How to Create an Online Course in 2021 – Step by Step Guide

JR Farr  |  June 24, 2021

It’s 2021 and online courses are bigger than ever. It’s a brilliant way to monetize your expertise to a captive audience. But how do you create an online course?

Even before the pandemic, Research and Markets forecasted the online education market to hit $350 Billion by 2025. This number could be even larger after analyzing the growth impacts of COVID-19 on the online learning market. 

In other words, there’s never been a better time to cash in on your expertise. The beauty of online courses is that it’s a great mixture of sharing your knowledge, connecting with a large audience, all while making a decent income.

It all sounds great but if you’ve never built an online course, it’s tough to know where to start. In this guide, we’ll walk you through step by step how to build an online course in 2021. Here’s a quick glance into what we’ll be covering.

  1. Choose your Topic
  2. Validate your Course
  3. Identify your Learning Outcomes
  4. Curate Course Content
  5. Organize Modules and Lessons
  6. Consider Different Delivery Methods
  7. Produce your Course
  8. Conduct a Beta Test
  9. Choose a Pricing Model
  10. Promote your Course
  11. Keep Asking for Feedback

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

1. Choose Your Topic

This is the first thing to do if you want to create a successful online course. Start by doing some brainstorming to think about what kind of topics you might want to cover.

A great example is Shift Nudge by MDS. This course hits every element we cover in this guide. From the presentation, offering different types of content, to creating urgency on signing up. The list goes on. Honestly, can’t say enough about how well this course has been put together.

What can you share with your audience? What kind of subjects are you qualified to provide education on?

Remember, a good course will cover topics about which you are both passionate and knowledgeable. If you’re going to be teaching others about something, it pays (literally) to be interested in and to have a thorough understanding of it.

If you’re Stuck, Try Picking a Problem to Solve

Sometimes, it can be useful to think of a specific problem you’re trying to solve for people. Typically, folks are going to purchase and complete your course because they need help solving a specific issue.

For example, let’s say that you’re a health coach, with a lot of knowledge and experience around sustainable weight loss. With that in mind, maybe your course could solve the problem that many people have of needing to lose weight and keep it off.

Brainstorm a list of potential pain points your customers or clients are likely to have. Then, think about the kinds of courses you could create that would help to solve those problems. 

2. Validate Your Online Course

For most, the validation of any idea is tough. As a creator, you’re excited about what you’re creating. In your mind or bubble, you think to yourself “who wouldn’t want this?”. The honest truth is, validation is key to making or breaking your online course.

Validating your online course gives you a chance to determine whether or not it’s likely to be successful. It helps you to, you guessed it, validate the product and then see if people are interested in purchasing it.

To validate your online course, you’ll need to do a smoke test. It can be something as simple as creating a simple landing page for the course before you’ve created it. The landing page will feature the working title of the course, as well as pricing information and a “buy now” button.

The next step is to get the landing page in front of your audience (social media ads or an email blast to the folks on your email list are good options). Then, measure how many people click on the “buy now” button.

If you get about a five percent click-through rate, that’s a good sign that you have an idea that people are actually interested in.

It may sound like a lot of work for potentially nothing but it will save you big time down the road.

3. Identify Your Learning Outcomes

Ok, so you followed the most important step of validating your idea, now what? When you know you’re on the right track with your online course idea, you’re one step closer to getting your online course off the ground. Before you jump straight into just writing content, take a second to identify your learning outcomes.

Outcomes = how is this valuable to those consuming your online course.

To start identifying your learning outcomes, you have to start reverse engineering what someone will take away from your course when they get to the end.

  • What are people going to walk away from your course knowing?
  • What will they be able to do after they’ve completed all of the coursework?
  • What promise, if any, did you make?

By not skipping this step, there’s an added bonus. By taking the time to identify learning outcomes you’ll have a head start on marketing and positioning your course later. It’ll also help to guide you during the content creation phase. You can refer back to the learning outcomes regularly to ensure you’re on the right track and including details that will help your audience to achieve those outcomes.

4. Curate Course Content

Now comes the fun part. You’re finally ready to start creating content.

With that said, this is also one of the most time-consuming stages of the course creation process. It’s also one of the most important, though.

During this stage, you’ll do a lot of research, writing, and editing. You’ll need to spend time outlining the topics you want to cover and figuring out the right way to deliver information so that it will resonate with your audience.

As you’re curating course content, focus on the elements below of a good online course. The following are some of the most valuable characteristics that your course should possess:

  • Attractiveness: Your course should be visibly appealing; if people are going to pay to learn from you, they deserve a quality learning experience, including clear visuals and audio
  • Interactivity: Most people don’t like to just be talked at for hours on end; make your course engaging and interactive with a variety of learning activities and different types of content to hold your audience’s attention
  • Visibility: Put your personal touch on the course and make sure you, as the instructor, are visible to your audience; you’ll have an easier time engaging them if they can actually see you and hear your voice, rather than just reading your words
  • Equity: Do your best to make your course accessible to as many people as possible; for example, include captions so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow along with your lectures

By taking the time to make sure you’ve covered all your bases, you’ll be able to appeal to a larger audience. There’s also a greater chance that your course will be better received (and that people will want to recommend it to others after they’ve completed it).

5. Organize Modules and Lessons

When you’re finished researching and drafting course content, figure out the order in which you want to deliver it.

This may seem simple but if you can you think this through, it will help your consumers get through your course more efficiently. Which leads to them hitting the outcomes you setup in the beginning, they have success, they spread the word, and so on and so forth.

It’s best to break the course up into several modules, then break those modules up into lessons. Start with the basics, then expand on more detailed points as the course goes on.

This format helps you to deliver content in small, digestible chunks, which will lead to better retention rates and higher rates of satisfaction from participation.

6. Consider Different Delivery Methods

In today’s world, there’s a number of ways consumers like to consume their content. Depending on the style of your online course, the way you deliver your content can influence the context of what you’re teaching. Not to mention, everyone learns differently. Some like to read at length, while others could be visual learners.

Ways to deliver your content (could be one, some or all):

  • Audio
  • Text (Digital, Physical, or both)
  • Video

In general, it’s best to offer a variety of delivery methods within the course. This increases the level of interactivity that your course has to offer. Again, don’t forget, it also helps you to appeal to different types of learners and ensures that participants stay engaged.

7. Produce Your Course

production

When you’ve taken care of the logistics, the next step is to produce your course. There’s a lot that goes into this part of the process.

For example, if you’re going to offer video content, you’ll need to block off time to film these segments of the course. The same goes for recording audio content or putting together items for interactive portions of the course (worksheets, journaling pages, etc.).

Consider batching when you get to this part. Set aside a few days to film all of the videos. Then, set aside a few different days to record all of your audio. You get the idea.

Batching is especially helpful for video creation, as it allows for uniformity with your course. You’ll be dressed the same in all of the videos and will have the same background, which is more visually pleasing and less distracting for your students. Not to mention, you’ll be in the same headspace in terms of the style of content you’re producing. You can build some quick momentum this way and plow through this part of building your course in no time.

8. Conduct a Beta Test

If you’ve made it this far, congrats on the hard work. It most likely took a lot of time and hard work to get to this point.

Before opening up the flood gates, it’s a good idea to conduct a beta test. Some courses package this up under something like “Early Access”. Invite a few people to check out your course, go through the modules, and have them give you genuine feedback on what they think of the course.

Beta testing helps you to identify any potential issues and correct them before you release the course to the public and start charging the masses for it. It helps you to ensure you’re putting out the best product possible.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where first impressions matter.

9. Choose a Pricing Model

How much are you going to charge for your course? If you’re not sure how to price it, consider what purpose it’s going to serve for your business.

Is the course going to be your primary stream of income? Will there be paid offshoots from the course, such as a mastermind group or individual coaching?

Answering these questions can help you to decide how much to charge for it. For example, if it’s going to be a primary income stream, you’ll likely want to charge more for it than if it’s going to be part of a larger package.

Additionally, think about future iterations of the course and how this could influence potential yearly renewals.

10. Promote Your Course

Now, it’s time to promote your course. Put together marketing emails to send to the folks on your list, as well as social media posts to use to advertise to your audience online. You may want to include links to the signup page on your website and in your blog posts, too.

In your marketing materials, be sure to include reviews and testimonials from the folks who completed the beta test. That way, people can see what others have to say about the course, which may pique their interest and encourage them to sign up themselves.

Think outside the box and your existing audience as well. Affiliates and partnerships are a great way to find new audiences. If you’ve built something that can resonate across a specific vertically, you’ll be surprised at how big your reach can be.

11. Keep Asking for Feedback

Don’t stop there and definitely don’t let your course become stale by getting complacent. Keep asking for feedback on your course and continually iterate on the online course. The only way you’re going to put together a successful course and keep generating signups is to receive feedback and make adjustments based on what participants have to say.

You don’t have to implement every change they suggest, of course. However, it’s still a good idea to listen to your audience and incorporate their feedback whenever you can.

It also doesn’t have to be a full revamp of your course. Open access to bonus chapters or sections is a great way to keep building more and more value.

Wrapping up

That’s all folks. If you made it this far, you should have a really good understanding of what goes into online course making. Follow these steps and you’ll have no trouble as you create an online course that helps you share your knowledge and expand your reach in 2021 and beyond.