How to Create an Online Course that Sells

Creating an online course that sells isn't easy, but if you know what makes successful courses tick, you can build your own in no time.

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Kelli Pease

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Online learning may be entering its golden era. More and more students and learners of all ages are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn and earn certifications and credentials online to meet academic requirements, for professional advancement, to learn new skills, and to meet personal goals.

A good online course can help you earn more money, build brand recognition, and scale your business or institution while establishing yourself as an expert in your field. With so many courses already on the market and new ones launching every day, creating a high-quality course with valuable and unique content is the key to cutting through the clutter and getting sales.

Here’s a guide to help you design a top-shelf online course that sells.

What the Best Online Courses Have in Common

Every course is different, even when they’re in the same niche. However, some do a much better job of offering their students a rewarding learning experience and the tools they need to get the most out of distance learning.

Here’s what some of the most successful and profitable online courses have in common:

They’re Well Paced

The best online courses and learning experiences appear effortless to the end user and have a natural rhythm that moves the course material along and builds in a logical order. Each lesson or class module should contain enough information to keep students engaged and challenged, but they shouldn’t be so jam-packed with information that the lessons are cluttered or difficult to follow.

If the pace is too slow, students will get bored and may abandon the course. On the other hand, if the lessons are crammed with too much information and don’t flow in a logical order over the duration of the course, the material may be too difficult to absorb and retain.

A good online course is like climbing a staircase: it builds in difficulty and intensity over time and offers a clear and achievable path of progression for the students.

They Offer Students Valuable Content Worth Paying For

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but with so much online content to choose from (much of which is free), the best online courses offer a unique and valuable learning experience that students can’t find anywhere else.

No two online courses are created equal, and the internet is cluttered with mediocre and bad content designed to increase email list sign ups, build personal brands, and of course, make money. Those are all valid and legitimate goals, but the finished product should deliver and be worth each student’s investment.

Your courses should genuinely give something of value to your students. The knowledge you are sharing should be actionable. Likewise, while leaving breadcrumbs to future courses is totally fine (and even advisable!) you shouldn’t gate your courses so hard that students feel that they have to trudge through hour after hour until they get to the real good stuff.

They Offer Multimedia Integration

Learning curriculums have come a long way over the last few decades, both online and in the real world. Technology has made it possible for students of all ages and backgrounds to access educational materials from around the world, on their own time and schedules.

In order to attract and keep online learners engaged, the best online courses take advantage of technology to offer their students a modern and integrated experience that includes everything from written course materials and workbooks, to video, audio, podcasts, digital presentations, and more.

To increase your sales and student engagement, make your online courses as dynamic as possible.

They Offer Self-Directed Learning

Flexibility and the opportunity to learn and take classes around personal schedules and across time zones is one of the main advantages of taking an online course. Unlike in-person lectures and blended workshops, online courses allow students to fit the material into their own schedules, and to refer back to the course material as needed to review and absorb the material.

They Don’t Reach a Dead End

If you’ve ever taken an online course before, you’ve no doubt experienced the infamous dead end. You’re moving through the course, getting genuinely excited about what you’re learning. You’re making good progress, and everything is clicking.

But that thing you’re really excited to learn — the proverbial carrot on a stick pushing you through the course — always seems just out of reach. But surely, you’re about to get to it, right?

Just when it finally seems like you’re getting that golden bit of information, you suddenly reach the end of the course. If you want anything else, you’re going to have to sign up for another course.

Suddenly, your entire online learning experience can feel a bit like a bait and switch.

For people developing online courses, strategies like this are common — folks will tell course creators to “space out” quality information, and to constantly tease value. While this sort of thing will certainly sell courses, it’ll also burn out many of your students, causing them to go elsewhere. After all, you’re not creating loyal followers who are buying your courses because of the value within them — you’re essentially just stringing them along until they realize that they’re part of a game.

Like we said — your courses should have inherent value — that’s why people should be rushing to sign up for them (and when they finish one course, why they should be immediately signing up for another). Don’t trick people — just create good content.

They’re User Friendly

Intuitive design and clear and easy to follow navigation are especially important for online courses. Even tech savvy students will get frustrated and struggle if there are issues like cluttered, confusing design and navigation.

Students of all levels should be able to clearly visualize and understand the course layout and how to move through the material. A table of contents that clearly outlines the course material and how to find it is a must for a good online course.

Responsive Design

Not only are modern students and learners no longer limited to a traditional classroom, they’re not even limited to a desktop computer. Responsive design accounts for the fact that people access content and shop on mobile platforms, so your students need to be able to access their course materials across multiple platforms including smartphones and tablets.

Reliable, Working Technology

Creating the content for your online course is only the first step. Once you’re ready to launch and start selling your course, you’ll need a good platform to host it and process your orders (you need to get paid after all!)

A learning management system (LMS) is a one-stop shop for creating and selling online courses.

Inspire360 offers everything you need to get started, from an easy to use website builder for your course with responsive design elements, to the e-commerce tools you’ll need to collect payments and deliver your content to your customers.

They’re Dynamic and Engaging

Online learning takes effort and discipline, even for the most dedicated students. When you factor in the many distractions already competing for people’s time and money on and off the internet, your online course will have to be dynamic and engaging enough to make people buy it and complete it.

Include Resources for Additional Learning

Good online courses are comprehensive and give students a good return on their investment. On the flip side, courses that are too dense and overloaded with information can be difficult to digest and navigate in a way where the learner can fully process and retain the information.

One way to add value to your online course without making it unmanageable is to include a resources section that includes material or links to information that people can research and refer to in their spare time. Offering bonus material can also be a great incentive for pre-sales, rewards, and to build your email and subscriber list.

Likewise, handouts and other materials can add to a perceived feeling of value.

Accommodate Multiple Learning Styles

Everyone doesn’t necessarily learn in the same way. While some people excel in classroom settings designed around the traditional structure of lectures, reading, and writing (known as verbal or linguistic learners), this is just one of several learning styles.

Some people are surprised to learn that there are as many as seven or more different types of learning styles which include:

Visual learners - Who learn and process information best when it is delivered through images and video.

Verbal/linguistic learners - Who learn and process information through text/vocabulary.

Auditory learners - Who learn and process information through sound/music/melodies.

Kinesthetic (physical) learners - Who respond to movement and take a “hands on” approach to learning.

Logical learners - Who respond to logic and use a mathematical approach to understand and process information.

Social learners - Who work well and thrive in groups.

Solitary learners - Who prefer to work independently.

Online courses are ideal for combining multiple learning styles in a single course. Using multimedia tools in your online course that include video, text, and audio will let you reach a broader range of students.

They Evaluate and Measure Student Progress Throughout the Course

One of the challenges that many online course creators face is monitoring and evaluating student progress as they make their way through the course material.

Incorporating quizzes, tests, and evaluations helps to measure how well students are doing in the course. They can also make the content more fun and interesting for students, and build engagement with the course material and the instructors.

Provide Certification and Credentials

Whether someone buys an online course for professional development or personal advancement, course certifications and credentials, add a layer of credibility and authenticity to online courses.

Our platform allows course creators to offer certificates and certification programs. We also support continuing education credits for credentialing institutions and agencies.

Creating and selling an online course has never been easier. As more and more people make the shift to remote work and distance learning, the demand for online education will only continue to grow.

Our learning management system, Inspire360, provides all of the tools and functionality you’ll need to get started, from course creation to hosting, selling, and certifications. Contact us or request a demo today for more information.