Online courses can be an incredibly lucrative way to share your knowledge with others. Never before has it been so easy to create, market, and sell a course as now. Plus, the development of technologies such as cloud storage means that courses can now be accessed from anywhere at any time, by anyone with an internet-connected device.
However, creating a high-quality course is no small undertaking. There are many factors to consider, such as the potential popularity of the course topic and how you’ll create the content, to where you’ll host – and how you’ll market – your course
Great courses take big investments either in time, money, or both. In this article, we’re going to explore how long it’ll take you to bring a course to market – from forming an idea for the course topic, right through to making your first sale.
Answering a question like “how long does it take to develop an online course?” is a bit like asking “how long is a piece of string?”.
The short answer: “It depends”.
The slightly longer answer, however, is that it depends on several factors. These include:
How long your course will take to create will mostly depend on how long the course is. For example, a course designed to be taken in just a couple of hours will take considerably less time to create than a multiple-year-long university-style course.
So before you set out to create your course, think about exactly how long it’s going to be. Although it can be tempting to create a longer course – as it makes you feel as though you’re creating more value – shorter courses are often popular. This is largely down due to their to-the-point nature, and the learners’ ability to fit this education in at a time that suits them.
Your course subject and objectives will have a big impact on the course’s length. After all, it should take less time to teach someone the basics of word processing than it takes to clue them up on the finer details of nuclear engineering!
When you set out to create your course, consider who will be contributing – as this can influence how long it takes.
More contributors can mean it takes less time to create a larger quantity of content. However, it can also mean a bigger time investment in organizing and managing all of the contributors – and their contributions. If one or more of your collaborators is especially busy or has poor communication skills, this can have a negative impact on the length of time it’s going to take to create your course.
When selecting your contributors, you’ll also need to think about their skills in course content creation: Are they able to do this on their own? Will they need support? Will the content need to be heavily edited before it can go live?
If your sole role is to create a course, it’s likely that you’ll be able to launch it much more quickly than if it’s merely a small part of your responsibilities – or if it’s a side project alone.
Before starting your course, assess your current commitments and how much time you can allocate to course creation. Being realistic about this will give you a much better idea of how much time it’ll take to develop your course.
How you deliver your course will partially determine how long it takes to create. For example, a heavily planned, edited and interactive video course is likely to take much longer to create than a series of short blog posts.
Understanding the stages of creating an online course will help you get to grips with how much time each one will take. Below, we outline each stage of creating an online course – and what they involve.
Stage 1: Defining Your Idea
Since you’re reading this article, you may already have a rough idea of the type of course you want to create. It’ll likely be something that taps into your already extensive knowledge, skills, or passions.
When deciding on your course topic, ask yourself these questions:
- What are you known for?
- Where can you bring the most value?
- What subjects are currently popular?
- Which areas currently have few or low-quality learning materials?
Stage 2: Testing Demand
Once you have one or several potential ideas jotted down, you’ll want to put them to the test. This can be done in several ways.
For example, if you already have a large audience on any social media platform, you could ask for opinions on the ideas, or run a poll. Alternatively, you could create a questionnaire using the SurveyMonkey platform to run your concepts past potential customers.
Another way to test demand would be to create a very short course that covers the basics of your concept – and offer it for free. If the free course proves to be popular, then that could well be a good indicator that a longer, paid-for version would also work well.
Stage 3: Developing a Course Outline
It can be easy to get excited, and start creating the content for your course before considering the bigger picture. However, for your course to be comprehensive and easily navigable, it’s a good idea to create a course outline before you dive in.
Start by noting down all the key points you want to include in your course. Consider where quizzes or tests might be helpful, and think about what type of learning materials might help you communicate each point or idea.
Stage 4: Content Research
Although you probably have considerable knowledge in your course area, completing comprehensive content research will ensure that you’re aware of every aspect relating to your subject.
This stage can be a good time to find trustworthy sources that you can reference in your course, along with any potential further learning you could offer your students.
Stage 5: Prepare Tools
However you decide to deliver course content, you’ll need some tools to help out. These could include:
Get these ready well ahead of time, and check you know how to work them all. Doing this will make the content creation stage much smoother – and far less stressful!
Stage 6: Content Creation
By this stage, you should have everything you need to start creating the content for your course. Methodically work your way through your course outline, collecting all the content you need as you go.
Stage 7: Gather Feedback
Once you have all your content together, it’s time to collect feedback on it. There are many options for doing this – for instance, you may ask colleagues or friends to review the course and offer their honest opinions. Alternatively, you could give a small group of potential customers free access to the course in exchange for their thoughts.
However, paying someone such as a freelancer to review your course content can be the best way to get comprehensive, honest, and helpful feedback on your content.
Oh, and always ensure that you leave yourself enough time to make changes based on the feedback you receive!
Stage 8: Decide on Pricing
As a digital asset, it can be tricky to price your course. If you consider how much time and effort it takes to create a course, you could find yourself pricing it too highly. If you consider the fact that you could sell your course an infinite number of times without any additional cost to you, you may price it too low.
To find a reasonable price for your course, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do courses of similar length and subject sell for?
- What is the knowledge in the course’s financial worth? For example, will it help students get a promotion/pay rise?
- What are your target customers willing to pay for?
- Do you want to sell a small number of courses at a higher price, or a larger number at a lower price?
Stage 9: Launch Your Course
Stage 10: Create & Execute a Marketing Plan
Some online course platforms, such as Udemy, may undertake marketing on your behalf – for instance, by promoting your course on their homepage, or including it in a newsletter. However, whether your platform does this or not, it’s always a good idea to create your own marketing strategy to help you reach those who stand to benefit most from your course.
This strategy could include various methods of promotion, such as:
- Advertising to your own audience on social media or email
- Paid social media ads
- Paid search ads
- Website search engine optimization
- Promoting your courses at in-person events, such as speaking engagements
In this article, we’ve covered the various factors that you’ll need to consider when creating an online course. Once you’ve developed a clear idea of the type of course you want to create – and have understood what goes into making a course – you can predict with reasonable accuracy how long it’ll take to create.
Importantly, once you understand the time commitment, you can then compare it to sales predictions to get an idea of the type of return on investment you can expect.