During the last year or so, online courses have become hot on the Internet. As more and more coaches, consultants and content producers dive into the education market, we are seeing a wide spectrum of online classes on just about every conceivable topic.
At BobWP, we have always had a heart for teaching and over the years, we have created lots of online courses. Just recently, we launched a new membership site with courses that combine teaching technical skills with showing people how to develop exceptional digital content.
Through all that we have done — both with our digital courses and our one-to-one training — we have learned many lessons. At first thought, it seems simple. If you are an expert in something, you can teach it to someone else. First and foremost, you need know your topic inside out. But there are a few other things you should ask yourself before you jump into teaching online courses.
In addition to finding your unique market niche, ask yourself these questions before you start:
1. Can I teach?
In the excitement of envisioning masses of students eagerly consuming your lessons, this question is frequently overlooked. You might be really good at something. But teaching is a completely different animal. Did you ever have a teacher in school (it was middle school algebra for me) who was brilliant, but couldn’t show his students how to master a subject or solve a problem? He was an expert, yet he lacked the skills to successfully teach the concepts to someone else.
Teaching is both a science and an art.
The best teachers know how to present topics in ways that their students can grasp. If it doesn’t come naturally (or you don’t have background in education), you will have to teach yourself how to teach. To start out, it helps to have both of these character traits:
What might seem simple to you often needs to be broken down into smaller, more understandable pieces. Sure, it makes a difference whether your students are beginners or advanced, but if you are in doubt, you should present more explanation as opposed to less.
Even with an online course, you need to have the patience to make sure you are including everything and not leaving them with questions.
And if you provide a forum, listen to the questions your students have because they will help you improve the course next time around.
This is probably the single most important trait to possess. If you have ever tried to learn something that was outside your comfort zone or skill level, you’ll remember how it felt when you didn’t get it the first time. Bottle that feeling and keep it in a jar on your desk. Use that empathy to gently nudge your students and bring them along. They will appreciate you, remember you for it, and maybe even sign up for more of your courses.
2. Will I offer my courses for free or paid?
This is another big decision. There are a lot of free and really cheap online courses out there. You may just have the passion to share your knowledge with the only compensation being praise and feel-good moments.
Or maybe you want to actually make some money doing it. Pricing is all over the board in this industry and you need to figure out what you are worth and what people will pay. (Those two numbers can be vastly different.) If you are just doing what everyone else is doing, people are not going to want to pay for it. But if you offer value and unique course content that is missing in other classes, you just may be able to sell that.
3. How will I structure my content?
First off, you need to decide whether your course is all text, a mix of text and screenshots, video, or a mix of all three. Have you considered the learning styles of your students? Is what you are teaching better demonstrated through content and screenshots, or are videos a must? I did a survey a while back on how people prefer their online learning. Text and screenshots won out. You can see the results of that here.
A couple of notes about videos:
Creating and editing
Video creation is not an easy or quick task. If you expect people to part with their cash, you need to make sure that your videos are high-quality and impeccably edited. If you are expecting to create cool openings with animation, that is going to take even more time and talent.
If you are teaching people to play a guitar, well, that is pretty standard. But if you are teaching them how to use WordPress, like I do, that technology is constantly changing. And every time it changes, that means new full video production vs. editing text and replacing screenshots.
4. What about quizzes, tests and certificates?
A lot of WordPress-focused online course plugins let you create quizzes and tests. Should you use them? There is really no straightforward rule. It’s something you need to decide for yourself. For some students, these kinds of things can be intimidating and cause them to have scary flashbacks from their school days. On the other hand, some online course-takers might find that they help them to retain the information better.
Pro tip: If you use tests and quizzes, you might want to consider making them an option.
With certificates, unless you are a certified instructor in what you teach, a piece of paper declaring that your students have completed your course might not mean much to them. But for some, it might be something fun to hang on their wall. Again, your choice.
5. How will I market my online courses?
Creating your courses is hard work, but figuring out how to market them can be a bigger challenge.
It is crucial that you find ways to personalize your messages so they don’t get buried in the muck of the Internet.
Giving prospective students a taste of your content is one of the best marketing strategies you can implement. For example, we frequently pull out specific lessons and share them on our blog. This not only gives prospective students a hint of your teaching style, but also shows them what they can expect before they lay some money down.
These are just five things to consider before teaching online courses. With so much out there on the web, and with all the variables that are based on what you are actually teaching and who you are marketing to, other things will crop up.
But if you decide to give it a try, I can tell you from personal experience, there is nothing more rewarding than teaching adults new skills and encouraging lifelong learning.