Online learning is big business, with online courses being a multi-billion-dollar industry. In fact, between 2020 and 2026, the professional and industry e-learning segment is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 32%.

Creators often evolve their business to get a piece of that pie, adding (or starting) with online courses for their audiences. But it’s not as simple as creating explanatory videos with a few quizzes. Done well, online courses take your students into a virtual classroom where they show up regularly to learn, ask questions (even asynchronously), do some homework, and test their knowledge.

But how do you capture all that to create a helpful and inspiring experience? We turned to Marc Maxhimer, director of online education at The Tilt.

Tilt Advice

Many creators develop courses based on topics they’re creating content about. Marc comes at course creation from a different perspective. He’s not a content business expert; he’s an educator by training and practice. Marc earned his bachelor’s degree in English and math for middle childhood education and his master’s degree in educational administration. He spent 16 years teaching math and English.

“Educating people has the same foundational tenets whether you are educating adults or children. As an educator, your job is to predict what questions people will have and then answer them before they even have them or know they have them,” Marc says. 

The job of educators? Create the course to answer students' questions before they even know they have them, says @MarcMaxhimer. #OnlineCourses #ContentEntrepreneurs Click To Tweet

He says creators should lay out the course in the simplest way possible – creating a scaffolding for learning so the student can use what they’ve learned earlier and gain new knowledge and skills.

One of the challenges of online courses is that you don’t have a live audience in front of you. Marc says in-person learning can help the instructor respond and adjust to the non-verbal (and verbal) cues of the students. “Doing lessons via a video, you need to make sure you have explained everything very well and provide lots of examples for the student,” he explains.

Creating the course

Don’t expect to create a course in a couple of weeks. Marc says you should estimate three to four months to create a course, carving out time from planning to testing to publishing. “If you give it adequate time and focus, it will be obvious to the students,” he says.  

Marc shares the sequence for his recently developed new Content Entrepreneurship 101 course on The Tilt: 

  • Outline the material to present.
  • Identify the complementary worksheets and other downloadable material.
  • Write each lesson and turn them into scripts.
  • Create all the worksheets and other material.
  • Record the videos.
  • Complete post-production.

As you develop your first course (or before), you should select a learning management system (LMS) – the software to publish the course online. You also should create landing pages and a registration system.

Tilt Tip: Marc says he found a range of LMS options, from the bells-and-whistles expensive versions to less costly options. The Tilt chose an LMS that integrates with WordPress because that’s our site’s content management system. We also found we needed a hosting service to house the video lessons.

I do. We do. You do.

A philosophy of education that Marc believes strongly in is the “I do; we do; you do” method. The teacher presents the material as a lesson while the students listen and learn. Then the teacher and the students work together to practice the skill or knowledge from the lesson, and finally, the student works on the new skill or knowledge on their own. 

Creating an online course? Follow the approach of @MarcMaxhimer: I do. We do. You do. (Teach the topic. Work together to practice it. Let the student do on their own.) #ContentBusiness #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

“This is why we chose to include explainer videos for the worksheets. These informal videos allowed others on our team to explain the worksheets and show how to complete them and explain the subtleties of the learning,” Marc says. 

Pilot before opening virtual doors

Using beta testers to get feedback is important. “It is the same as listening to your audience to find out their needs and adjust your content accordingly,” Marc says.

“You spend hundreds of hours in the course and designing it so you sometimes miss the most obvious things,” he says. 

For example, feedback prompted him to create the worksheets in Google Doc as well as the PDF format he originally created. “We also added an explainer video to show the user the way around the system and the course as a start option,” Marc says.

Taking questions 

Your students may have questions or want to discuss something while they take the online course. By setting “office hours,” you make it easier for them to connect with the instructor. “It’s important so students do not feel abandoned during the learning process,” Marc says. “For the student to really feel comfortable to learn, they need to know it is OK to make mistakes and have questions, AND that there is an outlet to get those questions answered or addressed.”

Set office hours to allow students of your online courses to ask you questions in real-time, says @MarcMaxhimer. #OnlineCourse #ContentEntrepreneurs Click To Tweet

One more thing

Marc’s best advice? “Always keep your prospective students in mind. Make the information and learning accessible to the students, but do not talk down or oversimplify the content,” he says. “True learning occurs when the student is challenged and must fit the new learning into their existing knowledge base.”

To learn about or experience Marc’s work in The Tilt’s Content Entrepreneurship 101, visit our online education page.

About the author

Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. An IABC Communicator of the Year and founder of G Force Communication, Ann coaches and trains professionals in all things content. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.