How to Structure Your Online Course for Success

By Jeff Cobb.  Last Updated on December 6, 2023

Man's hands creating wooden building block pyramid - structure your online course concept

Looking to create and sell your very first online course? If so, then you should be prepared for a little trial and error; crafting and structuring an online course takes a great deal of planning and preparation—and your efforts aren’t going to be perfect the first time around.

Still, you can increase your student satisfaction and boost your course sales by taking the time to better understand the basics of course structuring. By keeping a few key tips and considerations in mind as you prepare for your first online course to go live, you’ll have greater chances for success!

Research Your Competition

As soon as you have your idea for an online course and have a solid understanding of your target audience, take some time to research your competition. No matter what type, of course, you plan on hosting, there’s a good chance it’s already been done—so why not learn from your competitors?

Yes, this may require you to enroll in an online course or two of your own (which seems counterintuitive…I get it), but doing this will allow you to access some insider information that will help you make better-informed decisions for your own course structure. As you explore similar online courses, take note of what seems to be working well versus which areas could use some improvement. Then, keep this all in mind as you begin to build your course.

See also: 15 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea

Improve as You Go

It makes sense to wait until you have your whole class totally structured and ready-to-go before you open it up for registration, right? Think again. The smarter route to take is actually to complete a general outline for your course but to only complete about the first 1/3rd or 1/4th of its actual content for immediate release. This is especially important during your first iteration of an online course because, more than likely, there’s going to be some room for improvement.

Imagine this nightmare scenario: you’ve already completed and uploaded all the content for your course, and launched your membership site but within the first couple of days of accepting payments, you begin to receive emails from students who are having issues with the sound or video quality of your lectures. You realize that these same technical problems exist throughout all the course content you’ve already developed. Yikes! Now you have unhappy students (some may even be asking for refunds) and you have no choice but to go back and re-record those lectures.

This type of situation can be totally avoided if you simply create and improve your content as you go. This will allow you to accept early feedback from your students and easily incorporate it as your course progresses.

See also: The Key to Avoiding Online Course Failure

Choose the Right Platform

Speaking of sound and video problems, make sure you’ve chosen the right platform for hosting your online course. Ideally, your course should be seamless, easy to navigate, and contain quality video lectures that students can follow easily. Video monetization platforms like Uscreen, specialize in helping creators build and sell quality video courses.

In addition to video content, you can also upload PDFs, documents, presentations, images, and just about any other type of file you may need for your online course. They also make it easy to set up a course track, schedule content, and build online communities that allow your students to collaborate for a more authentic learning experience.

But before you commit to any video platform, take some time to run the platform you’re looking at through this checklist.

  1. Can you fully customize and brand your website?
  2. Are you able to accept payments globally?
  3. Do you fully own your audience and can easily export them?
  4. Do they want a revenue share?
  5. How long does the service take to fully set up and launch?
  6. Can you easily categorize and organize your content?
  7. Do they provide built-in analytics?
  8. Do they provide marketing and community tools?
  9. Can you live stream?
  10. Does the platform offer a “Buffering Free” guarantee?

Set Manageable Goals

A great way to keep students motivated to continue through a course is to set small and manageable goals throughout. Ultimately, your students should be working towards a larger outcome (i.e. they should be able to walk away from your course able to do something new that they couldn’t do before they took your course). However, since we live in a society that values instant gratification, it’s easy for students to become disheartened if they don’t feel like they’re picking up any new skills early on.

To combat this potential issue, be sure to structure your course so that students are able to learn small, new skills as early as their first lesson or lecture. For example, if you’re teaching a course on a foreign language, why not teach students three of the most commonly used phrases in that language during your first lecture? This will allow them to walk away feeling like they’ve learned something new and valuable, which will keep them motivated to continue on with future lessons.

Break it Up/Keep it Short and Sweet

Another common misconception people tend to have when creating their eLearning business is that the longer the lectures and the more information you provide your students, the better. After all, you want your students to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as all that.

In reality, the best thing you can do for your students is to provide the information your students need in as little time as possible. In this sense, keeping your lectures “short and sweet” while still getting to-the-point is a better course of action than cramming as much information into a lecture as possible.

Screenshot from Uscreen Video course

By keeping things shorter, you can keep it limited to the key concepts your students need to know; you will also help to reduce confusion. And of course, today’s busy students will be more likely to set aside time for a 20-minute lecture as opposed to a more daunting hour-long lecture. Keeping your lectures succinct will show your students that you respect their time.

Encourage Collaboration and Sharing

One of the inherent challenges of an online course, when compared to an in-person course, is the lack of easy collaboration and sharing among students. Still, there are plenty of ways to foster and encourage collaboration and communication among your students.

Consider, for example, setting up a weekly discussion thread where you ask students to share their most recent projects or discuss some insights from recent lectures. This provides students with the opportunity they need to communicate with their peers and feel like they’re truly a part of the course. Creating this sense of community in an online setting is a great way to improve your students’ overall experience. Not to mention, you never know what your students might learn from each other!

Provide Additional Resources

While keeping your course content short and sweet should always be your goal, it’s worth remembering that there will likely be a few students out of each group who will want to go “above-and-beyond.” For this reason, it’s never a bad idea to include some additional resources in your lectures for students who would like more information on a given topic.

You might consider, for example, recommending a book that delves deeper into a given lecture topic or link to some websites that will provide further reading. This is a great way to give your students the opportunity to take their education further without overwhelming other students who may be struggling with the content you’ve already provided.

Wrapping this up…

The thought of creating and structuring your first online course may seem a bit daunting, but by following these guidelines, you’ll be in great shape. And while you’ll still need to fine-tune your course along the way to optimize long-term success, I’m pretty confident that you can be on your way to monetizing your first online course in no time.

PJ Taei UScreen Headshot

This is a gust post by PJ Taei. PJ is the founder and president of Uscreen, an all-in-one video monetization and OTT platform that empowers video entrepreneurs and creators to monetize their content and build thriving businesses around their videos.

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