your course and earning an income - here’s everything you need to know:
How to create an online course
Choose the right subject matter
Test your idea
Research the topic extensively
Write a course outline
Create the course content
Bring your course online
Sell your online course
Cultivate a learning community
01. Choose the right subject matter
The topic you choose is entirely in your hands, and can be pretty much anything - from baking tips to website design. While the possibilities are just about endless, the right subject matter is a determining factor in an online course’s success.
The main criteria in evaluating your online course’s topic is whether it appeals to both you and your audience:
Choose something you want to teach: The topic for your online course should be either a subject that you’re knowledgeable about, or something that you’re curious about and are willing to invest in learning thoroughly. Either way, you need to be passionate about the subject. Try and think about what it is that you do best, and what people come to you for advice on. Those topics usually make for the most successful online courses. Alternatively, ask yourself what you’d like to know more about, and through learning it yourself you’ll be able to become a great teacher on the subject.
Choose something others want to learn: Before getting to work, ask a group of friends, as well as your existing audience, what they think of the subject you had in mind. Test it out by sharing polls or online forms for your audience to fill out. You can make a short tutorial first, and monitor its performance. Follow up on the tutorial on social media or via email marketing, asking your audience if this type of material is something they’re interested in seeing more of. In addition, conduct some online research into your topic. If you find other online courses about the same subject matter, that’s a great sign. Having competition means that people find the topic relevant and helpful for them. It’s also a good idea to create content that can comfortably fit into an existing, tried-and-tested space.
02. Test your idea
Creating an online course requires a lot of hard work and effort on your part, so running a test before you begin will allow you to validate the investment as one that will pay itself off down the line.
In order to test your idea, create a landing page for your upcoming online course. Although you haven’t created the course just yet, you already know what it’s going to be about. Include a concise description of the course, explaining what people can expect to learn. Incorporate eye-catching imagery to further reflect the concept. Check out these fully customizable landing page templates to use as a starting point.
Utilize call-to-action buttons (CTAs) to invite visitors to sign up for free for your upcoming online course, or pre-purchase it to save a spot in your class. After promoting your website on various channels, like social media, newsletters, and more, you’ll be able to look over the data you collected and see if you have enough attendees and encouraging feedback. Decide on metrics ahead of time, so that you’ll know what results to look for at the end of the trial period.
03. Research the topic extensively
Whether you’re already an expert in your field, or are looking forward to learning it from start to finish, now is the time to deep dive until you know everything there is to know about the topic.
As part of your thorough learning process, go beyond what course attendees will easily find on search results. Go the extra mile and find a variety of different sources on the topic, from literature to competitor classes and webinars. Perform keyword research in order to see what type of queries people are looking up on the topic. From this, you can get a better feel for the kinds of questions that your audience might be interested in.
Keep your eyes open for any subcategories within your niche. For example, if you plan on instructing a course about how to take care of indoor plants, you’ll definitely want to cover the basics such as water and natural light. But in order to provide added value, look for unique angles to widen the scope of your course, like the types of air purifying plants, for example.
04. Write a course outline
Now is the time to develop the curriculum for your online course. On a piece of paper, write down a list of the different lessons you plan on teaching online. Within each lesson, break it down to the main topics you want to cover. Go in a logical order and try to make your ideas evolve naturally from one to the other, to ensure a smooth and frictionless learning process.
Remember that teaching is about guiding your audience through an idea, step by step. To make this clear in your course outline, define an objective for each of your lessons.
Continuing with the indoor plant care example from the previous section, you might want your students to be able to classify the plants they have at home in one lesson, and to be able to recognize signs of pests or disease in the next.
Here’s an example of an online course outline for an indoor plant care class. You can use this example as a template for creating your own:
Lesson #1: How to water plants
Lesson objective: Students will learn how much, and how often, to water their plants.
The importance of watering;
The dangers of overwatering;
Different types of plants and the watering they require;
Soil as a signifier of dehydration or overhydration.
Lesson #2: Plants and natural light
Lesson objective: Students will understand the importance of natural light, and will be able to pick the optimal lighting for their plants.
Light and its role in plant photosynthesis;
Different types of plants and the amount of sunlight they need;
How and when to use fluorescent lighting for indoor plants.
Remember to also include an introduction and a conclusion to your entire course, as well as in each individual lesson. Reiteration is a good aid in learning processes.
Consider adding assignments and activities as part of your course curriculum, to help the newly gained knowledge sink in. It’s recommended to start with a theoretical discussion, then to give some examples, and to follow up with an assignment at the very end.
05. Create the course content
If you already have professional experience with your course topic, it’s likely that you’ve put together content about it in the past. Have you ever written a blog post or created a webinar about the subject? Maybe you host a podcast or run a YouTube channel for your business in which you’ve discussed similar themes? If so, go back to these materials. Repurposing existing content into your online course will help get you started and save much valuable time.
Based on the materials you’ve gathered and your outline and research from the previous steps, you can now create the actual content for your online course. Most courses use video as their main form of communication, which is what we’ll be discussing here. However, you can also use written content, audio recordings, slides - or a mix of a few different types of media.
Filming: As a home-based business idea, creating an online course can be done with relatively simple equipment, and you don’t have to be a video production pro in order to create a high quality course. After all, the level of education you provide is what matters most, and you can create quality content even if you’re working from home. You can film yourself speaking to the camera, record your screen while you talk in the background, or both. While your videos don’t have to be pixel perfect, we do recommend reading up on video tips for creating professional-looking content, as well as choosing the right type of camera and microphone for your needs.
Editing: After you’ve filmed your content, invest some time editing your raw footage. There are many free video editing software available, from iMovie, to Lightworks, and the Wix Video Maker. Try to craft a nice rhythm to your video by breaking it up into digestible bites. Leave out unnecessary pauses and cut longer takes up into a series of shorter, dynamic clips. Add titles, like the name of the course and lesson, and video captions to make the course accessible and easier to follow. You can also include background music to your video, and relevant slides if applicable.
Class assignments: Create assignments for each of your lessons. These can be in the form of downloadable PDF files, which students can print or view on their computers. Other options include online quizzes or learning games, made using tools such as Kahoot.
06. Bring your course online
Once you have your course content ready, it’s time to create the platform to bring it all together. If you already have a professional website, you can add your online course as a section there. If not, create a new website just for this purpose.
If you’re making a website with Wix, check out these designer-made online education website templates to help you get started. Be sure to add Wix Video to your site, allowing you to showcase videos, engage with visitors and monetize your content. Upload your lessons either as standalone videos, or organized into channels within a library.
07. Sell your online course
There are three different options for selling your online course, depending on your needs and business plan:
Offer individual lessons for rent or purchase: Allow users to rent or purchase your online course on a video-by-video basis. When purchasing a video, users will enjoy unlimited streaming of the lesson they’ve purchased, so that they can go back and rewatch the content at all times. Choose if you want to allow viewers to download the video, or watch it directly on your site.
Offer a channel subscription: By paying a monthly fee, users will be able to access all of the paid videos within a channel. Channel subscriptions create a pay-wall, separating the content of your website into public and premium.
Offer paid plans: Set up different payment options, offering your students to pay all at once or with a recurring payment plan. You can control everything from the type of plan, to what is included, how long it will last, and more. Display plan options on your site for clients to choose from and purchase. Paid Plans act as a pay-wall, allowing users to access the content only after they pay and log into the members area within your site.
Alongside your paid lessons, be sure to also offer a small preview of your course entirely for free. Getting a sneak peek of what they can expect to see will encourage students to sign up for the paid classes. Your free content can be either in the form of a short trailer for each lesson, or you can offer the whole first lesson for free, while the rest are paid.
Another idea for a freebee is to create a live Q&A session at the beginning of the course, inviting users to participate free of charge while generating interest. To do this, set up a live stream video, helping you connect with fans in real time.
Whichever giveaway option you choose, the free version of your course will come in handy in promoting your online course. For more ideas on how to promote your class, refer to this list of effective marketing tools.
08. Cultivate a learning community
Online education is mostly a solitary activity. Therefore, fostering a community of learners around your course will greatly improve their experience, contributing to the overall success of your course.
An active online community can help users share their learning process with a group of peers. Together, they can celebrate their successes and raise any questions they may have. In addition, students can bounce ideas off one another, generating a vibrant conversation and enhancing the interest and excitement around your class.
Your online community is also a good place to share news about upcoming courses or other opportunities that might be of interest to this already engaged audience.
Some options for fostering an active learning community are:
A Members Area: Creating a Members Area on your site allows registered or paying users to access a variety of premium content - from chat, to forums, blogs and more.
Social media groups: Consider creating private social media groups, such as a Facebook group or a Twitter list, for learners to engage in.
Online communication platforms: Utilize online communication platforms such as Slack or Discord for your learning community.
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