When Kitty Bucholtz decided to start teaching her writing classes online, she figured she had all the keys to success.
After all she had been teaching since 1998 so she already had her course materials in place and a devoted following. And when it came to the task of setting up her infrastructure, Kitty also had some decent technical chops as she had already created a website with a blog. So she figured it would be reasonably straightforward to take her business to the next level with an online course.
But Here's the Kicker:
It was not straightforward at all. And it took way more time that Kitty had even anticipated.
Nine months later, Kitty had finally gotten to the point where she had cobbled together some tools to create a website for her course. But it barely worked and Kitty was about to pitch the whole thing into the trashcan. In fact she was actually considering going back to her clunky 20th century method of using Yahoo Groups to communicate with her students.
Fortunately she found CourseLauncherHQ and we got her up and running in 2 weeks.
Why Did Kitty Struggle So Much Setting Up Her Online Course?
The reason lies in the fact that an online course has a lot of moving pieces, many more than your typical website. These components have to work synergistically together to create a welcoming place for your student to get the full benefit of the course.
In a perfect world we could put together an online course like we put together Lego bricks, but software components don’t just snap into place. They have to be configured and integrated.
And even Legos have evolved. You can now buy Lego kits that build a dump truck or a starship. Unlike the generic Lego bricks, each piece in a Lego kit has a specific role. As any eight year old will tell you; substituting the wheels for the nose cone of a plane will not work. The pieces are not interchangeable. Neither are the software components you’ll need to market and deliver your online course.
Why You Should Consider Creating an Online Course
At this point you might be a little hesitant to create your own online course. Don’t be. Online training is hot and a huge market, over $100 billion! If you love to teach and help others there’s no better way to reach more people.
Here are some of the great benefits of having an online course:
- Teach once, sell multiple times
- Big profit margins
- Very low overhead cost
We’ll look at the very compelling numbers later on in this article.
Making Your Online Course a Reality
So let’s take a look at the technical components you’ll need to make your online course a reality. To do this and to make it as understandable as possible, we are going to use a typical classroom as a model.
If you are a teacher, especially if you fill your own classrooms, you know there’s a lot needed for a successful class.
Let’s walk through each activity and how that translates into a requirement for your online course website. Keep in mind that you may not need software for all activities. For example instead of a discussion board, a Q&A call may be sufficient. It all depends on what you want to accomplish.
Getting the Students
In our example, our class is not free and requires registration. So to get the students into the classroom we need two functions:
Communication that explains the benefits of the class and a way to communicate those benefits through various channels (and not just on the school marquee)
Students need to register and pay for the class
We’ll need several website components to get the students started in the course. We need:
- Sales pages that help the student decide to take the class
- A way to take payment
- A registration process so each student gets his or her own login and account
- An email system to communicate with both prospective and registered students
Keeping the Classroom Door Closed
While we are teaching we really don’t want random strangers off the street wandering in and disrupting our class. And we definitely don’t want people in the class who haven’t paid for it.
So when it comes to our website for our online course, we need:
- Ability to restrict our content so only our students can view it
- Security mechanisms to protect our content and our student’s information
Typically restricting content is done with membership site software and you can also install special software to increase your website’s security.
Teaching the Students
Now we get to the fun part, teaching! Good teachers use a variety of ways to inspire their students to learn the material. They of course instruct, but also write on the chalkboard, and give quizzes and handouts.
- Think about the different types of media you’ll need to create an ideal learning experience for your students. You can primarily rely on audio, or perhaps you want to provide a rich media experience which includes different types of video, downloadable PDFs and exercises. Our website not only needs to store these various forms of media but also deliver them in an easy to consume format. For example if you are using video, you will need both the video files and a video player.
- How will your students progress through the course material? If your course is self-paced your content will need to be organized in a logical and sequential way. So you’ll need sections, modules and lessons, and each of those may require a different web page format.
Software that facilitates an e-learning experience is called a LMS, short for learning management system. If you are serious about delivering a great online learning experience, a LMS is a must have.
A LMS can have many more features than we are covering here. For example, one key feature you may want to have is the ability to track your students’ progress through the course.
Classroom Discussion and Community
One of the challenges with online learning is that attrition is higher than it is for in person courses. Your students may feel isolated or may struggle with the material and give up.
A discussion forum is one way to address these issues. Students can post questions and celebrate their successes and feel connected to you and the class. A forum can really help give your students the community support they need. And it’s not uncommon for other students to jump and answer the questions!
Invest Wisely for an Outstanding Result
As you can see, when you start to consider all the functionality you’ll need to deliver an outstanding online course, there’s likely more technology than you initially thought. You’ll also need hosting, a website design (the fonts, layout and colors of your website) and perhaps an affiliate system.
When we totaled up the cost of the components that make up our CourseLauncherHQ Pro system, it came to $1,637.64 a year.
While that may sound high, it’s actually not given the potential return. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- If you sold your course for $500, all you would need is 4 students to make a profit.
- If you enrolled 100 students, your revenue would be $50,000.
- 1000 students? Your revenue would be a half million dollars.
- The numbers get even better with a higher priced course. 100 students in a $1,000 course will yield revenue of $100,000.
So don’t skimp on the software needed to deliver an excellent online course; the investment is well worth it.
Note that these numbers do not take into account the cost of your time. So don’t make the mistake Kitty did and underestimate the effort it will take to setup your online course website. We’ve heard a lot of war stories from our clients who have gone through the process. So we do recommend getting some expert guidance so that you don’t end up with a system that doesn’t work for you.
Online Course Blueprint
Getting your website in place is just one part of what you need to do to develop your online course. You’ll also need to:
- Research your market:
Is there a need for what you want to teach? Identify your target students and what they are specifically looking for.
- Plan your course curriculum:
Create your course objective and a list of lessons.
- Develop your course:
With an online course this usually means creating videos. Decide whether you are recording talking head videos or using screencast and PowerPoint slides.
If this all seems overwhelming, fortunately we have a great resource that will get your started in the right direction. Our Online Course Blueprint is full of helpful tips and free to download.