9 Steps to Creating a Successful e-Course

It seems so effortless from the outside: Record some audio, shoot a little video, schedule a few emails, throw in a live call. Shaazam! You’ve got an e-Course.

But when you dive in to actually create your own course, you may get:

  • frustrated – ‘What do people actually need to know to get started on Pinterest? I thought I knew:,’ or
  • overwhelmed – ‘I know so much about eating paleo. I have to include everything, but it’s too much!’ or
  • despairing – ‘Everybody knows everything about marketing, why would they listen to me?’

Welcome to teaching! It only looks easy because you’re looking at someone else’s finished product.

But, if you have the desire to share what you know, here are the steps you can take to create your own successful e-Course – without hiding in endless hours of Angry Birds or eating a pint of triple fudge cookie dough ice cream.

1. Dump Your Brain

First dive into the question, ‘What do I MOST want to teach?’ by writing non-stop for 10 minutes. If you lose steam, repeat the question but keep your hand moving!

Stream of consciousness is the key.

Don’t try to restrict your choices too soon. It’s comforting to make decisions – it makes us feel safe – but do it too soon and a lot of juicy bits may get left out. Or you just might find yourself teaching something you aren’t invested in – which is a quick way to exhaustion and burnout.

Take a dance break to get the creative juices flowing, then ask yourself:

  • Since nothing is off limits for me to teach, I could include:
  • The best learning experiences I’ve had included:
  • The worst learning experiences I’ve had included:

Write for 3 to 5 minutes for each question. You are diving deeper. You’ll repeat ideas, get bored: just keep writing. You are investing all of 25 minutes tops. No big deal.

Reward yourself with another dance break. Or coffee. Or a walk. Taking a break from thinking is essential. From my own work and from working with teachers I know that your results will simply be MUCH, much better.

2. Find the Core

Your next job is to find the one core idea of your course.

The biggest reason a course never comes together or doesn’t work is because the teacher tries to cover too much. Put yourself in your students’ shoes – they want a problem solved. Help them learn one thing. And then help them learn the next one thing. Restrain yourself from drowning them with a fire hose of too much material and they will reward you with loyalty and repeat business.

Now read through your brain dump. Look for the frustrations you most want to solve or the outcomes you most want to lead people to. What themes keep showing up? List those.

Now look for the uber-theme – Which idea has the most energy for you or encompasses all your other themes?

Not sure? Pick one theme and brainstorm 3 to 5 takeaways people would learn. Be as concrete as you can. Now ask yourself, ‘What is the core idea behind these takeaways?’

Write your core idea on a post-it note and keep it front and center as you continue to work on creating your course. This is your critical content filter and focus-er. Only content and exercises that fit this idea – and support your takeaways – go into this course.

Everything else is for another course. Keep a notebook or computer file open to jot those other ideas down as a jump-start for next time!

3. Befriend the Critic

This is usually when your negative inner chorus chimes in with helpful comments like, ‘Nobody will ever buy this,’ or ‘Everybody knows this stuff already,’ or simply, ‘This sucks.’

Instead of believing these voices and losing momentum or ignoring them entirely – which drains your energy because they are still yammering in the background – write down what they are saying. Get this repetitive chatter onto paper. Then use it to improve your course.

Here’s how:

Take the list and cross out every word that is pure meanness, that sounds like your 7th grade English teacher, or that you no longer believe – in other words, old news and not your stuff. Use a big black Sharpie.

Look at what’s left. Ask yourself, ‘Is there any insight here that can help me create a course that I love to teach and that helps people?’

For example, if your inner mean chorus insists your design is hideous, get curious. What design tweaks could help this round of your course, tweaks that you have the time and resources to implement?

If your critics shouts, ‘Nobody will buy this,’ make a list of where your just-right students hang out. Ask for guest posts now, comment on related posts (use Google Alerts to find them,) comment on Facebook. Use these insights to take action.

Certain you have nothing original to say? When I wrote my first book proposal, I was 26 and felt like a fraud, so I wrote in a stuffy pretend-therapist voice. Everybody turned the proposal down.

I rewrote it in my authentic voice and two of the world’s biggest publishers wanted it. If your critics are whining about originality, check in: Are you valuing your voice, your stories, and your ideas, or are you trying to be like everybody else?

Here’s the SECRET to using this process: Your inner critics worship perfection. Perfection kills creativity and stops forward motion. ‘Good enough,’ and ‘What serves my students?’ are your mantras here. Use what you can and leave the rest!

4. Steal like A Teacher

I teach a writing retreat every year in Taos, New Mexico, and one idea that gets everybody excited – and makes writing for them so much easier – is learning to see and ‘steal’ other writers’ structures.

The idea is simple – read to find how a piece of writing is organized and then use that structure for your own content. You can do the same thing when you are developing a course – steal structure and pour your content in (No stealing content!) The structure helps you remember what you know because the mind likes to know where to put things.

Look for structures like ‘3 videos, 7 emails, 4 live calls’ and dig deeper to understand how the structure supports the material. For example, in TeachNow, there is a class and transcript for each module, and then short audios and videos that build out or supplement a few ideas from the class, for people who want to go deeper.

Go hunt for structures that fit your core idea, as well as your just-right student’s needs and lifestyle.

5. Name the Steps

Effective learning is broken into incremental steps that build on each other. But it can be tricky to name these steps because you are so close to your material.

Use your imagination to go back in time to when you were first learning your subject. Feel into one aha moment – maybe when your first understood how to grip a golf club or how to listen to your partner with an open heart. From this place, describe one thing you want your students to learn.

You don’t have to create the steps in order; you can order the steps afterward. Let beginner’s mind guide you and start wherever you feel the most ‘juice.’

Before you write or record a step, ask: Does this fit with my one core idea?

6. Tangible Takeaways

Learning is elusive – and people are so overwhelmed with information overload already – it’s damn hard to get concepts to ‘stick.’ Think about it: How much do you remember from the last course you took? The book you read or listened to last night?

You can up your course’s ‘sticky’ factor by asking students to name what they have learned – throughout the course, if possible.

  • Ask students to take one concrete action today based on what they just learned.
  • Prompt people to share one takeaway per module or per week on a private Facebook group.
  • Ask students to record a video or audio sharing their top three takeaways from the entire course.
  • Ask students to send in one takeaway after a live call and include their website address.
    • Compile an email that goes to all your students or that you share on your blog with live links to their sites, as an extra incentive.

Most e-Course designers skip the takeaways because they assume nobody wants ‘more work.’ Make a case for how much benefit they’ll receive from doing so. Challenge them to try it once, just to ‘prove you right or prove you wrong.’

Takeaways also teach YOU what people are learning. Knowing this will help you rejigger your course and your marketing because you will see how people are actually using the material. And it will give you ideas for new courses. It’s precious stuff!

7. Beta

The only way to learn to teach is by teaching. The only way to see if your material works is to test it on real people. This why teaching is so scary – it’s like performing, even when you aren’t offering anything live.

Here’s how to make it easier: talk to other people who have created courses. Ask them:

  • How did they deal with their fears?
  • How did they weather negative feedback or unhappy students?
  • How did they market?

Peer support normalizes so much!

And remind yourself you are NOT your work. This has kept me sane for 21+ teaching and writing years. You are amazing – you, separate from your work. How your work lands or is received is no reflection on your worth as a human.

8. Build in Regular Feedback

I send out an email three times over the 3-month TeachNow course, asking for student feedback about the course. I ask these questions:

  • What has been your biggest takeaway in TeachNow so far?
  • What has shifted for you because of this learning? How have you applied it?
  • What did you think you would learn by now that you haven’t?

I offer a gift if feedback is given by a certain date. By doing so, I gather feedback when it’s fresh for people and encourage a sense of ownership in learning. If your course is delivered all at once, you can ask for feedback several times via autoresponder, and include gentle nudges to use the material if they haven’t already.

9. Keep the Momentum Going

The more often you offer your course, the more input you’ll garner about how to improve it and what other courses to create. But that’s hard to do if you’re not getting the sales – or rave reviews – you want. You get discouraged and think, ‘What’s the point?’

Give yourself a few days off – a real rest, away from marketing and technology – and then assess.

Ask yourself:

  • Did you fall in love with content creation and not put equal time & creativity into marketing?
    • If so, pour your energy into marketing for the next round.
  • Did you try to create a course that filled a need but lost your voice in the process?
    • Go back and tweak – just a little – to add your stories, experiences and voice.
    • Add that to the sales page, too.
  • Did you consider your students’ needs?
  • Did you describe clear benefits on your sales page?
  • How many people did you get your course in front of?
    • Did you promote it in the places your just-right students hang out?
  • Did you make clear requests for feedback from current students?
    • What tweaks can you make to the course and your sales page to address these requests?
  • Did you enlist peer support from other course creators?
    • Share your challenges and successes?
    • Swap best practice and sales ideas?
  • When can you offer the course again?
  • What are three fun ways to get the word out?

Creating effective learning courses and marketing them is a giant undertaking. What’s helped me is to devote myself at first to creating great content, then refine the content while putting lots more energy into marketing, and then for the rest of the life of the course, my energy goes into marketing and into any live teaching component.

I so hope these steps help you get into action and share what you love! – not next month or next year or when you feel you know enough – but NOW. Get into action, find your core idea, and beta, Baby, beta.