How to Create an Online Course
Do you have a brilliant idea for an online course? Are you ready to share your knowledge with the world and potentially earn passive income in the process?
Creating and selling an online course is an incredible way to build your business and grow your audience. However, it can also be overwhelming to figure out where to start or how to ensure that you have a product people actually want to buy.
If you’ve been struggling, we’re here to help. In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about creating an online course that people will line up to purchase.
All recommendations are based upon research, discussions with course creators, and dozens of hours spent hand-testing the leading course creation software platforms. The details of our research process can be found on our article covering the best online course platforms.
Table of Contents
- Why 2021 is a Great Time to Create Online Courses
- Online Course FAQs
- How to Pick a Course Topic
- Test Your Course Topic with a Sales Page
- What to Include on a Sales Page
- Create Your Course
- Uploading Your Course to Your Platform
- The Best Online Course Creation Platforms
- How to Price Your Course
- How to Market or Promote Your Course
- How to Evaluate the Success of Your Course
- You Know How to Create an Online Course: Now What?
Why 2021 is a Great Time to Create Online Courses
Maybe you’ve been kicking around the idea of creating an online course for a while. Have you been waiting to pull the trigger because you’re not sure it’s the right time?
If so, we have good news. The year 2021 is the perfect time to be creating an online course.
I know what you must be thinking. Why is this year a great time for online courses? What’s so different about 2021?
Well, for starters, thanks to the pandemic, people are already spending more time at home. Now is the perfect time for them to learn a new skill or study up on a subject they’ve always been interested in. The entire course creation market has grown significantly in the past year.
Since you’re also likely spending more time at home, you can take this as an opportunity to get creative, do something different, and challenge yourself in new ways.
Creating an online course will allow you to teach others about something you’re passionate about. It also gives you a chance to earn passive income and set yourself up for better financial success in the future.
Online Course FAQs
Okay, you’re sold on the idea of putting together and selling an online course. Before we dive into the specifics of how to create an online course, though, let’s address a few frequently asked questions.
How Much Does It Cost to Create an Online Course?
The cost of creating an online course depends on a couple of factors. These include:
- Equipment, and whether or not you already own what you need
- The materials needed to teach your particular course
- If you want to sell products along with your courses
- The time spent creating your course
Generally speaking, though, you can expect to spend somewhere around $200 on the low end and up to $5,000 (or more in some cases) on the high end.
How Much Money Can You Make from an Online Course?
You might be hesitant about investing in creating an online course. Before you give up, though, consider how much money you can make once you start selling it.
According to LearnWorlds, the average revenue a course creator makes is anywhere from $500 to $35,000 in their first year. A big part of this depends on whether or not they already have an audience, the price of their course, the industry they are working in, and their marketing efforts.
If you do your homework ahead of time and put out a course that provides value, there’s a good chance that you can earn a decent passive income from your course. You might even make enough for course creation to become your full-time job!
How Long Does It Take to Create an Online Course?
Again, the answer to this question will vary from person to person. The actual process of creating a course is quick. It’s the preparation work that takes the most time and effort.
Depending on your content and the time you have available, it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months to produce an online course. If you have a lot of free time, are starting from scratch, and are not creating a flagship course, you can probably get a minimum viable product, or MVP, published within a few weeks. You can also speed up the process by using course creation software, which we discuss later on.
How Should I Structure an Online Course?
Every online course is unique in terms of its structure. However, the general layout of your course structure is fairly similar across the board.
As seen above, most people structure their courses using the following format:
|Introductory Materials||This section provides an overview of what students can expect from the course; it may also include a breakdown of basic concepts that they ought to understand before they can dive into the meat of the course.|
|Course Chapters||Whether you refer to them as chapters, lessons, or modules, they all break down the course into smaller, more manageable sections. They also build off of each other to teach students what they need to know to achieve a specific learning outcome.|
|Conclusion||The concluding section wraps up the course and often provides the next steps that participants can take – including signing up for another course, and joining a membership program.|
|Appendix or Glossary||Your course may also include an appendix or glossary that includes things like definitions of terms, and explanations of concepts that you reference throughout the course.|
What Materials Do I Need to Create an Online Course?
You don’t need a ton of equipment to put together a successful online course. However, there are certain materials that will start you off on the right foot. This includes:
- A computer – preferably one with enough power for video and audio editing
- A strong internet connection
- Audio recording equipment – especially a high quality microphone
- An HD video camera
- A strong internet connection
- Lighting – look for a studio lighting kit
- A green screen or nice-looking backdrop
- Video editing software
- Screen-recording software
- Online course creation software
What Type of Online Course Should You Create?
There are several different types of online courses that you can create. The following are some of the most popular course formats to consider:
|Introductory courses||These showcase your expertise and provide students with general knowledge without getting too far into the nitty-gritty.|
|Transformative courses||This type of course provides a deeper dive and guides students toward becoming experts in a particular topic.|
|Certification courses||This type of course gives students the skills they need to pass a test, either created by you or by a third-party entity, and become certified in a particular skill set.|
|X day challenges||These courses last for a set number of days and, in most cases, feature content that’s slowly dripped out over a period of time. This helps learners accomplish different goals within specific timeframes.|
|Conceptual change courses||This type of course isn’t focused on teaching a specific skill. Instead, its goal is to change a person’s mind about a particular topic.|
How to Pick a Course Topic
For some people, this is the easy part of the course creation process. However, if you’re on the fence and aren’t sure what you want to cover in your course, here are some questions you can ask yourself to narrow down the topic and figure out what you want to teach:
- When people come to you for help, what subject do they ask about most often?
- What do they consider you to be an expert in?
- What problem or problems have you solved that others are struggling to solve for themselves?
- What skill have you developed that others might want to learn?
Look for Passion + Profit Potential
Do some brainstorming and try to come up with multiple answers for each question listed above. Then, take a look over your answers and consider which topic you’re most passionate about.
Course creation is hard work. If you’re not passionate about your subject, there’s a good chance you will burn out and give up before even finishing your product.
That being said, your topic also needs profit potential. Examine whether or not people are already spending money for information on your target subject or for help solving the specific problem.
If you’re passionate about your topic and it has good profit potential, this may be a sign that people will be interested in buying your course. However, a key factor in course creation is differentiating your content from others in the market, which we’ll talk about more later.
Do Your Research
Do you need help fine-tuning your idea or figuring out if you’re on the right track with your topic? If so, you may want to ask your friends or colleagues what their biggest challenge is with that specific topic. You can check out Facebook groups or other online communities to see what kinds of questions people are asking and the challenges they’re running into.
Test Your Course Topic with a Sales Page
One of the best ways to validate your course is to pre-sell it before creating it. At first, this might seem counterintuitive, but pre-selling your course helps you validate your idea, provide accountability, and save money.
Pre-Sales Validate Your Idea
You might think you have a great idea, and chances are you probably do. However, your target audience could feel differently. Designing and promoting your sales page saves you from investing a ton of time and money into a course that doesn't actually yield the kind of results you’re after.
Pre-Sales Provide Accountability
Starting with a sales page also provides a sense of accountability and can keep you motivated. If people have already signed up for your course, and perhaps even paid a deposit to reserve their spot when it launches, it forces you to move forward and create something for them.
Pre-Sales Save Money
As a bonus, if you do ask people to pay a deposit when they sign up through your sales page, you can use that money to help cover the costs of course creation. This saves you from having to dip into your personal accounts.
This ought to go without saying, but if you ask for a deposit when people sign-up for your course, you have to deliver the product and give them a time-frame of when it will be available. Not doing so is unethical, and will ultimately hurt your and your business’s reputation.
What to Include on a Sales Page
Your sales page doesn’t have to be super elaborate or high-tech. In fact, in most cases, the simpler it is, the better. Keep your design fairly minimalistic and spend more time focusing on the copy.
If you answer these questions below when writing your copy, it’ll be easier for you to get people interested in buying your course:
|Who is this course for?||Make sure your language, tone, and imagery will appeal to members of your target audience|
|What will the course help them do?||Be very clear about what the course covers and what it will teach the buyer|
|What are the benefits of the course?||Determine what specifically the buyer will get if they purchase this course|
When writing copy, remember to keep it simple and get straight to the point. If you’re overly wordy or vague, people will lose interest and click away from your sales page.
Here are some other elements to include on your sales page to make it more compelling and increase sign-ups:
- A headline that captures people’s attention
- A short opening story that introduces the problem you plan to solve
- Bullet-points that highlight the benefits of your course
- A bio that outlines your credentials
- Pricing details
- A clear call-to-action, such as "Sign up Today" or "Reserve Your Spot Now"
Later, you may also want to go back and include testimonials from people who have completed your course. This provides social proof and helps to increase your credibility.
Create Your Course
Once you’ve created your course’s sales page and determined that you do, in fact, have a great idea, then it’s time to get to work on creating your course materials. The course creation phase requires a lot of heavy lifting. However, with good preparation and hard work, your course should literally pay off in the end.
Here are some stages to break your course creation process into in order to make it more manageable:
Lay Out Course Content
Before you get into the actual creation process, we recommend laying out your content. Write out the topics you want to cover and the questions you want to answer for your students.
Some people like to use sticky notes for this part of the process. You can write down a different topic or category on each note, and then stick that note to the wall. Using this approach makes it easier to move elements around and create an organizational framework that makes sense for you and your students.
If you prefer a digital approach, you can also create a logic map on your computer. A logic map provides a visual representation of all of the relationships between your course elements and the actions your students will take to achieve certain outcomes.
Decide Which Media Types You Want to Use
After you’ve laid out your content, the next step would be to decide the types of media you want to use for your online courses. The following are some options we recommend considering:
|Presentation slides||These work well for delivering written information along with images, graphs, and charts.|
|Videos||Videos are interactive and engaging. They also give you an opportunity to include yourself in the teaching process.|
|Audio recordings||Audio recordings work well for people who like to take courses on the go.|
If you choose to use slides for your course, start working on those next. There are lots of platforms that you can use to create your slides, but PowerPoint and Google Slides are some of the most popular and cost-effective options.
When designing slides, try not to overload them. It’s better to have lots of slides with minimal text and images, than fewer slides with lots of text and images. It’s also better to keep one idea per slide because it will make your content more digestible and less likely to overwhelm your students.
Film and Record Audio & Video
When recording audio and video, it’s best to find a room with the least background noise. For videos, it is best to film in front of a neutral backdrop. Some also choose to sit in front of a green screen.
If you don’t want to be on camera, or if you need to demonstrate something during the video, you can also use a screen sharing feature. Screen sharing allows you to show your students your content first-hand and makes it easier for them to follow along with you.
Remember that when you share your screen or teach without being in the video, you should test to see if video and audio equipment are working properly. There could be static in the background or your slides were not recorded at the highest quality. You also don’t want to record your entire lecture only to find out that nothing was being recorded in the first place.
Write a Script
Whether you’re going to be talking directly to the camera, or just recording audio, it helps to write a script of all of the content you want to discuss. A script increases your confidence while recording and ensures that you have mentioned everything that’s important in your online course.
Here are some tips for writing a script:
- Remember your audience – factor in their age, interests, and background knowledge
- Consider your goals for the course as a whole and for each individual lesson
- Don’t be afraid to cut out long sentences and unnecessary information
We recommend going over your script several times before you record. Practice speaking to a friend or a colleague to make sure you sound natural and to see if there are areas that need fine-tuning.
Edit Material Together
Once you’ve finished creating slides and recording video or audio lectures, it’s time to edit all your course material together.
Only a few course creation solutions, such as LearnWorlds, offer an in platform video editor. Therefore, we recommend using separate video editing software to streamline your process.
Here are some popular video software options you should consider using:
|Video editing software||Description|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||This is a highly-rated software with a variety of professional-level features. It’s more expensive than other platforms, with a starting price of $20.99 per month, but many course creators find that it’s worth the cost.|
|Final Cut Pro X||This is Adobe Premiere Pro’s top competitor that many professional editors love. It’s subscription-free and is available for one payment of $299.99.|
|Corel VideoStudio Ultimate||This tool is one of the more affordable solutions in the market, as it’s available for one payment of $79.99. It is beginner-friendly and relatively accessible.|
|Filmora||This is another cost-effective software that starts at $39.99 per year. It offers basic features and is easy to use. Most professionals find that the platform is too limited, though.|
|iMovie||If you have an Apple computer, you automatically have access to iMovie. This basic video editing software is a good option for beginners. However, it doesn’t offer as many features as the higher-priced programs on this list.|
In addition to creating your course content, you may also want to put together some additional coursework for your students to complete. For example, you can create worksheets, quizzes per chapter, or assign essay topics. These help your students retain the information they’re learning and feel more engaged with your course.
Tips for Creating Your Course
Lots of creators run into trouble when they’re putting together their first course. They might struggle with overwhelm, for example, or are worried about whether or not their audience will enjoy the course.
If this resonates with you, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Break Everything Down
Break each step of the course creation process down into smaller chunks. Then, assign yourself a different deadline for each specific chunk.
Get Into Your Audience’s Head
Always think back to your target audience. If you’re questioning whether or not a specific lesson is written properly or if a point is coming across, reflect on your customer personas and ask yourself whether or not you’d find the information helpful if you were in their shoes.
If you have any colleagues, friends, or family members who fit into your target audience, consider reaching out to them to see what they think.
Don’t Worry About Perfection
Finally, don’t let the idea of perfection get in your way. Your first course will never be perfect, but if you’ve done the research and prepwork, you should feel confident about sharing your content. Keep in mind, too, that you can always go back and edit things later.
Uploading Your Course to Your Platform
When you’ve finished creating your materials and editing them together, then it’s time to upload everything to your course creation platform.
This process can be a bit overwhelming, to say the least. Don’t let your fear hold you back, though.
Take your time, and don’t hesitate to reach out to the platform’s support network if you run into trouble. It’s better to ask for help early rather than waiting and becoming more frustrated.
The Best Online Course Creation Platforms
There are lots of great online course creation platforms you can use. Some of the most popular options to consider are listed below.
Thinkific is also an intermediate course creation solution that is comparable to Teachable. However, its platform is more user-friendly and offers more features than Teachable at a similar price – more customizations for building your course and an SEO sitemap. Thinkific also offers a robust free plan that includes unlimited students and 0% transaction fees.
Thinkific is an online course creation solution with approximately 50,000 instructors. It helps course creators build and market their online courses and websites. It’s not the most advanced solution, but it’s powerful and easy-to-use. Overall, it’s ideal for ambitious beginners and established course creators.
Teachable is a one of the most popular, course creation solutions in the market with over 120,000 instructors. It offers a solid set of features for a reasonable price and has the capability to support ambitious beginner and more established course creators. Teachable also charges no transaction fees if you purchase the "Pro" or "Business" plan.
Teachable is one of the most popular course creation solutions with over 120,000 instructors. Teachable is an intuitive, powerful platform that beginners can master. Teachable is best for course creators who prefer a high-quality, mid-tier solution.
Podia is an excellent choice for those who are new to online course creation. It provides what you need to create and sell online courses, webinars, file downloads, and memberships without worrying about the technology involved. As a bonus, Podia does not charge transaction fees.
Podia is a course creation solution with over a thousand instructors. Podia provides what you need to sell online courses, webinars, file downloads, and memberships without worrying about the technology involved. We recommend Podia to those who are beginners and need a basic platform to begin their course creation journeys.
LearnWorlds is also an advanced platform, with the best design capabilities. LearnWorlds is more budget-friendly and offers unique features – including a robust video editor, gamification, digital certificates, and a variety of test and quiz formats. LearnWorlds also charges no transaction fees if you purchase the "Pro Trainer" or "Learning Center" plan.
LearnWorlds is a new, fast-growing course creation software solution with around a thousand instructors. LearnWorlds is an advanced solution that gives course creators complete control over the design of their websites. We recommend LearnWorlds if you value a professionally designed website, and the ability to fully customize your courses.
Kajabi is an all-in-one, advanced platform that allows you to effectively build courses and grow your course business. It is best for experienced course creators who need high-quality marketing tools and above average design capabilities. Kajabi offers 0% transaction fees, but is also one of the most expensive solutions.
Kajabi is an advanced all-in-one course creation software solution with tens of thousands of instructors. Kajabi helps customers seamlessly build, market & sell online courses and coaching programs. Overall, its platform is robust and highly customizable. It has a steep learning curve, so it’s best for more experienced course creators.
How to Price Your Course
According to a study done by Podia, the average price for an online course is $182.59. Thinkific recommends starting your course pricing at $199 or more to maximize revenue. LearnWorlds has also seen its creators price their courses anywhere from $25 to $997.
As a first time course creator, it might be tempting to charge a super-low price to try and attract more customers. Resist this urge, though.
If you price your course too low, it’ll be hard to earn a significant return on your investment. This is especially true if you are spending a lot of money to market your course.
Higher prices also tend to attract higher quality students. A higher price means a higher rate of commitment, meaning that these students are willing to invest their time and follow through with the course materials.
How to Market or Promote Your Course
Many online course platforms come with different marketing tools that help you promote your product. When you’re choosing between various solutions, pay attention to the tools available so you can take advantage of them when the time comes.
Some popular marketing methods include webinars, marketing emails, and paid social media ads. Whether you use one or all of these options, it’s a good idea to include a sense of scarcity in your initial course launch. If you market that your course is only available for a limited time, or is only available at a certain price for a limited time, it can encourage people to take the plunge and invest in it.
Before you launch your course and start promoting it, try to get testimonials from trusted friends or colleagues who have gone through the materials. Testimonials provide social proof and help to convince your audience that it’s worth it for them to buy your product.
How to Evaluate the Success of Your Course
Great job! You’ve created, marketed, and sold your course. The only thing left to worry about is whether or not your course is performing well. There are several methods you can use to determine if your course is a success.
For example, you can keep track of downloads and course completion rates. You can also monitor quiz results to see how much information students are retaining and areas where you might want to refine your course in the future.
You can also keep track of the sales your courses have made. By monitoring your revenue in different time periods, coupon and affiliate revenue, and refunded revenue, you can have a better idea of the improvements needed to increase your course sales. Almost all course creation platforms offer a sales tracker.
You can also send out surveys once a student has completed your course or even include them in the course materials as a final assignment. This method allows you to get direct answers clarifying what your students did and did not like about your course.
You Know How to Create an Online Course: Now What?
Now that you know the ins and outs of how to create an online course, it’s time to get to work. Follow the steps outlined above and you’ll soon have a high-quality, informative course that your target audience will love.