First thing’s first. Why should you even build an online course at all? As you’ll see below, it’s not rocket science, but it is quite a commitment.
For starters, it’s important to note some radical changes happening in education today.
But education is increasingly all about online learning. In recent years, we’ve seen a massive surge of funding turning toward EdTech
From simple online lectures to intensive bootcamps, you’ll find courses that charge anywhere from a few hundred dollars to nearly $20,000, depending on the topic. And online courses allow you to pursue any specific topic you can imagine, without asking you to take gen ed courses you might not be interested in.
But we needed to figure out a lot of the details, especially how to scale up from Nathan hosting a webinar himself, to distributing pre-recorded lectures that could potentially serve our entire audience. Through a lot of experimentation, we got there.
Now, assuming you’re ready to get going with a course of your own, where do you begin?
How to Create An Online Course
Step 1: Define the Problem
Creating an online class is just like starting a startup. You must first find the right idea. But in order to do that you must first define the problem.
In order to understand this realm of online courses better, I decided to reach out to Ankur Nagpal for his expertise. As the founder and CEO of Teachable, he’s facilitated more than 39,000 courses built with his software, so I figured he might know a thing or two about how to create an online course.
Throughout our conversation, one thing kept coming up:
Identify the transformation
What you have to remember is that knowledge is power. People want to use that power to transform themselves by learning something new. The goal of your online course is to help guide them through that transformation process.
The key to creating a successful online course is identifying exactly what outcome your audience is looking for.
Do they want to create their own app? Do they want to do magic tricks? Maybe they want to learn more about Java? Before you even begin building your online course you have to first figure out what results your students are looking for.
As long as you’ve identified the transformation your students want to go through, you can practically create a course on anything.
Step 2 : Outline Your Course
This is possibly the trickiest part of creating an online course, especially if you’ve never had teaching experience before. Not everyone naturally makes a great teacher.
You definitely don’t want to do this on the fly and try to make things up as you go. This is not one of those “just gotta stay one lesson ahead of the kid” moments.
If people are paying to learn from you, you need to step up your game. People can hunt down information on their own; what they’re paying you for is your ability to guide them through their transformation process.
The easiest way to set up a great course plan is to start repurposing any pre-existing content you have. Trying to create completely new content from scratch can be a huge waste of time and the effort involved might not be worth the payoff.
Take a look at any blog posts, articles, or ebooks you’ve written in the past—anything where you even mentioned the topic you’re about to teach.
Next thing is to take a look at all the other information that is already out there. Check to see what’s being said about your topic, do some in-depth research. But be careful of getting wrapped up in making this as complete and as perfect as possible. Remember that this is still a minimum viable product. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to work.
Now that you’ve gathered all the information, all you need to do is put it all together.
Break down your information into sections or modules. The completion of a module means that your student has successfully learned a new skill or aspect of your topic. It’s important that you keep your expectations reasonable so you make sure they constantly feel like they’re succeeding.
With your course structure, what you want to achieve is a natural progression where they go from beginner, to proficient, to expert. This is why you need to know the transformation in and out, because you’re creating modules based upon the different stages your students will experience.
Now break those modules down into individual lessons. These don’t have to be exhaustive lessons that go on hours at a time; in fact we recommend the shorter the better. Each lesson we have in own modules is around three to four minutes, with the longest being around nine minutes.
Step 3 : First Class of Students
A beta test is when you have your product and you’re just about ready to go to market. But first you need to do a stress-test and actually let people other than yourself try it out.
When you’re making an online course, your beta test is your first, and perhaps your most important, batch of students.
They are your future case studies, your success stories, and the future ambassadors of your brand. Through them you’ll be working out what does and doesn’t work with your course and they’ll give you invaluable feedback on how to move forward.
The number one thing we kept in mind while creating the first version of our online Instagram course was that it has to be as in-person as possible. We knew that it had to be as interactive as possible so we could gather feedback and find out what our students’ biggest struggles were during the course. What we didn’t want was a course where we’d be sending our worksheets and students would feel like they were talking to a faceless corporation.
Remember, it’s all about the transformation.
In order to have a good course, you must be dedicated to helping your students through their own transformation process. What you don’t want to be doing is just giving out information that they could get anywhere else for free.
The initial value of Instagram Domination was that our first set of students could get one-on-one interaction with someone who knew their stories, what they were trying to achieve, and could tailor the knowledge to them. When you’re teaching your course, you want to be as involved as possible.
For the first run of Instagram Domination, we held weekly masterclasses with our students over GoToWebinar.
The sessions themselves were very simple.
All they consisted of was a very basic course plan Nathan would run through and a lengthy Q&A session afterwards.
Now these Q&A sessions are extremely important, because this is where you’ll be drilling deep and figuring out the pain points you’re experiencing. It is vitally important that you record all your initial sessions.
What you’ll be doing is going over these sessions later and turning any questions your students may have into potential lessons in the future. Go as in depth as possible when you’re running these Q&As, because there’s bound to be a ton of gold you can get from them.
In fact, we even recommend doing in-person workshops, if it’s geographically possible. By doing this level of interactive work with your students, you improve your course, but you also cultivate some great case studies to cite as the course grows.
These days, we are very proud to say that from our first class of students we’ve seen one become a millionaire through Instagram, and another turn their local business into a nationally recognized brand. And those are just two examples out of a hundred students!
When you actually take the time to invest in helping your students transform and grow, what you’re effectively doing is helping the long-term growth of your own business. It’s precisely because of all 100 members of our initial beta group that we’ve been able to grow Foundr to what it is today.
Something to keep in mind at all times is that the best value your students can ever get is from a community.
Although learning is somewhat of an individual activity, it is still a social process. You need other people to bounce ideas off of and, more importantly, you need peers who are able to go on the same journey as you.
As a teacher, it can be incredibly stressful if all the pressure is on you to have all the answers. By building a community around your course, what you’re doing is helping your students become self-sufficient and rely on the group more than they rely on you.
We created a private Facebook group just for our students. In order to encourage the sense of community, we also made sure to never answer questions one-on-one. We always made sure people voiced everything in the Facebook group.
Step 4 :Validate, reiterate and validate again
Since our first test of an online course about Instagram a little over a year ago, we’ve developed Instagram Domination 3.0, and you’d barely recognize how the course looks compared to when we first started.
For one, we went from a small class of 100 to more than 1000 dedicated and loyal students!
But the thing about building an online course is that it’s rare that you’ll ever really “complete” it. There’s always something new to add and new to teach, especially if you’re teaching about a platform that you don’t have control over. Looking at you, fickle algorithms of Instagram.
So what you have to do is make sure that you keep on top of it and update it accordingly. One of the easiest ways you can become obsolete is if what you’re teaching is no longer relevant.
For example, when Instagram announced that they were rolling out paid advertisements as part of their platform, we immediately began testing and create a whole new module on Instagram ads alone
One thing that we knew very early on was that we would have to change our teaching method for the course. We were seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people who wanted to take our course, and at the time there was only Nathan teaching it! A pre-recorded course was the only way to make it fully scalable.
In order to service this growing number of students, we switched to the pre-recorded video format we have now. If you make this switch, Ankur Nagpal recommends sending out weekly surveys to your students in order to continuously stay informed about how your course is going.
This one might seem a bit confusing. After all, we live in an age when it’s all about giving away content for free. But what you’re going to find is that no matter how good your content is, making it free might get you more awareness but less engaged students.
Data gathered by Teachable found that in paid courses, 36% of students on average completed the course. In free courses, only 9% on average would see it through to the end.
There is a direct correlation between how much you charge for your course and the engagement level of your students.
A quirk of human psychology is that when you make your content free or cheap, people are less likely to trust it and have low expectations for results. If you increase the price, people inherently feel that they’re getting more value.
Not to mention the fact that once people purchase your course they immediately feel compelled to see a return on their investment. No one wants to feel like they’re spending hundreds of dollars on something they’ll never use
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