Building a great online course is NOT easy, but it doesn't have to be difficult

Building online courses is easy!

Build and launch your course in 7 days!

Produce an online course, rather than an e-book, you can charge way more!

Have your online course up and selling in a matter of minutes!

The best way to hit your revenue goals is to use premium pricing.

I'm sure you've heard these kinds of claims bandied about by course delivery platforms, and others in the online course industry. Some are more hard-sell than others, but the essence is the same - course development is easy, and you can make easy money developing courses.

Now, first up, let me say that I think that online course delivery platforms are awesome – the online course industry is a 100-billion-dollar industry after all. They have equipped so many people to teach what they know online, and build successful businesses around courses. In terms of user-experience, demystifying the tech, and making it easier for course creators to get paid, they are going from great to excellent. I also use some of these course delivery platforms, and I recommend them to my clients.

But telling people that course design, delivery and online TEACHING is easy, is just plain wrong. Telling people that they can have an online course up and selling in minutes is misleading. And telling people that they can charge premium pricing, just because they’re selling a “course”… Does that one feel right to you? It doesn't sit well with me.

“Course development is easy” completely oversimplifies the course development process.

Just map out a course outline, put together some PowerPoint slides, hit record on QuickTime, and teach away! You’ll be done by lunch, and enrolling your first students that evening!

Let’s see what would happen if we follow that advice, shall we…?

Just coming up with a half-decent course outline is going to take a lot of considered thought, research and at least some feedback and revision (read: time!).

Then, how long would it take you to put together a bullet-point slide deck (no images, animated diagrams, or anything remotely fancy)? How much more time would you need to record a voiceover (of course, because we’re keeping things simple, you only get one take)?

I’d estimate that I’d need five days of completely focused, uninterrupted time. Of course, those of us who are work-at-home-moms, or have a 9-5 job, or who have any other commitments alongside course-building, will know that just one focused and uninterrupted day happens about as often as a lunar eclipse. Five consecutive days is like a unicorn just trotted into your five-acre garden. So realistically, we’d be looking at a 10 to 20-day turnaround time.

That turnaround time is alright, but what would be the result? A webcam-and-fact-jam. A what...?

Well, when I was doing my teacher training, we were warned against doing lessons that were just “chalk-and-talk”. These were lessons that involved nothing other than a teacher talking away, dumping lots of facts and information on the students, whilst scribbling notes on the chalkboard. The effect would be just as you expect – boredom, and rote learning at best – certainly nothing resembling engagement or action from the students.

I fear that in oversimplifying the online course development process, we are going to end up with an online version of chalk-and-talk, which is what I call a webcam-and-fact-jam.

But, in the interests of getting something up there, let’s say we put our webcam-and-fact-jam onto our course delivery platform. Would our audience be raving about it? Would they be able to take clear action? Would they even get past half way? Or even past the first lesson? Maybe they will complete the course, but they probably won’t (the stats unfortunately bear me out on this - here and here).

The fact is that until we, as online teachers, have put some very good thought and research into our instructional design and teaching methodology, we’re just going to be guessing about whether our courses are going to deliver on the promises we make to our students.

So that brings me to another problem with the “course development is easy” refrain:

It blinds us to the multitude of methodologies and technologies that we could use to teach – and that could be wildly effective in impacting our students.

Now I’m not saying that you can’t use PowerPoint slides and a voiceover. I’m also not saying that you should get into analysis paralysis over your course content and course delivery.

What I am saying is that as online teachers, we need to skill up on instructional design.

What I am saying is that we should reimagine our teaching methodology, before reaching for the slide deck, or the webcam.

What I am saying is that we should spend as much time designing and developing our courses, as we have spent on marketing our courses.

So… I’m thinking that if you’ve read up to this point that you’re not going to be satisfied with producing a webcam-and-fact-jam. Instead, you want to create a course that passes the TEACHER Test.

Online TEACHER Test Infographic
  • You want to create a course that applies the best research in online teaching methodology, rather than just guessing about how people learn. Your course will apply both the latest trends in online teaching, as well as time-honoured teaching principles.
  • You want to create a course that is an engaging experience, rather than a boring lecture that puts them to sleep. Your students will be captivated by your course, not just because it is fun to watch, but because everything they are learning gets them closer to the goals they have set for themselves. You will maintain this level of engagement throughout the course by constantly seeking feedback from your students and acting on it.
  • You want to create a course that helps your students to take action. Your students will know exactly what action they need to take after each lesson, and every time they take action, they will become more and more motivated to keep working, until they achieve the ultimate goal of the course.
  • You want to create a course that your students complete, rather than fizzling out at Lesson 3, because they just can’t summon the motivation to continue (hint: it’s not all their fault…).
  • You want to create a course that allows you to help more people than just those in your immediate geographical area or social circle. You feel called to teach, and you really believe that what you have to share will enrich the lives of your students, and in many cases, be life-changing for them.
  • You want to create a course that earns you an income – and a great income at that – so that you can keep doing what you do and living the lifestyle you desire. You won’t just be building courses – you’ll be building a business. You’ll be charging a premium price, but you’ll be offering a more-than-premium value. Whether your course is your first paid offering, or an additional revenue stream, the profit that you will make from your course will allow you keep teaching, and keep making an impact on the world.
  • You want to create new courses that get your current students returning, rather than simply pocketing people’s money once-off, for courses that have done nothing for them. Your students will be pleading for your next course, because of the impact that your other courses have had on their lives. They’ll also become your own (unpaid) sales department, as they refer their friends and colleagues to you.

If that sounds like the kind of course you’d like to create, then I can tell you that you don’t just want to be a course creator, you want to be a teacher. And your courses will pass the TEACHER Test with flying colours!

Pass the Online Teacher Test Banner

Would you like a nice printed copy of the TEACHER Test criteria? 

Just fill in your email address below and I’ll send you a nice black-on-white PDF printable. And you won't have to replace your toner cartridge! ;)


If you’d like to create a course that passes the TEACHER Test, then I’d like to be your teacher! It's going to take a bit more work than some might lead you to believe, but you know what, it's going to be fun, and it's going to make the process a lot more rewarding for everyone. And while it might take work, I believe that I can help you work smart, rather than just working hard. And I'll do that by sharing all of the lessons I've learnt doing this online teaching thing (in many forms!) for over a decade.

Stick around here at TeacherToo (by signing up - you'll get a great free e-book too), and I’ll share everything I know about teaching online so that you can be great at what you do, and be an amazing online TeacherToo.