Your first course is a learning experience for you, too, so know what you want to learn from it.

For many of those starting off in online education, the biggest challenge is creating their first course. For some, the difficulty lies in coming up with a good idea. Others struggle with writing their course material, while still others grapple with the mechanics of getting their course in front of a large audience.

No matter what your particular challenge is, nothing will serve you better than putting some material out there and getting some feedback. If you’ve been working at this for a while, you may already have a fair amount of material to start with, in which case you can skip step one. Otherwise, these tips are here to help you gain traction with launching your first online course.

1. Build your community before you build your course.

A common misimpression about online learning is that you have to have a course ready to launch before you can have a website, a blog, or a real community. On the contrary, some of the most successful courses are built around people who can establish their credentials before they start trying to launch a course.

If you have a compelling blog, YouTube channel, or podcast, you can be growing an audience of interested fans before you ever consider launching your first course. You can even create a lively forum community before creating a course, and the more active that community is, the more support you will have for your course.

2. Start small. Very small.

You don’t need to launch a full college-level course to get started in online education. Instead, identify the smallest possible course you could sell, and start with that. Micro content is easier for you to create, and it also offers a lower barrier to entry for your learners. They’re more likely to finish content that comes in small doses. Even if only a few people sign up, they will give you better learner data than a lot of learners who never finish your course.

3. Draw on the material that has garnered the most interest from your audience.

If you’re wondering where to start with your course, there’s nowhere better than with the material that your audience has been most interested in. This is where the community-building work you put in earlier will really pay off. Look at your website analytics and find posts that have resonated with learners. If you still aren’t sure, put out a poll and ask your learners directly. They’ll be able to guide you toward your most valuable content.

4. Do some market research and set a competitive price.

Many online educators offer their first course for free. This is a fine option, but if you plan to do this, I would recommend marketing your course as a “beta course.” While “free” can be a magical word in marketing, it also signals that the content itself may not be particularly important. After all, if it was valuable, you wouldn’t be giving it away. Opening a course to beta learners, on the other hand, gives those who enroll a sense of purpose and responsibility that can compel them to finish the course.

There’s also no reason why you couldn’t charge a competitive price if you had something polished and valuable to offer. Do some research into the online market: google the terms you’d expect online users to search for if you wanted them to discover your content, and see what you can find. Pay attention to what your competitors are offering, how much content they have available, and what they’re charging.

5. Market your course.

Just because it’s your first course doesn’t mean you should hide it away. On the contrary, do your best to spread the word. Even if you’re marketing your course as a beta course, you can turn an impressive profit. Kickstarters have been launched for less.

Your blog and your website are the best place to begin marketing your course, because these will act as information hubs about your course. But you can also put some advertising dollars behind it on social media, reach out to other bloggers for a guest blogging exchange, and send out an announcement to any email mailing list you may have built.

6. Gather and assimilate learner data for your next course.

If you have one objective for your first course, it should be to gain data and learner information about your learner. Find ways to make a better course next time. Ask for feedback from your beta testers, and incorporate what they say into both your current course, and your next course.

Depending on what you learn, you can plan to use this information to expand your first course, or to launch a second course. Eventually, you can group these smaller courses into a larger bundle package that may be equivalent to that college-level course you didn’t think you could make at the beginning.

Your first course is a test run, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

The biggest thing to keep in mind with your first course is that you will be learning as much as your learners. You’ve never made an online course before, so it’s OK if it takes you a while to find your feet. Use this as an opportunity to establish a rapport with your early adaptors. Be open about the development process, and proactive in soliciting feedback. The more you learn from launching your first course, the better your second will be.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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Creating an online course is quite challenging, more so if it’s your first online course. I believe that you can’t create the best online course until you experience a lot of failures or challenges and you work for perfection. I agree that the biggest thing to keep in mind with your first course is that you will be learning as much as your learners. Thank you for sharing!

Hi Michael! Glad you found the article helpful! And you’re absolutely right. It can be hard to get started, but keeping at it pays off!

Laura LynchReply

Enlightening Tips. Thank you.

You’re welcome! Glad they were useful!

Laura LynchReply

One of the main stumbling blocks I’ve run into in creating a simple course is finding an example of a course that’s not based on a youtube video, i.e. I’d like to start out creating a written, text based course. If I have to setup a video studio to create a course in LearnDash then that requirement becomes a huge barrier.

William KruegerReply

Hi William,

There’s certainly no shortage of educators who have started out with a text-based course. In fact, I recently took an online course through a community college that had no teacher-generated YouTube content.

However, the instructor did link to outside video sources, and this is something you can do as well if you want to include video as part of your course. For instance, there are many TedTalks freely available on YouTube. While you cannot charge for these videos on their own (who would pay you for them anyway?) you can use them as a springboard for a class discussion.

Eg: You’re writing a course on engaging Millennials in the workforce, so you link to Simon Sinek’s video clip that went viral a few years ago and ask your students to discuss. Do they agree or not? What evidence is there to support Sinek’s perspective, and what evidence is there that ay disprove it?

So long as you are properly referencing and linking to a freely-available resource, you can use an outside video the same way you might reference an academic paper. Just remember that you need to add value to that source to make it worthwhile to your learners.

Laura LynchReply

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