Creating an online course is a lot of work. You need to create the course material (that usually means several lectures/movies as well as learning materials), set up your eLearning platform and do your marketing. Having said that, it truly is a great way to make money online and it will help you gain authority in your field as well.
So how do you make and sell your online course? Let's get started.
Creating an online course, how does that work?
eLearning has been around since the internet started and by now, most topics you can think of have an online course designed specifically for them. Several universities offer complete studies online, but the most popular courses on the internet cover topics including learning how to trade stocks, how to play poker or how to use software like Photoshop. Several platforms have been launched to accommodate these courses, the most popular is Udemy.
But what exactly is an online course then? In an online course students go through the course curriculum just like they would go through a textbook; step by step. The curriculum consists of several chapters that can be taught using lectures (with a teacher on screen, or screen-recorded film with a voiceover) or by using learning materials like an eBook or PDF files. Each chapter can be concluded with an online quiz and a certificate can be granted when the entire course is successfully completed. Try a free course on Udemy to understand how it works.
How to create the course
The first step of creating your course is to decide on its topic, scope and curriculum. I assume you have the topic already so let's start with looking at scope.
Say your course will be targeted at beginners at some topic, in this case it will make sense to include a rather large scope of subjects, but to limit the complexity or depth of the content. This way you cover the basics and students will gain an understanding of what the main topic is about. In case your course is an advanced class the scope will be much more limited, while the topics you do cover will be more complex and detailed. This way, students increase their knowledge on a specific topic.
The curriculum depends largely on your topic and the scope you decide on. Make sure to structure your course very well; create a logical flow from the introduction towards the concluding chapter. The curriculum will be one of the most important things that visitors look at when deciding to pay for your course.
When you have decided on the topic, scope and curriculum it is time to start creating the learning materials and/or lectures.
Creating the learning materials
Most online courses consist largely of filmed lectures, but offering additional learning materials will help structure the course and function as useful reference material. Learning materials include, but are not limited to, textbooks, eBooks, PDF files, cheatsheets and tools needed for the course.
Another benefit of offering additional materials is that you can sell your course as an all-in package. This is very useful for marketing your course.
Creating the lectures
Lectures are the backbone of online courses and creating them is difficult and time consuming. A lecture can be a teacher in front of a camera explaining the subjects, or it can be a screen-recorded film using a voiceover. The latter is often used to explain how software works (it takes you through the steps performed on screen) and is much easier to create than filming lectures. To film a teacher in front of the camera means you need equipment (a HD camera, quality sound recording and lighting) as well as a location and a person who has teaching and acting skills. Your course topic largely determines what options you have.
What follows is a introduction in filming, I will provide links to quality resources for additional in-depth information.
Educating is difficult enough, so you will need good scripts to create structure in your lessons. Scripting means that you write down what you will talk about in each lesson, which can be done using keywords but usually you will need to write down your exact texts. As soon as you start filming you will realize how difficult acting is and how much you need your script, especially when recording-time is limited. Investing time in writing your scripts will save a lot of time when you start filming.
A good script brings structure and good flow in your texts. Think about it; a spoken text has no headings, bullet points and numbered lists, so it is quite difficult to make your point. This can be partly resolved by editing textual elements into the movie, but you need to think about these things when creating your script.
So how do you write a good film script?
Take the first lecture you will film and write down the main point of this lesson. Also write down a few key take-aways, things that your students should be able to remember from your lesson. With your main point and key take-aways you have just created your film's structure! Around this main structure you can now start writing your lines of text. A good film needs scripting, but it shouldn't feel scripted, so use plain speak and keep things natural.
Don't be afraid to add personality to it, remember your favorite teacher from high school? Exactly, he wasn't boring! You are the expert in your field and your students don't want a robot in front of the camera, speaking robot language.
Finally, read your scripts out loud. Only then will you understand why I just said you need plain and natural speak. Written lines of text sound very different from spoken text. More information can be found at the great resources over at Wistia.
Got your scripts all worked out? Than let's start filming.
In case you can use screen-recorded lessons all you need is a computer, a microphone and a simple piece of free software (CamStudio). With this software you can film what happens on your computer screen; like how Photoshop works, or a slideshow about any topic. While it records your screen live, it also records your voice, and with the script you just created you have everything you need to start creating the film. All it takes is a little practice.
When screen-recording doesn't make sense for your topic, prepare for a much steeper learning curve and bigger investment in both time and effort. The scope of this article is too limited to discuss how to film in detail, but I will explain some of the basics and link to other resources for additional reading.
Let's start with location and light; if your movie will be shot inside that will simplify things a bit as you won't have to focus on ambient noise and variations in light intensity. Your lesson can be recorded as an actual lecture, in front of a whiteboard, or it can be done in a studio-setting. Either way, you will need to make sure there is enough light, preferably diffuse and from different sides.
Next up is your filming equipment. Shooting HD has become standard and even your iPhone can do it (and do it well if zooming is not required and you have the FilmMic app). Otherwise any digital camera will do the job. You will need a solid tripod to put your camera on, which is tall enough to place your camera at eye-level.
Deciding on how to record sound is much more difficult. If you will be recording while standing close to your camera, your camera's mic might do. But probably not, and definitely not when you move away from the camera even by a little bit. It will sound hollow and it will catch a lot of ambient sound, especially when you are outside. Using a Lav Mic (clip-on) is convenient and inexpensive but much more conveniently, you can use your iPhone. You will need to hang it in front of you though, just above you. And if you film with an iPhone, that means you need two.
Much more on all this can be learned at Wistia's learning center (free).
The final step of production is editing. If you have a Mac, you have a very good editing software installed called iMovie. It is easy to work with but powerful enough to create excellent movies. Windows has a free software available too, called MovieMaker. The thing is, with both options you will have to go through the learning curve and invest some time in it. You always have the option to outsource the editing and if your filmed lessons are not very complex this shouldn't be very expensive.
One other thing you need to think about is music. Your movies need background music. Good background music fits with your lesson's content and is calm enough never to grab the attention away from your voice. Listen at three examples here and search the FMA website for much more copyright-free music.
For my website I created an online course to introduce the basics of Bonsai. Coming up with a good curriculum and structure saved us tons of time when we started scripting and filming. Lots of fun, but lots of work.Oscar, bonsaiempire.com
How to sell the course
You have four options to sell your course. It might make sense to combine options, but that will depend on what you wish to achieve; are you focusing on maximizing sales or profits? Let's investigate the options first.
1) External platforms
There are several websites that offer both the learning platform and prospective students. By far the biggest one is Udemy, with over 4 million registered students. You can create your course for free and upload all the movies and learning materials you created.
If you send students from your website and social media to your course on Udemy, you receive about 97% of the price of your course. If students enroll in your course from within the Udemy platform you receive about 50%. These rates deteriorate in case you enable affiliate sales or ad program sales. It is the biggest platform available, so if you like to benefit from their large student base, you will need to accept the 50% share. The only alternative to Udemy is SkillShare.
2) Whitelabel platforms
Whitelabel platforms offer the same kind of platform that Udemy offers, but are entirely branded and operated by yourself. Usually you pay the whitelabel platform a fixed fee per month and a transaction fee to cover the payment costs. If you have a lot of visitors and a large network of Social Media, offering your course through a whitelabel will make sense as you keep most of your profits in your own pockets.
3) Whitelabel extensions for Joomla! or WordPress
If you don't want to pay monthly fees and don't mind setting up payment channels yourself, buying an eLearning extension for Joomla! or WordPress is an option. The available extensions don't look and feel as well designed as the whitelabel options above though. Guru is the extension you need for Joomla, WPLMS, Filter, Thimpress, CoursePress or Courseware are your options for WordPress.
4) Sell as digital download or DVD
Finally you have the option not to use a platform, but to sell your entire course as a digital file or on a DVD.
Selling your course as a digital file has the benefit that you can sell it easily through PayPal (using a simple plugin to your website) or through a service like Selz or Sellfy. The downside is that you don't offer your students a learning platform, they will only be able to watch your movies and read your learning materials, instead of going through individual classes with quizzes.
Selling your course on a DVD, perhaps with a very simple interface added to it, might be a good way for you to resell your course to (online) stores. Depending on how many you produce, the cost of pressing the DVD's will be $5 to $15 per piece. This could be a great strategy to make your course widely available. Wholesaling your DVD means you will need to adjust your price, as shops normally add 100% to your wholesale price.
It might make sense to offer your course first through a whitelabel option, and wait with offering it on platforms like Udemy for some time to maximize your returns.Oscar, starttomonetize.com
How to market the course
Thought creating a course was a lot of work? Try selling it! The obvious starting point is to use your following of both your website and your Social Media networks. Explain them why your course is a great way to learn, how useful it will be to them and how well it's put together. Most platforms offer discount coupons, which you could use to drive traffic into your course when you have just published it. Similar to eBooks, your first reviews will be crucial for the success of your course.
Once your fans know about your course you will need to become more creative in doing your marketing. Perhaps there are ways to receive attention from the press, or from blogs that write about topics similar to your course. You can consider writing an official press release to be send out to all these blogs, or by using the services of PRPress.
Online course created.
Well done, this was a lot of work but I am sure it will be worth it.
How about you consider starting an online shop? Next step...