The Ultimate Guide to Creating Courses Online

how to create an online course

Online education is an industry that goes from strength to strength. If you want to learn how to create beautiful online courses with ease, you’ve come to the right place.

Being trained educators, at EduTest, we know you can’t just slap together a few videos and expect it to be a useful online course (despite what some fake internet guru tells you).

In this article, we’re going to look at:

  1. Why you should create an online course
  2. The steps of creating an online course.
  3. Why learning goals are vital

Note: It’s also important to know that we’ll earn a small commission if you buy some of the products listed on this page. However, we only advertise products we actually like and would use on our own sites.

Why should you create an online course?

If you’re an entrepreneur, this is one of the best ways to showcase your knowledge, talent and passion for your industry. Creating an online course is a surefire way to let prospective clients see your work in action. Many companies selling products and services also offer online education and use their existing customers as their target audience.

It’s also an excellent business to build from the ground up. Perhaps you’re not already selling products or services online. No problem. Your service can be the education itself.

The online education industry is booming. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry and still growing. So if you’ve got something to say, it’s time to say it!

Step 1: Define the Problem

As with any new business venture, the best approach is to try to solve your customers’ problems.

More often than not, when people are looking to take an online course, it is because they want to learn something new and apply it to their life or career. They are looking for a specific transformation to happen.

What is your specific area of expertise? Is it something that can help others to improve their lives or their financial situation? That’s perfect!

It is important in this step to narrow your focus as much as possible. There are tons of topics to choose from, and many can be way too big for one online course.

For example: “How to Make Money Online” is an extremely broad topic that could lead you down a rabbit hole. It’s also super-sketchy and makes you sound like a scammer (but that’s another story). Anyway, “How to Make Money on Etsy” is still broad, but significantly less so than the first option.

Last but not least, you have to LOVE your topic! If you are passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced in your topic of choice, the odds are that your course truly will be transformative.

Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience

Now that you know what your topic will be, it’s time to talk about your audience. Blasting information about your course to people who aren’t interested in your topic is a waste of time and potentially money.

When working through this part of the process, it’s important to consider a variety of demographic data points about your audience. These include:

  • Age: The generations will respond differently to how the course is designed and marketed. Being mindful of their preferences is an absolute “must”
  • Gender: This often has a much bigger impact than you would expect. Your topic of choice could significantly sway the gender of your audience. Make sure your course and marketing materials are geared toward both genders if that’s how you envision it. If your course is designed for one gender or the other, then address that upfront.
  • Income Level: People of varying income levels will have different tolerance for the cost of your course, as well as the topic. Lower-income families might be looking for education on how to save money or get out of debt, while higher-income families might be more interested in how to invest their disposable income.
  • Education Level: E-learning research shows that the majority of consumers for online courses have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The way your course is written and the intricacy of the content should be adjusted based on this.
  • Employment Status: Many online courses are specifically designed for employed professionals who are looking to increase their marketability in the workplace. But you may also consider designing a course that will help job-seekers decide on a career and start pursuing it.

Step 3: Evaluate Market Demand

The most beautifully designed course with the best content, aimed at the right audience still might not produce the desired results. Why? Because that specific audience might not be looking for that particular subject matter.
Evaluating the market demand for your topic is critical to launching a successful online course. It will also save you a lot of precious time and heartache.

Basically, your perfect course, is something you know a lot about, something you feel you can teach, and something there’s a demand for.

One of the most effective ways to evaluate demand is to use social media. Here are some of my favorite ways to do this:

  • Find groups on social media who are interested in the topic you want to focus on.
  • Join the group(s) and write a post about your potential new venture.
  • Create surveys and ask if the people in the group would be willing to fill them out.
  • Conduct interviews with people in the group who are willing to offer their time to chat with you about your idea.
  • Create polls that are shorter than surveys, but still entice members of the group to respond.

After collecting all of this data, dump it into a spreadsheet, and analyze it. What similarities did you find between members of the group? Did you get more responses from males or females?

Another method of evaluating market demand is to set up a landing page for your course and start marketing it, even though you haven’t created it yet. You can still find your target audience online and ask them to interact with a post, but this takes it a step further and offers a link back to the landing page.

Once you get this posted in various groups and blasted out to email lists, you can keep an eye on click-through rates. If you’re getting 4-5% on click-throughs to your landing page, you have a good idea, and you should run with it!

Step 4: Research and Structure

All the knowledge and experience in the world will do no good if you can’t present it to your students in a way that is meaningful and easy to understand. During this step, you need to really dig into the subject matter and decide what is pertinent and what is not.

For example, if you’re designing a course on how to build a website, you need to gather all of the information around this topic that you will need in order to successfully teach someone how to do it. This will include information about web platforms, hosting services, website design, widgets, and more.

Try to see this from the consumer’s perspective. If I am really trying to build my own website, what are all the things I need to know in order to do that successfully? This is the information you need to include.

This step will result in a rough draft of all your information. Don’t try to write it as a manuscript for a book. Just get it all on paper so you can then take it and create an outline.

Step 5: Create Your Course Outline

You have all the knowledge and research in a rough draft, so now you just need to organize it in a way that makes sense to the student. Does the topic have information that builds on itself? If so, you need to put it in order so that each module progresses from the last.

Key Learning Outcomes

When creating the course outline, it’s a good idea to start with the desired outcomes. What is it that your student will learn or achieve? These key outcomes will also become part of your sales copy on your website and social media posts.

For building a website, key outcomes might look something like this:

In this course, you will:

  • Identify your site’s purpose and target audience
  • Create a domain name that works for your business
  • Understand web hosting, how it works and what is the right choice for you
  • Learn how to build and structure web pages for the best user experience
  • Setup widgets and payment systems based on the needs of your website
  • Launch and test your website, collect feedback and make necessary revisions

This gives the student an overview of what to expect and will ultimately help them decide whether or not this course is for them.

Outline the Modules

Based on the key learning outcomes, you will then develop an outline for the course in the order that makes the most sense for your topic.

In the website example, we would not make “launching your website,” the first module because the student hasn’t even built it yet.

We suggest using the Ladder Approach to structuring online courses. It’s a great way to make sure that all of your course modules flow and promote learning – not a content dump.

Assign Information to Each Module

Once your modules are outlined, you can start plugging in the information from your research. All of the information that you collected will more than likely fit into one of the modules.

If there is information or research that does not fit one of the modules, consider cutting it out.

Just a reaction gif I made because I wanted it but couldn't find ...

The goal is to be succinct but also give the student enough information to be successful.

Step 6: Choose Your Online Learning Platform

There are so many options available for e-learning that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If this is your first time with the course creation process, you might need more support. If you’re an old pro, you might need less.

In a nutshell, you can choose to put your course on your own website, or you can choose to put it on an existing online learning website.

Using Your Own Pre-Existing Website

Most people who put their courses on their own websites do so in order to have autonomy in how they operate the course. This allows you to control the design, pricing, marketing, payment options, etc.

The downside to this? You have to control the design, pricing marketing, and payment options! If you have already mastered these skills, this is a no-brainer for you.

Also, adding a course to a pre-existing site can be an absolute nightmare. It can slow your site down and make your site incredibly hard to navigate. You’ll also be kinda stuck with your course too. If two years down the line you decide on changing your business, it can be a big job to remove your course and all the extra pages created. So, they’re a few things to think about.

When using your own website, one of the easiest options is to use a learning management software (LMS) for your course. Personally, I like Memberspace.

This type of software allows you to design and manage the course to your specifications. If you’re going this route, be sure to consider the following:

  • Does the LMS allow you to collect data?
  • Does it offer integration of social media and other engagement tools?
  • Does it allow for brand compliance and customization, so the course reflects your brand?
  • Is the user interface intuitive, and will it provide an excellent customer experience?

These are just a few of the many things that you will want to think about and test before choosing a learning management software.

If you currently own and operate a WordPress site, there are a ton of different plugins you can use for your online course. WordPress has an entire section of help and “how-to” articles to walk you through this process. Again, test them out first before you make a decision.

Using an Existing Marketplace

An online learning marketplace is completely different than an LMS system.

Marketplaces are essentially like department stores for online courses. They get a lot of traffic that you didn’t really have to work for, and you have a higher chance of selling your product simply by being there. Some of these sites have millions of students, which means millions of people could potentially see and purchase your course!

These types of marketplaces will assist you with design options, marketing, and selling your course. This is a great choice if you’re less savvy with building a website, managing the payment and operations of the site, and marketing it in a way that helps your course gain exposure.

The downside to these types of marketplaces is the extreme amount of control that they have. Since they are doing web hosting, marketing, etc., they also get to choose how much they sell your course for.

Personally, I think that if they sell my course for a discounted price, it’s still a sale, and I’m still gaining exposure. So why not give it a try?

One of the leading online course marketplaces is Udemy, which has the biggest market share. Skillshare is another popular example.

I recommend going to each of their sites and looking into the fee structure, design support, and marketing practices. You can make an informed decision from there on what will and won’t work for you.

Using a Course Creator Tool (The Best Option)

The best way to develop your online course is to use a specialized course creator platform.

These are the best of both worlds. You get the easy-course design features that a marketplace creator has, but you get the freedom of owning your own course.

Basically, you create the course on the platform but still get complete control. So you’ll get to set prices, keep contact information and everything.

The course creation platform also hosts your courses too, so you won’t have to pay for hosting.

Plenty of course creators use tools like these to create courses and just link their pre-existing WordPress site to their course, rather than adding a bunch of new data to a pre-existing site.

Some of the popular course creation platforms are:

If you want to read more, check these out:

Step 7: Course Creation

This is one of my favorite parts of the process! During this step, you will decide what elements you want to include in your course.

To create a successful online course, you need to include a variety of content such as text, video, and images. This helps keep your students engaged and is also a more effective way to learn.

Let’s break down the individual types of content and how you might use them.

Text

Text-based courses is the most basic and easiest to create. It provides the basis upon which the rest of the course is built.

Text offers an excellent foundation for your student to see outlines, key learning outcomes, a table of contents, and the basic information necessary for any given module. The expectation is that you would use other forms of content to enhance what the student read in the text.

Be mindful not to make your entire course just text. This is not the most effective or efficient way for students to retain information. Although, you can then make courses incredibly cheap if you decide to go text-based.

Images and Videos

Images and Videos can enhance your course design by making it more interesting. Your student can read the text and then see examples through images and videos to enhance their understanding of the message.

Relevant images and infographics are an excellent way to clarify any text that includes quantifiable information. Videos can be used to dive deeper into a particular topic, show examples of how the information is used in everyday life, or help the student connect to the course material in a more personal way.

Note: If you have the desire and the know-how, it’s a great idea to create your own videos instead of using things that already exist on the web. This helps connect the student to your brand and lets the course maintain consistency of colors, logos, images, and brand.

Screencasting

Screencasting is another feature that can really help your students understand the course content. This is another form of video where they can hear your voice, but the visual on the screen is of your computer screen. This works really well when you’re walking them through a task that will be completed on a computer. It’s an opportunity to (almost) give them a hands-on experience.

Interactive elements

Quiz questions and matching games help the student to retain the information. It also helps them to practice recalling the information, which is another key to retention.

Assessment tools

are another consideration for your course. Do you want students to take longer quizzes or tests and receive a grade? If so, you might want to consider having a quiz at the end of each module the review the most pertinent information from that section.

Course creation requires more than just deciding on the elements to include.

The next step is to actually produce all of those pieces. For this, I highly recommend a production schedule. Break it out into 4-6 weeks’ worth of work to get everything created, edited, and tested.

You will need to map out the time it will take to complete each portion of the production process. If you’re new to videotaping and editing, be sure to schedule a little extra time to get through that process. Work backward from the date that you want to have it completed and stick to your planned schedule as much as possible.

Step 8: Ask for Feedback and Edit Accordingly

Once you’ve completed the course creation process, it’s time to ask for feedback. This can be really difficult after you’ve spent weeks or months pouring your heart and soul into your content. However, not asking for feedback is a huge mistake.

I generally ask for feedback from two different types of people: a fellow subject matter expert and someone who fits my target audience. Both of these types of people will give you two different perspectives.

The subject matter expert will be able to check for accuracy of the information, high-quality images, and infographics, etc. They can help make sure the steps are in the right order and that you didn’t glaze over any really important information.

The person who fits your target audience will offer valuable insight into the user experience. They will be able to tell you how engaging the material is and whether or not they feel like they learned something from it. This is a great way to gain exposure, as well. If they love it, they will likely help spread the word when it’s ready to go!

It’s also great to ask for feedback from an education professional. That way they can see if your course has any educational principles behind it and properly scaffolds the content.

Gather the feedback, take a good look at it, and then get to work applying what you’ve learned. Make the changes that you think are really going to help boost your content to the next level.

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, e-learning has been gaining traction for years and continues to do so. By following the simple steps we’ve discussed, you can take an idea in your head and turn it into an epic online course with some earning power. As they say: plan the work and then work the plan!

I hope you’ve found some really great tips here, and you’re ready to go tackle your online course. What is your course going to be about? Leave us a comment below!