The e-learning market is exploding as consumers happily lay down cash to get problems solved and upgrade their skills.
Which means there’s a tremendous potential for your own online courses to make an impact, build authority, and generate revenue.
But with every opportunity comes challenges, and in course creation, there are three biggies that can get in your way:
- Not getting it done
- Not making sales
- Not getting results for students
Each of these topics could fill several courses (and has), but my goal is to cover the most important obstacles and give you the simplest path forward.
This post will cover challenge #1. And don’t worry — I’ll be sure to hit the other two issues in follow-up posts.
So let’s look at the difficulties of getting your course made and how to overcome them.
According to training company Mirasee’s 2018 State of Online Courses report, more people are now taking action on creating courses rather than just thinking about it. However, the percentage of survey respondents who reported moving from considering to doing was still only 41%, meaning well over half were still stuck.
Who Struggles With Course Creation and Why?
- Solopreneurs – experts looking to turn their knowledge into a business or augment the impact and revenue they’re currently achieving through a service business such as coaching or consulting
- Small businesses and organizations – looking to find new ways to engage followers and customers and add additional revenue streams
Larger organizations can, of course, also have difficulty getting courses done — or any other project — due to issues of bureaucracy, budgeting, project management, etc. But I’m going to focus on the little guys and gals here.
Many factors can get in the way of getting your course done. Here are a few:
- Figuring out what to teach
- Too little or too much planning
- Resource constraints
- Course technology
- Fear (in many forms)
So let’s look at each of these a little more closely, as well as some ways you can overcome them.
Getting Your Course Done
What does it take to get your course completed and in front of potential students? You’ve got to move forward despite any obstacles that come your way.
Figuring out What to Teach
This problem includes both choosing a topic and developing a curriculum.
As for choosing a topic for your course, there are two basic approaches.
- Process Focus
- Results Focus
Ultimately, your course needs both a process and a specific result, but in determining what to teach, you can start with either.
Starting with the Process – Let’s say you’re in the personal development space, and you’re an expert in a particular healing system. You could make that system the foundation of your course. If it’s your own system, this can work well. If you’re an authorized teacher of someone else’s system, you’ll want to differentiate yourself so you don’t become a commodity. That’s why you’ll still need to define a result that’s meaningful to a particular type of person.
Start with the Result – This approach begins with the pain your potential students are feeling or the pleasure they want to feel, or both. For example, if you’re a web designer, you could make a course teaching artists how to create their own portfolio website that attracts galleries and helps them land commissioned gigs so they can make a reliable living through their creative work.
If you start with the process, next ask yourself, “What results can this help people achieve, and who wants those results?”
If you start with the results, ask yourself, “How do I get the people who want this result from where they are to where they want to be?”
Once you have your topic, you’ll need a curriculum. I recommend starting with a 1- or 2-page outline with the topic, a list of 3-5 subtopics, and a handful of bullets for each.
This might be all you need.
If you’re able to talk in a focused way about each of your subtopics and bullet points without going off on a bunch of tangents or repeating yourself, then just get in front of the camera and/or mic and do that (be sure to hit record).
A conversational tone works well for many courses, and too much scripting can get in the way.
That said, you may want or need a more fully developed script in order to sound more professional, keep from stumbling or rambling, or make sure you include all the important details.
Either way, here are a few tips:
- Keep each lesson focused on a single topic. With the withering attention spans of people these days, short lessons can be most impactful — around 3-7 minutes tends to work well.
- In each lesson, give a short intro, deliver your main content, then recap what you taught.
- To help students learn, mix in some entertainment with your education. Even the most serious and analytical of topics benefit from a bit of fun.
- If writing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a professional to ghostwrite your course (I might know a guy).
Too Little or Too Much Planning
Those who fail to plan plan to fail. Any project can benefit from a bit of planning, and courses are no exception.
Make a SMART plan, complete with deadlines, and commit to it. SMART stands for:
- Specific – the who, what, when, where, why, and how
- Measurable – the aspects that are quantifiable and trackable
- Achievable – what you believe is realistic, even if it’s a bit of a stretch
- Relevant – making sure everything you’re doing aligns with your goals and situation
- Time-Based – assigning yourself an overall deadline and specific milestones and putting them on your calendar
On the flip side, over-planning can be just as big a hindrance as under-planning. Make sure planning doesn’t turn into procrastinating. If it takes you more than a day or two, you’re probably overthinking it. And remember, you can always change the plan as needed!
To create your course, you’ll need some combination of time, money, and know-how.
If you’re short on time, you can outsource much of the course creation process by hiring a curriculum developer, a writer, a video editor, a course technologist, etc.
If money is tight, you can extend the timeframe of your course plan to fit the amount of time you have to put in. You can also adjust down any costs you’re expecting. More on that in a moment.
Gaining the know-how is also a matter of either time or money — to learn the necessary skills through free or paid resources or to hire people who already have them. So plan accordingly.
Part of the planning process should be a reality check on the costs and other expected needs for getting your course made. It’s easy to overcomplicate things, getting hung up on curriculum development, technology, video production, buying expensive equipment or software, or any other aspect of course creation.
In reality, you can adjust the complexity and cost of almost every aspect of your course to fit your constraints.
For example, you may be envisioning a fully-blown video course with 3D animations and drone footage. But you don’t have to start there. In fact, you don’t have to use video at all!
Even if your goal is to create an online course, your first run could be live in your living room, your shop, or a room in your local library.
When you’re ready to go online, you can still avoid having to record and edit videos.
You can use live conferencing with a simple, free app such as Zoom. You can even use phone conferencing if your topic doesn’t require visuals. You can also create a text-based course delivered via email or housed on a simple web page protected with a password.
And when you’re ready to make videos, consider how you can simplify it.
For screen capture, you could buy complex software like Camtasia or ScreenFlow, or use a free service such as Loom, which also offers camera-based video and allows you to cut out unwanted segments right in the app.
For camera-based video, you can simply use your computer or smart device’s built-in camera app. All you need is a flat, height appropriate place to set it. A tripod can be handy (as well as an attachment appropriate for your device), but it’s not strictly necessary.
Audio quality is actually more important than video quality, but that isn’t hard to achieve either. You can get a decent lavalier (lapel) mic for under $20. In some cases, you could get away with your earbud mic. Do not use the built-in mic on your computer or device.
Although you might start simple, sooner or later, you’ll want a Learning Management System (LMS) for your fully produced online course. There are hundreds to choose from, so to narrow it down, look at the systems used for any online courses you’ve taken. Features and costs vary, but if you can pick something you’re already familiar with, it will be easier to get started.
Also consider your goals and priorities. Do you want control and customization or ease-of-use? Are you okay with recurring costs, or do you want a one-time expenditure?
Here are a few basic types of LMS’s with examples (not an endorsement of any particular platform):
These are online platforms where course creators upload their content and sell it in a virtual market controlled by the platform developer.
- Benefits: simplicity of use and large numbers of potential students
- Drawbacks: loss of control and ownership of marketing, customers, and revenue
- Examples: Udemy, Skillshare, Lynda (LinkedIn Learning)
This approach lets you integrate an online course with your website. If you have a WordPress website, for example, you can find a variety of plugins that facilitate marketing, financial transactions, and of course, creating the course environment for your videos, quizzes, homework items, etc.
- Benefits: more control and customization, lower cost
- Drawbacks: more complex to set up and maintain, possible hidden costs of add-ons
- Examples: Zippy Courses, Wishlist Member, MemberPress, LearnDash
Offering a middle ground between the seamless user experience of the marketplaces and the control that comes from having your own course site, standalone LMS’s provide a 3rd party platform that you don’t have to maintain. You control your marketing and customers, but not the technology that houses your course.
- Benefits: a single, integrated system requiring no maintenance or updating
- Drawbacks: reliance on a third party, recurring costs
- Examples: Teachable, Thinkific, Ruzuku, Podia, Simplero
Facing Your Fears
Fear can be a great motivator or a great obstacle. In getting your course made, it can be your single biggest hurdle.
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change, rejection, being seen as a fraud, being seen at all — these are all common internal obstacles to getting anything meaningful done. And course creation is no exception.
All the decisions can be made, the skills can be learned, and the resources can be acquired, but if you let fear take hold, it can undermine all your efforts or just stop you in your tracks.
Don’t let that happen.
An interesting thing about fear and other emotions is that they sit in the body. A great trick to moving ahead despite fear is to find where it is in your body, acknowledge it, and accept it. Reams of scientific findings make it clear that the body, mind, and emotions are connected, and the mind can’t get anything done without the other two.
So find the fear, and accept it.
Reread “Facing your Fears” above.
And remember, done is better than perfect.
Getting It Done
Think about which of these challenges might be getting in your way and how you can and will overcome them. For at least 99.9% of people, fear is in their somewhere, so don’t skip over that one.
Beyond that, get really clear on your motivations. Why do you want to create a course? If it’s just a vague sense that you should, maybe because other people are doing it, that might not be enough.
What’s in it for you, really? A sense of accomplishment and legitimacy? Helping people and making an impact? Adding to your and your family’s financial security?
Whatever is motivating you, write it down in simple terms and post it somewhere where you’ll see it all the time.
And don’t go it alone! Share in the comments what has held you up from creating your course, what you’re doing now to move forward, and anything you’re uncertain about. There’s nothing like community for achieving big things.
This is Article 1 in a 3-part series. Read the entire series here:
- The Secret to Selling Online Courses in Just 9 Steps (Part 2 of 3)
- Online Courses: 5 Keys To Boost Student Success (Part 3 of 3)
About the Author: David Kirshbaum is a freelance writer, marketer, and course creation expert who helps people and organizations share their great ideas effectively, build authority, and attract customers. Find out more at davidkirshbaum.com.