May 7th, 2013 E-Learning

sell-online-coursesIn Part 1 of the series, I discussed how to find viable niches for your elearning courses, and how to ensure that you would have a market to sell them to. This week, we will review the options you have for setting-up your elearning store. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at some possibilities for development. I realize that many of you reading this may already have your favorite tools in mind for course development, but it never hurts to review as you assess what tools will be the right ones for you.

Development Tools on a Budget

It seems like every day there are new programs emerging that enable people to create training. If you’re a seasoned professional and already have programs you prefer, by all means you should continue using those. That said, if you’re new to this field, then you probably are looking for something to get started with quickly.

As I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of spending a ton of money upfront, especially before any sales have been made. That said, if you want to invest in some course development tools right away, you can’t go wrong with the industry staples like Articulate Storyline, iSpring, Adobe Captivate, and the like (there are a ton of options out there, even some free ones). My own personal opinion is that if you are completely new, you should go with Articulate as it tends to be a bit more user friendly than Captivate. If you’ve used Microsoft PowerPoint, then you’re good to go.

Speaking of PowerPoint, this is what I generally recommend to anyone who is initially creating elearning courses but don’t want to invest thousands of dollars (yet) for the other tools. While many professionals may cringe, PowerPoint actually is very flexible, allows you to create animations, and is very well supported (as you would probably guess). There are also countless demonstration videos on how to do other cool tricks with the program.

Of course, PowerPoint alone might not cut it, so if you couple it with a screen recording software, you can then turn these PowerPoint presentations into more robust training videos. If I may, I suggest you take a look at Screencast-o-matic [non-affiliate link], a program I use quite regularly. It is a free tool, but for only $15 a year, you get the pro version – which removes their branding and comes with an entire suite of video editing tools.

Review Your Content, Again and Again

No matter what tool you are using during the development phase, you will absolutely want someone else to review your content for errors, bugs, and inaccuracies. The first part is pretty easy – just have a friend or family member go through the training looking for technical blips, broken animations, incomplete sentences and misspellings. Surprisingly, it is very easy for the course author to miss this high level stuff. An extra set of eyes goes a long way in catching these errors.

Once all of these minor edits have been made, it’s time to ensure that the content itself is correct. If you are an expert in the field for your training, then you can run it past another colleague. If you are leveraging other material to create the elearning, then you should seek out someone to review it for accuracy. LinkedIN groups are a great resource for finding professionals for reviews, so that’s one place to start. Depending on the topic, you may also be able to leverage a local community college, chamber of commerce, or trade association. The point is, you want to get the stamp of approval from a valid professional in the field.

A Little Tip to get Started Quickly

Speaking of industry professionals, if you’re struggling on finding source documents for your training, you might find it worthwhile to partner with a respected individual in the field for your elearning courses. You can then create relevant content based on their documentation and insight, and negotiate a profit sharing arrangement. Depending on how involved they are in the process (and how well known they are), you may even want to let them market the training under their name. While this may seem like you are giving up some control, the truth of the matter is you can start generating revenue rather quickly by leveraging their immediate network and industry connections. If they do well, then they’ll want more training – and that’s where you come in (again)!

Create a Storefront

I would strongly suggest that you put all your efforts into creating your training first before doing anything else. Make sure content is accurate, complete, and professional. This is a marathon, not a sprint – so make sure that everything is water-tight. Besides, if you’re going to be selling something, you want it to be top-class don’t you?

So you have your courses ready to sell, but you’re not sure where to get started. Well, there are a lot of options, an overwhelming amount actually. Let’s just start with the basics: a website. Note that this is different than a payment processor (for accepting money and delivering your courses). Don’t be intimidated with this though, you can get started very quickly on a budget. The important part is that you keep the momentum going.

At this point, I could make a top 10 list of the best resources to use for creating your storefront, but I’m just going to be blunt: use WordPress. WordPress is by far the easiest program to use to create a nice looking website on a budget. What’s more, there is a ton of documentation. In fact, every time someone asks me how to get started with their own personal or business website, I give the same advice:

1. Go to HostGator [non-affiliate link] and get a hosting account and domain name
2. Install WordPress using the one-click install (HostGator support can do this for you)
3. Purchase a theme at [non-affiliate link]

That’s it. And yes, there are free themes out there for WordPress, but why would you want a free theme? – you’re trying to be professional aren’t you? You can upgrade your hosting to somewhere else after your site gets off the ground, but you may not ever need to. I have used HostGator quite a few times and prefer them because they have excellent support. If you’re going to twist my arm for another host recommendation, then you can always have a look at BlueHost. 🙂



Why WordPress?



There are multiple reasons to use WordPress, one of which being the support structure in place, but also because it’s very flexible. In addition, search engines absolutely love WordPress, which is important once we get to the marketing stage. Many of the most famous sites in the world run WordPress because they know this – so you’ll be in good company. I have personally been using WordPress for roughly 10 years and I love it.


Payment Gateway Options

Okay, a word to the wise here: it can be extremely easy to over think this. Remember, keep it simple in the beginning. You want to maximize the amount of profit you can make from each transaction, but also enable yourself to get started quickly. To do so, stick with PayPal, Stripe, and/or 2Checkout. Between both these options, you can reach pretty much anyone in the world. The transaction fees for these are some of, if not the lowest around (note that you can only use Stripe as a merchant if you’re living in the U.S.).

Now you need something to deliver the courses. You have many options in this space as well, but again, let’s keep it simple. Using a WordPress LMS plugin like LearnDash, you can create a course and sell it using PayPal and 2Checkout with a few clicks. After payment is made, the customer gets access to your secure course. What’s nice about this is that if you’re site is running WordPress, you can manage all your customers from you admin panel in WordPress – making the entire process rather convenient. And since LearnDash was made specifically for the learning industry, it is a rather natural fit.

That said, you can always choose another shopping cart solution, it just might take a little more footwork to integrate with WordPress (and many come with a monthly fee, where LearnDash does not). Here is a pretty comprehensive list. A simple Google search will yield about a million results as well.

If You Build it They Will Come… Not Really…

Just because you built your storefront and LMS doesn’t mean you’ll start to make money from the second you press publish. You need to market. Next week I’ll discuss some of the best ways to hit the ground running with marketing, and some techniques to start generating sales quickly. Until then!

Read Part 3

Go Back to Part 1

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


7 responses

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What a terrifically informative and simple guide for publishing a course. I love Articulate and have recommended it to others as well. I am excited about integrating social media into my design and development. Breaking away from read and click or watch and click to engaged interaction using the community of knowledge to foster peer to peer learning. I will be interested to read your post on marketing. So much of marketing seems analogous with what we do as instructional designers. Marketing Solutions put out a short and sweet free white paper called The Four C’s of Marketing Content, Context, Channel and Community. It reads a great deal like ADDIE to me. Thanks again!

Great information Justin! I’ve started reading your posts and am really impressed with your insight and guidance. Keep up the great work!

Avatar Matthew Papp

Good tips. I’m in the process of creating online elearning courses, so this is quite helpful.

Great tips, Justin. Especially about keeping your content up to date – that’s always important. It encourages people to come back to you and ensures you look like a credible business.

Hi Justin,

I am familiar with both Storyline and Captivate (I like both these tools), but I think iSoring is closer to what my budget will allow. I have no experience of iSpring. What do you think of this tool?



Avatar Jake

It’s not too bad for the price, and more well known/documented than others at a similar entry point. Since they have free trials, you can always give it a shot to see how you like it.

Hi Justin,

I have a business that produces elearning and we have different distributors wanting to sell our amazing content to their markets. What are reasonable profit shares to consider with distributors of elearning?

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