1. Selling programs online was more work than I thought
Writing an eBook was easy compared to creating an online course. The cost students pay to access online courses is usually much more expensive than an eBook and therefore students rightfully want to see additional value in the content. I was required to create video tutorials, buy new audio recording gear to create podcasts, learn coding to create a social community, hire coders to create grading tools and much more.
2. I wasn’t offering an online program… I was starting a company
I was doing more than just putting a program online. I was creating a complex system that would be able to handle the administrative tasks of running an online course and implementing marketing strategies to help me promote my course. It was so much more work than I originally thought. The business and administrative needs of my eCourse company ended up taking up a huge percentage of my time… which leads me to my next point.
3. Balancing student satisfaction and growth is hard
When I started my online program I wanted to make sure my students felt like their $200 course enrolment fee gave them access to a course that looked and felt like a $5000 course. I wanted there to be a moment when the student said to themselves “I can’t believe I only paid $200 for this course”. I wanted them to be “wowed” by the content, the design, the layout and the interactive features. I knew it would take a pretty big investment in time on my part to get to that level. However, as the eCourse grew in popularity I found my time being pulled towards needing to deal with administrative duties (email, advertising, coding issues etc). When you’re first starting out it’s incredibly difficult to grow your course while at the same time keeping your current students happy. My advice to you is to create great value in your course before you offer it to your students. Make it as good as you can possibly make it before you open up the doors and let people enroll. Because once you open up the doors… you have a business to run.
4. There were many opportunities for growth that I didn’t know about
When I first started my online course, I just thought I was going to be offering my course online. What I didn’t realize is that my students were hungry for additional courses, more advanced courses and personalized one on one consulting. I transformed from a one product company to a multi product company. Not only did I offer additional educational courses, but I was able to offer a job board on my site where employers could pay to get access to my community as well as a social network where people could pay to promote their profiles. My newsletter even became so popular that I was able to sell advertising within it. As did my site’s blog. I didn’t plan or anticipate any of these revenue streams.
5. Focusing on learner objectives should become an obsession
Once I was able to stabilize the administrative side of my online course business I transferred my energies back to my students and I become obsessed with their educational achievements. I started asking myself questions like – What does implementing a different teaching technique have on student’s outcomes? What impact does course design have a student’s outcomes.
I would test and test and test. I analyzed the data and measured the metrics while at the same time keeping my eye on the results that students were producing. If their projects didn’t meet my expectations I didn’t see that as their fault. I saw it as my fault. Why was my teaching not getting through to them? What wasn’t clear? Was my course content unfocused? What was I doing wrong?
I would go back to the drawing board and redesign the course and assignments until I got outcomes from the students that I was impressed with.
6. You don’t have to be a licensed teacher to be a great teacher
When I started my course I wasn’t a trained “teacher”. I was a subject matter expert. I liked teaching and I found it came natural to me, but I didn’t know much about pedagogies. I think this worked in my favor because I became obsessed with finding new ways to teach. This lead me down so many interesting paths. I was learning about outcomes based learning, democratic teaching, designing e-learning environments focused on individual student goals and so much more. The wold of education is fascinating and I could use my own students as test subjects to find out what teaching methods work for them and which ones don’t.
7. Building a thriving student community is hard
On an individual level I become very happy with my students’ individual accomplishments. But I wanted more. I wanted to build a thriving community of learners who share similar passions. I didn’t just want their relationship to be with me (their teacher). I wanted them to build relationships with each other. Achieving this was very difficult. It required that I spend a lot of time getting to know each student and then looking for connections within my community of students to try to link people together. I found myself needing to be the one to initiate discussion all the time. Especially when I was first staring out. However, this investment in time paid off in the end, because many of the students followed my lead and slowly but surely they started to participate in the community. They formed their own connections and didn’t rely on me as much any longer.
8. I didn’t know I could earn so much
Years have passed since I first learnt how to sell programs online by offering my first eCourse publicly. I remember when I first started out my goal was to make $500 / week running my course part time (I had a full time job at the time that I didn’t want to leave). I also thought my target market was pretty small. I didn’t expect to become rich from the venture that’s for sure. I just loved the topic and the opportunity to share my views with others interested in the same areas as me.
However, my efforts led to growth. Slowly but surely my hard work brought in additional income. My $500 / week goal was hit and then I pretty quickly jumped to $1000 / week. Now my eCourse makes upwards of $4000 / week. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and it continues to grow to this day. I never would have expected in a millions years for my course to get that big. But it did!
So if you’re just starting out… enjoy the ride and focus on your learners outcomes!