By Tracey Meyer

Vast numbers of online courses are sold daily to people wanting to learn new skills or techniques. And the market is growing! There’s never been a better time to create a knowledge-based product.

I regularly work with entrepreneurs, coaches and bloggers, helping them to create and design online courses. Here are my 8 steps to creating and designing a successful online course.

1.     Focus your subject

Choose a subject and stick to it.  Don’t be tempted to include too much as you’ll want to limit your first course to a maximum of ten modules and a length of no more than 8 weeks.

Imagine buying a course that contained twenty modules and took six months to complete. It’s too much. Your aim is to make your course feel do-able and to not overwhelm your customer.

2.     Identify your audience’s pain points

The purpose of your course should be to help your customer solve a specific problem. Consider the things that have been frustrating them or think about the most commonly asked questions you receive from customers by email.

Identifying the right client need to fulfil is a key to success.

3.     Know your audience

Take the time to find out as much as you can about your target audience. Send out surveys to your email list or pick your customers’ brains whenever an opportunity arises. Find out what makes them tick, where they live, what they do for fun and how they interact online.

The more you know about your ideal customer, the better you can tailor your course.

4.     Create an outline

This is where you start planning. Your outline lays the foundation for your entire course.  Once you’re clear on your course subject, brainstorm your main topics and sub topics. Remember to chunk (break up) your course content into a logical sequence. 

Decide on the essential content. Anything else is fluff and should be removed. Your customer is paying you to help them learn a new skill in the shortest time possible. 

5.     Create a style guide

A style guide is a working document that can be used to ensure consistency is maintained throughout your course. Use it to record information on your selected writing style, multimedia elements and the overall design features.

Spend time planning your colour palette, fonts, headings, icons, images, navigation buttons and theme. A consistent style will give your course a professional look and feel.

6.     Storyboard

A storyboard is a layout of the visual media and on screen elements for each screen or page. This is where you plan what your audience will see from start to finish.

I usually draw a rough sketch on A3 paper but you can do this electronically too. I design a blank screen layout for each topic and sub-topic. Here, I decide on placement of on screen elements such as instructions, navigation buttons, text and animations.

When storyboarding, think about the user experience. Screens mustn’t be boring but they shouldn’t be cluttered either. Keep your user interface simple, consistent from one screen to the next and ensure that navigation is self-explanatory.

7.     Develop and design your media

This stage is often the most labour-intensive and you’ll need a way to manage the development of your media with a project plan.

Make sure you select media relevant to your course and your audience. It should suit your audience, not you (as mentioned in step three). You’ll also want to consider different learning styles.

The most common forms of multimedia include videos, audio, transcripts, slides, worksheets and text. Ensure that any media produced is consistent with your course style guide.

Here are my favourite software tools which used for multimedia development:

  • Tools for editing video: iMovie or Wondershare Video Editor (Windows)
  • Tools for recording audio: Audacity (free)
  • Tools to record your screen: Screenflow or Screencast (free)
  • Tools for creating presentation slides: Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi or Google Docs
  • Tools for creating worksheets and templates: Apple Pages, InDesign or Photoshop

And lastly, decide on how you’ll store and save your media files. Dropbox or Amazon S3 is excellent for documents and images. Videos will require a hosting provider such as Youtube, or Vimeo or Wistia who both offer security and protection for paid content.

8.     Upload and launch your course

Which platform will you chose to host your course?

One option is a Wordpress site with a membership plugin. This can involve a steep learning curve and a sizeable financial investment as you set up your initial site. The benefits are total ownership of your platform, course content and little to no ongoing monthly costs.

External course hosting sites, such as Teachable and Thinkific, are another popular option because they’re easy to use and require minimal set up. These advantages come at a cost, including transaction fees for each sale plus credit card fees.

Prior to launching, ask a few trusted colleagues or customers to proofread and test your entire course including links and navigation. This gives you the opportunity to fix any issues that you may not have noticed and to make the necessary revisions ahead of time.  


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Tracey Meyer is an e-learning expert, online course designer, trainer, writer and blogger. She also co-manages a fortnightly mastermind group for online entrepreneurs.  

Her mission is to rid the world of boring online courses and PDFs. She passionately helps other creatives and holistic entrepreneurs  to design engaging online programs and courses. She lives on the gorgeous Gold Coast with her cheeky toddler and loves spending time at the beach or organic farmer’s markets. www.coursedezine.com

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