12 steps for how to build an online course

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We all see online courses everywhere these days but how difficult is it to build my own? Great question! Here’s my take from years of building courses. It’s not easy. But, it’s easier if you have your steps ordered properly. 

Let’s unpack a process to help you know how to build an online course. Here are twelve (12) steps to building your very own online course.

Step #1: Brainstorm your course idea.

On this first step, try not to overthink it. Simply list out everything you can think of that could go into your course. Now, if you're thinking about a course, my guess is that you know how to get followers to your website and know some strategies for monetizing your site on some level. Think through all of the steps people would need to go through from start to finish and leave happy. Consider the worksheets and other modules people need to understand your course better, understand you care about your resources, and that you want them to reach out to you with any questions. 

Step #2: Determine key categories.

Look back at your brainstorming session to see where there are themes. Give each theme an official title and description. Start writing out what the goal is for each theme area. Ultimately, these ideas will become either your modules or sessions and maybe even future courses.

Step #3: Strive for balance.

Take a look and make sure your content is all balanced across modules. At this stage, you should consider adding an expectation for time and consistency across the modules. This will help you not over-do one topic and under-do another topic. You’re looking for the right blend of helpful material and balance across topics. Remember, you can always come back and address additional details in subsequent courses. 

Step #4: Outline your lesson plans.

Determine your modules or sessions. By modules, I simply mean groupings of session topics. For example, perhaps you would have twelve total sessions. Your course could be the straight twelve or it may benefit your followers to have four modules of three sessions each. 

It’s all how you want to present it. Consider the viewer at this step. Here’s the general rule, if you need to go over ten sessions, you should consider breaking it into modules.

Here are a few tips as you outline your plans: 

Outline your core talking points. Think through examples, models, diagrams, quotes, research, stats, testimonials, case studies, infographics, and any other content items you have available. 

Next, outline your lesson plan. Consider what could fit onto a single page of a keynote presentation. Make it easy on yourself to transfer the work you’ve done in your outline to your actual course presentation by working in whatever software you prefer.  

Step #5: Build your slide deck.

Consider hiring someone to build a branded slide deck template for you or take a look at websites that sell Powerpoint templates. Or, strive to make your presentation super simple (text only) if you’re only using your slide deck as a reference for speaking. 

Be prepared to spend more time on this task if you plan to show your slide deck or if you need to do a voice-over slide deck in your presentation.  

Step #6: Record your teachings.

Choose what type of recording you want to do. You have a few options:

  • Direct to Camera: this is you talking directly to the camera. This option is genuine but requires more video equipment, editing, and general talent.

  • Voice Over Slide Deck: this is your voice recorded over only the slides being shown.  It’s a simple approach but the user doesn’t get to see you.

  • Hybrid Approach: this is you either recording directly to the camera and supplementing the video with slide images OR recording a live bumper at the beginning and end of each session.

Want an extra tip? Begin by recording your sessions however your most comfortable and your tech allows. Don’t overthink things. Just jump in and start recording. As you grow in this area and learn more about what your followers need help with, you can always try new approaches.

Step #7: Edit your videos.

Edit your videos to what you need and what makes you happy. But, remember to keep it simple. The more simple you keep it, the more likely it is to get completed! 

Here are a few things to remember: 

  • Check for background noise and audio levels

  • Remember audio levels are more important than video quality. Consider tools like iMovie as you’re getting started.

Step #8: Load your videos.

Upload your finished videos on YouTube or Vimeo. In my experience, here’s how you can decide which one to use: 

  • YouTube is fine for the world to see. It will have advertisements that don’t necessarily fit your brand or mission.

  • Vimeo is great if you want to restrict access - especially if you’re charging for your course.

Step #9: Create worksheets for your viewers.

Consider creating complimentary worksheets for your sessions. This will serve a few purposes. It will give your audience something to work through as they learn. It will also help them see the value they are getting from your course. They will have a resource they can look back to for reference after the course. 

Step #10: Create a welcome campaign.

Want a secret? At this step, always assume buyers' remorse. Don’t hold back on the help here! You’ll want to immediately welcome people to your online course. Consider building an email campaign based on the amount of time your course should take from start to finish. Adjust the number of emails in your campaign based on how much time it might take to complete the course. For example, if your course only takes a couple of hours, you might consider a welcome and, a reminder email a few days later, and a feedback email a month after that. 

Next, consider sending a summary email of what each week’s lesson should be. You’ll want to welcome people as well as keep your resources in their minds. 

Step #11: Launch your course.

You’ve completed a lot of work to get to this stage. Congrats! But, it’s not time to celebrate. Sorry, it’s time to work even more! It’s time to make your official launch. Consider at least a few options from the ideas below: 

  • Post to social media channels

  • Let friends know about your course by email or text

  • Put a banner ad on your website

  • Ask others to promote your course

  • Consider a few blog posts you could to that are helpful now and point readers to your course.

Step #12: Keep engaging with your audience.

Don’t set up your course and forget it. Live with your audience. Remember to stay engaged with people taking your course. You’ll want to be responsive—quickly respond to questions as they come up. And, post new materials when you have them to keep the conversation going. 

One more thing: Start building your next course!

Okay, maybe you can take one day off. Rest a bit. But, very soon, it’s time to start thinking about your next course. People will start to complete your current course. Guess what? They’ll start looking for another course. It’s never too late to start building your next course. So, complete all of the twelve steps we just covered—then repeat!


5 ways to monetize your communityNeed more help taking your community digital?

You want to have a dynamic and multi-dimensional community that thrives. In order to do that, you need a strategy of both online and offline engagement. This guide will help you think through your approach to engaging a virtual community. Download the free eBook: How to Take Your Community Digital.


About the author: Will Rogers is the Founder and CEO of CauseMachine. Will’s career has been spent leading organizations and helping to mobilize communities to a shared vision. He has served in various leadership roles to build community engagement and movements teaching him valuable hands-on skills and experience. Will has developed business and community engagement strategies for dozens of organizations in nearly 50 countries. He and his wife have two sons and now live in Kentucky after two decades in Colorado.


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