A complete guide to creating your own online course that covers everything from explaining the different types of courses to how to successfully price and market your own online course.
E-learning is predicted to grow its estimated value by around $185.52 Billion before 2025, demonstrating an 18% increase and a huge surge in people signing up for online courses.
It’s no wonder, really, given the extreme expenses of academic learning and the convenience of being able to complete online courses from wherever you are already.
According to Len Smith, after an initial 40 hours of work to create and set up an online course (with around 10 hours each week to cover maintenance and marketing), you can be earning anywhere from $2,000 to $6,500 a month from just this one income alone.
Online courses are a great way to earn a steady income or to raise capital for other business ventures in a short period of time. However, this is only true if you have created an online course that meets market demand and that potential customers are genuinely interested in.
To help you do just that, we’ve put together a guide on how to create an online course, going into detail about the different types of online courses you can offer, what you should include within this, and how to successfully market online courses to leads and potential customers.
Table of Contents
- Types of Online Courses
- First Steps
- Creating the Course Content
- Pricing Your Course
- Choosing a Platform
- Create a Learning Community
- Marketing Your Course
Types of Online Courses
With many different types of online courses to consider, it’s important that you choose the one that will work best for your business. We’ve put together a list of some of the most popular types of online courses so you can see what each type of course has to offer.
These types of courses are designed to test your potential students’ knowledge and skills and can be a great Lead Magnet that captures the emails of your students at the start.
Pre-sell courses are pretty much what the name suggests, which is a pre-course course that aims to legitimize your idea for the course and can help you build a bigger email list of potential students prior to the course’s actual release. You’ll need a good email marketing platform to send promotional emails to your list.
If you’re running more than one course, this will give your potential students an overview of the different courses you have to offer. This can encourage more future engagement and will help to generate interest in your course content.
In your overview, it can be useful to include some form of walkthrough for your courses, as well as any information you can provide on how to join the e-learning community or how students may contact the course instructors.
In some ways, mini-courses are similar to pre-sell and orientation courses in that they provide a taste of what the larger, full-length courses could look like. However, these types of courses are more beneficial for potential students as they provide a summary of the teachings found in the full-length course.
When you’re first starting out, armed with nothing but the idea of creating an online course, it can be difficult to know how to go about setting one up in the right way. This next section will cover everything you need to know about the first steps of setting up an online course.
Deciding on the Course Topic
Choosing the topic for your course should be the first thing you set your mind to once you’ve decided to set up your own online course. It should also be pretty easy, as it’s best to choose a subject that you already have significant knowledge of and about.
As Teachable teaches, “with an online course, you can earn money sharing your valuable skills and experience with others. A course can grow your community, expand your business, and earn you respect in your niche.”
Ask yourself the following questions when trying to choose a course topic:
- Do people often ask you for your help or guidance on this topic already?
- Have you/will you solve a common problem that others may be struggling with?
- Is there a particular software or method that you’re an expert in that you could teach to your potential students?
Ultimately, the main two things you need to consider in order to choose a successful course topic is whether or not it’s something you’re passionate about and that you can/want to teach, as well as being something that other people will want to learn more about.
To establish whether or not there’s any interest in your theoretical course, it’s worth putting the feelers out there to get some feedback. If you already have a mailing list with a lot of leads, send an email advertising your course to see how well it is received by people.
Research Your Topic
As with any business venture, conducting thorough research in the early stages is essential if you want to achieve success down the line. Planning is important, especially when it comes to online courses where you’ll need a good understanding of what else is offered.
Before getting started on your research, layout what you already know about your chosen topic by brainstorming on a piece of paper and writing down every thought that pops into your head. At this stage of creating your online course, no idea is a bad idea!
Once you’ve clear on the subtopics, you have a good understanding of, compare this to any competitor courses to see if there’s anything written down in your notes that other courses have missed or not included in their learning package, as this will help yours stand out.
Identify if there is enough market demand for your chosen topic and look for other angles that will set your online courses apart from the rest. Find niches related to your main topic that you could branch out into to provide a wider scope of information for your students.
Planning the Course Outline
Your research will hopefully have resulted in a lot of different ideas floating around on paper, but now it’s time to organize your thoughts by properly planning your course outline.
Try to put each topic you’re thinking about including into a logical order, dividing subtopics into separate groups if needed to refine your initial idea and narrow down the overall topic.
Check out this article on how to effectively plan your online course content for further tips and some useful examples.
Learning Goals and Objectives
Having clear learning goals and objectives in place will make it much easier for you and your potential students to understand what they are going to get out of the course, as it provides a way to contextualize learning with something to work towards.
Your learning goals should focus on three main elements; what the course will specialize in, the main themes of the course, and the big picture or ultimate aim of the course.
Your objective should be more of a specific action verb that promotes clear and measurable targets that will help your students stay on track with their learning during the course.
Establishing these before your course begins allows you to market the course more effectively, and you’ll be able to put together a more coherent schedule that keeps these learning goals and objectives in mind throughout the learning process.
Creating the Course Content
So, you’ve put in all the groundwork required to set up your online course, including researching and planning how you’d like it to look. Now it’s time to actually put the course together by creating the content you’d like to include in your course.
This can include various forms of media learning, including:
- Videos (webinars, pre-recorded content, screencasts, etc)
- eBooks or PDF files
- Audio files
- Presentations or slideshows
- Blog posts
- Graphic design
- SCORM or HTML5
With everything you’ve put into making your course so far, this is also the stage where procrastination tends to sneak in, so try to be intentional with your chosen content.
The art of creating a successful course isn’t necessarily always about what you include, but also about the things you leave out – which should be anything that isn’t directly related to your course topic and won’t benefit you or your students.
Make sure that all the materials you’re gathering are in line with your course learning goals and objectives, so check in with these throughout the process of creating your online course.
Make a Schedule
Following a content schedule will make it a lot easier to create your online course, as it will put useful milestones in place to help you track your progress.
There are several ways you can choose to set up your schedule, but as a rough guideline, we’d recommend splitting the creation process for your online course into the following four phases, with these estimated timings:
- Pre-production (1 week)
- Writing the content (2 to 6 weeks)
- Recording content (2 weeks)
- Post-production (1 week)
However, this can vary depending on the type of course you’re creating and the subject matter you’re covering.
Presenting Your Course
There are also a number of options when it comes to the way in which you would like to present your course material, which includes the following:
- Creating and sharing a video tutorial
- Sharing text-based content with or without the use of visual aids
- Recording a podcast series or one-off lessons
The way you choose to present your course should be in alignment with the type of course you’re offering, which includes the topic the course is based on.
Craft-based courses, for example, will benefit from instructional images and/or videos that can help people learn visually, whereas text-based information can be difficult to interpret or to fully understand. Podcasts, although a great medium to encourage theory and debate, would be similarly ineffective when it comes to teaching students how to craft.
Editing Your Content
After filming, writing, putting together, and generally creating your content, you’ll need to go through and edit everything, so it fits the logical sequence you planned out in the earlier stages of creating your course. If you stuck to your plan well whilst creating the content, you should already be in a good position, and it’ll mainly require some editing of the raw footage.
There are plenty of apps or online resources that will make the editing process easier, allowing you to cut down your videos, splice different scenes together, fix or improve sound quality issues, add in any text or logos, and anything else you choose to edit.
A great way to incentivize your students and to ensure they’re progressing as they work towards their goals is to create class assignments that test their knowledge at different stages. You could have one for the end of every class, or even for the end of the course.
Downloadable PDFs are the best type of file for class assignments as they can be saved by your students at the end of each lesson. This gives your students the choice of viewing them online on their computer or PC or printing them off and working from them this way.
If you don’t like the idea of using this method for setting class assignments, you can also utilize tools such as Kahoot, which allows you to create quizzes or learning games that bring more of a fun element to assessing your e-learning courses.
Pricing Your Course
Although, as we’ve already mentioned, you can be bringing in a decent amount of money through online e-learning courses, this is usually when it subsidizes rather than supports your wage. That’s not to say that it’s not impossible, however, but it can be tricky to earn enough money solely from e-learning courses, especially if you’re underselling your value.
It can be difficult to land on the right price for your course, but it’s essential to find the balance of offering your customers relatively affordable, attractive course prices whilst also making enough money to earn a profit yourself and to ensure the course is viable to run.
There’s also your own expertise to consider. Pricing your courses too low can result in the standard of your knowledge being called into question and can even potentially tarnish your reputation as an educator in this sector. If in doubt, it’s always worth more than you think.
So, let’s get into the juicy stuff about appropriately pricing your course.
As a general rule, you can offer smaller, introductory courses or taster courses for a reduced price, but your main courses should never be priced for less than $100 unless on offer. With that in mind, it’s only natural that you may feel more comfortable starting out at a lower price point, with the aim to see how well it’s received and to potentially raise the price over time.
When setting up a pricing strategy, consider the following factors to help you set the value of your course.
- Customer value: What will the outcome of the course be for your customer, and how will what they learn from you benefit their lives? The answer to this could range from anything like helping them with general issues or to earning them their dream job, so think about how much your prospects would be willing to pay for your course.
- Course length: You may assume that the longer the course is, the higher it’s value, but people will often pay a premium price for a shorter, effective course. A course on ‘how to prepare for an interview’ could include a 2-hour coaching session, rather than a couple of courses on how to highlight your skills and what interviewers look for in potential candidates that include lessons, assignments, activities, and quizzes, which would comparatively take much longer to complete. Also consider the length of time it took you to put together – time is money, after all, so don’t dismiss your efforts.
- Research the competition: Knowing what your competitors are charging for their courses can be a great way to see where you think your courses should fall on the price spectrum. Look at what your competitors are offering and for how much.
- Income goals: In order to make your business viable, you’ll need to think about how much you want to make from your course by setting some income goals which can then inform your pricing strategy.
There are proven advantages to one-to-one learning, so it’s a good idea to offer individual lessons to rent or to buy, which will give them limited or unlimited access to the material. This allows for flexible learning with the option to return to the material repeated times.
You can choose whether to give your customers the option between downloading the content or watching it on your site directly or choose the option you would prefer.
Subscriptions are a good way of making courses affordable for a lot of people as this means they can pay weekly, monthly, or yearly for access to your course, rather than in a big, one-off payment that prices people out of being able to afford the fees for your course.
A membership site, for example, would allow students to access gated content rather than selling individual courses for a single payment. You can also price different packages to suit different budgets, which would allow customers to pay extra for additional members’ benefits.
You can set up different payment plan options. This will also make your courses more accessible to prospective students by allowing them to pay in one payment or to spread the payments over a previously agreed upon period of time with a recurring payment plan.
By placing this behind a paywall, you are also highlighting the fact that this is premium quality content as it will only be available to those who have paid the fees.
Giving out free content can be a great way to generate and encourage future sales, but if prospects can see that you’re giving away all of your best content for free, then they may decide it’s not worth paying for your actual courses, meaning you’ll lose out on profits.
Before giving away free content, ask yourself these questions:
- Will this help generate more leads?
- Will this attract new customers?
- Will I use this to reward existing customers/students or as a bonus feature that comes included with a different purchase?
- Will it have a sales or discount period to test the response?
If it doesn’t, don’t give it away for free! It’s definitely a business tactic that can work well, however, as it does provide the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge or expertise within a certain subject area, as well as helping to build up a rapport with potential prospects.
This goes for businesses that aren’t solely interested in selling educational courses, too, as it can help direct your prospects to other services or products, especially if they’re impressed by what you have to share or to offer in terms of teaching.
When you’re creating content that you intend to give away for free, remember that this doesn’t equate to being cheap or that you shouldn’t put just as much effort into it as you would when creating your paid courses. Think of it as a chance to showcase what you know.
A valuable bonus addition you could include at the start of your course is a live Q&A where students can ask questions about the course and what they can expect from it, which could also be beneficial information for you to know. You can host this by setting up a live stream video that allows your students to interact with you in real-time.
Choosing a Platform
After going to all this effort of putting together, creating, and pricing your course, it’s important to choose the right platform to host it so that your students can receive the maximum learning experience.
Having a platform that glitches or is difficult to use will put prospects off quickly and can increase the number of times a potential customer clicks off your site in frustration instead of signing up to one of your courses.
Click here to see a list of the best platforms to create and sell courses online.
Your options are to choose one of the many online course marketplaces, such as Khan Academy, Udacity, or Udemy, or you can use a course platform like Kajabi, LearnWorlds, Thinkific, Teachable, to build your own.
We recommend the latter, as the former option will take a large share of your profits and will limit the control you have over your brand, pricing, and the personal data of your students. LearnWorlds is comparatively easy to get to grips with, thanks to the instructions provided.
Alternatively, you can use WordPress plugins to create your own online course, but these can also be limiting in terms of the features they provide for standalone platforms.
Create a Learning Community
Due to the solitary nature of online learning, creating an online learning environment with a community that your students can be a part of can boost the success of your course.
By providing a safe space for students to comment, ask questions, or communicate and socialize with each other, a learning community can hugely improve the learning experience as it can be both educationally and personally beneficial and fulfilling.
Plus, as the course director, you’ll be able to share resources, upcoming news, announcements, and other opportunities with your students. There are a few different options for creating an engaging learning community, including the following:
A members area can be a section of your site with restricted access, only available to paying customers. The membership fee can cover things like a chat room, forum page, or blogs, where your users can interact with each other and engage with your course content.
Online forums can be particularly useful for students to encourage each other’s learning achievements and successes or to support them as and when they need. It’s a great way to foster a sense of community among your students in a way that focuses on helping them.
Social Media Groups
Another option is to create a private social media group that only course members can access, including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. This is a more informal way of creating a community for your students that may be easier for them to access and keep in touch with.
Online Communication Groups
The last example we’ve included is online communication groups like Slack or Discord, which are designed to help people connect with each other. These can be organized into different channels for different courses, with some ‘fun’ chats that aren’t learning-related at all thrown in there for good measure.
As the course leader, however, it will be up to you to monitor these channels to make sure that there is nothing inappropriate being posted in the group chats, as this is intended to be a safe space for your students.
Marketing Your Course
You’ve probably been working pretty hard up until now, but we’re sorry to say that the marketing aspect of creating an online course is where the work truly begins.
One of the first things you should focus on is trying to grow your email list and gain as many new leads as possible. The more people you can market your online courses to, the more chances you have of people signing up, which will increase your profits.
A marketing strategy is essential for all businesses, both new and established, so here are some of the best options when it comes to marketing online learning courses.
Once you’ve conducted enough market research, you can get in touch with any prospects you spoke to or other leads you have to offer them a free introductory coaching session.
Being able to speak to someone either via a video calling platform like Zoom or over the phone is one of the most successful ways to increase the number of signups for your course. It can also be useful for receiving feedback from your students during the course.
Trial Short Course
Offering a trial short course can introduce your prospects to your course materials without charge, whilst hopefully demonstrating the quality of your learning materials and turning your prospects into paying customers.
This “foot in the door” approach can be a successful tool, especially if the time constraints of coaching sessions are too limiting for your current schedule. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the length of your short courses to make sure you aren’t giving out too much content for free, as this can devalue the rest of your course material.
Social media is a great marketing tool for many businesses when it comes to promoting their brand, services, and/or products. With the right social media marketing campaign, you can generate interest in your courses and grow your online presence as well as your business.
Using social media can also be a good way to get to know your audience, which will help you to design future courses which are designed to meet consumer demand, improving their (and your) chances of success. Plus, it gives you current and past customers a place to comment their feedback as well as interact with you and each other.
Creating an online course isn’t necessarily an easy task, as it will require dedicated effort and a good few hours of work to make it successful. However, by following the advice we’ve provided throughout this guide, you’ll hopefully feel a lot more confident about starting yours.
Just remember to choose a subject you’re passionate about (or prepared to get passionate about it!), refine your content, so the course is set out clearly, and price it appropriately so that you don’t put off customers or put yourself out of pocket by undervaluing your course.