Creating and selling online courses is one of the best ways to create an additional stream of income.
More specifically, if you're looking for a steady flow of passive income, developing an online course – whether it’s a side project or part of your online business initiatives – can be quite profitable. If you have a skill others are keen to learn, you can monetize a hobby into a lucrative side gig or full-blown career.
Creating an online course
The e-learning market is expected to exceed $406 billion by 2024 as more and more people are looking to improve their professional skills or learn a new hobby from home and on the go. If you have a skill other people want to learn, it’s easy to launch an online course and make some additional money selling it.
1. Find a course topic
Every journey starts with taking the first step, and when it comes to creating an online course, it is choosing a suitable topic for it. The topic needs to be relevant to a subject that you are knowledgeable in, you are passionate about, and that can be profitable. To find the right course topic, see what people want and need to learn.
Define the problem
Who’s going to be your audience and what are they struggling with? Choose a demographic group that is facing a specific problem or one that you think your subject area can provide a solution. Bear in mind that even the smallest tasks could be extremely difficult for people who aren’t knowledgeable enough in a particular area and you can help them out.
Come up with the solution
Think about how you can help this audience overcome the problem they are facing by introducing a creative solution that responds well to their needs. Ask yourself how this audience is going to use your course and how it can benefit them by helping them improve their lives.
Research the subject and competition
Gather your options and find out which ones are most popular for your chosen audience. For example, this could be ‘how to train your dog’ or ‘how to overcome depression’. A subject can range from gardening to web development or anything you can think of.
Once you decide on a topic, think about what is going to be your value proposition. To do this, you need to come up with something different from what your competitors are already offering. This should help you stand out in the market and attract those people who are going to find your course useful and are serious about learning.
2. Create a course outline
To come up with valuable course content and material, you need to have a solid strategy in place. Following a plan will help you decide what the course is going to be about, what should it include and how you are going to deliver it.
Write the learning goals and objectives
When designing a course, the first thing you need to do is decide on learning goals and objectives. These should help both you and your potential students know what is expected of them when taking your course.
Start by coming up with statements that describe your long-term goals and are specific, concise and measurable. For example, in a music course, a learning goal is to help learners learn how to play and write music in a range of genres. A learning objective is learning how to read notes and music scores.
Break it down into subjects
Plan the course content and divide it into sections to create a course syllabus. A course outline should give students an idea of the steps they need to go through to complete the course. You can break the course into levels e.g. levels 1-3, beginner to advanced, per lesson plans, or per chapter.
Check out this useful lesson plan template to help you break your content down.
Decide on the types of content (media)
What type of content will you use to communicate learning to your students? Will it be only text-based content, or media-infused content rich with images, video, and audio components? This is huge when it comes to online learning because it gives you the possibility to experiment with the media, and you need to decide upfront.
Also, think of any quizzes, exams, or assignments you might add to test the knowledge of your students. Remember: everyone has different learning styles and you should try to appeal to all people.
Use a storyboard
An excellent way to organize your content is through storyboards, a sequence of panels in which the course creator lays out the framework of their course. A storyboard specifies the visual elements of every screen in an online course, what information and activities will be included in each section.
3. Reuse content
An old-time favorite hack in course design is reusing content that you already created and keep in your inventory. So instead of building it from scratch, you can use the content you have within your course in different forms. This could come from webinars, blogs, presentations, and other training/workshop materials.
Do you have any pre-recorded webinars you can use as part of your course content? Visual content – and especially video content – is the best element you can use as it enhances the quality of learning for people who need a visual element in conjunction to written course material.
Have you been blogging on your chosen subject? Your blog spots can be the ultimate source of content for your course and they help you make a good start on the actual write-up. Later, you can use the blog content and transform it into other modalities.
Web presentations never go out of fashion and only need a few tweaks here and there to make it relevant and up-to-date to current standards. If you have any, make sure to add them as well. This is another good place to repurpose blog content into shorter-form presentation materials.
There are a variety of presentation software platforms out there. Find the right one for your needs, and get started repurposing your content today!
Other training or workshop material
Any relevant training or workshop material you find can help you compile the materials that make up your course. Don’t underestimate their value; instead, put them to good use.
4. Develop the content
If you’re creating a course from scratch, don’t fret because there is help out there. You could hire a subject matter expert and an instructional designer to guide your whereabouts and help you with the course creation. But if you are working on a small budget you can do it yourself. Here’s how.
Map your schedule
Start by organizing the materials for your course with a plan in your mind or if it helps - in writing. Then, prepare to plan out your written content, and decide how you are going to work step-by-step through the following four phases: pre-production, writing, recording, and post-production.
Get the equipment ready (microphones, cameras, software)
Before you are ready to start creating media content, including audio and video, you need to get all your equipment ready. Many video and screen recording tools can help you offer the best learning experience.
The good news is that you can find a range of microphones and webcams you can use for this purpose as well as free video editing software tools ranging from Screencast-O-Matic and Ezvid Video Maker to Camtasia and Adobe Captivate which come at a price.
Here is a small sample of options:
- Microphones: PoP voice Professional Lavalier Lapel Microphone ($11), Samson Q2U USB/XLR Dynamic Microphone ($50) and Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming (from $80).
- Webcams: Logitech C930e Webcam ($76) to Canon PowerShot G7 X Digital Camera ($489).
- Editing software: Ezvid Video Maker (free), Filmora Wondershare ($39+) Camtasia Studio ($179) and Adobe Captivate ($435).
What you are going to choose is entirely your choice, but you should choose those which work with your budget best.
Write the content and start shooting
Once you have everything in place, go through the next steps.
Step 1: Come up with the first draft of the content you want to use in your video. This should give you a sense of structure. Then, capture the key message you want to convey and gather the information that is easily understandable and catches the attention of your learners in the best and quickest way possible.
Step 2: As you come up with the written information, make sure that your video script uses simple and clear language to help learners take out the key ideas and concepts right away.
Step 3: Once you start recording think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Make use of pauses wisely, give time to yourself to become more comfortable and practice your speech until you think it’s good to go.
Step 4: It’s editing time. Take out the parts you don’t like or don’t need and check if the video works out properly. Ensure that video and image are synched together and the length of the recording doesn’t exceed the 3 minutes. Finally, ensure that the format of the video makes it accessible to all users and devices
That's it. The course content creation stage is officially completed.
5. Find the right course platform
Learning management systems (LMS) and online course platforms websites can offer their online space to host your school and sell online courses.
Learning management systems (LMS)
An LMS is a great option for hosting your school. It is an application that is used to create, track, manage and distribute online education material across a wide range of devices. However, you will need to go through the list of features each comes with to decide if it meets your needs.
TIP: Find the right learning management system for your needs. Check out all available options on G2.
Standalone platforms vs. marketplaces
With a standalone platform, you can have your dedicated white-label website that directs people to your online school and it is entirely your own. With it, you have all the tools you need to create and sell online courses. White-label SMS platforms are a popular addition to your system, helping grow customer engagement through unique marketing.
Whereas with course marketplaces there's no such thing as your own website, and you have more limitations in terms of selling courses. However, each platform has different features and capabilities, and you need to pick the one that is going to offer you the best solution according to your requirements.
In the end, what you are going to choose largely depends on what your long-term goals and unique needs are as a course business.
6. Pricing a course
Finding the right price for your online course is challenging. However, your goal here is to come up with the optimal price. This is the price where your course price is bringing in customers and you are earning enough money from your course sales. There are different ways you can charge your learners to achieve this: free, paid, or subscription.
Free vs. paid vs. subscription
Offering a free course doesn’t bring you any money, but it can give you a head start encouraging people to get to know you and what you do. Paid online courses are the ones that come with a price tag and they charge learners in one time-payment to get access to your learning material. On the other hand, a subscription is the type of payment that is recurring and every month or every year, they pay an amount of money to keep having access to your content.
High value: don’t price less than $100
Generally, a good price for an online course is above $100. Charging less than that might conclude to valuing your course less than its actual worth. Just think about the time and effort it took you to create your online course from scratch and you will change your mind.
$100 is the ideal price to start putting on your online courses because it also shows potential customers that it is a valuable course to take part in. On top of that, it ensures that only serious learners are buying your course who are committed to showing dedication towards its completion. So it’s a win-win situation.
7. Keep the community going
When it comes to selling courses, you have to keep nurturing your relationship with existing students and attracting new learners. This way, you get to have an opportunity to keep them engaged, connect with them, offer them the chance to offer feedback and ensure they are happy.
An excellent way to do this is by creating a membership site, where you sell online courses and work with a specific community of learners. With a membership site, you ensure that your learning content is gated, secured, and accessible only by a group of people that you choose to share it with.
Student engagement (instructor interactions)
Now, there are tons of ways to keep in touch with your students and it’s up to you to choose how often you what to reach out to them. Amongst the most popular ways to do this is the email. With a dedicated email list, you can send scheduled emails out to your learners to inform and let them know where you are up to.
Another way to communicate with students is through your online community, where you allow them to communicate freely with each other, exchange knowledge, ideas, and opinions about the course. Don’t forget there are also web and video conferencing tools which offer a more personal approach and interaction with your students regardless of where they live.
Keep them coming back
Social and interactive learning is without a doubt, the best way to learn since it offers in-time solutions to your students’ problems and personalized training that meets their needs. But for it to work, it needs to grasp the attention of learners and encourage them to remain an active member of your community.
Do this by inviting them to connect with you on social media or creating a Facebook group, hosting contests and quizzes, and be assured they never lose interest in what you have to offer. Whether you are creating your first course or the third or fourth in the line, this is the right step-by-step guide to help you do so.
Make sure you're knowledgeable about all of the high tech solutions education has to offer. Read up on how edtech assists online course creators with being more efficient in furthering their content and information.