I Published An Online Course And It Was Surprisingly Easy
Here’s a guide to planning and publishing your first course online.
In December 2018, I published my first digital course on the Internet. I’m a software engineer, and so I published a course about creating your own git repository in the cloud. Since that day, when I hit the publish button, a little more than 400 students joined the course.
The two weeks before publishing the course were mostly hectic and were filled with hours of screen capturing, filming myself on my iPhone, and writing a guide to accompany the course. I made many mistakes and learned a lot from them. I didn’t become rich, but I understand the potential. Here are some of those lessons.
To make a course, you first need to visualize what it will be about, what content will be in it, and write down the actual lessons. The more vague and abstract your course idea — the more likely it is you won’t ever complete it. Be very specific.
Decide the course topic
What will this course teach? What value will the student get from it? What will the student know to do after they finish this course?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself. Ask as many questions as necessary until the course idea is crystal clear in your mind.
Write down an outline
You will need to write down all the lessons in their respective categories and a short description of what’s going to happen in each lesson. If there are quizzes or tests, make sure to include them in this outline too.
Estimate video length
Each platform has its own rules for this. Go over your lessons and estimate how long it will take to teach that specific topic. Be honest with yourself, and don’t try to achieve the required 30 minutes by artificially inflating some of the lessons.
If you’re publishing on a public platform and have less than the required amount of video defined in their guidelines, you’ll probably need to adjust your material to cover a broader topic or maybe include some bonus sections.
From my experience, you will find that you have more video time than you initially estimated.
Schedule time for course creation
And by that, I don’t mean to add a block called “Online Course” on your calendar. That’s a big no-no.
Your calendar should include two types of events:
- Filming preparations — which is around 30 minutes before you start filming.
- Filming “<lecture name>” — which is the actual filming time allocated on your calendar for a specific lecture. If you also work full time like me, you will schedule this as an hour at first.
The first item on this list should help you decide what you are filming during the second and set up the environment so you can start shooting immediately (this includes setting up the camera or screen capture software). You need to have your lecture description in front of you. Start with one lecture, expand to filming more when you’re comfortable.
Now, let’s polish those lecture descriptions.
Editing The Course’s Draft
I wrote the outline for my first course in a notebook. My handwriting is terrible. So, the first order of business was to transfer the outline to something digital. I chose Google Docs. You can select anything you want as long as it is backed up automatically. You don’t want to lose a well-polished course outline.
Expanding On Your Lectures
Each of your lectures contains a vague idea of what you want to teach. In this pass over your lectures, you will polish each lecture and write down the actual segments in the video.
Here’s a before and after example:
Lesson 3 — Launch an Instance on AWS.
Lesson 3 — Launch an Instance on AWS:
Show the EC2 section in the dashboard.
Explain the instance types briefly.
Discover what type of instance you need.
Warn about the pricing of on-demand instances.
Fill out the new instance details and launch it.
Verify it’s up.
The best part of breaking your lectures to smaller segments is that you can record each one independently and then put them together as one video with your video editing software.
Do you have a few thirty-second lectures in a row? Consider merging them into one video with a broader name. On the other hand, consider breaking down lectures which are longer than ten minutes. Too many short lectures add overhead to your student, and the impatient student will abandon too long lectures and with no added value to the course.
As mentioned above, you should plan out what you are going to film. The filming should not take long. Once you discover you’re wasting time — it’s your cue to head back to the planning desk. That mostly happens in the introductory video. Let me give you a tip: If you’re having trouble recording the intro video, record it last. You will have a better grasp of your course material by then, and things will come more naturally.
Recording sessions should be short and concise. You’re not filming a movie. You’re shooting a course, and that means you should not guess. Everything should be ready and planned out for your recording session.
A typical recording session consists of the following:
- Preparation (discussed above).
- Testing — if you’re going to explain a process, you need to test it out. The last thing you want is getting stuck or revealing a bug during a recording. You may show a bug on purpose if it serves an explanation, but otherwise, it is never recommended.
- Filming — Even when you made a mistake, don’t pause the recording. You can edit it out later. Keep the momentum and do it right. Also, don’t feel bad about saying “umm” too many times and for being silent too long. You will edit those out as well.
The critical lesson to take from filming is this:
It won’t be perfect and that’s totally ok.
You’re releasing a course to the world, and it will have mistakes and bugs in it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t check for those at all — I’m saying that you should prefer progress over perfection. If you prefer Perfection over Progress, that course will never see the light of day.
Don’t be afraid of outtakes. Don’t stop the recording, and when you make a mistake — own it. You will make many more mistakes, and it will be fun to watch them sometime in the future. You do not need to delete the entire recording because you misspelled one word.
Retakes shouldn’t happen unless you either decided one of two things:
- You can make the recording simpler for your students to understand by doing a shorter or more transparent process.
- You made a mistake that will pass a wrong message to your student. For example, you forgot to mention that AWS instances cost money when they are not stopped or terminated. That is not a simple word misspelling or speech confusion. That is a fundamental piece of information you mistakenly left out (and in this case, can incur a high cost to the unsuspecting student).
Video And Editing
The editing part is where you look at what you created and start shaping the clay into a tool. There will be lots of cuts; there will be sound editing; there will be retakes because of lighting or sound or too many umms that can’t be cut out. But in the end, you will have a product ready.
I’ve been using Camtasia. But you can use whatever works for you. There are many options. The most basic software is probably OBS Studio — a free solution — which allows you to record the screen and mouse while recording the microphone, and it works on any platform you’re using.
You will find reasons to cut more than you have to if you’re a little embarrassed listening to your voice or seeing yourself on camera. You will get over it eventually. Cut what is not beneficial to the lecture’s goal. For example, cut away any long “umm” or long silences. They damage the student’s focus on what you’re saying.
Reviews And Exposure
No matter what platform you’re using, Udemy, Skillshare, or any other, reviews will play a significant role in determining your success.
Promoting Your Course
Whether you’re hosting your course on Udemy or Skillshare or anywhere else, you need eyeballs to look at it if you’re going to get any students at all. That means you need to either use FB Ads, Google Ads, Promoting in groups, etc.
In Udemy, for example, it is possible to gain traction for your course if you get some high reviews at the start. Udemy had 97 million visitors in March 2019. The algorithm will work for you and show your course to people if you recently had high reviews.
Give your friends free access to your course by sending them a free coupon (Any platform should allow you to generate one). That will allow your friends to review your course. If they went through the course and gave you an honest review, their review will be worth much more to you than the cost you alleviated for them.
If you score high in your niche, people who look for a term that describes your niche will get your course high up in their search results. You need as many reviews as possible.
Reviews’ Action Items
If multiple reviews are raising the same issue — you may need to fix a problem. Don’t hesitate to learn from your mistakes. Reviews can be edited. If someone gave you a 1 star, that doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal. You need to fix the problem presented to you by the student and then let them know that you did X and Y and ask if they can edit their review to reflect their new experience.
Reviews are what drives more people to gain exposure to the course. Don’t shy away from them. I will go as far as to say reviews will make or break a course’s success in any course catalog.
Give The Course For Free
I gave my course to almost 300 people. The rest came from Shares and Social Media. Why would I want that? Because of the social effect. You need more eyeballs on your work. It has two benefits:
- People who enrolled in your course can leave an honest review, even if they didn’t pay for the course.
- Your course’s homepage shows the number of students you have and will have an impact on people’s decision whether to buy the course or not — That is called “Social Proof”. The more students you have, the easier it is to trust you to deliver.
The Financial Question
People ask me how much money I made from that course. Since I have more than 400 students, people presume I got paid for all of them. If you read the article up to this point, you know it’s not true.
In fact, at the time of writing these words, I haven’t even made 100$ from this course. It depends on the niche, I guess. Courses in popular topics like programming languages or instruction about using popular platforms like AWS will work better.
The most important piece of advice I can give you in the realm of making money from your courses is: Create more than one. That will compound your earnings. Someone told me in an instructor facebook group once: “Wash, Rinse, Repeat. Then earnings of 2$ will become 100$.”
I couldn’t agree with this assessment more. One course will not make you rich, but it’s worth it anyway.
Creating an online course enlightened me in various ways. I can’t speak for the successful part because that depends on the genre and other factors. But I’m so ready to create a new course, and I did get a few tips here and there. Creating a course didn’t change who I am. Each class you will make will be better than the last one.
The course I did was about something pretty specific that not everyone uses. I believe that someone who will publish multiple courses will make more money. So don’t work too much on your one course, deal with student feedback, and build the next one.
Oren Cohen is a Software Development Engineer, Gamer, Geek, and Writer. He is writing in all sorts of topics on Medium, though his passion lies with Fantasy and Video Games.