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Coursemania: A Brief History of Online Courses + How to Stand Out

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Holistic branding and marketing posts by Diana Chaplin.

 

Coursemania: A Brief History of Online Courses + How to Stand Out

Diana Chaplin

Have you noticed how online courses have become a commonplace phenomenon on the web? How practically everyone is stepping into a position of expertise on something? How information is being packaged in a way that makes experience and knowledge a widely-available and marketable commodity?

It’s a fascinating emergence from the evolving nexus of technology, entrepreneurship, and the demand (dare I say, hunger?) for learning.

Let’s unpack what’s really happening here - and why - in an effort to understand how we got here. Then we can follow the path to leveraging this information for the sake of benefitting both you as a business owner, and your audience as the people you hope to impact in a positive way through this delivery method – without getting lost in the shuffle.

The idea of virtual learning may appear on the surface as a fairly recent thing, after all it’s only within about the last 20 years that the internet really entered our everyday lives on a mass scale, but you’d have to go back, waaaay back to the real beginning.

We’ve been interested in a virtual model of communication that goes far beyond the physical classroom for centuries now. Long before the internet was even a glimmer in the minds of some of the scientists and engineers whose combined efforts came to the infancy of what is now a digital behemoth, humanity has had a timeless desire to learn, to develop our understanding of the world, and to infinitely expand our minds.

Over time we created the technology to satisfy this need, but the need itself is not a consequence of the technology. It is a primal aspect of the incredible and mysterious evolutionary unfolding that makes us human.

It’s the same impulse that caused the first human migration out of Africa, learning to make tools and creating written languages, expressing ourselves through art and music, exploring the invisible compositions of the environment and the workings of our own bodies, and following so many other curiosities in an effort to understand the extraordinary nature of reality.

Yes, I’m bridging the development of online courses to the highlights of human evolution. Bear with me here.

The idea of actively learning from teachers is timeless. But while this started on a small scale (one person in the village learning something and sharing that skill with a few other people, who then shared with a few more people, etc.) and grew to become more institutionalized over time (one person undergoes specialized training to maximize their knowledge over a certain subject, in order to then teach that to large groups of students as a life-long profession) what we are seeing NOW is sort of coming full circle.

We have grown weary with traditional education, with its structures, rules, and limitations (oh, and high cost). It’s just not enough anymore. The world is changing too fast and we have developed a taste for a far wider network of inspiration and information than ever before. We want to learn what we want to learn, when we want to learn it, through a media that is convenient and easily accessible.

How we qualify teachers has also expanded beyond the need for certain qualifications into the broader realm of experience-based wisdom.

Our unprecedented access to infinite amounts of knowledge has brought us back to learning desired or practical skills directly from each other. 

While it certainly helps to have credentials or experience to show that someone is qualified to teach something, that proof of expertise can be presented in a myriad of ways that leaves it up directly to the consumer/student to decide whether that course provider is going to give sufficient value or not. It’s all completely open to interpretation, packaging, and the individual belief of perceived quality.

This unraveling in our understanding of education has paved the way for open-sourced learning, and teaching.

Beyond that, the main reason online courses are becoming so popular boils down to two words: PASSIVE INCOME. Once you invest the energy, time, and money into launching your primary online course, much of the work becomes automated, allowing you the freedom to focus on other things while continuing to generate income as people sign up for your course – sometimes while you sleep! Of course you still need to devote time to marketing, communication, and other things, but you can also experience a much more expanded business and life.

Savvy entrepreneurs and developers in the tech industry recognized this paradigm shift and further accelerated the momentum by creating platforms and digital infrastructure – not to mention integrating the facets for essential marketing and commerce - to facilitate online learning in a streamlined way that is user-friendly for both provider and consumers.   

That brings us here and now.

The great news is that it’s easier than ever to create, launch, and earn a substantial passive income from online courses.

The not-so-great news is that because it’s so easy and “trendy” there are many people doing this, so if you really want to succeed you’ve got to make sure to do it right.

What does that mean?  

1.   Know what you’re talking about!

If you have some knowledge in something but aren’t genuinely an expert, don’t do an online course yet. This doesn’t mean you can’t still have a successful online business, but it’s more effective to focus on building your audience and sharing your topic in other, more easily consumable ways (such as via a blog, ebooks or mini-guides, group discussions, etc.) while you are still learning yourself. Do this for a few years while you gain expertise and you’ll be in a stronger position to launch a course that is truly valuable and already has a built in audience ready to buy.

2.   Provide genuine value.

The decision to launch an online course shouldn’t ever come from the mere desire to make money. That sort of motivation results in a low-value course where people don’t really walk away having learned much and therefore won’t be motivated to sing your praises, ultimately leading your course to flop. Make sure your course is chock full of juicy wisdom shared in an actionable way so that your customers can quickly implement it in their lives and experience real positive results. This is the part that trips up entrepreneurs the most because it’s not just about sharing a message, it’s about elevating, organizing, and communicating a highly refined and unique message in meaty yet bite-sized pieces that leave your audience transformed at the core level. Not an easy task!

3.   Invest in a quality delivery method.

While I don’t recommend getting caught up in perfectionism, if you really want a successful course it should be presented in a clear and organized fashion, with good design aesthetic, and delightful presentation so that the actual process of consuming your information is enjoyable and free from confusion. You can easily research “online course platform” to see if something already exists that you like, or find a developer to help you integrate something structured into your website that walks buyers through the process of learning. Use images and design that looks neat and fresh to evoke a feeling of getting something thoughtful and special.

4.   Get the timing right.

As mentioned above, having an audience of existing fans is crucial for launching your course with enthusiasm and positive response. If you’re new to your field and haven’t done much in the way of content-creation or marketing when you launch your course then you’ll be disappointed because there are just not that many people who know that you and your course exist. Time your course in a way that rides momentum with your other offerings, that takes into account the seasonal time of year, cultural trends, or something else that energetically jives with your course in a natural flow of what people are looking for.

5.   Inspire and elevate your audience.

Whatever your course is about, remember that timeless motivation for learning we all share. As humans we seek to reach our highest potential, follow curiosities, and acquire knowledge that will somehow result in happiness in one form or another. Ask yourself how your content can inspire greatness, connect your audience to something powerful, or light them up from the inside out. If you can leave them feeling good in addition to learning new skills or gaining some form of self-awareness then your course will truly stand out as special.

Regarding the topic, make sure…

  • It’s a topic people really want
  • It’s a topic that hasn’t already been heavily covered by others, or if it has, then make sure your approach is different
  • It’s a topic you are uniquely qualified to lead

The biggest mistake I’ve seen is with entrepreneurs who want to go from a small and inconsistent blog to a successful online course in a week. It might be technically possible to launch it, but it's unrealistic to expect huge success overnight. To really make it fly you'll need some deep thoughtfulness, attention to detail, a long-term strategy for growth, consistent content, audience engagement, authentic communication, savvy marketing, and a sense of style.

It all starts with the commitment to creating something spectacular.

If you need help with all of that, get in touch, we’ll make course magic together.