Any time a person is an expert in something, the ability to share that knowledge with a broader audience is extremely powerful.
Whether it’s solving algebraic equations, creating compelling advertisements, or making the perfect buttercream frosting, there’s something that you are uniquely suited to teach others from your perspective.
But having that knowledge isn’t all that matters- the way you deliver the information and how you reach an audience is what allows you to expand your reach.
With the internet at your disposal, it’s possible to turn any topic into an online course that can reach thousands or even millions of people without ever leaving the comfort of your home.
While it can seem intimidating to start building out a course, websites like Teachable are available to make course creation simple and accessible to everyone.
Not sure where to start? Keep reading.
Find Your Niche
The heart of your course will be the topic it’s centered around.
You may have a thriving business or an underutilized skill that you want to share so badly that the curriculum writes itself. If f this is the case, you’re ready to begin.
But what about those of us who don’t have a ready-made topic in our lives?
It’s common for people to feel like they aren’t the “expert” in any given skill or concept.
That might be true, and that’s okay!
You don’t have to be the world’s leading scholar to teach a practical online course on the topic.
You simply need to be passionate about whatever you teach and find an angle that is unique to you.
Think about something as simple as a course on how to use Microsoft Excel. Many courses exist on this topic, and you may feel like the market is so saturated it’s not worth it.
But in thinking about your own skills and experience, there’s often a way to present this information in new ways that may reach a different audience.
Many Excel courses aim to create pivot tables or large data sets and overlay formulas, so why not make an Excel course specific to people who want to create puzzles and games with the tool?
Finding a niche will make your content unique and help with marketing or make your course stand out from others.
It can also be the start of building a brand, where you are associated with a topic and become the center of that niche online.
Any topic you are passionate about, knowledgeable about, and have a perspective on is a good place to start.
Of course, you also want to be sure that people are both interested in your topic and willing to pay to learn about it.
If many similar courses exist, this may be enough to prove that there is an audience. But what about the more unique courses?
You can perform a series of simple market research tests to help understand if there is an audience for your course, who it might be, and how much they’re willing to pay.
Start by looking at Google Trends to see how popular related searches are and then drill down into the exact volumes of these searches.
Be sure to search any terms that are even vaguely related to your topic.
You may also type in these searches to Google yourself to see what questions people ask on websites like Reddit or Quora.
These searches may also help you see what classes exist on the topic today.
If there’s a massive volume of courses, be sure to consider how you can stand out from the crowd to make your course more appealing or aimed at a different audience.
Searching through other classes should also give you an idea of what people are willing to pay.
Be sure to read the good and bad reviews of existing courses to see what people want to gain.
Study For Your Own Class
It’s easy to feel like we already know everything to teach a class- after all, that’s why we’re the expert!
It may be true that you have all the information needed in your head, but this is also one of the biggest reasons people procrastinate on getting started.
Getting all of that information from your head and onto the page can be overwhelming enough that you may avoid the task.
The research step is about determining what resources you have that are relevant for your course, what resources not to include, and where you may have gaps that require you to learn more.
It’s critical to do this before you begin creating a course outline as you want to create a curriculum based on information, not force information into modules that don’t make sense.
An excellent way to think about this is to start with the learning objectives for your course.
What should the student take away?
These takeaways may include basic lessons and skills or more broad ideas you’d like them to absorb.
Once you have these learning objectives in place, you can measure every piece of content against them.
If something doesn’t help a student meet the goal, you shouldn’t include it in the course.
Be sure to think about these objectives as pieces of a whole.
For example, if your course is How to Make a PB&J, your sole learning objective isn’t knowing how to make a PB&J.
Instead, you may have objectives like “understand how to spread peanut butter without damaging your bread” or “effectively cutting the crust off of a sandwich.”
Of course, even when you are the expert in something, you likely have more to learn.
A benefit of taking a moment to research is that you may find new information you’re excited to include in your curriculum.
Learning is a huge part of teaching, so never feel you have all the knowledge you possibly can and stop being curious.
Create a Structured Curriculum
Now that you know what you are going to teach, who you will teach it to, and what you want them to learn, it’s time to build out the substance of your course.
Everyone will have a different method for this, so there is no one right way to structure your class, but there are best practices for thinking about instructional design.
Starting with your learning objectives is a great way to have some structure from the outset.
You can tie these goals to individual modules or lessons in your course, building them on each other as needed.
Small incremental steps can be the start of a course outline that helps establish a roadmap of what will happen throughout the entire course.
This bigger picture will help you start breaking the course down into smaller and smaller chunks.
In our How to Make a PB&J example, this might look like this:
Each section can then have sub-topics if that amount of complexity is necessary. If not, you can then place individual lessons into each section.
Together, this will give you a complete outline of the course.
You will then need to create lesson plans for each individual component of the course.
It can be helpful to pick an order of events and use this in every lesson, for example, starting with a review, then teaching new content, a small quiz, more new content, and a Q&A.
This method keeps things consistent and gives you an easy outline to follow as you develop each session.
As you create the lesson plan, ask yourself what your student already knows, what they need to learn, and the best way to reach that objective.
Please take note of any supplemental material they may need to help them achieve these goals as well.
Remember that best practice is to make small, digestible pieces of content rather than long sessions.
It’s better to have more sections with less content each to hold attention and help students retain knowledge.
You should end this step with a complete outline of your course and a lesson plan for each course. Here is an example for our sandwich-making class.
Properly Spreading Peanut Butter
Diagonal or Straight Cut
Suggested Sides and Drinks
Washing the Dishes
A sample lesson plan for 1b. Jelly may include a breakdown like this:
Jelly vs. Jam vs. Preservatives
Best flavor combinations
Where to find the best jelly
Content creation is one of the most critical components of your course.
You’ll need to put some thought into what media formats are the best for your topic.
Online courses are generally a mix of video and supplementary documentation.
The good news is you don’t have to be a professional video editor because sites like Teachable offer platforms where you can essentially drag and drop your material, packaging it automatically.
Depending on your content, it may make more sense to have actual video footage of yourself.
Teaching a craft, for example, would require this.
Designing and teaching an online course may warrant investments in proper camera equipment and a suitable filming location.
You don’t need to have a professional studio.
Still, if you appear professional and prepared, students will take your class more seriously, so filming in a cluttered living room may not be your best option.
A relatively clean and straightforward space should be acceptable, and most smartphones have suitable camera quality.
It can be helpful to shoot some short test videos and make adjustments before you commit to entire lessons.
There are options to film these classes professionally, but they’re likely not worth it for your first course.
Other topics can be taught by sharing a screen with a slide deck or demonstrating how to complete other tasks.
These should be pretty simple with screen recording technology and a good microphone on your computer.
If you’re using a personal computer, be sure that you remove any traces of personal information or things like desktop photos that you don’t want to be shared.
Also, turn off any alerts that may pop up on the screen.
Insider tip: Record in a closed closet as the clothes absorb extra sound waves and prevent an echo.
In addition to determining the most effective way to deliver your content, you also want to make sure it’s engaging.
Even the most well-thought-out material won’t reach your students if it’s all delivered in a dry manner.
Consider adding in storytelling, using multiple kinds of videos and content, and including outside documents and tasks.
Some ideas include:
Add in short quizzes between sessions to keep students engaged and check on their progress. They likely won’t receive a grade, so these don’t have to add a lot of pressure, but they can be a way to make sure a person is actively participating.
Create a community where students and former students can interact, help each other understand concepts, and network. Communication also keeps students tapped into your brand if you put out any courses in the future.
Assign simple “homework” tasks. Again, you aren’t grading these, so they are optional, but they can help motivate people.
Use gamification to create small rewards and make your class fun.
Create templates and documents students can download and use both during and after your class.
You may choose one or two of these things to diversify your content, but there’s no need to do all of them and overwhelm your students.
Most online courses are something people take on their own, so you don’t want them to feel burdened by it but instead engaged and like it was worth their money.
Other things to consider when creating your content include the length of your course and how different learning styles may benefit from the way you package material.
If you expect to use this course as an income stream, it can be worth making investments upfront to ensure the quality of your content.
Just because you are an expert in your chosen topic doesn’t mean you’re an expert in video creation, editing, graphic design, and production.
Don’t be afraid to use other resources for these tasks.
Several websites help you effortlessly find and hire freelancers who can consult with you and complete these tasks.
Always be sure to run the numbers and be sure you will get a return on your investment, but outsourcing certain items may be worth your while.
Or, if you prefer to do things yourself, you may find other online courses that teach you these skills, so you can use them going forward for future classes.
Choosing a Platform
You can develop online courses in a range of ways depending on your goals and your technical abilities.
There are three main options for this: online course marketplaces, learning management systems, and content embedded into your own website.
Online course marketplaces are an excellent option for people just starting who are not looking to do a lot of technical development or who want to make courses independent of a business or brand.
These websites have the infrastructure of courses in place already, allowing you to plug in your content, configure your messaging, and push a course out quickly.
The benefits of an online marketplace come from the fact that they already have an audience and customers looking to learn new skills.
A lot of the marketing and awareness has already been done for you.
For some people, the lack of control over branding and user experience can be a downside to choosing an online marketplace.
They may also take a fee out of your profit as a part of their model.
You will need to decide if you want more control over your course or the ease of using these tools.
Another option is to use a learning management system to build out your course.
These are existing platforms designed to support online learning and facilitate course creation, and they allow for more freedom in creating the course.
One great example is Teachable, a website for course creation designed to be accessible to people with all skill levels.
Teachable gives you access to everything needed for building out courses, with an easy-to-use platform for both you and your students.
They designed their platform for people without technical skills, so there should not be a huge learning curve.
There is a lot of room to brand your content and reflect your perspective before pushing it out to students.
Teachable is also a good choice for help managing finances, as they account for things like taxes and affiliate fees during their payout process.
Designing a Pricing Model
It may seem obvious that you want to charge for your course, but before you decide on this, there are some questions to ask yourself surrounding your goals.
Is the course an income stream on its own?
Do you want the course to serve as a lead generator into other products and services?
Are there additional charges, like access to a community?
Will you have future related courses?
If you are using a course simply to draw people into a larger service or brand, offering the course for free or a very low price may make sense.
However, be sure not to underprice the effort you have put in.
People value things they have to pay for more, so even a small fee may be a way to get people invested in continuing down the path you have set out.
You can also decide if there is any cap on the number of students in each course.
This decision may depend on how much you need to interact with students. If you’re very hands-on, it may be wise to have a small cap.
But if you pre-record your content, you could distribute it to an endless number of people.
From here, you can work your way back to your earning goal by determining how much each student would need to pay to reach that goal.
Market research is also helpful here as you can keep your prices competitive with similar courses.
You don’t need to undercut these prices – remember, people value things they pay for – but you will get an understanding of the range of acceptable prices.
You may also want to choose a pricing model.
Paying one time for a course is popular, but if you plan to put out more content, there are options like memberships and subscriptions that can create ongoing revenue in exchange for access to future content.
You can also create levels to your content, where higher tiers have access to more in-depth or extensive versions of your course. Many people are willing to pay for what feels like exclusive access.
Go to Market
Now that your course is ready to go, it’s time to bring it to the market.
Marketing and advertising can be one of the most challenging pieces of launching an online course and is also critical.
It’s essential to create a detailed marketing plan for the launch of your class and the ongoing marketing efforts.
If you are using an online course marketplace, there is some built-in marketing, but you’re still competing with everyone else on the platform.
Even without your website, you can take advantage of social media advertisements to reach a wider audience.
If you have your own website or social media pages, those will be your primary marketing channels.
Here are other methods you can consider.
Pre-Selling and Early Birds
Your course will only be brand new once.
You want to make people feel like it’s something to anticipate by announcing a launch date and creating the impression that there is a high demand and they need to get in line for access.
Building anticipation may be enough to get people in the door, but you can also create incentives to join ahead of launch.
Consider an “early bird” pricing and package that benefits people who sign up before a given date.
Be sure that you can meet this date for delivering the course and you’ll have happy, VIP customers!
If you have your own website, setting up a separate landing page or sales page gives you the proper space to advertise your course.
The only goal of this page will be to influence someone to enroll in your class.
It should include compelling headlines, overviews of the course content, testimonials, your credentials, pricing details, and a way to sign up for the class.
Not only is this page an excellent way to communicate all relevant information to your potential students, but it allows you to track metrics on your end as well.
Things like the conversion rate and click rate can help you test your messaging and tweak as needed.
Building trust and a brand can be difficult.
If you aren’t in a position where you already have an audience, you may be able to take advantage of someone else’s.
Find people in your network who work in the same space as you but wouldn’t directly compete for students, and ask if you can find a way to partner.
Working together may mean they advertise for you and receive a small kickback, or it may mean they share lead lists with you and vise versa.
Not only will this help you find students, but it will also build a solid relationship in your industry that you can rely on for years to come.
Offer Free Content as a Funnel
Many people will be hesitant to invest in a course but could be searching for the exact topic you cover.
Choose one piece of your course that can stand on its own (maybe someone wants to know how to choose the best peanut butter, in our example) and create a simple version of that lesson.
Then, allow people to download that content for free as long as they input their email address.
You then have two avenues for conversion: an ongoing email list and a call to action at the end of the free content.
If you can impress them with what they see, they’re more likely to decide an investment is worth it.
Teaching Your Course
Once you have students enrolled and its launch date, it’s time for your actual course!
If you use a completely pre-recorded version of your sessions, there may not be much to do here.
However, don’t kick your heels up completely!
You want to monitor participation and feedback closely to ensure the class is going well and people are happy.
It can be nice to reach out to students and offer personal help, contact information, or an avenue to provide feedback.
This practice may not be sustainable in the long term, but your first batches of students can be some of your best resources.
Where you have interactive components, manage these closely.
You want to be available to students as much as possible and have a quick response time.
Again, you’ll want to solicit reviews and testimonials from these early students, so making the best impression you can is essential.
If you set up an online community of some sort, you should also be an active participant there.
People are buying not just your content but the idea of being mentored by an expert, and providing this nurturing can make your brand stand out from others.
Never Think You’re “Done”
As a teacher, you always want to be continuously learning from your students.
This means you should continue to measure, evaluate, and adjust your course over time.
Some of this may come from direct feedback and reviews, but you should also measure success with hard metrics.
Look at things like completion rates, bounce rates, and conversion rates to determine your success.
From there, you can evaluate where there may be gaps in your content and your advertising so that you can address them.
This may mean you “re-launch” your course over time.
You can still use the foundation of your content, but showing that you update your content to include modern research is another way to demonstrate your commitment to your students and keep them coming back.
You may also use this information to decide what course to teach next, what gaps in the market exist, and how to continue growing your brand.