Paul Jarvis   ·   Course makers   ·  

Software needed to make an online course

If you’re thinking about making an online course, it can be a little overwhelming at first (and it’s only an “o” away from “online curse”). There are so many moving parts.

You don’t have to start busting out voodoo dolls to make it work though. All you need to do is break it down into each individual part, then knock that part out.

There is software that’ll do all of (or most of) these things for you. I’m sure some of it is great too. But with those products you to have be aware of a few things:

  • How much can you control the look and feel?
  • How much can you control the flow and how it works for students?
  • How easy is it to get access to your student info (like their email address)?
  • Can you easily take your data with you if you leave their platform (especially your student’s contact info)?
  • Are you able to connect your students easily?

That being said, let’s take a look at the software required to build an online course.

 

Landing page/sales page

Before you start selling your course, you need to start talking about it. A lot. A LOT.

The best way to do that is to write or record a lot of content that deals with similar, related or actual content found in the course. Then, all that content should lead to a landing page.

Before the course is ready, the landing page should speak to a few points:

  1. Who the course is for, specifically.
  2. What a student will accomplish if they take it.
  3. Why you’re the one teaching it.
  4. When the course launches. Include a signup form to allow people to be notified when it launches (with an incentive, like a discount or early access).

Once your course is ready, you really only need to change the 4th item to a purchase link + free sample signup.

You have lots of options to build your landing page:

  1. Hand-code it in HTML (obviously only for developers or people who want to spend a lot of time doing this).
  2. Create a new page in SquareSpace or WordPress (or whatever platform you use for your website).
  3. Create a custom landing page on a brand new custom domain. Again, you can use the platform you’re comfy with already (SquareSpace, WordPress, whatever).

If you’re using a platform that builds landing pages for you, like LeadPages or Unbounce or Instapage or GetResponse, consider the following:

  1. Is it easy to integrate your mailing list, so signups from that page get added and organized appropriately? (I.e. just fire-hose adding folks to your list without tagging, segmenting or grouping won’t help you setup automation to pitch your course effectively).
  2. Is it easy to integrate with a payment processor like Stripe to accept payments? Will it then add those buyers to your list with a tag/segment/group? (It won’t help to add buyer’s fire-hose style to your list because then you can’t automate post-purchase emails).
  3. Is it easy to brand the page to look like your course?
  4. Is it easy to add things like countdown timers to increase some urgency?
  5. If you want to nerd-out fully, can you A/B test your content, buttons, images?

 

Slides

Unless you get really fancy and record yourself talking into the camera for your lessons, 99% of online course lessons are the instructor talking over a slide presentation or over a screen recording. Either way, it makes it easy to focus on what you’re saying (instead of how you look on camera).

I use Keynote for my lessons for a few reasons:

  1. It’s easy to brand, so my slides look exactly like my course (same fonts, same colours, same style).
  2. It’s easy to use – I just setup some master slide template options then get to creating the slides.
  3. It’s easy to make notes that only I see. I’m not the greatest at speaking and I tend to forget all the points I want to make when talking. Keynote let’s you create “presenter notes” that you can see but that doesn’t show on the screen for students. So when I’m recording, I use little cues from my notes that aren’t shown in the final recording.
  4. Speaking of which, it’s dead simple to record yourself talking over slides in Keynote. Then, you can export that recording to a HD video, all within Keynote.

With each lesson, I get better and better at recording—I can pretty much find my speaking groove after a few and record each lesson in real-time (i.e. if it’s a 10-minute lesson, it takes me 10-minutes to record, and the export only takes a few seconds).

Another good thing about Keynote is that if you totally screw up, you can stop the recording, go back and start recording again – that way you don’t have to get each lesson in a single take (that’d be too stressful).

 

Screen recorder

The other option, you talking over your screen, is also easy to do. I use Quicktime because it’s free and creates an uncompressed file (better quality) of me speaking while viewing my screen.

In Quicktime, I start a “New Screen Recording”, make sure my microphone is selected, test the audio levels and then start recording the entire screen. Next, since I mostly record my browser window (Chrome), I set it to full screen + presenter mode, so the only thing people see on my screen is the page I’m on in my browser.

From here, I use iMovie to edit those screen recordings together, and I typically put a title and ending slide on each movie. I don’t know anything about video editing, and still iMovie is pretty easy to use.

Finally, I upload the finished videos to Vimeo Pro (which hosts all my videos for me) and embed those videos into the lessons on my course website.

 

Course platform

This is the (vegan) meat of the course, since it’s the actual course. A lot of folks I talk to spend weeks agonizing over what the perfect course platform software will be, since there are 240,335 options for platforms (give or take).

The main point here is to think about what you absolutely need in order for your students to get the most out of your course content. Then give yourself a time-limit to pick a platform, so you can move on.

Here are a few options:

  1. Teachery – it’s a super-simple platform you can customize to match your brand. See their features here.
  2. Teachable – a massive platform that includes things like quizzes, feedback, blogs, landing pages, affiliate programs and a ton more. See their features here.
  3. Restrict Content Pro – this is what I use, because it’s a WordPress plugin. And since it’s WordPress I can create a custom theme, and simply pick what type of person can see what page (i.e. anonymous web surfers, free lesson students, paid students). See their features here.

As I mentioned, there are more options than boats in the ocean. The 3 above are my favourites. The most important thing here is to not spend too much time picking your platform.

Why do I use RCP? When I look at the features, it has the few I require (I like simple courses and so do my students): integration with MailChimp, integration with Stripe, easy setup and easy customization with my existing WordPress sites.

 

Mailing list

The most important sales tool for your course will be your list. Ask any course creator who makes a living doing courses. Even if they rake in the funds from webinars, those connect to mailing lists, which pitch their courses after the webinar is done.

Just like the course platform, don’t spend days (or months) trying to figure out which list software to use. Just pick one and move forward.

  1. MailChimp – easy to setup and use. And if you use it correctly, you can group your subscribers into landing page folks, free lesson folks, paid folks and more. Then you can automate the right emails to each group. If you’re stuck, I teach MailChimp training videos.
  2. ConvertKit – also easy to setup and use. They tag users based on what they do as well, which makes it easy to automate the right messages to the right people.

Obviously I use MailChimp. It’s what I’ve used for years, and I even teach a course on it. MailChimp is 100% the best resource I have for selling my courses (or anything I sell). I connect with the right folks, at the right time, and show up where they spend most of their day (their inbox).

The most important part of using your list in your course is organizing your subscribers. You don’t want to pitch your course (or worse, a new discount) to people who’ve already purchased it. That’s why it’s important to organize subscribers. Having a list isn’t enough to sell your course. You’ve got to use your list correctly.

 

Workbook software

Most courses come with some way for students to take notes because that helps them retain the information you’re teaching.

There are a few ways you can get your students to take notes, and obviously I’m biased towards the software I actually helped build:

  1. PDFs – PDFs can be branded really well and let students write directly into them. The problem is you need to be or hire a designer to create the PDFs and students are forced to write their notes in boxes that only accommodate a set amount of text. Teachers also have to rely on students emailing them a copy to view their notes.
  2. Google Docs – Google Docs are harder to brand or keep the style consistent (since students can easily or accidentally delete your questions or formatting or branding). Teachers also have to rely on students to share the workbook back with them to see their notes.
  3. ofCourseBooks (hey, that’s us!) – these online workbooks are easily branded with your logo and colours. They also let students write answers of any length and teachers automatically get to see all the notes from every student. Cooler though is that students can share their answers with each other (if they want to), to make note taking feel less like a solitary thing. Workbooks work in any course platform and can be emailed out to students using any mailing list software.

The whole reason ofCourseBooks was built is because everyone I talked to that has built courses in the past hated the first two options. They’re clunky, time-consuming and have zero interactivity. With ofCourseBooks, we made a simple way for teachers to easily make workbooks and for students to quickly take notes.

 

Payments

One of the best things about creating courses (other than hearing from students who are doing amazing work because of what you taught them) is that people give you money to access your course material.

To take their money, you need a way to process their credit card, which is where Stripe comes in. Or, you can always use PayPal which is easy too, but an awful company.

There’s not much to say here other than your course platform should integrate with the payment processor you want to use.

 

Summary

It’s better to get a simple course launched sooner than a complex course launched much later. Repeat this like a mantra if you get into the weeds of course software decision making.

Here’s the order I typically take when I’m building out a new course:

  1. Write my purpose for creating the course, who it’s for and what I want them to get out of the lessons.
  2. Write + make a landing page, and connect it to my mailing list.
  3. Write an automation sequence for the notification list.
  4. Pick a course platform.
  5. Record either screen recordings or slides (depending on what makes sense for the course material). Upload finished videos to Vimeo.
  6. Create workbooks for each lesson.
  7. Setup course platform.
  8. Add videos, text and embeddable workbooks to each lesson.
  9. Test payment processing.
  10. Create automation sequence for free sample subscribers.
  11. Create automation sequence for paid students.
  12. Test all automation sequences.
  13. Beta test the course with paying students.
  14. Launch course.

Sometimes it also helps to publicly announce your launch date. Doing so does three things.

  1. It let’s people know your course is coming, but they can’t get it yet (oooh, anticipation!).
  2. It makes you accountable to a specific date.
  3. It helps you make decisions faster, because you can only do so much if a launch date is looming, so you are forced to consider what’s “necessary” vs what’s “nice to have”. You can always add more to your course later.

Yes, it’s a lot of steps and a lot of moving parts, but it’s totally doable if you give yourself a few accomplishable tasks a day to move forward. If you do that, you’ll start to notice a massive momentum building.


By Paul Jarvis—who has more tattoos than you.

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