Get Our Blueprint for Creating
and Selling Online Courses

How to Launch Your Course and Enroll
Your First (Or Next!) 5, 50, or even 500 Paying Students... FAST!

The next webinar is on

Click here to get the details.

Think You’re Cut Out for Creating an Online Course? (Better Read This First!)

Steps to create an online course

These days, it seems like everyone is selling an online course (or maybe they just secretly want to sell one). And, I suspect that you might want to do the same.

Or – maybe you already have an online course, but you want to make it stellar – taking the wisdom from your head and laying it out in such a way that your students can use it to improve their lives or businesses in some massive way.

But, how many online courses have you taken that have been disappointing, frustrating, or poorly constructed? If you’re like me, the number is discouragingly high. The worst part is that my experience as a student usually meant feeling stuck as I tried to muddle through the course.

The truth of the matter is, teaching and learning online is not easy, and creating online courses is an art form. Really!

This post will take you through the key steps involved in building an online course, along with the challenges you’ll face during each step (and also how to survive them). But more than that, it will help you determine if you are ready for the challenge!

Very few entrepreneurs have a background in education, and usually need help with designing courses, and like so many aspects of business, it all starts with having a strategy.

Have a Solid Design Strategy

So why would you need to use design strategies?

It’s like building a house. Without a blueprint, or an understanding of how construction works, or what materials to use, we might end up with a lop-sided, ill-finished house that comes crashing down on our heads the first time the wind picks up!

Bringing the example back to our online course, we might end up forgetting the introduction, adding too much content to one module, glossing over important student interactions, or forgetting to upload half of the learning resources (i.e. checklists, worksheets, etc.).

If we use solid design strategies to plan out our course, we can get to work building it right – the first time.

Determine Your Timeline

Creating a course of any kind is not for the faint of heart. It takes time to plan the right course, compose stellar content, and deliver it with style. That is, only if you want to offer your customers a darn good course – one they tell everyone about. My guess is that’s what you want to do.

In short, it takes time to create quality.

Most likely, it will take you 3 to 4 months to create a course, if you are focused. It might even take closer to 5 or 6 months, if you are building it more slowly.

That’s a lot of time, so let’s get started!

Phase 1: Planning Your Course

Time: The first phase for designing a course is the planning process, and will probably take about 15 to 30 hours of your time. Depending on how much time you have to dedicate to the project each week, that could mean about a month’s worth of planning and researching.

Challenge: You may have heard the advice that you should merely sketch your course ideas out and offer the course for sale before you start creating it. The problem is, that would require scrambling to create the course before it is launched.

I used to wing it, too, but learned the hard way that this can lead to a disastrous course and bad experiences for your students.

Rather than scrambling at the last minute, make a better plan by following these two steps:

  1. Conduct research on exactly what your potential students want.
  2. Draw up a plan for key parts of your course, before actually writing any content.

Step 1: Conduct Research

Learning is a personal journey and one where your students will immerse themselves into your course. Therefore, it’s important for you to know who you want to work with, and how you want to impact them, before you start building.

Start with some basic market research. This will allow you to find out what it is that people want to learn about your topic. An easy way to start is to simply ask them; reach out to your network and ask them what they want to learn about your subject.

You will also need to determine the profile and learning styles of your future students. To start, think about these questions:

  • Are they middle-aged professional women who are busy and need mobile learning?
  • Are they young, new entrepreneurs who need lots of examples and illustrations to understand the material?
  • Or, are they some other combination of profile and learning traits?

By considering their average age, lifestyle, culture and education, you will get a good idea about how to communicate with them, and how to phrase words (i.e. using the word ‘dude’ or not), their life goals (i.e. to excel at something, find deeper meaning, or simply survive), and their background (i.e. they have a college education, prefer top-end service, or are DIYers).

This information will help set the tone, level of language, and topic focus of your course.

Cater to your audience – they will respond well!

Explore student learning styles and try to include several of them by sprinkling different modes of delivery throughout your course (i.e. a bit of video, some audio, relevant images, detailed illustrations, knowledge check quizzes, and online discussions, etc.). It’s not hard to do, especially with the technologies that are available today.

Survival Steps: Let’s be honest for a minute: most people hate doing market research, and many overlook it (or, completely ignore it). I don’t blame them – it’s difficult to find data on your potential market, analyze it, and create the perfect product for them.

At the very least, you have to determine who your target market is!

Follow these steps to gently start the research process:

  • Start conversations with your network about your course idea and see how they react.
  • See what books are popular on Amazon about your topic and take note of the comments being made.
  • ‘Listen’ to how people are reacting to problems that are similar to what you want to solve via your course.

After trying this for some time, if you find data that indicates that your course will fill a need, then dig a bit deeper with the steps outlined above to start conducting solid research.

Let’s look at an example of the research phase in action:

Tamara, a silversmith, wants to build a course to show others how to create jewelry using silver and wood. She has an audience of admirers who think her designs are unique and beautiful, and many of them buy her pieces. However, she realizes that she can’t ask them for input on a course, as they might not be interested in creating pieces, working with silver or carving wood.

Tamara decides to start following and connecting with other jewelry designers via Instagram and Facebook to learn more about them and their needs. After spending a bit of time networking with them and learning about their designs and products, she plans to ask them if they would be interested in her online course, Wooden Silver Designs (TM).

As well as networking, Tamara also checks Amazon to find books about creating and soldering silver jewelry. The comments that customers leave about each of those books reveal the specific topics they like, as well as which instructions and projects work for them. They also demand more illustrations and pictures for each step. This gives Tamara ideas on what to teach and how best to teach it.

Step 2: Create Your Course Plans

Now that the research is done and you have a good idea of who your learners are and what they want, you can start to sketch out your course.

Find Your Big Idea

The big challenge facing you now is that you want to avoid delivering a course that is too similar to what others already offer. To set your course apart from the competition, you will need to determine its big idea.

To get started, answer these questions:

  • What makes your course super special compared to others?
  • In short, what is it about your topic that turns you on?
  • How do you see it and feel about it?
  • What can you offer that no one else can?

This big idea is what you need to deliver, and will help set the direction and tone for all of the lessons in your course.

Survival Steps: The process of determining the big idea behind your course will take time and might even cause a lot of frustration, as you try to decide between the hundreds of ideas spiraling in your head, or the complete lack of them!

Instead of allowing frustration to take over, try these steps to uncover your big idea:

  • Take time to ponder your idea; reflect on it during walks and give yourself some white space (non-thinking time) to develop it.
  • Sit down with a friend; share how you feel about your topic area and what really excites you. Then, write down what you discovered during your conversation.
  • Ask your friend what they heard and then work together to come up with the big idea for your course.

Determine Your Learning Goals

The second important part to planning your course is determining your learning goals.

To get started, answer these questions:

  • What 2 or 3 things do you want your students to do, feel, know and/or perceive when they have successfully completed your course?
  • What part of your topic can you teach that will impact your students lives? Be realistic – unlike you, they may never become an expert.

This question, if you really think about it, will pare down your course. And, that’s a good thing!

Why? The biggest problem with most courses is there is simply too much content. Even professional teachers overload their curriculum – they panic and think about everything that needs to go into a course so that their students learn something.

But instead, the reverse happens: students drown because they can’t filter all of the information. Rather than learning, they get overwhelmed and quit.

Survival Steps: Course creators often struggle with narrowing down their topic to a few reachable goals, and aren’t sure how to avoid overloading students with content and activities.

Rather than plunging your students into the icy depths of information overload, consider the answer to these questions to help determine the basic learning goals for your course:

  • What would you cover, if you only had 15 minutes to teach about your topic?
  • And, if you only had 10 minutes to see if your students “got it,” how would you evaluate their understanding in a repeatable way?

In the end, people just want to learn something very specific; usually, this means that they are not interested in the whole history or every minute detail of your topic.

Remember – they are learning, so treat them gently! It’s a fine balance between developing a watered-down, empty course that leaves your students wanting, and delivering mammoth content that squashes them beneath its weight.

Decide How to Deliver Your Course

Last, determine how your course will be delivered. Will it be facilitated by you or self-study; evergreen or a limited-time offer?

It is your choice on how you want to deliver the course, but understand that the less you are involved, the more content and activities you have to create and the less you can charge. On the other hand, if you are highly involved in the learning process, you can have less pre-prepared content and charge a premium for being available to your students and sharing your ideas.

Survival Steps: This is often the biggest challenge for people, because it involves determining the technological platform to use for delivering your course.

To help you decide how to structure your online learning space, think about the following:

  • Envision what your course would look like if it were delivered in a physical, in-person classroom. What would that look like?
  • Where would students sit, stand and work on projects? How would the room be arranged?
  • How would you teach your topic, and what materials would you hand out?
  • Last, what would students be doing during the time they spent in the classroom?

Take these ideas and place them online – it can’t totally mimic the in-person class, but you can find technologies that are capable of supporting how you want teach, give out learning materials and engage with your students.

Let’s go back and check on Tamara, the silversmith, who wants to make her course really special and not like any other jewelry making course.

Taking some time to reflect, she uncovers her big idea… bending silver into magical designs.

At the core, that is what Tamara does with her silversmith craft. She dreams of gorgeous, filigree-type designs. From there, she draws them, develops casts to produce them, and then carves out select wood pieces, such as walnut, to glue the silver onto. Because silver is so malleable, it’s easy to bend into any shape.

For learning goals, Tamara suspects that students will need help with actually designing the pieces; therefore, she plans to offer them her design templates. During and after her course she expects them to:

  • Prepare silver for casting,
  • Create casts for silver formation,
  • Use a jigsaw to cut out wooden pieces,
  • Glue silver and wood together, and
  • Add silver hooks to complete the jewelry pieces.

She has decided to create a series of ‘how-to’ videos supplemented by drawings/illustrations, written instructions and project ideas that will live in an online course platform and will be sold as an evergreen course.

She will keep the content focused by succinctly sequencing each important step, and supplement her course material with downloadable resources like illustrated instructions, as well as her design templates.

So – Are You Cut Out for Creating on Online Course?

Planning a course is so important; you can probably remember which courses you’ve taken in the past that were not well planned. Right?!

Now that we have walked through what it takes to plan out your online course, you probably have a better idea of whether it’s something that you are ready (or willing) to tackle!

If you start with these steps right now, you can have a course planned out in a month. Or, you can take your time and start doing your research now, so that you’ll be ready to go when you are ready to make the commitment to start moving forward.

We’ve covered Phase One of the course development process today – planning your course.

Phase Two involves designing your course’s learning path, various lesson elements, engaging activities, and look and feel. And, Phase Three is where you will develop your course by composing the guts (the content and learning materials), creating student activities, adding finishing touches, and placing it strategically online.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling motivated to get out there and start doing the research and planning for my next online course. How about you – do you think you’re cut out to create an online course? If not, what’s holding you back? Let’s take this conversation into the comments below!

About Kelly Edmonds

Dr. Kelly Edmonds is a professional educator and e-learning specialist who designs e-programs and e-courses for clients globally. She works with a range of clients from national airlines to solopreneurs. Download her e-course starter kit to get your course right the first time. Her course designs and blueprints are popular and offer solid, resourceful and refreshing learning experiences.


  1. Ivan Orozco says:

    I liked your article since it reinforces the idea that course creation is a systematic process; it is not a presentation with a ton of info and a [virtual] classroom full of students with their attention in other things rather than the content.

    1. says:

      Ivan, you are correct! And it also includes understanding human nature and how our brains work :O)

  2. This was SO helpful! I’ve been planning out my course for over a month now, gathering the research material, and brainstorming exactly what I want to cover in each lesson. But after looking at all the milestones I knew I wanted to meet, actually building the course was becoming a bit discouraging and, frankly, overwhelming. Because of this, I’ve put this course aside multiple times and the old spark of excitement I had was beginning to die down.

    But this article has really brought that spark of excitement back, and I’m actually inspired to continue building my course! Now I can’t wait to see my course to completion. So thank you.

    Time to read the next article in the series!

  3. says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you so much for sharing all this valuable, very practical information!


  4. Thanks for sharing all this information on the prep work for creating a course, Kelly. I can see how powerful creating course can be and how important it is to do the prep work. I’m working on one right now and I will go back and define what my learning goals are for it.

  5. Don says:

    Such a helpful article, Kelly. i’ve been teaching a live weekend training / seminar for many years but at age 77 realize that intercontinental travel for teaching has almost come to an end. It’s over 15 years since I last travelled from the UK to North America to teach and never yet to Australia although I know I have many potential students in these parts. I’m finding that my biggest challenge is transposing a training – which has been successful largely due to my personal presence and ad hoc storytelling – to an online environment. Audio modules must be part of the answer; but, try as I might I really struggle in front of a camcorder. I’m very much looking forward to your next articles. Have you looked at the free UDUTU (you-do-too) as a platform? looks good to me…

    1. says:

      Hello Don. Thanks for sharing your training journey. I wonder if someone helped you with audio recordings by creating a interview style exchange. They ask you questions and you answer. For the recording you share, you could leave the questions in or not.

      I think I’ve heard of UDUTU but will check it out again.

      Thanks, Kelly

  6. Karen says:

    Kelly, thanks for the great, practical information. I’ve been researching moving my live workshops into an online course format also to extend the educational reach. Think I’ll do some planning and plotting as I drive out of town to deliver another class tomorrow. Exciting possibilities!

  7. KW Stout says:

    Sadly, the majority of course I’ve taken didn’t provide near as much value as similar books I’ve read. However, the info products that stand out are the ones where you can tell the person put hours and hours and hours of work into it.

    Investing the time to do things right, as you outline, definitely pays off in the long run.

    1. says:

      Good insight, KW! And hopefully I’ve shown ways to build good courses in under 3 months. Which is still considered rapid development in the instructional design world. Okay, maybe 2 months. :0)

  8. Kristy says:

    Thank you Kelly for the post. I especially liked your suggestion of using comments on Amazon for research. Do you have a specific service that you would recommend for hosting an online course?
    Thanks again for the actionable advice!

    1. says:

      Thanks for your comments, Kristy. I recommend tech choices based in two, tiered options:

      1) what technology are you comfortable with? Stick with that as you will then be more present and focus on your students, which they need. As your tech skills progress, change your tools.

      2) after envisioning your course delivered in a classroom, as described above, choose tech tools that can replicate that delivery (to a point as it’s completely replacing face-to-face delivery is not possible).

      Hope that helps,

      1. Kristy says:

        I would love to see a (future) post reviewing the pros and cons of some available course design and delivery services! It would help those starting out avoid common pitfalls and narrow down options based on ease of use and functionality. Thanks again, Kelly, and I also would like to cast my ‘vote’ for the next two phases. 🙂

        1. says:

          Kristy, that is a blog post I could develop in the future. Thanks for the idea.

          And I’d be happy to write Phase 2 and 3 for Firepole. Thanks for the vote. :0)

  9. Marie says:

    Hi – I’m looking for a technology answer and hoping you’ve got some ideas. I have three courses already written and that I deliver personally, live. From word of mouth I am getting *many* requests for an online version. No problem from a curriculum building standpoint and even including different ways for people to interact and learn… except for technology.
    I use a wordpress platform and am looking either for cloud-hosted (preferably) or plugins that work on my site that will do this:
    1. drip feed on a specific course start date
    2. allow the use of interactive forms “help desk” style that track “student homework” by student and can be archived by student so can pull up the whole set for coaching-style guidance
    3. protect content…
    Perhaps you’ve run into this and can share what you did? Possibly including example web pages? I hope this is OK to ask, really stuck on sorting the diamond from the sand…
    Thank you,

    1. says:

      Thanks for the question, Marie. You seem to need more of a learning management system (LMS) versus a course management system or content management system (CMS) which is more common in the entrepreneurial world. Great student-progress tracking LMS are used in higher education but not affordable. There is one that I haven’t used but seems to foster the coaching interactive mode. This is Have you seen or used this? My goal is to work with a developer and create a entrepreneur-based LMS one day soon.

      1. Marie says:

        Hi, yes I tried Jigsaw box and also Coaches Console but felt they were both extremely expensive with high monthly repeating fees given that I could not customize any of it to my look. In the few days since I left that comment, I have certainly found some excellent plugins that do parts but each has its own limitations. The course plugins actually do a nice job of organizing content and allowing for quizzes, replies… It looks like in combination with the correct membership plugin I can at least get this to work. If anyone is interested I’m happy to share what I did if/when I get it to work but right now hesitate saying what that is since I don’t have it working 😉

  10. Ryan Biddulph says:

    Hi Dr, Kelly,

    Excellent point!

    With my 7 year’s worth of online experience – combined with 3 or so years of success LOL – I can create a kick butt Udemy course, and started to do so….BUT…..I am so busy with eBooks that I wouldn’t put out the best product. When I make the time/feel the nudge to follow your dead on tips/steps, I will do so, because that is the way to create a really helpful, valuable, inspired online course.

    Thanks Dr. Kelly!

    Tweeting from Bali.


    1. says:

      Hello, Ryan and Bali! My copywriter lives there :0) And thank you for the kudos. I really want you to create a kick butt course so glad I can share the tools to do that.

      Take care, Kelly

  11. John says:

    Thank you very much Kelly. Your post was very informative and I was able to relate to it.

    I have a question for you. There are basically two approaches to launching an online course.

    One approach is to create a fan following, a subscriber list or whatever, launch a pilot or sample at a discounted rate and promise them the full course later. You may have a fan following but they may feel let down that they are not getting the ‘full course’ and are forced to wait. Why should anyone online have to wait?

    The other approach is to build a good course first (following all the guidelines you laid out so well) and then start marketing it. This ensures that anyone who wants to buy has access to the full course without having to wait. There are no disappointments because of waiting.

    What are your thoughts on this question?

    1. says:

      John, interesting ideas. I am not a professional marketer but my approach suggests a bit of both in that you feel out what people are wanting/needing and build a course around that. Very much like Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing did with his first book.

      And I am taking this approach again. With a colleague, we are creating a free blueprint for an online coaching program (not a course, but longer program). We will share the results freely with all and have a sign up at the bottom of our blueprint presentation for those who would be interested in a course on how to design an online group coaching program. If there is no interest, we won’t build it.

      Thanks for the great question!

  12. Kelly, this article was spot-on. I am working on some classes and your article describes so many of the things I have to get done in order to make them be successful. I am very excited to put these actions into the development of my workshops.

    1. says:

      Great news, Carol. I am happy my steps make sense and you can apply them right away.

      Best of luck with your workshop development.


  13. Lolita says:

    Great article! From my own experience in creating a course, finding the audience and JV partners is very important part of the success. I wish I would start building relationships and getting my email list before I even started planning my course. I think “build your list” should be one of the first step in any course building action plan.

    1. says:

      Lolita, thanks! And it would be super important to build that list. I agree. Unless you have a cheaper course (i.e. under $50), it is important to build what your followers/audience needs.

      Thanks for your input,

  14. Louise Myers says:

    Comprehensive post, Kelly! Very informative and helpful. I’ve toyed with the idea of online courses for a while. It is a huge task! Wonderful to see it broken down like this.

    I would love to see future phases – count me as a “yes, please!” vote. 🙂

    1. says:

      Thank you, Louise. Yes, you are right about course building – it’s a task and a half. And here’s to sharing more of the phases. :0)

  15. Edward says:

    I am so thrilled to find out about you and your work. My undergratuate degree was in Educational Psychology and I have a Masters of Education in Counseling. I spent 40 years as a minister and hospital chaplain, and now am retired and preparing to launch an online information marketing business. I plan to develop many online courses, so I am very grateful to Danny Iny for introducing us to you. I have already ordered your book and am taking your free course which is wonderful. Thank you for filling this extremely important need for entrepreneurs.

    1. says:

      Edward, how sweet of you to say! And thanks for getting my instruction manual.

      I’ve built oodles of courses over the last 20 years, with 15 of those focusing on online learning (my specialty area). I love teaching and want to share how to build learning that impacts others. Best of luck in your future courses.

  16. Virginia says:

    I’ve been questioning whether I want to do an on-line course at this stage of my upcoming business plan. The answer is, no, I’m not ready. I need to concentrate on other things first. Thanks for the good tips which led me to know I need to wait.

    1. says:

      Virginia, so glad my advice helped. There are many courses being whipped together whereas I good course, like anything, takes time and effort.

  17. Alana says:

    Thank you for this articulate and thoughtful article. I haven’t yet started to design my course and this information will be most helpful when I do! I too look forward to Steps 2 &3. thanks again!

    1. says:

      Alana, so glad it is helpful. I’ve built many, many successful courses this way.

      Cheers, Kelly

  18. David Doost says:

    Great stuff Kelly.
    Very informative and important points you bring up to consider.

    Looking forward to parts 2 & 3!

    1. says:

      David, thank you! My mission is to help others design those remarkable courses that truly inspire others.. in the online learning environment.

  19. Kemya says:

    I’m working on creating my online course, and I can use these phases to make sure I’m building it correctly. Thank you for sharing this process! It’s very helpful!

    1. says:

      You are welcome, Kemya. Warms my heart more people will be learning in the world!

      Spread that knowledge!

  20. Doug Bill says:

    Brilliant stuff. It couldn’t have been at a better time as I have been seriously planning a online course for some time now, but ill health has got in the way and I have been a little less motivated recently due to this. This article has really set me up again, and with new stuff to consider. Thanks very much!

  21. Christal Earle says:

    This is the first time I have found such insightful guidance about the PRE-course research. It totally makes sense. Thanks. I have been doing some research around a course I want to develop, but was wondering if I was doing things backwards (even though this way felt more intuitive). Thanks for the insights. Much, much appreciated!

    1. says:

      Christal, super happy that the research phase seems like the right step and my suggestions on how to conduct them are useable. I’ve seen so many courses that are put together without this and they sort of fall flat, which is a heartbreak for the creator.

      Happy planning,

    1. says:

      Thanks for asking, Keith, and you kind comment. If we find that this article is of interest, they may consider my writing the other 2 phases :0)

      I hope so as I would love to offer them.

      Stay tuned!

      1. Keith Zafren says:

        Okay Firepole. See all the interest. PLEASE ask Kelly to write about the next two phases! PLEASE 🙂

  22. Frank H says:

    Danny, this is super-special, and it’s free! I have learned much from it and it’s exactly what I need to build my online course – if I am fit to build one.

    1. says:

      Frank, you bet you are fir to build one. There is a teacher inside everyone of us.

      Hope that inspires you,

  23. Kimunya Mugo says:

    Thanks for this insightful post Dr. Edmonds. I am in the middle of building my course and the information you provide validates a good chunk of my course. At the same time, you provide me with great thoughts and challenges to rethink parts of the course.

    I knew who my target (primary and secondary) was. However, I had not clearly articulated it on paper. It too me just a couple of minutes to write them out clearly after reading your post.

    1. says:

      Kimunya, great to hear. Now I believe you will be able to build your course with them in mind. This will greatly help you to select the many ways you could build and present content.

      Keep at it! :0)


      1. Kimunya Mugo says:

        Hey Kelly. I woke up early this morning and consumed your E-Course Starter Kit from beginning to end. I took notes, screen-grabs and all I could from it. From my learning, I will apply the “Big Idea, Goals and Lessons” to my course. But I will also take it a step further and adapt it to each of the 6 modules in the course. This means that I will have the course map as well as module maps (following the same format).

        1. says:

          Wonderful! I have to say you are using a method that all professional teachers use, so trust that it will work. It will focus the design of your course to provide only what your students need and no more. There are too many courses (including in higher education) that are overwhelming. Students just want to be taught what they are promised, not to wade through unorganized content. That is the teacher’s job :0)

          Best of luck with your course development, Kimunya.

  24. Becky says:

    First, thank you for sharing the wonderful information. Your article is well written and authentic. I look forward to reading more. Continue to have a wonderful day 🙂

    1. says:

      Becky. many thanks! I hope this info helps you conceptualize your next course.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

[gravityform id="84" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="80" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="82" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="81" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="78" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="24" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="72" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="71" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="66" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
[gravityform id="64" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]