7 Things You Should Know Before You Create Your Online Course

February 22, 2022
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Are you thinking about creating an online course? If so, congratulations! You've come to the right place. There are millions of online courses available today, and the course material can cover just about any topic you can dream up.

If you want your online course to be successful you need to know your content well, know what your audience is looking for, and build an online course that is engaging, diverse in content, and caters to a specific niche.

According to recent research, the market for massive open online courses (MOOC)—online learning platforms where you can share your online course with an unlimited number of people—is projected to be worth more than $25 billion by 2025.

Why has there been such a drastic increase in the online education industry?

There are a few simple reasons:

  • Rapid advances in technology mean more and more people have access to the tools they need to share their knowledge and expertise with the world.
  • Course material is easily accessible through e-learning management systems that people can access on computers or mobile devices.
  • An online course is usually more affordable than a traditional learning experience.
  • Online courses are effective. In corporate settings, employees learn and retain 5 times more information when compared to in-person training.
  • Profitable online courses can bring in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, depending on the course price.

What are the key factors for making online courses effective?

Man in Purple Shirt Smiling and Waving at Computer Screen

As you can probably imagine, of the millions of online courses available today, not all of them are successful. This is because there are a few fail-safe elements to creating a successful online course, no matter the topic or audience.

Successful online courses share a few commonalities:

  • The online course is tailored to a specific target audience, and the course topic is in high demand for that audience.
  • The course content is high quality.
  • The course contains interactive elements that keep the students engaged.
  • The online course is well organized and provides a convenient learning experience.

Whether you are considering creating your first online course or you're looking to make improvements to your next online course, there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

1. Know your content.

Woman Doing Yoga on Mat in Living Room While Smiling at Camera

One of the most important factors to creating a successful course is how well you know your content. Not only should you know your stuff, but you should love it, too. If you have a great course idea but aren't passionate about it, or you aren't an expert in the content, you may end up with a flimsy course that holds little credibility for your audience.

If you want to create an online course but don't have a course idea yet, start by thinking about the work you love to do or your favorite hobbies, and find out where that interest matches up with your skillset.

An auto mechanic may have extensive knowledge of how to restore a car, but if he hates his work, he likely isn't going to be the best person to teach a course on restoring old cars. However, a hobbyist who loves restoring vintage cars might take great delight in teaching others how to do it.

On the other hand, just because you love doing something doesn't make you an expert in doing it. A person who loves to bake but rarely ever uses a recipe and isn't sure how they get their cakes to taste so good probably isn't the best person to teach a course on baking.

2. Start with your audience in mind.

Audience of Business Executives Clapping While Watching a Lecture

One of the biggest mistakes new course creators make is to create an online course before defining their audience. You don't want to spend days, weeks, or even months building course content that won't resonate with your audience.

And you definitely don't want to end up with a course that no one will be ready to buy when it's finished. After all, most people are selling online courses to make a profit, or at least make back the time they spent pouring all the knowledge and resources into creating the course.

Before you get started writing your content or even your course outline, think through who your ideal student will be, what problems they're facing, and how you can help provide a solution to those problems.

How do I define my target audience for an online course?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you define your target audience:

  • Are you targeting beginners or those who already have some experience in the field? This will help determine the overall learning goal.
  • What can your potential students afford? The answer to this question will help you determine how to price your course, which will, in turn, help you decide how much time and effort you're willing to put into the course creation.
  • Where does your target audience spend their time? Should you be engaging with your social media followers or looking elsewhere?
  • What pain points does your target audience experience, and how can you help resolve those pain points?

Where do I find my audience for an online class?

Defining your audience is just the first step. The next step is to go out and start attracting those people. This is where it helps to know where your potential students spend their time.

Will you find them through social media? A blog? A podcast? Or maybe through video platforms like YouTube?

Once you've found your audience, determine a few ways to interact with them as potential customers for your course. The goal is to provide value to your audience, so they begin to see you as an expert in your field BEFORE you pitch a course to them. Then you can begin to tailor your marketing messages towards selling your course.

Here are some ways you can engage your audience and provide value to them:

  • Share your knowledge on a particular subject through short, informative social media posts in Facebook groups or other platforms like LinkedIn or Reddit.
  • Go in-depth on certain subjects through blog content that you can share on your own website or as guest posts on other sites.
  • Create a step-by-step guide that you can use as a free lead generation tool.

As your audience grows, you will learn more about their learning goals for an online course and how you can help them reach those goals. Then, when your course is finished, you will have an active list of buyers who know that you have the solution to their problem. When you're ready to start selling your awesome online course, you'll know where to reach your audience!

3. Keep it short and include diverse content.

Camera with Viewfinder Showing Presentation

When it comes to content in the online world, shorter is generally better. This doesn't mean that your actual course needs to be super short, but when you create your online course structure, keep in mind that most people have a short attention span.

When you begin to build out your course, consider both your own teaching style as a course creator, as well as the learning style of a diverse audience. Most MOOCs are non-degree courses, and the average completion rate for such a course is about 15%.

The tactics you choose for student engagement will be absolutely crucial in increasing the completion rate of your course. (For more information on increasing your completion rate in the e-learning market, check out this article by LinkedIn contributor Graham Glass.)

It's usually best to provide a mix of written content and videos, broken down into modules or chapters. Breaking up long pieces of text with a visual element will help keep your audience engaged, especially if they are visual learners.

Rather than sharing a 30-minute video, consider breaking each module down into several 3-5 minute videos and chunking together written content and images that support the message in your video. You may also choose to demonstrate pieces of your course through screen sharing to give your students a good visual of what you're asking them to do.

4. Perfection is the enemy of done.

Man with Glasses Wiping His Eyes in His Office with Laptop

If you consider yourself a perfectionist, you're in good company. Many business owners and course creators consider themselves perfectionists. While this can be a good thing in many ways, it can also hinder your ability to take your great idea and actually turn it into something tangible that your audience can benefit from.

As a perfectionist, you will likely find countless things to change or tweak as you go through the process of creating an online course. But at some point, if you don't make yourself stop editing and just hit publish, then you'll never have an actual course that people can buy!

Some places you DON'T want to cut corners in the creation process would be the accuracy of your content, creating strong learning objectives, and finding the right audience for your course.

You may find yourself immersed in Google searches for the best microphone and digital camera for recording video courses, or the most popular editing software. Stop and ask yourself if that is the best use of your time or if that time could be better spent on creating course content.

If you can let go of just a little bit of those perfectionist habits, you'll be well on your way to creating a great online course that both you and your audience will benefit from.

Refinement is the key to success.

Something that we perfectionists will love to hear is that it IS possible to refine your course as you go along. Once you get it out there to the world, if you find a specific course page that isn't resonating well or seems confusing, take that feedback and make some adjustments.

Especially if this is your first online course, there will be some hiccups along the way, and that's okay. As you gather data on what works for your audience and what isn't working so well, you can make adjustments so that the entire course mimics your best-performing content.

5. "The riches are in the niches."

Woman Doing Financials with Calculator and Laptop on Desk

As they say, "The riches are in the niches." You can be a "Jack of all trade but a master of none." "You can do anything, but you can't do everything." Okay, enough of that.

The point is, trying to create course content that casts a huge net will likely dilute your content and deliver a less-than-desirable learning outcome. When you can clearly define your business niche, it will give you a clear picture of what you should be teaching in your online course.

Here are some examples:

General Topic > Specific Topic

  • Marketing for Beginners > Best Practices for Getting Started With SEO
  • A How-To Course on Painting > A Beginner's Course on Watercolors
  • Running 101 > Preparing for Your First Marathon
  • Personal Finance > Steps For Creating a Personal Budget
  • A Guide to Photography > Your Complete Guide to Wedding Photography

As you can see, when you create a course topic that is more specialized you will attract a more defined target audience to your business and enroll more dedicated students.

6. Creating an online course will take some time...and that's okay!

Person Holding Clock Against a Blue Background

Do you want to create an online course as a hobby or a business? If course creation is a fun way to use your technical skills and you're doing it as a hobby, then have fun with it! But if you are looking to grow an online business, be sure to give yourself some grace and understand that building a business and creating an online course takes time.

There are very few overnight successes in this world. Even if someone else's business seems like an overnight success to you, you likely didn't get to see the years that person spent learning, building, growing, and refining their own online course or business before getting to that point.

It takes time to build an audience, publish a course, and refine your program. But with patience and tenacity, you can take that brilliant course idea and create something that will allow you to live the life you've dreamed of.

7. Set a deadline.

Calendar with 30th Day Circled in Red Marker

In a recent podcast episode with Susan Smith, "Stitching Together an Online Course Business in the Niche of Quilting," we discussed why setting a deadline to get your course launched is important to the success of your online course. To hear Susan's take on this and more, you can check out the podcast episode here.

And now that you know that your first course will take some time to build, you can set a reasonable deadline for yourself and then build out milestones based on that deadline. Give yourself some "mini-deadlines" for building your outline and finishing modules to help set the pace for your work.

You're on your way to successful online course creation!

Woman Raising Arms in Happiness While Looking at Laptop on Desk

Now that you have some valuable knowledge on what you should do and know before creating an online course, what will you do with this information?

Whether you're planning to build out a free course about your favorite hobby, contribute to a distance learning program, or build an entire business with online course creation, you have the information you need to get started on the right foot. For more insider tips, head on over to the Online Course Igniter Facebook group and chat with other aspiring course creators!

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