Online learning platforms are becoming increasingly popular as a way of learning new skills. With e-books and video courses, people can learn at their own pace, and pick up tips and information about almost any skill that you can think of. E-learning is affordable, convenient, and offers opportunities that you would struggle to find at a traditional college or university.
The opportunities work both ways, too, and experts now have a chance to earn a passive income stream from selling their work. Anyone can create an online course on the things that interest them, and can share their knowledge via popular online learning platforms.
It used to be that to be a teacher you would have to have a degree or earn a vocational qualification, but times have changed and now anyone can teach via the web. It’s still useful to have some knowledge of how to teach, but if you’re looking to teach in an unusual field – whether that’s a hobby or a fast-moving professional skill such as something in the IT field – then you can use e-learning platforms to share your knowledge, and you can sink or swim based on the quality of your teaching, rather than whether or not you have a piece of paper that says you are allowed to teach.
If you have the skills to create your own website, then you could use it as a platform to share your courses. The main benefit of hosting courses on your own site is that you control what goes on, and you don’t have to worry about the site being taken down, nor do you have to worry about the site owners changing their policies or deciding not to promote your course over someone else’s at a later date.
You can build a website using WordPress and a plugin such as WP Courseware, or you can use LearnDash as a platform for the course, and you can install a membership site plugin to hide the course behind a paywall. The main downside to this idea is that you will need to find a way to attract visitors to the website to sell the course to them.
Hosting your own site might seem like a fun way of sharing your course, but it takes time to build up the site, and the time you spend on marketing and SEO is time that you could have better invested into building out your course. If you don’t actively enjoy the website building side of things, then you may be better off using a third party course management site. Not only will this mean that you have a ready-made e-learning website, it also means that you’ll have better analytics tools, out-of-the-box tools for engaging with your customers and letting students talk to each other, and more.
You can use tools such as Ruzuku, Uscreen.TV, Teachable and Thinkific to sell video content and online courses. You will retain control of the content, and you will have access to analytics information, email marketing information, user details, and more. You can set your own pricing and use promotion tools to grow your audience.
There are some challenges to using these platforms – one of the key issues being that when you invest heavily in one particular platform like this, you are to an extent locking yourself into it. This means that if you decide at a later date that you would like to move, then you may find it hard to take the content and use it somewhere else without having to rework a lot of it. Getting your existing users to move over to any new platform may also be a challenge.
A lot of experts are opting to use online marketplaces such as Skillshare and Udemy to sell and promote their courses. These are a great option because they have a huge number of users already, and they have successfully sold a lot of courses. They have a solid base that you can use to market your course, and there are lots of people on the platform that are already paying customers, and that are happy to work with you to ensure that your course can grow.
The popularity of these platforms, however, can also be their downfall. There are so many people who run online courses on these websites that it is hard for any one course provider to get attention. Even good courses sometimes go un-noticed, and you will find that you have to work very hard to stand out from the crowd.
In addition, when you run an online course via one of these platforms, you are limiting your profit potential, and agreeing to abide by the rules of those specific course makers. This is fine if you are happy to use their pricing structure, but it’s a good idea to have a presence on more than one online course platform, to try to protect yourself from this issue.
If you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, then don’t limit yourself to e-learning platforms. Consider making videos to share on Amazon Video Direct. Make ebooks to promote on ClickBank. Offer your content out on GumRoad.com, or sell your services as a tutor via locally focused sites. There are dozens of options out there.
These alternative sites aren’t designed for people to run online courses where you have a curriculum, tests, and a long course structure. They are, however, good for the scenarios where you want to share some short content – perhaps as a test for a longer course. You could offer very cheap videos that will appeal to a wider audience, and then use those videos to up or cross-sell to your more sophisticated online courses.
The selling potential of these platforms can be mixed compared to some of the more courseware-specific options, but the barrier to entry is lower. It’s easy to make content to sell on Clickbank, and you will have an army of marketers that are willing to promote that content for you, in order to earn commissions.
There are some downsides to these marketing methods. With Clickbank, you run the risk of people wanting refunds for the content that you have sold them. You cannot count a sale as being made until the refund window has passed, because Clickbank’s refund policy is so generous. With Amazon, you are less likely to run into refund issues – but you will have another issue in the way of discoverability, because there are so many products for you to compete against that it is hard for yours to get seen.
Teaching online is not ‘free money’. It is not easy and you are not guaranteed to succeed. Making a high quality course is challenging, and even if you are able to offer something better than the competition, finding an audience is hard, and getting that audience to pay could be even harder. In some fields, people are willing to pay for knowledge, but in others people are reluctant to spend money – either because the average person in that field has a very small disposable income, or because they simply don’t see the need to pay when there are so many free options out there.
If you opt to run your own website, then you will need to spend time and effort maintaining the website, keeping the security patches up to date, and doing SEO and marketing as well as all of the other aspects of the job. Student support, customer service, and maintaining the community all matter – a good teacher will engage with his students in the long term, helping them with the more advanced aspects of the course and the subject matter.
Ongoing customer service is a must if you want people to complete the course, be happy with it, and promote it to their friends and family. If you aren’t willing to invest in that – keeping the course up to date, improving it if people have questions, helping people who are stuck with the content, and providing suggestions for further learning, then you will end up losing out to people who are willing to invest in those extra areas.
Being a teacher is a personal thing. You are not simply throwing out facts for people to read and leaving it at that. If all you want to do is share a little knowledge, without having to have an ongoing relationship with the people who consume your content, then you might be better off looking at other forms of content creation such as writing a book or posting single videos. Even then, the Internet has changed the dynamic between content creators and consumers, and people expect to be able to talk to the people that make the content they consume. Courses, though, are a complex thing.
Just think about how much time you spent with your tutors and lecturers at college. Did they have open door policies? Did they help you when you were stuck with labs and assignments? If they did, then you should think about how you would do the same thing for your students now. Don’t shortchange your students by trying to be hands-off with them.
If you have a passion; something that you really want to share with the world, and that you know well, then there has never been a better time to get into making video courses, and online tutorials. You don’t need expensive equipment, you don’t need a lot of tools. You can achieve a lot with a good microphone and a screen recording program for your computer, or with a basic digital camera. Recording software is available to download free of charge, and once you have made your course, even the barrier to marketing it is relatively low these days, since you can achieve a lot with social media.
Why not give teaching a go? You may not get rich right away, but it's a great way to hone your skills and market your business.