E-learning today comprises a specific constellation of business, technology and educational elements which result in a reduced entry barrier for entrepreneurship in the industry. Everyone can undertake to create and to sell online courses. However, this does not mean that all who try will succeed in making a profit from such endeavors.

How to Build an Online Course that Sells

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In order to boost your chances, in this article, we will address key elements of successful online courses and discuss their profitability in sections 1) Online Courses and Statistics of Profitability; 2) Preparation & Creation of Online Courses; 3) Key Elements of Making Online Courses Which Will Sell; 4) Platforms for Online Course Launching; 5) Selling Strategy.

ONLINE COURSES AND STATISTICS OF PROFITABILITY

Because of the fact that one of the key elements of e-learning is accessibility of knowledge acquirement regardless of location we can trace the roots of it all the way back to the correspondence learning courses of the late 19th century. However, the modern understanding of the industry is based on the technology development and has emerged in reference to the rise of the internet in the 1990s. In the following decades more than 6 billion dollars of venture capital were invested in massive open online courses (MOOCs) and with the all-encompassing integration of internet into spheres of human life, online courses became a fertile ground for entrepreneurship – corporal, institutional and individual.

The emergence of e-commerce made it increasingly accessible to upgrade existing knowledge and skills as well as create and develop new ones from the comfort of one’s home or office. The cost is within reasonable and affordable parameters. An increasing number of institutions validate certificates from online courses and even when they do not, they are a desirable attachment to one’s resume. For these reasons, along with those related to self- accomplishment and satisfaction that spurs from growth, more and more people are craving for learning online and are willing to pay a certain price for it.

In order to create an online course that will be profitable, one must evaluate inclinations towards and necessities of knowledge in different niches. Due to the rule and constant changes of technology (information era) and business (capitalism), each of this industries separately as well as in correlation serve as one of the most profitable niches in which people all over the world wish to enhance. Even more so if corporate training spheres are taken into account because large amounts of such endeavours are done through online courses.

The incorporation of eastern philosophy and medicine in the western civilization for the past century has caused widespread interest in the fields of religion, spirituality and alternative medicine.

However, the practical truth is that all niches have potential customers when referring to online courses – as long as a topic is well defined, presents relevant information and/or provides an opportunity to upgrade existing knowledge at a lower cost than ‘in real life’ (this applies not only to financial but also temporal and spatial as well as qualitative dimensions).

Statistics of Online Courses

The statistics enlisted below are more oriented on business and educational spheres due to lack of statistical data on individual entrepreneurship in e-learning. The industry is still in the formation, and individual entrepreneurial approaches have been developing in greater amounts only in the past few years. However, these statistics show a positive trend towards industry growth in all directions.

  • The e-learning industry has increased revenue from around 35.6 billion dollars in 2011 to 56.2 billion dollars in 2014 from corporate training. It is estimated that, in the course of this year, these figures are going to double.
  • Business world is becoming more and more oriented towards online courses as a training and education strategy for their employees – over 40% of Fortune 500 companies use some form of it. From mere 4% of American corporations that used e-learning as a training strategy, in 2011 they amounted to stunning 77%. E-learning decreases costs of training and education by 50% and their duration by 60% in reference to traditional instruction methods. Moreover, recent reports by IBM show that educational technology tools tend to enhance productivity of employees by 50% (it is estimated that for every dollar spent for training, corporations earn 30$ worth of productivity). Further on, 72% of companies included in a recent survey stated that e-learning represents the most constructive strategy of keeping up with changes in industries and maintaining strong competitive advantages which results in greater ability to acclimatize to the market and their customers (increase of around 34%).
  • 46% of college students reports to attending at least one course online and with the flourishing of sites like Coursera, more and more people of all ages, statuses and professions enroll into such education-based models.
  • Elite instructors of online courses generate revenue from six to seven figures monthly.
  • Online courses are increasingly present all over the world: Asia (17.3% annual growth rate), Africa (15.4 % annual growth rate), Middle East (8.2% annual growth rate) and Western Europe (5.8% annual growth rate).

PREPARATION & CREATION OF ONLINE COURSES

Courses According to your Expertise

If you are thinking of founding an online course based enterprise, you have to be a connoisseur in a field. You cannot expect to generate profit by giving nothing in return. Quality is the imperative. Even if someone decides to give you the benefit of a doubt and pay for your course, lack of satisfaction will quickly result in collapse of your endeavors (word of mouth works extremely fast, and online, it reaches the speed of light).

If you have the necessary knowledge and passion that lights its fire, you stand a good chance of building a profession you will truly find content and profit in.

Examination of Target Audience and Profitability of a Potential Course

The second pillar of your future successful enterprise is the consumers. You must determine which areas and what levels of your expertise have value for them. In order to do so, you must choose a target audience for your course. Gamers will not be a good target audience for an online course on expert sewing techniques, but online communities of senior citizens or fashion design students might be.

Create and use channels such as social media, websites or blogs and interact with your visitors in order to get feedback on their interest spheres regarding the knowledge or skills you have and are willing to share.

For example, a connoisseur of incense sticks and essence oil manufacturer posts a blog on how to make one’s incense sticks. The comments show that there is a wide interest in the subjects and frequent questions regarding the process. The blogger is now aware that the preparation of incense sticks is something that spurs interest among his visitors and is something they would like to know more about.

It is not an easy task to form a circle of visitors in correspondence with your niche, however, once built; they can be a source of future retentive customers.

Once you have discussed the appeal of the topic on your channels, evaluate the potential profitability of your course by browsing for similar already existing ones. If there is some number of kindred courses that charge a participation fee, substantial interest has already been determined for your niche of expertise and, consequently, you can take it as a marker of good potential profitability. Even if there are not any similar courses and you have strong faith in the usefulness of your service, proceed with your idea – entrepreneurs are risk takers!

Precise Steps for Preparing the Course

Define objectives of the course

Decide what is the strategic goal of your course and specify the perspective from which you will be approaching it.

For example, your goal is to acquire a satisfied audience ready for continued collaboration in a certain period of time. If you are an expert in above-mentioned sewing techniques, you might want to start with a particular sewing fabric or a specific design bearing in mind that it can become a series of courses (for different fabrics or designs).

Design & Structure the course

Design your course to be interesting and stimulating. Structure it so as to provide the clear vision of its constructiveness and future implementation and use assignments and quizzes so as to evaluate your students. Keep in mind that teaching is a two way street.

Create a learning environment

A learning environment is best achieved by combining collaborative sessions with instructors (for example, use video conferencing) and self-paced learning.

Keep your program on track

Keep track of the progress your students are making and make sure to revise and clarify problematic areas.

After the constructed course has finished, make sure to proceed with a follow-up to your participants so as to make sure skills and practices are continuously implemented.

Importance of Cross-Handling Diverse Channels

Cross-handling of your channels will be decisive in longevity of your potential success as well as the amount of revenue you will be able to generate because it enables:

  • Determination of courses that are needed by your target audience (as stated above)
  • Personalization and Content Marketing
  • Differentiation among competition – becoming a brand through word of mouth, communication, personalized approach to visitors and followers
  • Successful promotion
  • Attracting and maintaining leads as well as increase of conversion rates

Channels to Cross-handle

  • Website
  • Blog
  • E-mail
  • Social Networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)
  • Search Engines
  • Platform where your Course is Launched

KEY ELEMENTS OF MAKING ONLINE COURSES WHICH WILL SELL

Specified Courses are More Profitable

Rather than making a detailed synthesis course of your field of expertise, concentrate on specific areas of your knowledge and skills as people are looking for usable courses that will be applicable in some ways after the course is finished. Over-generalization can seem like too much work and focusing at one point at the time can produce a qualitative building block of a comprehensive education in the future. You can structure your courses as a whole (if there is enough interest in the niche) but they must stand separately as self-sufficient units.

Relevant information

Use every minute and every section of your course to serve the objective – that is, employ relevant, to-the-point information always. Involve and engage your students in the education so as to provide a sense of accomplishment which will produce satisfaction with your service and become a pathway of future collaboration.

Integrate Helpful Tools

  • Frameworks
  • ‘How to’ tutorials
  • Additional information sources
  • Real life examples and case studies
  • Subtitles suited for international audience
  • Slideshows and interactive elements (multimedia, stories, images)

Instruction Process

Make sure you cover different learning capabilities by employing different learning tactics that will suit individual preferences and skills of your students, as well as the content and goal of the course. For example, employ targeted usage of these strategies

  • Research
  • Applied Learning
  • Learning through Creativity
  • Cognitive Coaching
  • Graphic Tools
  • Teaching for Understanding
  • Thinking Skills
  • Cooperative Learning

PLATFORMS FOR ONLINE COURSE LAUNCHING

Once you have constructed a draft of your online course, you have to begin the realization process. Various platforms can be found online depending on your technical skills, financial capability as well as time and effort you are willing to give to your project. In this section, we will discuss elements of launching platforms and provide a brief list with key features noted.

Pricing

Some platforms provide their services at no cost but with most of them this applicable only to courses which are posted without pricing (it can be beneficial for beginners in online course launching – a question we will address in the following section). On the other hand, there are numerous platforms, which require a monthly fee (they do usually have a free trial period) for their services regardless of pricing you set for your course. Lastly, some platforms charge a percentage on sales you make (with or without a monthly fee).

Features

Features offered by platforms vary depending on marketing strategies they employ and audiences that are represented as well as production opportunities and whether they provide certificates that will be valuable on the employment market.

Platform List

Here are some examples of platforms you can start your online course on:

  • Moodle: basic production tools; open source platform;
  • Academy of Mine: up-to-date production opportunities; content marketing strategies; 199$ monthly fee;
  • Digital Chalk: production services; 399$ set up fee + 4.95$ for each new basic course;
  • Udemy: sufficient production tools; free for free, 50% of your set price for each sale;
  • MindFlash: some production features; targeted audience platform; starts at 149$ a month.

SELLING STRATEGY

If you are new to the e-learning market, it would be advisable to try free platforms or trial periods and offer your courses for free as part of a customer activation strategy. As more people go through your courses, your enterprise will become branded by word of mouth advertising. Perhaps you should then offer a special offer consisting of a lower price and advertise on the platform and your channels the final price that will be set after the period expires. Your audience will increase during these two stages and will be able to evaluate approximately if they find the value of the services you offer worth the total price that will be set. There are two ways in which you can generate revenues from your online courses:

  • Charge Participation Fees: Depending on the policy of the platform you have chosen, charge a fee to participants (buyers) of your online course. Investigate pricing ranges of similar courses, estimate the value of the product you have created, deduct fees and/or percentages of sales you have to pass on to the platform and set a reasonable price. Offer discounts to retentive customers and special offers to your first-time students occasionally (but not continuously) because it will be appreciated and employ content marketing strategies for optimal placement on the e-learning market.
  • Introduce additional products or services: Additionally, you can develop niche and course related appendixes, products and services that will be useful to your students and offer them. Be careful not to over-advertise because it will drive your consumers away. Make sure they know you can offer them something they might need at reasonable prices subtly through communication and interaction. Again, your channels and networks are your best chance of creating a positive and retentive circle of customers.

Individually launched online courses are numerous. Differentiation is difficult, and some compromises must be made in order to enhance your chances of success. However, if you have an area of expertise, the will to invest time and unwind strategic reasoning with your unique spark of creativity and passion, you will produce quality. The modern consumers appreciate quality and usefulness almost as much as they are reluctant to pay and give time. The ratio is as positive as it gets, a 50-50 chance of success is a good starting point. If you manage to sustain quality and usefulness, these odds will grow in your favor. Consequently, you will sell and generate a profit while doing one of the most rewarding acts of humankind – sharing knowledge.

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Vasiliki Kyriazopoulou

Thanks a lot for this article. I wanted to take notes and ended up creating a whole framework with deadlines. Great content and a smart structure.
Great job!