Best Tools to Create Online Courses

Before I created my first-ever online video course, I spent hours and days researching the different cameras, microphones and software I needed. Eventually, I invested in my “starter kit,” which worked fine. But as I became more and more experienced with the course creation process, I realized that my initial set up wasn’t the best for me, so I changed and tweaked quite a few things. I put together this article to show you the current tools that I use to create my online courses, so you don’t have to spend as much time and money to compile yours as I did!

Photo Credit: Jeroen den Otter | Unsplash.com

Note: some of the links in the article are affiliate links. If you don’t want to use my links, you can just google the equipment I list here!

Microphones

One of my biggest recent findings is that the quality of the audio is much more important for students than the quality of the video. Thus getting the best microphone is a higher priority than getting the best camera. I’ll get back to this a bit later. But let’s see our options first!

Blue Yeti Microphone ($129)

It isn’t worth skimping on the microphone. Blue Yeti is the favorite pick for many Vloggers and Podcast-creators and it’s not a coincidence: it brings really good quality for a very reasonable price. Plus, it looks pretty cool.

LINK: Blue Yeti Mic

The Blue Yeti Mic (photo credit: Thierry | pexels.com)

As for me, Blue Yeti was my first mic, but I changed it out for two reasons:

a) It didn’t handle it well when I moved my head while I was speaking. In the recordings my voice was sometimes quieter, sometimes louder, just because I accidentally turned my head.

b) USB-microphones have a technical limitation in sound quality, so they will never be as good as XLR-microphones. (It’s another question whether your students will actually notice the difference…) Anyway, the point is that after a while I upgraded to:

Audio-Technica BPHS1 Headset ($199) + Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface ($149)

This set is used by many online video course creators and also by semi-professional musicians who want to have a portable set for their recordings. It produces 100% professional quality and thus it is a great investment. What I love most is that it filters the background noise very efficiently, so if you travel a lot and you end up in a noisier accommodation, you can still record your online course materials. The only drawback is that since it’s a headset, you have to put it on your head. It doesn’t matter when you are recording a screencast video but it might look goofy when you are talking to the camera. Well, it’s just a question of taste. Personally, I don’t really care about it and I wear it during my face videos, too.

Me, wearing the headset in the intro video of my new course (source: data36.com)

LINK 1: Audio-Technica BPHS1 headset
LINK 2: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface

Cameras

Your Smart Phone (Free)

As I mentioned above, the video quality is less important than the sound quality, so if you have a smartphone with a good enough camera in it, it’s already good to go. Really, for your first course, I don’t see why to invest in a better camera… Spend that money on the audio equipment! And when you pull off your first few sales, then you can still upgrade to a better camera.

Nikon D3400 Camera ($497)

As of today, I use the Nikon D3400 camera for my recordings. The reason is simple: I already had that when I started creating my courses. This is an entry-level DSLR camera. It produces high-quality videos even with mediocre light conditions. Be aware that if you choose this tool, you will actually have to learn how to use it, since it has a plethora of settings. Another difficulty is that it doesn’t have the flip screen, so if you want to see yourself while shooting (recommended), you have to connect your camera to a TV or a monitor. For that you will need a Mini-HDMI-to-HDMI adapter and a standard HDMI-HDMI cable, too. (Oh, boy, you don’t want to know how many cables and adapters I bought in the process of figuring this out.)

LINK 1: Nikon D3400
LINK 2: Mini-HDMI-to-HDMI adapter

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Camera ($649)

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Another big favorite of Vloggers. It’s an awesome camera; it’s very easy to use and it produces exceptional video quality even in low light. It has the flip screen, too. Note that it’s not the best camera for taking pictures. But that doesn’t matter since you want to shoot videos and not photos anyway.

LINK: Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

Best camera + microphone combination?

As you can see, there are quite a few microphone + camera combinations. The cheapest solution is using your smartphone camera and a Blue Yeti microphone.

My current combo is this:

Audio-Technica BPHS1 headset + Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface + NIKON D3400 camera

(Here’s a sample video I shot with this combo last year: My Intro Video.)

Screen Recording and Video Editing softwares

Camtasia ($249)

There are many screen recording and video editing software options on the market. For me, Camtasia is the clear winner. It has many advantages:

  • It’s very easy to use; you can learn it in hours just by playing around with it.
  • It’s an all-in-one solution: it can do the screen recording, the audio recording and the editing as well.
  • It works both on a Mac and a PC.
  • It’s a one-time payment without annual/monthly fees.
Camtasia’s Editor

On the other hand, Camtasia is an entry level video editor tool, so doesn’t offer too many special effects, only the most essential annotations, transitions and animations. (For me these were more than enough.) Plus, sometimes it’s a little buggy — but nothing too bad. For someone starting online course creation, this is the ideal choice.

LINK: Camtasia’s Website

Keynote/PowerPoint

I learned that students are more interested in seeing visual supports that enhance their learning process than my face. Well, I can relate to that. But since my video course is about data science and coding, most of the time I do screen recordings anyway. When I don’t, I like to talk to the camera for only about 10–15 seconds at the beginning and end of the vids, and the rest is a Keynote/PowerPoint presentation.

The best online platform (to publish your courses)

Teachable ($39/month)

This was the topic that I initially researched the most. There are four or five big platforms out there. At first look they all seem really similar, but they differ in small but important details. I wanted to know which one was the best for me. Eventually, most of my friends recommended Teachable, and I’m so, so happy that I went with that.

One of my courses at Teachable

First of all, their service is just awesome. They have the perfect editor to beautifully create and organize your online courses. You can create coupons, you can run affiliate programs, you can automate your courses. Everything you might need. It’s simple and efficient.

Secondly, their pricing is more than reasonable. I use their Basic Plan, which costs $39 per month plus a 5% cut of sales — which is very, very low. (Just for comparison, Udemy takes 25–75%.) And you can use your own domain and brand. 
Later this year, I’ll upgrade to their Pro Plan; it costs $99 per month, but after a while it’s worth it because the commission drops to 0%. (Do the math and decide which one is the best fit for you!)

Third, Teachable’s customer support is very responsive and very helpful.

And the icing on the the cake is that they take care of all the administrative tasks for you: like invoicing and legal stuff. (More about that in a bit.)

All-in-all: Teachable is the best possible choice as a platform for your online courses.

LINK: Teachable

Communication

In my data science video course, I do 1-on-1 Skype consultations with my students and we also have a class forum where they can communicate with each other. I tested quite a few platforms for that and I found that these tools are the best:

Slack (for the class forum) (FREE)

I tested every possible format: e-mail list, dedicated website, closed Facebook group, private Reddit channel, everything… but the clear winner is Slack. Honestly, I don’t know why — but techies tend to like Slack the most. And it’s free, too.

LINK: Slack

Calendly (FREE)

For scheduling 1-on-1 consultations, I use Calendly. It works simple: I can set when I am available for meetings and students can automatically book a meeting with me. When they do so, it automatically gets into my calendar and all I have to do is just show up in the online meeting room when the session starts.

LINK: Calendly

Google Hangouts (FREE)

There are many options here, as well. My choice is Google Hangouts. Why? Because I can connect it with Calendly, so my whole meeting-booking process can be automated.

LINK: Google Hangouts

Marketing tools

Marketing is important and it would deserve another full article.
In fact, I wrote something like that already, here:

But here’s the list of the tools I use:

  • Mailchimp for email marketing and email automations
  • Zapier for creating better automations across all my tools
  • Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for social media marketing
  • Reddit (paid ads only)
  • Wordpress for blogging and content marketing

Administration: incorporation, taxation, banking

If you are a Teachable user, you have (at least) these two options:

A) You sign a contract with Teachable and they take care of the invoicing, taxation and the general administration.

B) You register your own company and you take care of these things by yourself.

I did both, although once I incorporated my company, I realized that the A) solution is much more convenient, so ever since then I haven’t even used my company for my online courses.

The taxation and your final net income might differ from country to country — but when I did the math for myself (I live in Hungary, Europe), I got nearly the same results for both solutions.

But here are some details:

  1. If you go with solution A) and leave the admin to Teachable, count on some extra expenses on two fronts. They will send you the money through Paypal. And Paypal charges (a ridiculous) ~5% in transaction and conversion fees (+/-2–3%, depending on which country you live in.) Plus, the contract with Teachable is something that most local tax offices are not too familiar with, so if you want to do your taxation properly, it’s highly recommended to get a 1–2 hour consultation with a professional accountant with international experience. This is especially recommended if you are located in the EU (like me).
  2. If you go with solution B) and do the admin for yourself: register a company! If you are in the EU, I recommend a UK LIMITED company. It’s relatively cheap, internationally recognized, and if you don’t use it, it doesn’t cost anything. If you are in the US, you can use Stripe Atlas to form an LLC. And if you are somewhere else, then try to find something similar in your country. Either way, if you form your own company, you have to register with Stripe to accept card payments and Paypal to accept Paypal payments. Both of these are fully compatible with Teachable — which is really important, since most of your students will use one of these two methods to pay you for your courses.
    LINK 1: Stripe
    LINK 2: Stripe Atlas
    LINK 3: Paypal

Banking with Transferwise

For banking, I’d recommend to first go to a local bank because in many countries it’s still the best option. You need information on the costs of international banking, especially for international bank transfers, currency conversion and bank cards.

If these fees are high, I recommend to register for Transferwise. It’s a virtual bank designed to make international banking cheaper and easier. They do currency conversion almost at the mid-market rate and they charge a very low amount on international transfers. Plus they have free bank cards.

LINK: Transferwise

A Transferwise account

Conclusion

As you can see, creating online courses is a puzzle with many, many pieces. I hope that this article helped you to find the best tools for it! If you have any questions, any comments, and most importantly any additional tool recommendations that should be on the list, do not hesitate to comment.

I hope you found this useful. I will write a few more articles on this topic in the future. If you don’t want to miss them, follow me on Medium, Twitter or Linkedin.

Enjoyed the article? Please just let me know by clicking the 👏 below. It also helps other people see the story!

Tomi Mester
data36.com
courses.data36.com