Teaching Online Courses: 5 Key Things To Consider To Make Your Course A Success

Teaching Online Courses. Article cover image

15 minute read

Written by Daniel Harvey, Co-founder & Chief Revenue Officer


So, You Want To Share Your Skills Online?

Whether you’re a career teacher or a first-time tutor, teaching your skills via an online course is a great way to reach more students and earn passive income. 

Things move so fast in the 21st century. To stay ahead of the curve it’s necessary that people start looking for alternate ways to monetize their skills. 

The fact that you’re here, reading this article, is proof you’re well on your way to taking the plunge into the Passion Economy

Shake off the shackles of the 9-to-5 (Henry Ford has had his day) and find out how to produce an online course that captures students’ imaginations, keeps them hooked on your content, and creates loyal customers for life.   

Creating your first online course isn’t plane sailing however. There’s a lot you need to consider, and the work you’ll need to put in isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who persevere the rewards are worth it. 

This article lists the 5 key things any online tutor should consider whilst making their online course.

Are you already certain you want to create an online teaching course? If you know you want to build a passion business but just need a helping hand, look no further than our free webinar

1. Prepare your material in advance

A person preparing notes to teach an online course
‘If you fail to prepare. . . prepare to fail’

This might seem like a no brainer, but you’ll be surprised at how many people fail to prepare sufficiently to teach an online course. Everyone knows the old saying, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.  

Whether you’re hosting a live virtual seminar or creating content to upload to an e-learning app, preparation is key to making your content engaging and memorable. Mumbling through some video content, full of false starts and glances at a script won’t help build confidence in your teaching. It’ll make your course look shoddy and unprofessional. We don’t want that!

Equally, if you’re running a live virtual seminar you need to have prepared an agenda and have a plan that gives you a level of control over the conversation. Otherwise, you’ll find your class has spiralled into talking about fidget spinners and Rupaul’s Drag race.   

Creating a course structure is the first step towards having your learning material in order. Once you’ve done this you need to prep for each class or content video like its a military operation! A few key preparation tips include:

  • Memorise your lines (obviously) or have cue cards behind your camera in case you forget what you’re saying next.
  • Film content in shorter segments and then combine it together in post-production. This takes the pressure away from trying to nail an entire video in one take.
  • If you’re running a seminar be strict with timings and make sure you’re bringing conversation back to the key points you want to discuss.

Start with these tips and you’ll be well on your way to preparing an engaging course with information your students can’t wait to consume.

Be Yourself

When preparing material for your online course it can be easy to fall into the trap of acting like a teacher. You’re harnessing a new medium for teaching courses online, so the last person you want to come across as is; a fusty lecturer from the 1950s or, even worse, your college chemistry teacher!  

When teaching online you need to be yourself. Let your genuine passion for your subject shine through in your lessons. Make sure your passion is evident in your course through the way to prepare and present your material. 

Teach from the heart. You’ll be able to communicate your passion and knowledge to your students better when you’re speaking from a place of genuine passion. They’ll be more energised to learn from you because your passion will be infectious.

Put Yourself In Your Students Shoes (Not Literally)

An image of a show rack full of shoes. The image is a light-hearted take on the saying 'put yourself in someone elses shoes'. in this case its for an online teaching course
Looking at a problem from another persons perspective can be tricky

A final point on preparation is this: you need to view the problems you’re solving from the perspective of your students. Doing this is an excellent way to prepare material for upcoming lectures and lessons. 

Once you become an expert in anything it can be easy to forget how difficult it was to obtain the knowledge you now have. Theoretical concepts that are now easy for you to digest can be really difficult for your students to comprehend. 

You need to step out of yourself and look at a problem you want to solve from a students perspective. Doing this can help you identify difficult concepts in your course. This can tell you where you’ll need to expend extra resources creating content and planning lessons. 

What’s A ‘Kinda Like’ Bridge?

An infogrophic that explains a 'kinda like' bridge. This is essential knowledge for people wanting to run an online course
A ‘kinda like’ bridge is kinda like a metaphor that helps you understand a tricky topic

Entrepreneur Russell Brunson has a great method for teaching difficult concepts to students. He calls it the ‘kinda like’ bridge. When he’s teaching a class he’ll mention a difficult concept and then say it’s ‘kinda like’ a simple relatable example. See examples:      

‘Ketosis is kinda like 1000 motivational speakers running around your body, giving you energy! That’s what it feels like to be in Ketosis’ 

‘A funnel is kinda like when you go to McDonalds and go to the drive through. You order a Big Mac and they ask if you want fries with it. That’s an upsell, you’re now in a funnel’

Each example takes a difficult or unknown word or idea and makes it relatable by using an example a student would understand. When planning your lessons and prepping your material this is a great tactic to use.

2. Get to grips with the technology, you’re gonna be using it

Are you rubbish with tech? You can’t avoid it if you want to teach online. You’ve gotta get online!  

Now, what you’re teaching will determine the tech you’ll need to use. 

If you’re a software developer who wants to teach others the basics of web development, the minimum you’re going to need is a working webcam and some software that can record your computer screen. Easy!

A cooking tutor, on the other hand, is going to need a lot more hardware. You’re probably going to need two cameras, two tripods, a mic and some video editing software. Yikes! 

We’re not trying to put off cooking tutors with the above comparison. We want to highlight: what you teach will determine the software and hardware you’ll need to make your course a success.  

There are so many different niches and subjects a person can teach we can’t possibly list them all in this article. What we can do is give you a list of bare essentials for running any online course. We’ve also included a list of advanced tools you can research at your own pace and decide which is best for you.

The Essentials

An infographic listing the 5 essential tools you need to run an online course. 

Internet 
computer 
camera phone 
video calling platform 
A platform to run your course on
5 things every online course should have

A strong internet connection – If you can’t get online you can’t teach. Simple! Making sure you’ve got a connection strong enough to upload video content quickly, or speak to students instantly using video calling software is non-negotiable.

A decent computer – You don’t need to run out and grab the latest MacBook Pro but a computer that won’t buckle under the stress of managing an online course is a necessity. Imagine you’re in the middle of uploading some course content and your computer crashes because you respond to an email. Nightmare!

A camera phone – The recording quality on camera phones is astounding nowadays. You don’t need to invest in bulky cameras to get your online course up and running (You’re not Stephen Spielberg after all). You can make do with a good quality camera phone and a little tripod.

Bonus – A lot of camera phones can now be fitted with extra lenses to give you wide-angle, fish-bowl shots. With a little investment you can make the camera on your phone a versatile piece of equipment.  

A video calling platform – If you want to have any face-to-face contact with your students you’re going to need a video calling platform. At Passion.io we use Zoom, its freemium features are more than enough to get you started online one-on-one tutoring. 

Using a platform like Zoom to make your sales calls is a good strategy as well. We cover how to sell an online course in Passion.io’s Expert Unleashed Challenge.     

A great platform to host your course – I’ve left the best till last. Deciding on where to host your course is the single most important thing a budding tutor can do. There’s a range of different platforms on the web that serve lots of different needs. We would strongly recommend you choose Passion.io, obviously. (Hey, this is our blog… we’re gonna tell you why Passion.io is the best platform for you)

Passion.io provides users a platform to build their online course as a mobile app. Mobile apps have several advantages over other online course platforms that are desktop based. Self-improvement isn’t a one time thing. You need to be regularly consuming educational content to improve yourself. A mobile app is a great way to do this, it’s in your pocket all the time. 

You can also gamify a mobile app. This will incentivise your users to keep using your app and then they’ll get better results. Integrations with Apple App Store & Google Play Store give you extra avenues to sell your course. All in all, don’t just teach an online course, teach a e-learning mobile app course.

The Extras

A camera – If you want to make the step up from using a camera phone your next step would be to buy a DSLR camera. These can range from $300 – $3000 so there’s a camera out there for any budget. 

Marketing tip – Our marketing executive Liam also recommends you look at webcams. If you’re planning to live stream anything on social media webcams can be a cheaper alternative to buying a DSLR.  

Production equipment – Now we’re getting into the fancy stuff. If you’re a fitness trainer or self defense instructor, for example, you’re going to need multiple cameras to capture your moves properly. You’re also going to need tripods, lighting and a mic to ensure the high quality videos. 

Just like cameras there’s a wide range of different brands and kits you can purchase if you’re looking to upgrade your content.   

Video editing software –  Photoshop? After Effects? Premiere Pro? If these words mean nothing to you don’t be alarmed. They’re the names of programs you’ll want to look at if you want to get more hands on with your video editing. 

These programs are industry standard for videographers and designers so they’re pretty technical. But if you’re searching for tools that give you more control over your content, looking at these big names is a great way to start your search.  

You can alway work down from the most complex products to find something that suits your needs. It’ll probably be cheaper too. 

Make sure your online course looks great 

An online teaching course is a visual medium. People are going to be watching your lessons, reading your slides and viewing your content. Making sure everything you present to your students is as polished as it can be it the key to creating an engaged audience.

Mastering the technical production side of online course creation takes the pain out of this process. Your videos don’t need to win an oscar. But if they’re colorful, vibrant, and full of great visuals you’ll find your course attendees will love consuming your content.

3. Find a space that you can dedicate to work

Oh boy, if you’ve never worked from home before this can be tricky. People don’t often view their homes as a place of work. It can be hard for first-time remote workers to make a dedicated work space at home. But with a bit of discipline (and often a de-clutter) most people can find a nook or desk in the house that they can build their business from. 

The size of the space you’ll need will depend on what you’re teaching. But the key thing to remember is: wherever your space is, it should be used for work and work only. Keep it free of distractions and treat it like a normal office.

Some people teaching online courses can’t do this. If you’re teaching vehicle repair or fly fishing you’re going to need to be out and about. Our advice for you here is: treat the lesson you’re going to film like work. When you leave the house to go to the river, or garage, and tell yourself you’re going to work. Pick out some clothes you own and make these your ‘work clothes’, only wear them when you are filming your online course. This is another way you can put yourself into a work mindset.

Putting yourself in that mindset will clear your head of distractions. When you get to the place you’re going to produce your lesson make sure (as much as possible) it’s quiet and you’re on your own. That might be difficult in a car garage so see if you can go when it shuts.   

Having a space or location dedicated to producing your course is vital. It gives you a productive mindset and helps separate your online class from your other commitments. You’ll be more productive, focused and driven once you get this work safe-haven set up.

4. Create An Online Community

Students participating in an online course have a different experience to those taking a traditional class. If a tutor isn’t careful, their students can feel isolated and unable to ask for help. Not what you want.   

A great way to get around this problem is to build an online community for your course. It can be done on Facebook, a whatsapp messenger channel, or in Slack. Building a community for your course can have many benefits and greatly increase the value your students receive. 

Communities allow tutors to instigate discussions amongst students. Similar to how you’d start a group chat in a classroom. You can ask open questions to your students, ask them to share something they’ve been researching, or use the community to assign reading tasks. A community gives your students a forum for discussion that might otherwise be missing from your course.     

As the tutor, you need to be active in your community, I mean, you did make it after all. It’s your number one avenue for communication with your students. It’s an intimate way to share your passion and knowledge with your followers and provides an easy way for struggling students to contact you with problems.  

Finally, communities are great motivators. When your students are all going through the same thing together they can encourage and support each other. Check out our #PassionFighters community for proof of that.

Pupils helping each other in a community chat
Community’s let your students help each other

Everyone learns differently. Some pupils need more motivation and guidance than others. An online community is the best way to manage this demand. It also gives students the chance to help each other. Once you see your students taking the initiative to work through problems together you can rest easy in the knowledge you’re a great teacher.

5. Always look for ways to improve what you’re doing

By teaching an online course you’re taking part in the Passion Economy. The Passion Economy is a radical new way for people to monetize their skills and live their passion. Your passion could be teaching yoga, bushcraft survival or any number of niche skills. 

To succeed in the Passion Economy you need to cultivate a loyal following of students who love everything you produce. The Passion Economy doesn’t work at scale, it relies on teachers capturing the interest of a small group of people and only solving their problems. 

To do this effectively, you always need to be improving your courses and talking with your students. You need to deeply understand what they want to learn. Creating a constant feedback loop with your following means you’ll always know what to teach them next. 

This dynamic is a feature of the Passion Economy. The fluid relationship between student and online teacher means you need to be focused on cultivating the relationships you have with your students and always improving your courses to meet their demands.   

Final Thoughts. . . 

So that’s how you create a killer online course, but the thing most people mess up is choosing what they teach in the first place. They need to choose a niche and a dream customer who’s willing to pay for your advice… and most people get this very wrong. In our free webinar you’ll learn about our battle-tested process for finding a niche of, irrationally passionate, loyal students. 

100 trues fans are far more valuable than 1000 followers. Knowing how to find them is the secret sauce that will set your online course apart from the competition.

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