How to Create an Online Course

Last Updated
December 15, 2022
Step by step instructions for how to create your own online course, including what you need and where to start.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why creating online courses is one of the most lucrative and rewarding ventures for budding founders, entrepreneurs, and small to large businesses alike
  • How each type of online course is uniquely powerful and opens learners up to deeper learning and more access to education
  • The benefits to creating an online course or participating in one — and why you should do both
  • Six tips and tricks creators on Disco have used to create robust, vibrant online courses that are changing the lives of learners within them

There has never been a better, more lucrative time to create an online course. Anyone, anywhere can access the tools they need to bring online courses to life.

With the learning industry set to hit $1 trillion by 2030, the learning Gold Rush is happening as we speak. It’s easier than ever to create a successful online course, but it requires new ideas and strategies to stay relevant for years to come.

Building an online course is a lot like building any other virtual business, but there are special learning nuances founders need to consider as they create these learning experiences and bring kindred learners together in a virtual space.

We’ll discuss exactly how to build an online course later in this article, but let’s start with a refresher on what an online course really is, what the different types of virtual courses are, and what the benefits are to both participating in and founding these experiences.

If you want a much deeper dive on the fundamentals of online courses and what they’re made up of, click here to learn more.

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First, what is an online course?

Online courses, as the name would suggest, take place virtually and consist of sets or units of curriculum or course material. Learners work through these units either at their own pace or on a schedule (more on that later).

Online course curriculum can cover any skill or topic. These topics can be personal, professional, or anywhere in between, and be as informal or formal and accredited as a founder wants.

There are different types of online courses, mostly in their delivery method, how many lessons they offer, and varying level of student-teacher involvement.

Learn how some of the world’s best and brightest learning communities are bringing their online courses to life using Disco’s comprehensive suite of tools and support.

Next, what are the different types of online courses?

There are two distinct types of online courses: self-paced and cohort-based. 

What are self-paced courses?

Asynchronous, or self-paced courses, involve learners to complete coursework at their own pace and their own time. Students have to schedule their own time to complete learning material and aren’t held to live lecture or course time.

Flexibility

Asynchronous work is far more accessible than synchronous work, because it allows learners to study on their own time. This level of flexibility creates opportunities for more people to participate in a learning experience, like parents, students, or people with full-time jobs. Increased accessibility to education is a critical mission that everyone in the learning industry is working towards solving.

Less hands-on inolvment

Self-paced courses also don’t require founders, instructors, or teachers to be present at the same time every day or week. This makes the operational and administrative load a lot less to bear, allowing them to support from afar or only be responsible for the creation of curriculum.

Lack of community aspect

While this creates flexibility for both founders and learners, self-paced courses often lack that tight-knit community feel. Asynchronous work can often be very lonely, and studies have shown repeatedly that more synchronous work creates a deeper, richer learning experience because you have other students to lean on and collaborate with.

What are cohort-based courses?

Cohort-based courses, or synchronous courses, put community at the forefront of learning. These online courses bring groups of students together, either more intimately in small groups or in large, virtual lecture halls in an effort to learn alongside one another.

Connectedness

Cohort-based courses also tend to meet regularly, whether this is for live lecture, course time, discussion halls, or other types of collaborative learning environments.

As mentioned above, synchronous work has been proven to be more impactful for learners. There’s an added benefit to learning with people with different backgrounds, cultures, and values, allowing for a fresh exchange of ideas and solutions.

Hands-on teaching experience

Cohort-based courses are more operationally intensive for founders, instructors, and teachers, but it allows them to really curate the experience and the culture within their learning communities and course content. Because these are deeper, richer learning experiences, founders can also (typically) set a higher price tag per student.

Lack of flexibility

As of late, more online courses are relying on blended learning styles, or a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous work. Creating opportunities for learners to learn themselves as well as with other like-minded students offers the benefits of both learning styles.

Custom branding on the Disco platform

Finally, what are the benefits of online courses?

There are a wealth of benefits to building an online course, and just as many to joining one. Let’s start with the upsides to founding your own virtual learning experience, whether self-paced or cohort-based:

The benefits of building an online course

There are two distinct benefits to building an online course: revenue, for one, but the chance to create your own learning culture is arguably more valuable.

The financial incentive of creating online courses

Market demand for successful online course creation

The market demand for new learning experiences has never been higher. Your target audience is eager to meet new learning objectives, be it through a paid course or a free course.

Monetizing a profitable course can be just one of a few ways to achieve financial freedom or add a passive income stream of revenue to your existing portfolio. The learning industry is infused with cash, and much of that investment is going towards virtual learning.

Freedom to create

Founders of online courses aren’t bound to the same regulatory practices and rules that traditional education is. You’re free to charge any price you’d like for your course and collect as much revenue as possible, after paying any staff members and for other business expenses.

Market testing phase

Marketing online courses is also fully at your discretion; with a thorough content marketing strategy, strong email marketing, and a grippy landing page, you may not even have to spend a lot of your own earnings on paid ads or other expensive marketing strategies. You can let the actual content speak for itself and launch a successful course using the solutions within the online course marketplaces.

The cultural incentive of creating an online course

There are so many positive aspects to creating a culture within your own online course as well as redefining the culture of the learning industry at large.

Change lives as an online course creator

For one, you have the chance to change people’s lives. You can create a curriculum on your own online course topic that can help them develop critical professional and personal skills and potentially change their trajectory in a major way. Through the creation process, you can gather feedback to determine what your target audience and existing audience need to really see the course value.

Creating access with affordable and free course material

You can do this by also creating affordable, flexible access. With traditional education having significant disparities in quality and access, teaching online presents the opportunity to get this nuanced education into the hands of marginalized and underrepresented communities. Anyone, anywhere can access these courses because they don’t require you to be in person.

Expand skill-based learning

As an online course founder, you have the chance to increase affordable access to learning and help people develop skills they would have otherwise never had the chance to learn. You determine the course price and can offer any varying level of access to your online school. Give people a taste of what they can pay for by offering a free mini course or other accessible material as a pre sell.

Next, let’s discuss why it’s so great to be a member in an online course:

The benefits of taking an online course

Control over your learning experience

Becoming a student in an online learning course lets you take the reins on your learning journey and access material you never thought possible. Your mastery of course material is indicative of an online course's success.

Non-traditional learning objectives

The growing sect of online learning means anyone, anywhere can create a curriculum in their area of expertise — and even more importantly, anyone, anywhere can learn that material to build a new skill set.

Conventional learning material in regular schooling is not designed to be sticky or practical beyond standardized testing. Online learning presents an opportunity for people to learn the skills they actually want to learn and use them for real-life solutions.

With courses being synchronous, asynchronous, or a blend of both, you get to really dictate the way you learn, at what time of day, and in what manner.

We’ve briefed on what an online course is, what the benefits are, and what the different types are, but what are the key steps a budding founder must take in order to bring these experiences to life?

Here are six steps every course creator should take, using Disco’s intuitive online course platform.

“Disco has allowed us to build a scalable education offering at Dribbble. The subgroups function lets us break the hundred of students who enroll in each cohort into mentorship groups, giving each student a personal, hands-on & intimate learning experience.” – Madeleine Sava, Program Manager, Education at Dribbble

6 steps to building your online course on Disco

Define your niche or area of expertise

Are you a data science expert? Proficient in business analysis? A skilled graphic designer? Determining what area — and level — of expertise your online course will cover is the first and arguably most important step in building out this program.

Some courses choose to only cover the fundamentals, while others are designed to be as rigorous if not more so than a world-class college course. Others may offer certifications that are accredited because of their curriculum. Determining how in-depth your teachings will go can also help you figure out what to price your offerings at compared to similar courses in the space.

Disco customer BatteryMBA, for example, has created Europe’s most in-depth professional battery training, designed to make people employable in the battery industry upon completion of the course. They chose the Disco platform so they could focus on creating the most deliberate, hyper-niche curriculum possible:

“We moved to Disco because we needed a platform on which we could run the program, which would minimize the time and effort we put into the admin, but also would increase our time in terms of content creation,” says Amandine, BatteryMBA Chief of Staff.

The right tool will help support any type of learning experience in any industry or area of study.

Quote from Amandine Bressand, Chief of Staff at BatteryMBA, on building their course on the Disco platform

Determine whether your course will be self-paced, cohort-based, or a blend of the two

We covered the two different types of online courses above, but choosing which model you’ll be teaching in is an important distinction to make up front. 

If you prefer to be more hands off and simply create a curriculum people can access at their own pace, a self-paced option is likely the better of the two. If you want to really sink your teeth into the learning experience and be in the mix with learners, select a cohort-based option.

As mentioned, many online courses today recognize the value of both synchronous and asynchronous learning styles and blend the two within the same learning experience. This may include some live lecture or course times coupled with self-paced assignments or other types of hands-on work.

We support both methods of learning at Disco, because we recognize the value in each. For blended learning environments, Disco allows you to host both cohort-based and self-paced courses in addition to other learning experiences like live event series.

Check out our top tips for building a successful cohort-based course and a successful self-paced course if one style or the other is better for your unique community.

Design transformative online learning experiences with a mix of different curricula

What makes online learning so much more interesting and enriching is that you, as the founder or course creator, get to dictate how and when people learn. 

Design your self-paced or cohort-based curricula with different lessons, tasks, assignments, assessments, and other projects so learners are getting a mix of different learning methods without the material feeling stale.

The Disco platform makes it simple to design a mix of different learning types within your course. The modular formatting and simple integration with tools of your choice allows you to create the course you want.

Curriculum builder on the Disco platform

Good online course software takes the load off of more administrative and operational tasks. Duplicating courses is one of those tasks, and Disco has made it easier than ever to take a foundational curriculum and replicate it for every cohort or new student.

This feature helps you copy over lessons, video lectures, event series, and other course materials with just a few clicks.

Set up data and analytics like learner progress reports before your first class

It’s critical that you’re taking in data and learnings from the moment your first students begin your course. By setting up analytics tools first, you’ll ensure you’re capturing data from the start.

Track learner progress and daily activity on the Disco platform

At Disco, one of the best pieces of information users can access are learner progress reports. These individualized dashboards show how students are working through course material, track activity, and highlight their attendance to any events, lectures, or other mandatory or voluntary course functions.

Armed with this information, you can support the member experience more intimately and intervene should additional help be needed.

Ready to invest in the best learning management system that can support several online courses and your online community at the same time? Check out our review of the top five solutions here.

Create a robust learning dashboard with all the resources and content

In addition to your coursework, you can fill Disco’s learning dashboard with all kinds of enriching learning material; everything from video interviews with experts to additional downloadable resources to infographics and more can live on your dashboard.

Whether you use Disco or not, giving students access to additional learnings they can immerse themselves in is vital to the learning process. Participants in online courses specifically seek out courses that can teach them new skills, and it’s vital that you give them all the information they can get their hands on to deepen their understanding.

This is especially important to have if you’re an async course, as you’ll let students access this information on their own time as they’re progressing through material.

Create resource and content collections on the Disco platform

Create feedback loops to improve future iterations of your online course

There is no better tool for improving the features and outcomes of your course than those who have participated in it. Hearing, firsthand, what your students loved and didn’t love about the experience you’ve created is the best way to make tweaks to make your online learning course the best it can possibly be.

It’s important to have a plan in place for collecting feedback from the start so you don’t miss out on input from even your earliest participants. Whether you create a survey, direct 1:1 phone calls or virtual meetings, or create a forum where students can share advice with you and your staff, have that feedback loop created from the start. Trust us — you’ll want to hear what they have to say. Happy students tell friends and family who become future generations of happy students, and alumni will always be your best referral generators.

All of these features — and more — can be found on the Disco platform, and it’s routinely the best online course platform founders look to to scale their online courses and grow a robust community around them.

Choose Disco for building, hosting, and scaling your online courses

For tomorrow’s creators of the biggest or brightest online courses, Disco is the all-in-one learning management system you need. Build the online course of your dreams with all the bells, whistles, and features you and your students need to succeed.

We’re so confident in our solution, we’ll let you try Disco free for 14 days. See why it’s the best possible online course platform for creators of virtual courses and other impactful virtual learning experiences.

Last Updated
December 15, 2022
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