Would you like to share your expert knowledge with others by creating an online course?

There has been a boom in the online course industry in recent years as it has become ever easier to learn a new skill on your computer or even on your phone sitting on the bus.

Helen LindopIt’s a way to demonstrate your expertise and also earn some money. We asked Helen Lindop, who teaches people how to make online courses, how to get started, how to choose a platform and how to make your course stand out from the crowd.

This is a compilation of a live Q&A.

How do I decide on a platform?

Helen Lindop Start with your strategy – what do you want to get from your course? e.g. a free lead generator? To primarily make money from course sales? To help position you as an expert and then sell services on the back of it? Once you’ve worked that out there will be a solution to fit, because there’s so many out there now.

Q. Other than Udemy, are there any hosting platforms you would recommend? [I would like] to primarily make money from course sales with additional mentoring as part of the sale or perhaps the mentoring can be added as a monthly sub?

Helen Lindop In that case I’d probably not start with Udemy because the discounting is so deep that you need to sell a lot of courses to make much money. My current favourite is Zenler, because it’s easy to use, there’s no upfront fee and being UK based they take care of the EU VAT for you. 

Q. Is there an optimum length for an online course?

Helen Lindop I’d say you’re best to work out what you want your students/clients to achieve then design your course to meet that goal. So make it as long as it needs to be.

Also, longer isn’t necessarily better. We’re all up to our ears in info, so sometimes a short course that achieves a lot is just what’s needed.

Q. Do you have any practical tips on assessing what students/clients need to then be able to design the online course?

Helen Lindop I’d say keep it simple and just talk to them about their problems, then design a solution to those problems. Yes, you could design a load of questionnaires but if you’re just starting out, listening to someone say ‘THIS is what’s driving me nuts’ is a really valuable starting point.

Ann Hawkins Udemy suggests breaking modules up into small chunks so people can see where they’ve got to and pick up where they left off. I find it annoying but is that something you’d recommend Helen?

Helen Lindop  Definitely avoid an hour long video, because if a student has to stop mid-way and then find that spot later it’s a pain. Keep in mind that people are taking courses on the move now, so on their smartphones, on the bus. Make it easy for them to dip in and out. But on the other end a whole list of 2 minute videos gets irritating too.

I think Udemy may have an ulterior motive too in that a course made up of 10 short videos looks more valuable than one with the same content in a single video! And they have a point – there is a lot of competition out there so making a potential student see the value in the course will help make the sale.

Just to add I meant Udemy is very competitive because your course is up there alongside other similar courses.

What level of support should you offer?

Q. I wanted to ask you about support for an online course. Would this need to be clarified beforehand or offered on an AdHoc bases?

Helen Lindop Do you mean offering tutor support alongside (say) pre-recorded videos?

Ann Hawkins I did this with my premium Work Smart Not Hard Course, Jo. I offered the option of sending back worksheets to get my comments. Then I offered a cheaper version without that option. It works really well.

Helen Lindop Courses with support tend to be more effective because the students can ask questions and there’s accountability. It does depend on the subject, though. E.g. if it’s basic software training you might need little support, if it’s like Ann’s – building a business – then tutor support would be really helpful. You do need to price it right though because tutor support can take up a lot of your time. And as Ann says, you can often offer both options.

I also offered a course with a fairly basic level of support then added a 1 to 1 coaching option on top. So people had a choice of course including email support or course+email support+ 2 coaching sessions.

Q. I’ve seen courses where they set up a group chat for others doing the course to support each other – does this give value?

Helen Lindop It often does, but it can depend on the subject and the audience. If it’s personal then people might be less willing to share (or possibly more willing in the right setting?) I’ve had people on my courses who are ‘just give me the info and I’ll work through it myself’- types. Which is absolutely fine too. So not everyone is a sharer. The only way to tell is to try it.

Helen Lindop I think if you’re in doubt it would be a good idea to run a pilot course with email support, then add a Facebook group later when you’re fairly confident you’ve got the numbers to make it work.

Should you offer a tutor alongside the course?

Q. How would you suggest organisations promote hybrid learning, that is on-line integrated with classroom learning? Is there a tendency do you think for people to skim the online learning?

Helen Lindop There’s definitely a temptation to skim online courses! It makes a huge difference to have tutor support, so someone to answer questions, check students have done the work and understood etc. Unfortunately a lot of organisations now think they can roll out a pre-recorded online course, get everyone to watch it and job done. We aren’t machines and we don’t work that way.

Helen Lindop The challenge is that having a tutor is more expensive and less scalable than having a course that’s 100% automated. Done well, it’s a lot more effective, though.

How do you cater for students with additional needs?

Q. How would you accommodate any students who may have additional needs e.g. dyslexia?

Helen Lindop I’m really not a dyslexia expert I’m afraid. But in my limited experience I think technology used in a sensitive way can generally make learning easier for people with dyslexia. I’ll see if I can dig out some info.

In general it’s good to offer content in a variety of formats so video, transcript, checklists, worksheets, quizzes (if your platform allows that)

I just found these http://theelearningsite.com/…/elearning-with-dyslexia…/ and a scientific paper http://www.sciencedirect.com/…/pii/S1877050915012673

How do you set yourself apart from the competition?

Q. There seems to be an awful lot of competition for courses. Do you have any tips on how to promote them? How do you rise up the list?

Helen Lindop Having free content out there helps a lot, so people can try before they buy. Also, having a range of courses is good so people can see the value they get from a low price course before they buy a bigger one.

It can also help think in terms of the value that people will get from the course rather than the fact it IS a course. So if you’re buying a book the fact it’s a book with 250 pages (or whatever) for a tenner is a really tiny consideration compared to what you’re going to get from the content.

Q. So it’s like everything else really, focus on the value.

Helen Lindop Yep, and marketing is very much like marketing anything else. Get in front of people, help them get to know you, give value.

Another angle you can take (assuming you’re not selling in a marketplace like Udemy) is to say ‘it would cost you £££ an hour to work with me one to one, or for me to do the job for you, but I can teach you to do it yourself for £’. (Add numbers to suit!) That’s a good way of getting across value.

Should you pre-sell your online course?

Q. I have seen some suggestions that it is a good idea to pre-sell a course to test the waters before you have even finished making it. Is that a good course of action? Seems a little risky to me.

Ann Hawkins As long as you’ve got all the info you need to produce the course so the lead time isn’t too long, I think that’s definitely the way to do it Chris. I’d never write a “bums on seats” course without pre-selling it.

Helen Lindop I’m not a fan of pre-selling a recorded course until you’ve had some practice and you know exactly how long it’ll take to produce each module. When people start out there’s such a lot to learn (platforms, marketing, video editing, structuring a course) that they underestimate how long it will take (#beenthere) and that adds a lot of pressure.

That said, a good half-way house is to do a webinar-based course because they tend to be a lot quicker to produce. And if you do it live you can sell the replays after as a self-study course. If nobody shows up you don’t do the webinar.

Another good thing with webinar-based courses is that you have to commit to showing up so you can’t put it off.

Ann Hawkins I think the main thing with any strategy is to be sure there is a market for what you produce before you put a lot of time / investment into making it!

The expert’s top picks for online learning

Ann Hawkins What’s your favourite online course Helen?

Helen Lindop Such a hard one to answer because I do loads and all for different reasons! For business skills I like Lynda – this is for the kind of thing where you’re basically downloading a new skill into your brain so you don’t need much or any tutor support.

I’ve also taken longer courses from Internet Marketing experts where you get more detail on mindset and strategy, which makes a big difference.

But I was genuinely surprised that I’ve learned more about art and design from cheap online courses than I ever did in school. I think the reason I’ve learned such a lot about art and design online is because it has to be structured incredibly well. The teacher can’t just say ‘today we’ll paint this vase and I’ll give you feedback on it’.

Skillshare is good for art and design courses.

Whatever and wherever you learn it’s really important that you apply and implement. I think this is often glossed over both by people teaching and taking online courses.

Would you like to know more? Get in touch with Helen at Speedy Digital.  Connect with her on Twitter @HelenLindop