Three tips to make a good online course

Creating a good online course is an iterative design process with the end customer in mind.

Creating a good online course is an iterative design process with the end customer in mind

Online courses and webinars are becoming a good revenue source for the pioneers of the online learning revolutions that is unfolding in front of our eyes. The revolution is taking place right now, and we at Rukuku are in the middle of it all which is pretty exciting. In one of my previous posts, I talked about the independent instructor becoming the new success phenomenon in the world of media, and I concluded that the world of instruction will produce a lot of instructor entrepreneurs who will do well, and then there will be a small group of instructors who will do extremely well and have celebrity status.

The truth is anyone can be famous for 15 minutes with a course, but how does one get sustainable popularity? Here are three tips:

Make engaging and useful content
In the online training and education world the answer is no different than in any other media: an instructor has to generate fun, useful content. Remember the boring lectures at university that sucked the living soul out of you? That would never work online, and never make a course successful. The modern independent instructor needs to think in terms of entertaining their audience while training them. This thinking should permeate the design of the course as well as the presentation style of the instructor.

Less is more
Many large organizations are holding on dearly to their legacy e-learning content. At these organizations nobody is bothered that the traditional e-learning modules are badly designed: they are too long! This usually achieves one goal very well: numbing the mind of the course taker. The new knowledge that we have is that it is best to break up the courses into smaller chunks of 1 to 6 minutes long. This helps avoid learner fatigue as she moves from one logical chunk to another in a steady rhythmic way

Do niche marketing
Producing a course and formatting it in an appropriate way is only the first half of the job. The other half of the job is promoting the course and the instructor’s brand. For example, one of our instructors has figured out that her customers are best reached through professional associations so she started reaching out to these organizations on the phone and worked out a promotional deal whereby the associations became resellers of her courses. In essence the instructor found a good distribution channel for her content and invested in it by sharing revenue with the distributors. She then collected feedback from the many students that took her course and made improvements based on that feedback. Those who master the marketing and promotion game will stay relevant for years on end: good marketers know their target audience through and through, and that knowledge will then feed back into content production and formatting. We have come a full circle.

It is easy to see that in the heart of it all is learning everything about the end customer as well as understanding what, how and when they want to learn from you.

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Three Elements For Designing More Successful Online Courses

Producing content is a difficult, slow and often expensive process. Although the cost of production has gone down thanks to new technologies and desktop editing, it is still a logistical hurdle. And many discover that after so much effort, there is risk that the content will have limited appeal to the students. All of these are legitimate concerns when it comes to course authoring. For these reasons, many instructors are reluctant to author courses and forego on a wonderful opportunity to make the world a better place and earn some money in the process.

However, quite often an independent instructor’s course gets a ton of success, scales well, spreads quickly on the web and brings its author a considerable income: in some cases in the hundreds of thousands, and in exceptional cases – millions of dollars. While multi-million dollar success stories are exceptional and extremely rare, an average online course of decent quality generates anywhere in the range of $3,000 to $30,000 of revenue a year.

How do you get there? First and foremost, before you think about marketing, distribution and other business issues, the content of the course has to be relevant, useful and interesting. We are convinced that webinars are an excellent tool for iterative development of online course content, and here’s how the whole setup pans out:

1. Agile development

At Rukuku, we are big fans of agile development and customer discovery. Last year, we were blessed to have been selected for the National Science Foundation’s iCorps training program at UC Berkeley. It is not surprising therefore that we think that lean methodologies and iterative development should be applied to course authoring. Agile development methodologies for course authors can be summed up as:

  1. build your course in small increments one piece of content at a time – Rukuku Composer is perfect for that
  2. collect data and feedback on each additional piece of content – see point 2 below
  3. improve the content
  4. repeat

   2. Customer discovery

Collecting feedback is all about getting out of the building and talking with people. Pick up Steve Blank’s book, read Alexander Osterwalder’s book, or better yet – take Steve Blank’s free course on Customer discovery. This methodology is a reliable and tested approach to discovering what is right for your target customer. Simply, it boils down to doing three things in a structured and organized way:

  1. talking to your customers
  2. recording and organizing customer feedback
  3. analyzing this feedback and acting on it

3. Webinars

Use webinars as your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) testing environment. Rukuku is perfect for doing webinars, whereas webinars are an amazing way to test your content. When you are hosting a webinar, it is easy to collect feedback from your audience. You can ask the attendees to provide feedback during and after the webinar, as well as analyze the questions posted during the Q&A session or while you were going through your slides. Besides, recording the webinar and analyzing it is a great way to take a step back and look at your presentation skills and course content: pay attention to how you use your voice and how you present yourself on video; take note on the structure of your presentation, engagement of your audience, quality of your visuals and handouts – all of these elements can be tweaked to create a better course. Perhaps the best part about webinars is that you can collect payments from participants and offset the costs of producing your amazing course.

Start using Rukuku for webinars. Take your Rukuku course

3 Graphs About Udemy Revenue

I admire Udemy for their unique approach to managing growth, and I regularly collect and analyze all and any data about them that I can get. The company is a peculiar business case in the growing edtech world because:

  • They are one of the fastest growing virtual training companies in the world
  • Their business model works
  • They can be profitable

My recent annual analysis of Udemy data has yielded interesting results. In short, Udemy is deliberately diversifying its content portfolio and breaking dependencies on particular course providers.

1. Udemy is no longer overly dependent on just one course provider. In January 2014 close to 50% of their cumulative revenues came from a single company in Canada: Infinite Skills. Our November 2014 data shows that Udemy saw that risk very clearly, and worked hard to diversify its course portfolio. This effort seems to have born fruit: 50% of the company’s cumulative revenues now comes from 27 providers. As this diversification took place in the past twelve months, it seems that Udemy’s content managers and the marketing team are making a deliberate effort to break away from dependence on Infinite Skills.

In November 2014, 27 course providers were responsible for 50% of Udemy's revenues.

In November 2014, 27 course providers were responsible for 50% of Udemy’s revenues.

2. Udemy is no longer an Excel training company it used to be twelve months ago. Back in January this year, seven out of ten top courses by enrollment and revenue on Udemy were about Excel. Although Microsoft Excel courses are still VERY important in Udemy’s portfolio, the company has made a successful shift into Software development and Business categories. The new course providers that Udemy has managed to bring in generate quite a bit of revenue in areas of marketing and mobile app development.

Software development and business dominate Udemy's portfolio in terms of revenue.

Software development and business dominate Udemy’s portfolio in terms of revenue.

3. 10% of enrollments drive 50% of cumulative revenues. Udemy remains in a tough spot in terms of pricing and market positioning, although this seems to be changing, albeit slowly. In the online education and training world, I place Udemy in “basic office skills and basic technology skills” content category where brand of course provider does not matter as much as the quality of content they produce. Based on our data, in 90% of cases Udemy’s value proposition is “commoditized knowledge at bargain prices”. 50% of cumulative revenue to date comes from 90% of all enrollments within the “$1-$100″ price range. What’s amazing is that the other half of revenues to date has come from just 10% of all paid course enrollments that come from all other price segments ranging from $101 to $5000 per enrollment. Obviously, this is a completely different market segment and it is a least just as important for Udemy as its most popular price segment.

Udemy's difficulty next year would be in managing its polarized user base.

Udemy’s difficulty next year would be in managing its polarized user base.

If you need access to our database, please sign up to my live seminar: I will be doing a live review of Udemy data on January 15, 2015 at 12:00PM PST on Rukuku. During the event, I will present my findings and analysis of online trainig trends that can be glimplsed from comparing 2013 and 2014 data.

When you sign up, you will have access to the full raw database that contains most up-to-date information on Udemy’s courses, user and revenue growth, pricing strategies, etc. After the live event, you will also have access to Udemy January 2013 data as well as my analysis of changes that took place.

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French food

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You would need to register an account with Rukuku in order to enroll.
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