How to Launch Your Online Course Without Months of Hard Work

Written by Dan Johnson on January 15, 2015 Blog.

One thing that puts a lot of people off teaching online, is what they perceive to be a huge amount of work involved in creating the course content. I’ve seen people spend months producing an extensive course, with professionally edited video, and elaborately devised quizzes, only to find that when they finally release it, nobody wants to buy it.

There is another way

You may know everything there is to know about a certain subject. That doesn’t mean you have to cram all of that knowledge into one really long course before you can start selling it. My advice would be to follow a ‘lean production’ approach to online course creation.

If you’ve never heard of lean, it’s a set of principles derived from a manufacturing process developed by Toyota, which aims to create maximum value, with minimum waste. A key concept of the methodology is the ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP), which is ‘a product with the highest return on investment versus risk’.

For our purposes, that would mean producing a course (or courses) that deliver the maximum amount of value to your learners, with the minimum amount of time, effort and cost invested by you.

You then gather feedback on this course from your learners, and based on that feedback, gradually improve/expand your course offerings, and then repeat the whole process.

Putting it into practice

Let’s say, for example, you’re really good at iPhoneography (taking photos with your iPhone), and you have an idea to sell an online course to teach people your skills.

Your first thought might be to write down everything you know, organise it into one giant ‘Everything You Need to Know About iPhoneography’ course, and then set about recording and editing videos for each lesson.

This process could take months, during which time you’re not making any money, and you’re not learning anything about your potential customers.

Find out what your customers need

A better approach would be to start with some customer research to find out what kind of course you could actually sell to people.

If you already have a blog about photography for example, you could ask your readers if they are interested in learning about iPhoneography, and maybe get them to complete a short survey to find out the kind of topics they’d be interested in.

If you don’t already have an audience, it can be trickier to do initial customer research, but you can always speak to people you know, survey all your Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts. Just make sure you speak to at least a few people before you start creating courses.

Start small

When you have an idea of what kind of course to build, based on conversations you’ve had with real people, it’s time to start on your MVP.

To begin with, you could make a short text-only course, so you don’t need to waste time recording videos until you’re sure it’s going to worthwhile.

Or if you really need video, just grab your phone and record on that, don’t worry about studio equipment or professional editing. All of that can come later if you find your learners respond well to the course.

You might also consider making a free course which covers the basics, to get people interested, or you could use our Name Your Price extension for WooCommerce to let people decide how much to pay. This can help you find out how much people would be willing to pay for your courses.

Our WordPress learning management system plugin – Sensei – also allows you to sell a course, but offer the first few lessons for free, so that people can see if they like the content before committing to a purchase.

Talk to your customers

Once your MVP course is published and you have some learners, you need to start gathering feedback from them.

Find out what they liked about the course, what frustrated them, and what else they would like to see.

This initial feedback will tell you what to do next. Maybe they want more of the same, in which case you can expand on your original course.

Or perhaps there are other topics that your learners want to know about, so you should build more courses.

Or maybe they liked your course, but would like it to be more interactive, so you could introduce quizzes and a badge system to reward your learners’ achievements.

Repeat and repeat

From here, the whole process repeats, as you make continuous small improvements based on your customer feedback, learning more about your customers and their needs with each iteration (not to mention earning money along the way!)

Using this kind of lean approach to creating course content is undoubtedly more efficient and cost-effective than the alternative.

So if you’re putting off getting started with online teaching because of the daunting task of creating a course, I urge you to try the approach outlined above, and let us know how it goes for you.

Start creating your MVP today with Sensei.



6 Responses

  1. Fat Tony
    January 15, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    Another get-rich-quick scheme from WooThemes.

    Bunch of used car salesmen.


  2. a.holligan.bf3
    January 15, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

    When there will be something new except these articles?

  3. Shamsul Alam
    January 23, 2015 at 3:17 am #

    We need video, how to grab our phone and record that?

    • Dan
      January 27, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

      Hey Shamsul

      Wistia has some great free lessons on creating awesome videos –

  4. Sergio Felix
    January 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

    I actually delayed my first ever formal launch for up to a year because I never thought it was “good enough” to be released (big mistake).

    I have met marketers that have beta-released their live trainings and by the end of the webinars, they package the entire training and sell it at 4x the initial price as a completed training.

    It only makes sense to me, why work on something for so many months (even more than a year) only to find out nobody wants your product at the end of it?



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