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Biz Ladies: 6 Steps for Launching an E-Course

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Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from regular Biz Ladies contributor, Megan Auman. Megan is an artist, designer, metalsmith, educator, and entrepreneur.  She shares business thinking at Designing an MBA and a behind the scenes look into her studio on her blog.  Her newest e-course is Do/Teach, a six week program that guides artists, designers, makers, and creatives through the process of creating and launching a signature course, and today she gives us a glimpse by sharing six steps for launching your own e-course. Thanks again, Megan, for another wonderful post! –Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

If you’ve spent any time online in the last year, you know that e-courses have exploded!  Whether it’s through their own site or one of the many online learning platforms that have sprung up, it seems that everybody and their sister is launching a course.

And for good reason.  Launching a signature e-course can energize your own creative practice, create raving fans, and, of course, add an additional revenue stream to your business.

And while it may seem like the market is quickly filling with all the new e-courses being offered, the reality is that the audience for these courses is constantly growing as more and more people discover the joys and benefits of online learning.  (Getting to learn something new from your dream teacher anywhere in the world.  What’s not to love?)

That said, with more new courses launching every day, it’s essential to make yours stand out.  Successful online teachers know that it’s not just the topic, but the instructor’s personality, teaching style, course structure, and community that help create a successful course that leaves participants raving.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the logistics of launching an e-course, because most people tend to complicate that step.  Instead, focus on creating signature content and delivering a lot of value, because that’s what will set your course apart, online or off.

To help simply the process, here are six steps you can take to launch your signature course:

Step 1: Identify your audience.  

Even before you’ve nailed down the topic, you should have an idea of who you do (and maybe more importantly, don’t) want to reach with your class.  Trying to please everyone is a surefire way to frustrate a lot of people, so be clear up front about who the class is for.

Is this a class for beginners or for more advanced students?  Are you willing to accommodate total beginners?  (This is something you should be really clear on, otherwise it can lead to a lot of student frustration.)  Will your students benefit from previous art experience or is it truly open to anyone?  Is your class for adults or kids? Or families? Is it for business owners or hobbyists?  Do people need existing equipment to participate?  (Perhaps a Mac and certain software or a Polaroid camera.)

Once you’ve identified who the course is for, it becomes a lot easier to develop a topic those students will love.

Step 2: Develop your signature topic.

A standout course topic is about more than just the skills or information you want to teach.  The best courses weave together four distinct areas -core skills or information, a strong sense of purpose, the creative process or philosophy of the instructor, and a great finished product or end result – to create a one of a kind course that is truly distinctive.

Start by identifying the key ideas you’d like to explore with you course.  The topic for your course could come from any of these areas – perhaps you’ve got a skill others are dying to learn, a strong purpose behind your brand that would make a killer lifestyle course, a unique take on a creative process, or a cool product you’d love to teach others to make.  From there, weave in elements from the other four areas to make your course more distinctive.

And don’t forget to create a memorable title for your course!  The title is the first indication of what your course is about, so make sure it’s memorable, distinctive, and shareable.  (Think hashtag!)

Step 3: Design your class.

Once you’ve got the broad topic worked out, it’s time to flesh out the details, including how long the course will run, how often you’ll deliver new content, what content you’d like to share, and what your students will be doing or creating.  At this stage in the planning process, there’s no need to complete all of your content.  You simply want an outline of what you’re going to teach and a weekly schedule.

For most e-courses, I recommend a length of five to six weeks.  Any shorter, and students don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth.  Any longer, and students start loosing interest and focus.  Break your course down week by week, and identify what it is you want students to accomplish each week, and what content they’ll need to get them there.

It’s important to create an outline as your developing a course, both for your own plan and so students know what they’re getting into.  But it’s also important to be flexible, especially in your first course.  Once the course gets going, don’t be afraid to make changes in order to better meet student’s needs.

Step 4:  Keep the technology simple.

For your first online course, it’s easy to get bogged down in the technology.  But it doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you can create a blog, you can create an online course.  (In fact, a large majority of e-courses are simply password protected blogs.)

Ultimately, the technology you use should be dictated by the content and your students.  What are the best methods to communicate the information to your students?  It’s easy to think that online courses require lots of video, but the truth is, a combination of media is really the best bet to engage lots of learners.  Written content, photos, and downloadable worksheets can all be effective for your first course.

When it comes to using technology for your course, you don’t need to invest in a lot of expensive equipment or technology.  Vimeo allows you to post password protected videos that you can embed directly on your course site.  (And you can use your laptop or smartphone to record that video!)  You can use free mailing list software like Mailchimp to communicate with your class.  And don’t forget about Facebook – a private Facebook group can be a great way to create community in your class.

Step 5: Launch your course.

Once you’ve identified you’re target audience and topic, created an outline, and have an idea about how your course will work, it’s time to launch.  (Yes, before you’ve created the content!)  One of the best things about e-courses is that you can open registration before you’ve created all the content.  This ensures that you’ll have paying customers before you invest too much time in creating the course.

Just like with step 4, don’t get bogged down in the technology for registration.  You can use something as simple as a sales page with a PayPal “Buy Now” button, or create a product listing using shopping cart software like Big Cartel.  The most important thing is that you make it clear and easy for students to register and that you give them the details of the course, like when it starts and ends, what they’ll be learning, and what they’ll need to participate.  (You can see an example of this at do-teach.com!)

I recommend opening registration anywhere from one to three months before the class starts.  You want to give students enough notice (and time to get money together for the registration fee) but not so much time that they forget the course is happening.

Step 6: Create your content. 

Once those registrations start rolling in, it’s time to create the content for your course.  Depending on your work flow, you may create content a few weeks before you need it or (if you’re like me) you may create each lesson the day or two before it needs to be ready.  Keep in mind that some types of content (like video or interviews with experts) will need more time to create and process than others.

When it comes to your first course, it’s important to strike a balance between creating content far enough in advance that you feel prepared but are still able to respond to the needs of your students.

When you’re creating your content, don’t worry to much about being professional.  Instead, focus on being yourself, sharing your passion, and having fun.  Students signed up for your class not just because of the topic, but because YOU are the teacher.  Relax, enjoy the process, and focus on sharing the best you have to offer, because that’s really the secret to creating a standout course.

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4 Comments

Jayne

Brilliant advice! I wish I had come across this post before I created my eCourse- you are definitely right about promoting before all the content is finished- this is something I didn’t do and I really pushed myself trying to get everything completed before my launch date, but I have learnt my lesson for next time! :-) Thanks again

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