How to Build an Online Course (part 2)

🧑‍💻 Build your online course with today's complete playbook + get early access to a new thing I'm creating

🌲 You can always find today’s edition (and past ones) here

So you want to create an online course that builds brand awareness and passive income…

In last week’s edition, you learned about the benefits of creating an online course. You also learned a simple, proven method to help you build the right course.

If you just joined or missed it, catch up here.

Today, you’ll learn how to build your online course.

I’ve assembled a massive playbook for you. And I do mean, massive…

Today’s post is over 3,100 words and took me 20 hours to write. I hope you appreciate it!

📌 Speaking of which…

To continue creating these weekly playbooks and keep the newsletter free for you, I could use your help growing it.

Use this link to access your unique referral link.

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I appreciate you.

Alright then, let’s dig in!

P.S. At the end, you’ll learn about something I’m launching to help take your online course to the next level.

What we’re not covering today

Let me give you an overview of what you’ll be learning today by clarifying what we will not be covering and will be covered in a future issue:

  • Course naming

  • Pricing strategy

  • Marketing strategy

  • Building courses with AI

  • Course landing pages (previously covered in this post)

  • Mini-courses / email courses

💡 If you’d like to bump the priority on any of these topics for a future issue, reply with your vote.

I’m also not covering course building blocks — the components that make up the foundation of your course’s learning materials, such as:

  • Worksheets

  • Templates

  • Instructional videos

  • Written guides

  • Supporting resources

You can learn everything you need to about course building blocks in this playbook. It includes a breakdown on each one and how to create them, with tools and best practices.

What we ARE covering

Today, you’ll learn how to define, organize, and assemble your online course within one of the major online learning platforms, Podia.

Online learning platforms are nothing like their ancestral Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Today’s platforms are simple and intuitive to use. They’re also powerful, with comprehensive tools that us creators are using to host and sell our courses and digital products.

Good news: What you learn about using Podia can be repurposed within several competing learning platforms, such as Teachable, Thinkific, and Kajabi.

To make sure you leave today’s post feeling prepared to build your online course, we’ll tackle these 3 pillars:

  1. Adding a new course

  2. Building your course modules

  3. Structuring your course back-end

1. Adding a new course

After signing up for your Podia account, first thing you’ll do is create a new product and choose Online course.

Creating a new product in Podia

💡 Podia is a comprehensive creator platform. In addition to online courses, you can also sell digital downloads (e.g. templates), webinars, and coaching. You can also bundle several products together to sell at a packaged price.

A bit further down, I’ll show you how to up-sell products within Podia.

Now that you have your newly minted online course, it’s time to build out your course modules.

2. Building your course modules

Your course modules are like the chapters of a book. They organize your student’s learning experience, helping them progress in a set order; i.e. once they complete module 1, they’re ready for module 2.

How to use learning arcs to define your curriculum

As the person building the course, your job is to think about how best to break your course down into easy-to-consume chunks.

Why?

Think about a course you’ve taken that was one 3-hour long lesson. Ugh. Three hours?!

That feels like a lifetime. It also feels like a ton to cram into your brain.

But what if that 3-hour course was chunked down into a collection of 5-minute lessons?

Smaller lessons are easier to complete. You’re better able to absorb the necessary bits and pieces from each lesson, and move on.

As you do, you feel a growing sense of accomplishment, chipping through the content until you’ve completed the course.

As your course’s instructor, student course completion rate is your north star metric. It’s the source of truth to know that you’ve:

  1. Delivered on your course’s promise

  2. Created a simple and enjoyable learning experience

There’s one method I rely on to hit those 2 goals: Learning Arcs.

To get started with learning arcs, you’ll jump to the end by clarifying what new knowledge and/or skills want your student to leave with. This is the course-level arc of your course.

Then ask yourself, “In order for them to achieve that new knowledge and skills, what will they need to learn?”

This will prompt you to generate a list of topics to be covered. These topics are the foundation of your curriculum.

As your topic list grows, some will make sense to group into buckets. These buckets are your modules — the smaller arcs that fit within your overall course arc.

Within each module are the topics; i.e. yours “5-minute lessons”. Each lesson is delivered with 1+ building blocks (components).

Here’s that relationship tree (smallest to largest arc):

  • 1+ building block(s) fulfill each lesson arc ↲

  • 1+ lesson(s) fulfill each module arc ↲

  • 1+ module fulfill your course arc

The great thing about sketching out your learning arcs (example forthcoming), is that you’ll have a blueprint to follow.

Alternatively, you’ll build sporadically, trying to remember lessons and modules. Trust me, this will burn your energy and focus.

Instead, your learning arcs blueprint provides you with a bird’s eye view of all building blocks, lessons, and modules needed to deliver a complete learning experience.

To help illustrate learning arcs for you, let me show you the arcs that make up my Design Sprint Course — a course I created to teach Product professionals how to lead an innovation framework called, Design Sprints.

The course-level arc is to teach students how to facilitate high-impact design sprints.

Module-level arcs

To deliver on the course-level arc, I need to teach them how to:

  1. Prepare for their sprint

  2. Run a sprint

  3. What to do post-sprint

These are my module-level arcs. Each one will be turned into a section within Podia (pictured below).

FYI: In Podia, modules are referred to as “sections” and topics are referred to as “lessons.” When you first create your online course, you’ll be prompted to begin adding new lessons and sections.

A newly created online course in Podia

As we’ve been discussing, you’ll start by creating one section for each module of your course.

Adding modules (sections) within Podia

As you’re creating your sections, you’ll have a choice to make about if and how you’d like to drip your content.

Dripping course content

One handy feature that most online learning platforms come with is the ability to delay your course curriculum over a time period. This is referred to as dripping.

In Podia, you can drip sections (modules) but not individual lessons.

You have the option to drip by a specified number of days, following the date the student enrolls.

Dripping is helpful if you want to add extra guardrails that encourage your students to complete one section at a time.

If you drip sections, Podia automatically includes customizable email notifications so your student is alerted when the section becomes available.

Alternatively, if you believe your students will benefit from receiving all of the curriculum upfront, you’ll make all sections immediately available.

There’s also a hybrid option, where you make the first section immediately available. In that section, you’ll provide an overview of all of the forthcoming material they’ll receive in future dripped sections. This approach allows you to drip your content, but additionally provide your student with a preview of what’s to come.

Lesson-level arcs

Within each module-level arc, are one or more lessons.

Each lesson is delivered via your course building blocks:

  • Instructional videos to teach theory, activities, and materials

  • Written guides with steps + examples, to model what good looks like

  • Worksheets + templates to enable the student to learn-by-doing

  • Supporting resources to provide additional context and guidance

Podia, and most online learning platforms, provide various options/formats for your building blocks:

Adding a lesson in Podia

The lesson types in Podia are:

  • Text

  • Embeds

  • Files

  • Quizzes

  • Coaching

Let’s review each lesson type:

1. Text

Text lessons are used for pure, text-based lesson formats and/or including links to additional resources.

Text lessons in Podia

For all lessons types, you’ll provide a title that your student sees upon previewing the curriculum.

The content is the text-based lesson itself. You can additionally add text-based content to the other lesson types.

Additionally, you can choose to hide or show lessons. Hiding a lesson is helpful if you want to remove student access without deleting it.

Finally, you can choose to allow prospective customers to preview a lesson. This is helpful for customers who want a sneak peek before purchasing — like a demo of your course.

2. Embeds

Embeds allow you to create lessons where you link to external resources; e.g. YouTube videos, podcast links, social posts.

This is helpful for lesson curriculum that you recorded/uploaded elsewhere but want to provide student access from within your course.

For example, you may have previously recorded a webinar that will additionally help your student complete this course.

You can also use embeds to link to external worksheets and templates the student needs.

For example, in my design sprint course, I use embeds to give my students access to private (student-only) digital templates.

A digital template provided to my design sprint course students

Hands-on learning

By providing my students with these digital templates, they’re able to run their design sprint activities that they learned during the course. This approach makes the learning sticky and practical.

I highly recommend you include ready-to-use templates and/or worksheets with your course. By doing so, you enable your students to get hands-on application of your course theory.

3. Files

Files are lesson types where you provide the students with… well, files.

Files might include downloadable documents like written guides, presentation decks, worksheets, or templates.

You may also choose to upload your instructional video files (mp4).

This approach keeps your student inside the course, instead of linking out to YouTube, Vimeo, Loom, etc.

Below is what my Design Sprint course students see when accessing an instructional video that I uploaded as a file within Podia.

Once the student watches the video lesson, it’s marked as complete. They’ll then move on to the next lesson. This marked progression provides you with data you can use to measure your course completion rates.

4. Quizzes

Quizzes are powerful building blocks to include in your course.

Quizzes not only help the student assess what they’re learning, but give the course an interactive feel.

The more interactive your course, the better it’s able to compete with live training alternatives, where students have access to the instructor.

Quizzes in Podia

Quizzes also gamify your students’ ability to assess their acquired knowledge and skills. These games not only deepen their learning, but keep them progressing through your course.

Quizzes additionally provide you with feedback on student engagement and how well the material is supporting their learning experience.

For example, is a high percentage of your students failing their quizzes? That signals you need to improve or add to your building blocks within the corresponding lessons.

💡 Remember to treat your course like a prototype. Continue to measure what’s working so you can iterate and improve. As you do, you increase the percentage of students who complete your course.

Successful students are more likely to purchase additional courses from you, as well as promote your course to their friends.

5. Coaching

The last file type you can add to your course is a coaching offer.

Coaching is helpful for providing additional support to your students.

Coaching also provides enhanced interactivity between you and your students.

You have a couple options for including coaching offers within your online course:

a) Native coaching product

Earlier in this post, I showed you how online learning platform like Podia allow you to create other product types, beyond online courses. Coaching Sessions is one such additional product type that you can create and sell.

If you go this route, you’ll be able to manage and sell your coaching product directly within Podia.

Coaching product in Podia

Offering a native coaching product keeps everything housed within one platform.

b) External coaching product

Alternatively, if you don’t want or need to keep all of your products within your online learning platform, there are options for linking to external tools such as Calendly, SavvyCal, Acuity, YouCanBookMe, or other custom calendar schedulers.

For example, you can include a Calendly link that allows your students to book coaching sessions with you.

Set up coaching sessions by connecting your Calendly

Your student will be taken to your Calendly calendar to book, and potentially pay, for time with you.

Speaking of paying for your course’s coaching sessions…

Pricing your course coaching sessions

There are a two high-level pricing approaches for your course coaching.

1) Premium coach pricing: Some online course creators keep the price of their courses free or low, in hopes of enrolling more students — making their money from the sales of premium coaching.

This is best for instructors with a vetted, trustworthy personal brand, whose students would consider it a bonus to get 1-on-1 time with them.

This may backfire if you do a poor job positioning and promoting your course, whereby enrollment numbers are low.

2) Premium course pricing: Other online course creators charge more for their courses by packaging in 1+ complementary coaching session(s).

Afterward, if your students want additional coaching, you can choose to have them pay full price or provide discounts.

This approach is best for courses that are marketed and sold well, however the instructor is not yet a “household name” or highly-regarded.

This may backfire if your students prefer not to meet with you for additional coaching, and expect to have everything included in the course.

Wrapping up course modules

Learning Arcs ensure you "land the plane." That is, that you’ve built a comprehensive learning experience that's simple for your student to navigate and exit with all of the knowledge and skills promised.

The final set of ordered modules within my design sprint course looks like this:

Design Sprint Course modules

By assembling your course into module-based lessons, comprised of individual building blocks, you create a learning experience for your students that’s enjoyable and value-packed.

Now that we’ve covered all of the parts that make up your course curriculum, it’s time to set up your course back-end.

3. Structuring your course back-end

Your course back-end are the administrative pieces required to bring your course to market.

They include your course:

  • Details

  • Availability

  • Pricing

Details

Course details are like your course’s profile. It’s where you manage things like the course name, shareable image, description, etc.

Podia also offers the ability to provide certificates to students upon course completion.

Whether you find certificates gimicky, useless or both, the data shows that certificates not only encourage students to sign up for your course, but finish it.

Availability

While you’re building your course, it will remain in Draft status. Once it’s ready for students to enroll, you’ll set it to Published.

Once published, you can keep students from enrolling by changing access from Open to Closed. When you’re ready to let students in, flip it back to Open.

And finally, you can further limit availability by setting future open enrollment periods, imposing a cap on students, or a cut-off (duration) when enrollment closes.

Once your course is published and open for enrollment, students will be able to sign up and pay for your course.

You can use Podia’s native website builder to create a sales page for your course. Here’s what mine looks like:

If you have your own website, you can additionally or alternatively take advantage of Podia’s embedded checkout. This approach is helpful if you want to keep your customer’s on your web domain — good for a cohesive customer experience and SEO.

My courses are available for purchase on my Podia site (above) and my New Haircut website, built on Squarespace. For the latter, I’ve created custom-designed sales pages, with buttons/links that pop up a Podia checkout modal.

Embedded course checkout

Pretty cool, right?

Even cooler is when sales start to roll in for your course…

Pricing

Course pricing is a topic I’ll cover separately in the future.

I’ll dive deep into pricing strategies, including one you’ll be super geeked to try out.

What I’ll tell you today, is that my pricing strategy, and that of many other creators, originated by:

  1. Googling competitors/alternatives

  2. Making an informed guess about a fair price

  3. Continually experimenting

My design sprint course has been as high as $995 and as low as $150. $247 is the current sweet spot.

Remember, as you continue to create more courses and products, you’ll stack them together. As you do, you’ll grow and automate your revenue through up-sells.

Course up-sells

Online learning platforms like Podia come with the ability to up-sell your additional products that you’ve built within the platform.

In the image above, you’ll see that my design sprint course up-sells my Product Discovery Coaching, with an included one-time discount of 40%.

That up-sell offer happens during the customer’s checkout process.

Whether you include an up-sell or not, you can additionally create a Thank You page — the page you display after the student’s purchase is complete.

In my design sprint course thank you page, I include a video message, thanking the student for purchasing the course and giving them a head’s up of what to expect

I also point out my additional products — which have a limited offer that expires once they close the page. More up-selling!

Design Sprint course Thank You page

In an upcoming edition, you’ll learn how successful creators earn more revenue from their thank you page up-sells than anywhere else. Nuts, right?!

Wrapping up

Holy f’n s#!t. We covered a TON today! I am so stoked to see the course you create.

Speaking of courses, check out the Product Bootcamp. It’s a 6-week accelerator to take you from fuzzy idea for your course to launch.

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Howdy to Lara, Omar, Eric, Lynn, and 8 more founders who joined us this week. Our little community is at 141.

Jay Melone
Founder-Creator
Passive Profits

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