Developing online training courses provides legitimacy to your skills, adds a revenue stream, and teaches your students a valuable skill. Online courses are a great addition for bloggers, influencers, thought leaders, coaches, consultants, and freelancers.
This 8-step guide will walk you through the exact steps you need to develop and launch a successful online course. We’re starting at the basics of picking the perfect topic and going all the way to different marketing strategies for when you’re ready to launch your course.
How to develop online training courses in 8 steps
Step #1: Picking the right course topic
The topic of your course needs to fit three criteria: something you’re passionate about, something you have experience with, and something that’s in-demand
You need to love what you’re teaching because it shows in your training. An online training course with an instructor who looks like they couldn’t care less is going to fall flat. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
Next one, your experience. Many people don’t think they’re qualified to teach an online training course, but most people are. You don’t need to have decades of experience or advanced degrees for e-learning, but you do need to have working knowledge and be good at what you’re teaching.
Finally, picking an in-demand topic. A course on an in-demand topic is one that sells. It’s proof that there’s an existing market.
If you’re interested in learning how to develop online training courses, I’m going to assume that you already have an idea for your topic. However, ask yourself these questions to make sure your topic is in-demand and marketable:
- Is this a topic people in my community want to know more about?
- Is this a topic that will help solve a pain point or reduce friction in someone’s life?
- What are people asking me to help them with?
- Are there other courses about this topic already?
- Is the competition leaving something out? If so, how can I fill that hole?
If the course topic you choose fits the three criteria I laid out, then it’s a solid choice for an online training course.
Step #2: Have a compelling outcome
Learning outcomes are important but often overlooked when talking about developing online training courses. An outcome is what you want your students to achieve or attain once they’ve completed your course.
Having an attainable outcome, one that is clear before they start the course, will 100% help you sell your course.
I want to use our Facebook Side Hustle Course as an example here. The goal is to help people make more money, but that’s too vague. We made our topic much more specific: earn an extra $1,000-$2,000/month running Facebook ads for small businesses.
That’s a deliverable outcome, and it solves the problem we wanted to address in the first place.
Your outcome needs to be the end goal. What should your student be able to accomplish after completing your course? Be clear about that and don’t over promise anything.
If you’re developing an online training course in watercolor painting, saying that students will “master watercolor painting” is a big promise. Setting an outcome of “learn how to watercolor paint” is better, but still a little vague. A course with a more focused outcome, like “learn how to paint simple watercolor landscapes” makes sense to customers. They can visualize that outcome.
The outcome of your online training course provides an anchor for your curriculum, which brings us to the next step…
Step #3: Outline your online training course
You know exactly where your e-learning course is headed (your compelling outcome!), now you need to create the roadmap of exactly how students will get there.
Start by dividing your course topic into smaller chunks. That could be approximately 5-10 things that people need to know about your topic. These can be steps, information, themes, etc. Those 5-10 things will be your modules or units.
Next, breakdown each of those things into smaller bite-sized chunks of information. These will be what you turn into individual lessons or lectures. They need to be in-depth but digestible. If an individual lesson starts feeling too big or overwhelming, you can always break it down into more than one lesson.
Think about the individual lessons as taking around 20 minutes or less for your students to get through. Students may feel overwhelmed by anything longer, or they may simply lose interest midway through.
Your online training course should gently guide someone down the path to the outcome, so make sure you include all of the necessary tips, steps, information, hacks, etc. they need to get there.
Step #4: Determine your medium
How are you going to deliver your course content? Do you want to do video lessons, text-only, live lessons, have quizzes, slides, etc.?
Video-based lessons tend to do really well and have a higher value in the marketplace, and you can use video for a lot of different things. We used Loom, screen recording software, to create lessons in our Facebook ads course that gave students an over-the-shoulder perspective.
Live lessons can be good for hands-on training when students may want to ask questions, but pre-recorded content makes it more accessible. Students can take their e-learning course on their own schedule.
If you still want space for your student to ask questions, consider adding group Zoom sessions or creating a Facebook group.
Past students may answer questions for new students. Someone might ask a question someone else had been hesitant to ask. Some students may feel more comfortable emailing you for help, but having a public setting is beneficial for everyone.
Step #5: Create your course content
Take your outline and start creating each of the individual lessons or lecturers you’ll use in your course. Each lesson should include:
- A statement of what students will learn in that module
- What they need to learn
- How to do it (the teaching part)
- Action item — tell your student what to do next
The action item can be a quiz, watch a video, reading, etc. It can even be as simple as “move on to the next lecture.”
I spent a lot of time procrastinating on this step, just being honest. There were also a lot of videos I started recording but didn’t like how I phrased something, so I started over.
Don’t let the time you spend on this step discourage you. You’ll eventually get into a flow and start cranking out lessons. Also, don’t feel like you need to create content in order of your outline.
You will go through all of this content before your online training course launches to put it in order and make sure there aren’t any gaps or issues with flow.
Step #6: Set up your online school
There are three main ways to develop online courses and sell them:
- Use an online marketplace
- Host your course using an LMS (learning management system)
- Add software and plugins to your website
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and you can read about your options in 7 Online Course Providers for 2021.
Online marketplaces like Skillshare and Udemy are by far the most affordable option for new course creators. They are free to use for creating and selling courses, but you aren’t in complete control of your content and pricing.
LMSs like Teachable — who we used for our first two courses — give you considerably more flexibility. You can create a sales page, keep track of your student’s progress, drop content out over a period of time, and create more interactive courses. LMSs, however, can run anywhere from $30-$400/month depending which one you go with and the features.
Teachable has a bulk uploader tool that you can use to upload all of the course content you’ve already created. Then you can drag and drop it into order.
We’re in the process of building a membership-only course site right here on Laptop Empires. This is how you get the exact feature you want and total control, but it’s a big investment.
My recommendation is to check out Teachable. Teachable’s lowest priced plan is $29/month, so it’s still a really affordable option for those who want more control over their course.
Step #7: Price your course
Pricing your course is hard because go too high and you worry no one will buy it, and too low undercuts the value you bring to the table.
The price of your course is really about the value it’s bringing to your student’s life. Are you teaching a skill they can monetize? Is this personal or professional development? What’s your skill level related to the topic of the course? Is the content high-level or for beginners?
Keep those things in mind and then start researching what competing courses in the marketplace are charging and what those courses include.
If your course delivers more, has some nuance, or is better in any way, then it’s completely appropriate to charge more. If your course delivers the same value, don’t lower your price in an attempt to make your course look better because it can have the opposite effect.
Honestly, there’s no right or wrong price. There are too many factors to take a hard stance here, which is why looking at the competition can be a good starting point for you.
Want more on course pricing? Listen to Why Your First Online Course on Your Blog Should be Free.
Step #8: Launch your online course
Launching your course is more than just hitting the “publish” button and making your course go live. Launching is when you market your course and start selling it.
Many course creators start marketing their course before it ever launches. They drum up interest using Facebook ads, having a sale page with a waitlist, and sending out information to their email list.
When Mike and I launched our first course online training (Facebook Side Hustle Course), we had a 6-figure launch because we started marketing in advance.
That’s the strategy we like, but you can start marketing when your course launches, which is ideal for evergreen courses. Below are four marketing options you can use to launch your online training course.
1. Free training and/or webinar
You can use these as lead magnets to get people on your email list, where you can drop them in a sales funnel set up for course sales. Webinars and training videos also show people that you know how to teach.
Use those free training sessions as resources that actually give prospective students an idea of your teaching style and what they can expect from you. They’re incredibly effective marketing tools if you make sure they include valuable content.
You can give the first X number of students a discount when they sign up for your course. Another option is a discounted price for the first week or weekend of course sales. This creates a sense of urgency.
You can also add a bonus instead of cutting the price. For example, you could add a bonus lesson or a live group coaching session for anyone who signs up before a certain date.
3. Partner with influencers or other business owners
Working with others in your industry can add some serious legitimacy to your course, but it may be difficult if you’re learning how to develop online training courses as a brand new business plan.
Having an existing business relationship certainly helps, but it’s not the only way to develop partnerships. For example, you could reach out to fellow bloggers in your niche, give them your course, and ask if they’d go through it and write a review.
Being set up with an affiliate program where they earn a percentage of each sale of your course can encourage them to market your course to their audience.
4. Run Facebook ads to your course
Facebook ads were a huge part of our marketing strategy, and it worked because you can create highly targeted ads and put your course directly in front of people who are more likely to buy it. You’re making a financial investment here, and it’s one that’s always paid off for us.
Those are just a few ways to market your course, and it needs to be an ongoing project if you want to keep selling your online training courses. The minute you stop marketing is when you stop selling.
The final word on how to develop online training courses
Developing an online training course was one of the best business decisions Mike and I ever made. It’s been a nice stream of income, but we genuinely love helping people make more money.
Start things simple: what do you want to teach people? Make a list of things they need to know to know, and start creating the educational content.
Picking the course platform, pricing, and marketing are all very important, but getting the actual course down on paper can motivate you with those next steps.
The hardest part for me was creating the content, as in recording all of the lessons. I also went back and forth on price quite a bit. Don’t let those little roadblocks stop you because an online course can be a life changing business venture.