Top 5 Tips for Building a Successful Self-Paced Online Course on Disco

Here are the top five tips to help you create and sell your own successful self paced online course with Disco.

When it comes to building your learning empire, a Self-Paced Course is a powerful way to offer your content to potential Learning Community members who are seeking an independent and self-guided learning experience that includes video lessons, relevant resources, and assignments.

While Cohort-Based Courses offer an engaging community-driven experience, Self-Paced Courses allow members to explore course materials and apply their learnings at their own leisure. This model is incredibly beneficial to those who cannot participate in live Cohort-Based Courses due to life and work commitments.

Decide How Your Self-Paced Course Fits Into Your Broader Learning Community

Self-Paced Courses can be offered to your Learning Community as independent products, but they can also help familiarize your members with your content before they choose to opt into one of your premium offerings (like a Cohort-Based Course). One of the benefits of a Self-Paced Course is that once you’ve designed your curriculum and uploaded your content, it won’t require too much day-to-day management, which can give you the time and flexibility to build and grow other parts of your learning business. Day-to-day management for Self-Paced Course could include:

  • Marketing your Self-Paced Course and reviewing registrations
  • Checking on progress reports to see how members are engaging with the course materials (more on this below)
  • Responding to member questions and/or comments (if you’ve enabled commenting)
  • Reviewing and responding to assignment submissions (if you’ve enabled assignment submission)
  • Updating content (lesson videos, descriptions, tasks, assignments, and more) as you continue to learn more about how members are engaging with the content and where you may need to improve, add, or remove content
  • And more!

Countless learning communities across the digital world leverage free, Self-Paced Courses to get potential new members engaged and eager to learn more. Take WeAreNoCode, for example — they’ve created a high-quality self-paced version of the same course they offer at a premium so members can get a kickstart on the learning process (that they happen to offer for free):

“Create valuable free stuff to get people into your world. We have a free course which essentially outlines all the steps that we teach in depth so that people can get an understanding of what they're getting into when it comes to the process of launching stuff.”

Self-Paced Courses can be a great way to create a revenue stream for your online learning business that does not require live events and community management, and an effective way to incentivize potential members to join your community (i.e. Sign up for ‘x’ and access ‘x, y, and z’ courses). Deciding whether a Self-Paced Course is right for your learning business depends on the resources you can dedicate to your learning experiences, the vision you have for how you want to engage your members, and how you imagine growing your Learning Community and scaling your learning business over time.  

Disco makes it intuitive for you to create and offer Self-Paced Courses to your community by providing you with the tools to organize your learning materials in a way that maximizes member engagement and supports them in their transformation.

Design an Engaging and Easy-to-Follow Curriculum Using Modules, Lessons, Tasks, and Assignments

The curriculum you design for your Self-Paced Course and how members access and engage with the content is integral to delivering a successful learning experience.

As Suzanne Howard, Founder and Dean of IDEO U shares, “There's this delicate balance of structure and flexibility. Everyone will always say they want utmost flexibility. But we know if you don't provide pupils structure and deadlines, no learning happens.”

While Cohort-Based Courses include live events and instructor and community support, Self-Paced Courses need to weave engagement into the course curriculum itself in order to provide members with guidance and motivation throughout their learning journey. In order to do this, you may want to include additional videos, tasks and resources to incentivize members to engage deeply with the course materials, and to continue on the learning journey even when their time, energy or motivation is running low. Examples include: short, motivational videos (like ‘How to get the most out of this module’) at the beginning of each module, as well as a check in video at the end that prompts members to reflect on their learning and to prepare for the next module. Here are some ideas for how to catalyze deeper engagement:

  • Make it easy for members to find the information they need using tasks (more below).
  • Anticipate and answer questions you think they may have with an FAQ page in the left navigation or video lessons that focus on answering their top questions.
  • Determine where they may face challenges in the curriculum, and include videos to help them navigate and move through the challenges so that they feel supported and cared for.
  • Make it interactive by creating opportunities for them to reach out to you with further questions—or, depending on how high-touch you want to be with your members, make a point to reach out to members who haven’t completed modules (you can learn more about member progress reports below).

We’ve broken down the Self-Paced Course curriculum into modules, lessons, tasks, and assignments to help you design the most impactful and easy-to-follow learning experience for your Cohort-Based Course members. Here’s how:


When designing your Self-Paced Course curriculum, consider separating your content into daily or weekly modules to make it easier for members to seamlessly move from one ‘chapter’ to the next without feeling confused or overwhelmed. We recommend organizing your content into lessons, tasks, and assignments in order to create a deeply engaging learning experience.

Once a member joins your Self-Paced Course and logs into the course dashboard, they will have access to all the curriculum modules at once and can use the structure and cadence you’ve created for them to easily follow along and complete course materials. Here’s some guidance on how to best design and organize your curriculum modules:

  • Start with a task that lets members know what to do first (i.e. read the course summary page).
  • When creating lessons, include the lesson number as well as the title so it’s easy for members to navigate (i.e. ‘Lesson 1: How to Design a Landing Page’, not, ‘How to Design a Landing Page’). Ensure Lesson names are to-the-point and easy to understand.
  • Include videos in lessons whenever possible! We recommend including a transcription and any downloadable documents as well that could help members with the course materials.
  • Whenever you think a member may have trouble knowing what to do or where to go next, include a task. Tasks are also a great way to create momentum for members as they can feel like micro-achievements.
  • Break assignments into step-by-step instructions and make sure to include an easy-to-understand description, as well as an explanation for why completing the assignment is important to the learning journey.


Once you’ve created curriculum modules, you’ll want to populate them with valuable content for your members. With lessons, members can easily access and watch high-quality videos uploaded by you as well as read and download any relevant documents. You can upload videos directly or use Disco’s rich text editor to embed links of existing videos (i.e. from YouTube or Vimeo), images, tables, and more.

When it comes to creating engaging content, we’ve found that long, lecture-style videos may not be as effective. We recommend breaking up your videos into multiple lessons and keeping them short and concise to increase engagement and completion. We also encourage you to include supporting materials in addition to your video lessons to be inclusive of different learning styles. Some members will appreciate being able to follow along with transcripts, visuals, and content summaries. To create a more engaging and supportive learning experience for the members of your Self-Paced Course, consider including the following videos:

  • Welcome video. Introduce yourself and help your members get better acquainted with you and the learning journey they’re about to embark on. In this video, you could include information about why you designed this Self-Paced Course, what members can expect, and how they can best go through and complete the course materials. This is where you could also give them permission to do it their way, and to motivate them to apply their learnings by completing assignments.
  • Motivational videos. Going through a Self-Paced Course on your own can be challenging, especially with the competing priorities of life and work. Include motivational videos throughout the curriculum modules to encourage members to continue on and to celebrate each milestone. Remind them of their why and the possible transformation that they can access on the other side of the learning experience.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). You can definitely include FAQ in the resource section of your Self-Paced Course dashboard (more on that below), but you may also want to create a video version of FAQ to help answer the question you suspect may come up at various points on a member’s journey. These videos can help members feel seen and less alone, and on a practical level, help them move through challenges that may be coming up for them as they go through the course materials.


Tasks are activities you’d like to have members complete on their learning journey. They help make the member experience more inclusive and take the guesswork out of what to do and where to find important content.

Include specific tasks in each module to easily guide your members once they’re in the course dashboard. We recommend getting granular and including as much detail as possible in your tasks to create a more seamless onboarding experience and learning journey for your members. Use Disco’s rich text editor to include everything from graphics, tables, videos, images, embedded links, and more. Some examples of tasks you could include in modules are:

  • Complete an intake survey
  • Download and review the ‘how-to’ guide
  • Block off time in your calendar to complete course materials
  • And more!


Assignments are an effective way to engage Members in your course content and create opportunities for Members to integrate their experience by practically applying what they’ve learned. When designing your curriculum, a common practice is to include assignments in each module to help members reflect and process what they’ve learned before moving on to absorb additional content.

We’ve made it easy for you to create and edit assignments by enabling you to include cover photos or videos, as well as a rich text editor where you can include additional images, videos, embedded links, and more to further support members. Depending on how you’re engaging your members and managing your Self-Paced Course community, you have the option to turn assignment submissions ‘on’ in the settings section of your course to add a layer of accountability and interactivity, and get deeper insights into how your learners are responding to course materials.

Designing a transformative and engaging curriculum is both an art and a science and requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. That’s why we’ve designed a product that takes care of the operational side of building out a Self-Paced Course, so you can focus on designing an impactful learning experience for your members.

Track Your Members’ Learning Progress to Measure Impact and Iterate on Your Curriculum Design

We’ve made it easy for you to deliver a transformative learning experience by enabling you to track how your Members’ are progressing through curriculum modules.

When you build out a Self-Paced Course, you may want to know things like which lessons and tasks have been completed, how often a member logs into the course dashboard, and where there may be low engagement with the course content. Insights into how your Self-Paced Course members are doing empowers you to better serve your community to build and scale more impactful learning experiences.

As Tiago Forte, founder of Forte Labs and Building a Second Brain shares,

“One of my favourite metrics is time to value—from the minute someone starts giving you their attention, how many seconds pass until they are getting tangible, unique value? It should be 30 to 90 seconds.”

Knowing the value your course content is providing not only helps you better understand and empathize with Members, but the collective data will reveal behavior patterns that can help you determine what parts of your course are resonating and which sections may need to be updated or redesigned. Knowing who’s engaged and who may not be also empowers you to reach out to specific Members to deep dive into their course experience. This feedback is highly valuable and essential to the growth of your learning business.

When asked about the value of Member feedback, Tiago Forte shared,

“They will tell you truths that no one else in the world can tell you, deep truths about your blind spots, your assumptions, and your weaknesses. If you take them in and you act on them, it's unlike any other kind of feedback.”

Progress reports help you get to the truth of the value of your offering and the impact you’re having on Members.

By tracking your Members’ progress, you may also get deep insights that can help you develop new offerings for your learning business.

Say you’re delivering a Cohort-Based Course focused on sales training, like Hyrise Academy: You may find that the curriculum module with the highest engagement is one where you’re sharing insights into how to build authentic relationships–-this may inspire you to build out an entire Self-Paced Course, Cohort-Based Course, or Event-Series that focuses specifically on building authentic relationships in sales. When you know what’s resonating with your members, the possibilities for building out your learning ecosystem are endless.

Dominic Blank, founder of sales training Hyrise Academy, shares the importance of these feedback loops, especially member-to-member feedback:

That's also where you learn the most: the peer to peer feedback. You get to listen in on their call to see how they approach email or how they go about lead discovery with their prospects. That's where a lot of the learning comes from during the program. Afterwards, you can connect on a peer-to-peer basis.”

In addition to inspiring new offerings, progress reports are a powerful marketing and community building tool. Knowing which members are highly engaged with your course content enables you to determine who may be interested in new/other learning experiences. If Member A is deeply engaged with your Self-Paced Course content, they may also benefit from registering for your upcoming Cohort-Based Course. Over time, as you continue to build these relationships, you can catalyze and inspire leaders within your community and create advocates for your learning business.

Now that you know what’s possible with progress reports, here is the member progress you can track:

  • Daily activity. Using a calendar view, it is easy to see when a member has logged in and how active they’ve been on the platform during their time in the course dashboard. Over the span of weeks or months, you can determine how often members are logging in, whether there's a regular cadence (i.e. they log in on Tuesdays), and the number of activities they engage in.
  • Curriculum Summary. The curriculum summary is the overarching view of how each member is engaging with the course content and the number of modules, lessons, tasks, and assignments they have completed.
  • Modules, lessons, assignments, and tasks. Go a layer deeper by understanding which specific modules, lessons, tasks, and assignments members are engaging with and completing.

When used intentionally, member progress reports can become the most powerful tool to help you grow your community and scale your learning empire.  

Expand Functionality of Your Self-Paced Course by Adding Apps

In addition to your course curriculum, you may want to include evergreen resources for members to access at any point on their learning journey. Evergreen resources live in the left navigation of your course dashboard and include a rich text editor that enables you to share images, videos, downloadable attachments, embedded links, and much more. Resources can include guides, templates, additional learning content, or anything you feel can support members as they go through course materials.

You can also add custom pages to your left navigation and use the rich text editor to populate the page with everything from images to embedded links. Custom pages can be used to create a more welcoming experience for your members and to showcase content you’re not including in your curriculum modules. Here are some examples of custom pages you could create for your Self-Paced Course:

  • A welcome page that summarizes the course content
  • A list of best practices and top tips for completing the course
  • FAQ page
  • And more!

Plus, you can link to external tools and apps like Notion, Airtable, Typeform, and more. Make sure your Members don’t miss a thing by including everything they need to access in one dashboard.

Custom apps and easy-to-update settings give you full control over how you want to engage your learning community. Here’s a list of all the Disco apps you can include in your course and their functionality.

Deliver More Impact to Your Members by Offering Various Types of Learning Experiences

We built Disco to help you build and scale your learning empire by enabling you to easily offer a variety of valuable and impact learning experiences to your members. You can easily create Self-Paced Courses, Cohort-Based Courses, Alumni Spaces, Event Series, and Masterminds. You can even start with a blank canvas and choose each and every app and functionality you require for your unique learning experience.

We know how much time, effort, and resources it can take to build out learning experiences, which is why we’ve made it easy for you to not only create them, but to duplicate them and choose the components and content you want to bring over to the new experience.

Whether you’re building one Self-Paced Course or developing different learning experiences, our mission is to be the purpose-built OS that takes care of the operational and administrative tasks so you can focus on what matters most: serving your Members and growing your online education business.

Need additional support? Check out our Resource Center or submit a support ticket or book a free demo of Disco’s intuitive learning platform for micro schools, academies, and bootcamps.

Last Updated
August 25, 2022
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