How to Create an Online Course: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

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Wondering how YOU can go about creating an online course? And whether you could make money from it like other people? It seems like everyone is doing it these days.

If you’re worried about whether you know enough to do this, and whether it would even sell after you’ve put so much effort into it, read on.

This post is going to give you a comprehensive overview of how to go about creating a successful online course with content that is valuable, appealing, and that will sell.

After all, that’s the point to generate some decent passive income, right?

Let’s get on with it.

How to create an online course - featured image

So How Much Money Can You Make?

This can vary from anywhere between as little as $19 for a single mini-course sale to thousands and thousands of dollars for something more extensive and high value.

It’s up to what you create, how much demand there is for it, how you price it, and how well you sell it.

Another factor to consider is where this course will fit into the rest of your business. Will this become your main income stream or is it meant to be a secondary income? Will it be your only course or form part of your product and/or service offering?

Answering these questions will help determine how you set about marketing and selling the course, and how much money you make from it as a result.

Choose the Perfect Course Topic

Yes, there is such a thing as the perfect course topic! What is that?

It’s a topic that people are talking about, asking for, and already buying content about.

The main element that adds perfection to these criteria is the unique spin that you put on a topic. Do you have a different method, approach, or outlook on your topic than your competitors?

If so, it’s worth expanding on. Just don’t pick a topic with making money in mind. Your topic should be something where you have some or most of the following:

  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Credentials
  • Passion and enthusiasm
  • An endless stream of ideas you could talk about regarding your chosen topic.

If you don’t enjoy the topic, you’ll have a hard time creating the outline, creating all the content, and finishing the course-making process.

If you have fun putting your online class together, those who invest in the course will pick up on your energy and enjoy working through the material as well.

Know Your Subject Matter Inside and Out

Building on the enthusiasm for your topic discussed above, you should be a walking encyclopedia on your chosen topic.

Know the main role players and experts in your field, follow relevant podcasts and YouTube channels on it, and read the latest news on your chosen topic.

You need to be able to share info on your topic related to:

  • Myths and misconceptions
  • Best tips and tricks
  • Top useful resources to use and why
  • Mistakes and pitfalls to avoid
  • Costs, time, and effort involved in your subject/expertise/method

This gives you a good basis from which to share valuable, practical information with your buyers.

Is Your Course Topic in High Demand?

If you skip this step, you could potentially waste many hours (and money you could have made). Make 100% sure your topic is in high demand.

The most reliable way to do this is to look for competitors in your field. What are they doing and selling related to your topic? Are they doing well? What are their reviewers saying? Make notes!

Can you identify aspects your competitors are missing that you could add to your course to make it even better?

Look at sites that sell books and courses related to your topic. Search for podcasts and YouTube channels as well and see what your competitors are doing and talking about.

If you’re scrolling through multiple pages of content and products on your topic, don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to worry about adding still more info to the pile rather, the amount of info out there on your topic validates that you’ve got something good!

Make notes on what competitors are selling their courses for, what they include, and what keywords they use. You’re going to use this information later on.

Define Your Learning Goals and Objectives

how to create an online course - goals

Yup, there’s a difference. Here’s how it works. You set a goal to achieve something, like being able to run 10 miles.

Now, you need to take steps to achieve that goal, such as building up your stamina to run 1 mile, 2 miles, 5 miles, and then build up to running 10 miles with ease.

These steps you take to achieve your goal are your objectives.

What does this have to do with online course creation? Everything.

Your course is supposed to help your buyer achieve a specific goal. With each lesson, you need to take them through steps that help them gain the skills and knowledge they need to achieve this goal.

To continue with the example of the runner, new runners will gain knowledge on how to avoid injuries like shin splints and muscle sprains, how to train for running longer distances, tips and tricks on running shoes, and skills like warming up and cooling down correctly, healthy eating habits, etc.

Another example: If you’re selling a course that teaches people how to play the guitar, you will create lessons that equip your buyer with knowledge about chords, string replacement, tuning, and skills such as rhythm, strumming, and the ability to understand how chords come together into beautiful melodies.

You need to articulate the goals and objectives to your prospective buyers so they will know exactly what they are getting, whether it’s a good fit for them, and how you will help them achieve the goal they have in mind.

If they can see the objectives an outline of the steps along the way it boosts your sales, engagement levels in the course, and overall completion rates.

Test Your Course Subject Matter

Now that you’ve settled on your idea for a course and how you want to help people achieve a goal through specific steps, it’s time to test your course idea out in public.

The best way to do this especially if you already have an online following in the form of social media followers and/or an email list is to set up a landing page and share it.

A landing page is a page that contains information promoting just one product, and describing in clear detail who it’s for, how it will help people get the results they are looking for, and what they get in the process.

Use your landing page to answer people’s frequently asked questions about a course on your topic, answer their objections and outline the results they’ll get on completion.

Create clear calls to action on your landing page.

The main action you want them to take is to hit a big, shiny ‘Buy now’ or a ‘Book my spot now’ button.

The number of clicks on that button will give you pre-sales and show you how many people are willing to pay for the course you want to create.

Once you’ve got some pre-sales, you can let those first customers become your beta-testers. You can work closely with them and get feedback throughout to see which parts of your course work well, and which parts need tweaking or additional input.

This is invaluable for refining your course and increasing its value to new customers.

Create Your Course Outline

Congratulations if you’ve come this far. You’ve settled on a course idea, done your research, and validated it with a landing page. Hopefully, you got some good results!

Now it’s time to learn how to create your course outline, i.e. how to structure your online course. This is a list of topics and/or steps you’ll teach to help your buyers get their desired outcome.

You’re not writing or creating all the content just yet.

For example: let’s say you want to create a course about how to paint flowers in watercolor for beginners. You’re not going to start right out with a complex flower painting, right?

Your basic outline could look something like this:

  • Watercolor paint, tools, and paper what to use and what to avoid
  • Color theory understanding warm and cool colors, how to choose a limited color palette for your paintings
  • Basic brush techniques
  • How to do different kinds of washes
  • Painting wet-on-wet, and wet-on-dry
  • Painting leaves
  • Flower painting tutorials lessons 1-5
  • Tips to keep improving your technique

You can then add further subtopics as above to expand on, depending on how comprehensive you want to make it. Decide on the amount of detail based on who your course is intended for.

Tip: If it’s for a complete newcomer to your field, break things down as simply as possible. The things that you think are obvious and logical will not necessarily be as clear to your target audience.

Create Your Course Content

Now we get to the fun part the bulk of the work.

There are different ways to create your course content, and you can use different formats.

Most course creators use a combination of video, audio, readable content (like transcripts of the audio), downloadable worksheets or workbooks, and occasionally, some interaction where assignments are submitted for customized feedback.

The benefit of a combination approach is that it caters to various learning styles, getting your information across whether your buyer is a listener, a visual learner, or a more hands-on type of learner.

When creating video content, you have multiple options as well.

You can make videos where you are featured on screen, teaching a topic, and other videos where you share your screen to explain as you teach, with your face in a corner of the screen.

Another option is using green screens where you record your face and then insert a slide behind you.

You can get as creative as you like, provided it helps the student learn what you’re setting out to teach.

If you add audio clips as an option, students can download them and listen to the lessons on the go (depending on whether this will work for your topic, of course).

Workbooks and downloadable documents are helpful for learners to take notes and review what they are learning by answering questions and reflecting on the lessons. It’s a way for students to actively participate and help commit the information to memory as well.

Filming Your Lessons

how to create an online course - filming

If the idea of filming yourself for your course content feels intimidating, don’t worry.

Start with a few practice rounds when you’re filming or recording from your outlined notes.

Initially, you’ll have a fair amount of filler words or fluff, moments where you forget what you wanted to say, using NSFW language when you forget your script, etc.

Keep your outline handy for each lesson, and stick to it.

Remember to keep each lesson short because you want to make it easy for students to make progress and keep the momentum going. A good length per lesson is anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes each.

Make sure you have decent lighting (get a ring light if necessary), a background that doesn’t distract from what you are teaching and take the time to figure out what’s comfortable for you.

You can film on a shoestring budget using your smartphone and then transfer the files to your laptop to edit, or you can get equipment and set it up, or you can get a videographer to help you.

Whatever you choose, it will take a bit of effort to find your feet with filming.

Just know that it’s okay to not get everything perfect the first time!

Editing Your Videos

Congratulations! You’ve filmed all your lessons! Now it’s time to edit them.

Yup, you’re probably going to see a lot more of your face on the screen than you’d like, but focus on the value of each lesson for your students, rather than on your eyebrows. It will help.

Editing is about polishing all the lessons so that the students get the maximum value out of each one, minus any unnecessary fluff, moments of hesitation, or bloopers.

Save the bloopers for a blooper reel if you like and upsell to your students as “exclusive bonus material.”

These days, figuring out how to edit a video is rather similar to figuring out a new app on your phone (read: not that hard).

You don’t need to be a professional videographer to create something good enough. Of course, if you have the budget, you could outsource this task.

Alternatively, there are excellent software options that make the job much easier, such as:

  • Camtasia all-in-one screen recorder and video editor
  • iMovie – video editing software for Macs
  • Lightworks editing software
  • Wix Video Maker useful for making short promotional videos
  • Screencast-O-Matic video creation software that allows multiple team members to participate
  • Audacity free audio editor and recorder software
  • Filmora a simple video editor for use on desktop or mobile
  • Adobe Premiere professional video editing software

Create Your Class Assignments

This section of course creation is important because it creates content that gets your students to interact with the material, internalize it, apply it and explore it.

Again, you have different options here.

You can set up written assignments or worksheets for students to complete and submit for feedback, or you can make it like a game where they have to use the material to win it.

Another option is to give an open-ended type of assignment that tests your students’ creativity and innovation on the material and see what they come up with.

Whatever method you choose, it’s important that your students get some sort of prompt to actually do something with what they’ve been learning.

Otherwise, it’s like teaching someone how to bake but not encouraging them to try out a recipe.

You can also set it up so that the next lesson doesn’t open up or become available until they’ve completed the assignment for the previous lesson.

If you’d like to create printable worksheets or workbooks for your students to use in completing assignments, you can use templates in Canva and modify them to your needs.

Other software options include Google Sheets, PowerPoint, or PLR-material (private label rights this means you have the right to resell the content) you’ve bought online and adjusted.

Choose Your Online Course Platform

It’s time to decide where you’re going to host your online course. There are different online course platforms with various features and benefits, depending on what you want.

Here are some of the most popular ones, along with a brief description:

Price Your Online Course

how to create an online course - money

Pricing is often the one step that paralyzes a course creator for weeks on end, and it’s understandable.

It’s hard to feel comfortable about putting a price on something you’ve put your heart, time, and effort into. But it’s gotta be done!

If you’re struggling to set a price on your course, review your competitors’ courses and prices again.

Most courses start at $100, so keep that in mind as a starting point. If you undersell, you’re only going to hurt yourself in the long run.

Look at what you are offering compared to them that will help you determine where you fit price-wise.

Then, check this price with a few objective people in your life who understand what you’re working on and who are interested in the material. Ask for their honest feedback.

Lastly, take courage and stop agonizing over it. Set your price and move forward with marketing and selling your profitable online course.

Sell Your Online Course

So your online course is ready to go? Great! Time to start selling.

Here are some of the most popular options you can choose from, or ideally, combine multiple options that make sense for your content and for your students.

Pre-Sell Email Campaign

If you already have an email list, this is the easiest place to start (provided your subscribers form part of your ideal course students).

Write emails where you unpack what your course is about, who it’s for, and how it will help them.

Include testimonials from people who’ve already tested your material.

Remember to include a call to action for them to sign up for a waiting list or early bird discount before your course goes live.

Offer Lessons Your Students Can Purchase or Rent

Let students buy or rent the lessons, one at a time.

The upside to this is that the student buys one lesson, gets to see what it’s like, and works through it before buying more.

It’s a low-risk, cost-friendly way for buyers to try out your online course.

Offer Your Students Monthly Subscriptions

Monthly subscriptions usually offer extra benefits such as additional support like consultation calls, email, and/or a private social media support group for members.

Members’ monthly investment helps motivate them to make progress for as long as they are a member.

The bonus: you get monthly income, but you will need to be on top of students’ feedback to ensure that it’s worth it for them to continue.

Offer Your Students Payment Plans

If you are selling an expensive online course, payment plans will make your course more accessible to more students.

Again, this means monthly income for you (which is never a bad thing!).

Most payment plans include one of the following:

  • A monthly subscription
  • An annual subscription (full fee in one go), with maybe a small discount
  • A payment plan that includes 2 to 3 installments over 3 months

Other Strategies for Marketing Your Online Course

Other strategies include using social media platforms to network and engage with potential students.

You can set up free coaching calls, ask students for referrals, host presentations, etc.

You can also set up affiliates (people who have an audience that would be a good fit for your course), and give them a commission in exchange for every sale.

Be creative. Take a look at what your competitors are doing and not doing to sell their courses, and see which of their techniques you can combine or add your own unique flair to.

Your potential students are waiting for you to connect with them, so it’s up to you to make it happen and figure out what works best for you, your students, and your business.

Grow and Nurture Your Community

how to create an online course - nurture

Creating an online course is a great opportunity to also build your own online community (if you haven’t started yet).

People like to engage with others who share their interests.

You’ll get more feedback this way, and students can also help and motivate each other to finish your course.

Members Area

A members area is a space where those who’ve purchased your course can communicate with each other, share insights, comment on each other’s progress and how they apply the information, etc.

It should be a safe, fun, and interactive space lead it with confidence, clarity, and enthusiasm.

Online Forums

An online forum is similar to a members area in that it allows for interaction between members, but the structure is a little different.

Each member’s post forms its own thread and you will typically see a list of threads where members can support each other based on the topic.

Social Media

Social media is another great community-building tool, especially platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook that allow for groups.

On Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and Snapchat, communities tend to form around topic-based hashtags instead, but the principle remains the same.

People get to share their experiences as they make progress.

Other Online Community Options

If you’d prefer to have a community that is not hosted on a social media platform or on a forum, you can use other tools such as Slack to create private groups, set up admin files for everyone to access, and more.

The main goal whatever you choose is to facilitate clear communication within your community.

Create a space with safe boundaries and moderation, and interaction that inspires, motivates, and moves people forward.

Avoid Some Common Mistakes

If you’re still reading, well done! Your mind is probably buzzing with ideas and thoughts on how you’d like to go about setting up your course.

There’s so much potential to play with, it just fires you up, doesn’t it?

But wait before you run off to your notebook, make sure to avoid the following common mistakes.

These mistakes can cost you time, loads of anxiety, and even worse, the money you dream of making from your online course.

Long Videos

Keep your videos short. Get to the point, and get to it quickly.

Long videos will make your student lose interest and motivation.

You want a sense of action and momentum, so don’t go longer than 10 minutes per video, maximum, if you can help it.

Stressing Too Much

Overthinking and fussing about too many details will not help you finish.

It will stretch out the project and make it feel like it will take forever to get it done. You’ll lose motivation and it won’t feel like fun anymore.

Stop stressing, and focus on just completing the next step of the process outline or film or edit only the next lesson.

Forget about everything else. You can do this.

Not Testing Your Course

As discussed before, it’s crucial to test your course material before you spend so many hours (and money) on filming, editing, and selling your course.

Rather spend more time beforehand to get plenty of feedback on your initial ideas and course outline, than wasting it in production.

Test the first few lessons and ask questions about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

You want to have the confidence to know your course idea is sellable before going ahead. It will make all the difference to your success.

No More Excuses Create Your Own Online Course

Are you scribbling a list of course ideas yet? Feeling a little nervous and excited? Good.

Now you have a good idea of what the online learning process involves and the tools you can use.

All you have to do is work your way through the steps from top to bottom.

Here’s a quick recap: Consider what you know, what you love talking about, and things people always come to you about for answers.

Research your topics to see what others are offering, and what gaps in the market you can fill.

Then, test the idea.

If it’s valid, start outlining, creating, filming, editing, and finally, selling!