The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (2023)

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So you want to create an online course. Good news: online education is more popular than ever, and MOOCs are thriving at both universities and online learning platforms. Still, with the high supply of online courses, competition can be fierce, and for developers, simply being an expert in the subject isn’t enough. Successful online courses need:

  • Targeted Market Research
  • A Clear Curriculum
  • The Right Platform
  • High Production Quality
  • Community Engagement

Below, let’s investigate why each of these points is key to course development and explore the best tips and tools to help kickstart your online course.

1) Know Your Market

The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (1)

Before you even begin to create a course, ask yourself:

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  • Who is the course for?
  • How many people are realistically interested the course?
  • How many people are realistically interested in enrolling?
  • Why?
  • You sure?
  • Ok, how do you reach these potential students?
  • Ok, how do you convert potential students into enrolled students?

That may sound like a lot, but don’t be intimidated. Addressing these issues at the start will save you a lot of trouble once you’ve got your course up and running.

The first question is the most important. If you don’t know your audience, it’s difficult-to-impossible to create an effective course. Are there online courses on similar topics? If not, you’ve either discovered an untapped market (hooray!), or there’s no demand. Given the general surplus of online courses, the latter is more likely. Consider expanding the topic to appeal to a wider audience, or reach out on relevant social media, discussion boards, and other platforms to ask if anyone would be interested in the course. (This is also a good way to crowd source suggestions for lesson plans, delivery style, etc. More on community engagement later.)

If similar courses already exist, that’s good news. Yes, you’ll have competition, but you’ve also got proof of concept and helpful comps. Take a good look at the available courses. What works? What could be improved? What do the most popular online courses have in common? Review student feedback, and consider taking the course yourself. The best way to find inspiration for new ideas is to revisit old ones. (Side note: if you want to develop an online course but have never taken an online course, please do so now.) Quality comps will serve you throughout the course development process, and offer insight into the “who,” “where,” “why,” and “how many” of your target demographic. Use them!

A lot of your market research will be plain due diligence: roll up your sleeves, and the hit the digital pavement. But there are a few tools worth highlighting, most of which are designed for small businesses and startups:

  • Think With Google: Leverage a half-dozen marketing tools, including Market Finder, Google Trends, and Consumer Barometer, plus analytics resources, blog posts, and expert insights. Free.
  • Survey Monkey: The world’s best online survey software is a great tool to find your market and tailor course development. If you don’t have a pre-existing audience base, they’ll find you one. Free, or plans starting at $35/month.
  • Ask Your Target Market: Another popular survey platform, offering highly customizable surveys and targeted outreach. Pay per use for startups, students, and SMBs, or plans starting at $75/month.
  • Facebook Audience Insights: Tap into Facebook’s data trove to learn more about your target demographic. Free.
  • Social Mention: One of several real-time social media search engines available online. This one is especially simple and offers actionable granular data. Free.

2) Develop a Clear, Precise, and Marketable Curriculum

The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (2)

Now that you know your target demographic and potential gaps in the market, you can start to develop the course curriculum. Obviously course content itself is contingent on the topic, but let’s run through a few basics of planning and design (which might be obvious, as well).

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First off: return to the comps! Review the best available online courses in your field, and mark the most common lesson plans to outline a standard curriculum. This is the course skeleton – now flesh it out. (Bear with the bad conceit here….) Is something missing that you can add? Maybe there are too many bones and not enough meat: trim down the total lessons, and bulk up individual ones to create a leaner, more robust curriculum. Again, go back to other online courses and review the feedback for clues. If you’re unsure how detailed your curriculum should be, err on the side of caution for now. A highly structured plan helps your organization, but over-planning in early development can create false starts and dead ends. Leave room for flexibility and maneuvering; as with any class, online or on-campus, teachers have to adapt to individual students’ needs and develop an improv instinct.

On a separate but related note, online course creators need to consider the actual look of their curriculum, as well. That is, what are potential students going to see when they’re shopping for classes. (We’re veering into production quality a bit, but since we’re on the subject….) For a large portion of students, the curriculum will be the deciding factor, so this step is as much marketing-related as it is pedagogical. Needless to say, your copy should be clean and concise (and ideally optimized for SEO). Go through several drafts, and, once again, aim for balance. You want to convey enough to pique student interest, but not so much that the curriculum appears busy or overwhelming. As for content, emphasize actionable lesson plans and program objectives. Students are here because they have questions; you need to offer answers and solutions, particularly if your course covers a specific skill.

As with market research, curriculum development is labor-intensive, and frankly, this isn’t a step you be should shortcutting. Still, a few resources worth checking out:

Be sure to check social media and threads on e-learning platforms, as well. Which leads us to the next step….

3) Choose the Right Online Learning Platform

The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (3)

Realistically, this section warrants its own page, but let’s review a few popular e-learning platforms. (Depending on your needs, you’ll choose between standalone, all-in-one, marketplace, or enterprise platforms; or WordPress or LMS plugins.) If you’ve never heard of these, or you don’t have at least some idea which platforms work best for your course, you might need to return to the drawing board.

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  • Udemy: With over 12 million students and 20,000 instructors, Udemy is one of the world’s most popular e-learning platforms. Its bread-and-butter is hard-skill business and tech training, but there’s a growing community of lifestyle, health and fitness, music, and traditional liberal arts courses, too. Free to use with tiered revenue share.
  • Teachable: Classes tend to cover skill-building for creators, business professionals, authors, and niche experts. The platform’s functionality and design are top-notch, and instructors have earned over $100 million. Plans start at $39/month.
  • Skillshare: As the name implies, Skillshare is for practical instruction, from learning MailChimp to inkdrawing techniques. Instructors also get personalized support to customize classes and can build shareable portfolios. Free to use with revenue share.
  • LearnWorlds: An end-to-end platform featuring sales tools, community engagement, advanced analytics, and customizable front-end course development, allowing course instructors to host a personalized URL. Free trial period with plans starting at $24/month.
  • Thinkific: Similar to the above, Thinkific helps you create, market, and sell online courses from your own website. With 25,000 current instructors, Thinkific emphasizes top-rated customer service, course customization, and streamlined development tools. Free to use with a 10% transaction fee, or premium options starting at $49/month.

Again, there are dozens of great e-learning platforms. The key is to find one that fits your needs and budget, and can attract your target demo.

4) Produce High Quality, Content-Rich Videos

The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (4)

Now that you’ve done all your homework, the fun can begin: it’s time to create an online course!

Provided that your lesson plans are in order, the first order of business is script writing and story boarding, which of course has different meanings depending on subject matter and personal style and preference. For instance, if you’re developing an online course in digital illustration, your script may consist of a general outline, featuring a progression of illustrations you want to appear onscreen coupled with instructions on technique, etc. The outline itself may be intricately structured, especially on video cues, but the instructions, or voiceover/audio, may be spare to encourage a conversational tone. After all, this is an art course, so a casual format makes sense, whereas an online course in SaaS analytics could be very different. (Or not: again, it’s both a stylistic and methodological decision.)

In any event, the scenario above would only need a basic AV Script – i.e., a document with two columns dedicated to audio and video – in which case any word processing app works. If your video concept is more demanding, try using a more traditional TV/film script format and storyboard. There are several premium programs you can buy, but it’s hard to justify the cost. Celtx is an excellent all-in-one program with a free option, or try Amazon’s relatively new Storywriter.

Or do whatever suits you – and don’t get too distracted by the scruples of screenwriting. What matters is the actual production, and in all likelihood, that’s going to be trial-and-error.

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I know, I know. Not what you wanted to read on an article purporting to offer a step-by-step guide for online course development. And yet….

The best advice for beginners is to keep it simple. A course can have high production value without advanced audio/video techniques, and a straightforward approach suits online education better, anyway. Many platforms offer production support, and if you insist on developing your production skills – well, take an online course or YouTube tutorial! (Adobe Premiere and Final Cut are the most popular premium video editing tools, but iMovie is solid option for tight budgets.)

The main thing is to keep the videos polished, professional, and content-rich, by which I mean packing maximum punch. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the optimal length for e-learning videos is 6-9 minutes. That means each video should address one specific topic – or, framed another way, answer one specific question – from which you can divide the video into separate sections or “beats”: Part 1 of Answer, Part 2 of Answer, Part 3, etc. It’s up to you whether you literally break the video into beats, or simply organize the script that way.

At the same time, videos need to strike a balance. Too much content crammed into 6 minutes is information overload; too little content spread out over 12 minutes risks losing the audience. Aim for compactness, and utilize all your tools. (A helpful tip: use onscreen content to reinforce off screen voice over. Show and tell.) The goal is to deliver the lesson in the most efficient, natural manner possible. If you’re breathless at the end, you’ve done it wrong.

5.) Engage Your Community Online

The Best Tools for Developing Online Courses - Online Course Report (5)

This step can’t be stressed enough. The most successful online course creators stay engaged with their students, from start to finish. Ask for comments and/or requests. Suggest supplementary reading, or recommend other online courses. Many e-learning platforms offer built-in community tools – which is great! – but don’t stop there. Foster an open-door social media policy, and encourage your students to develop their own online communities to collaborate and review each other’s work.

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Above all, keep things fun and lively. The most popular MOOC instructors highlight the importance of interaction, both within the course and the community. Other than pure scale, online education’s biggest benefit is the ability to create a dynamic learning environment, in which the relationship between students, instructors, and course material combines in a unique form – certainly different than a whiteboard.

So take advantage!


How do I create a course content online? ›

How to create an online course
  1. Choose the right subject matter.
  2. Test your idea.
  3. Research the topic extensively.
  4. Write a course outline.
  5. Create the course content.
  6. Bring your course online.
  7. Sell your online course.
  8. Market your content.
23 Jun 2021

How do you measure the success of an online course? ›

Performance goals tracking is a great tool for measuring the effectiveness of your online course. You can compare the performance of your learners before and after taking your online course. You need to know about your learners' different learning styles and capabilities because comparing them with others in general.

How can I improve my online course design? ›

Nine ways to improve online course design:
  1. Make it personal.
  2. Set clear learning objectives.
  3. Make the course easy to navigate.
  4. Keep accessibility in mind.
  5. Engage students through communication.
  6. Encourage active listening.
  7. Design engaging questions.
  8. Provide effective exams.
9 Aug 2021

What equipment do I need to create an online course? ›

Best Equipment & Software For Creating Online Courses
  • Microphones.
  • Lavalier Microphones.
  • Microphone Accessories.
  • Headphones.
  • Screen Recording.
  • Video Recording.
  • Lighting and Accessories.
  • Audio and Video Editing.
2 Feb 2022

How do you measure engagement in online learning? ›

Compare KPIs at the individual, team, and organizational levels prior to a course offering with the results observed after completing that learning experience. Use satisfaction surveys. One of the most traditional ways to measure learner engagement is to simply ask those who are taking their courses. .

How do you measure ROI in learning and development? ›

With ROI, we focus on the net benefits of the training—the benefits minus the costs. The formula for ROI looks like this: ROI = ( Net Benefits of training / Costs of Training ) x 100.

How do you measure learning outcomes? ›

Approaches to measuring student learning
  1. Summative assessments - tests, quizzes, and other graded course activities that are used to measure student performance. ...
  2. Formative assessment - any means by which students receive input and guiding feedback on their relative performance to help them improve.

How do you create a course curriculum? ›

How to create a curriculum for your course in 7 steps
  1. Brainstorm desired outcomes.
  2. Identify your target audience and their pain points.
  3. Narrow down your learning outcome.
  4. Create a list of milestones and lessons.
  5. Estimate the time to complete each lesson.
  6. Compile course content, materials, and resources.
  7. Get student feedback.

How do I create a course module? ›

Modular Course Design
  1. Identify key topic areas. Each module should point to important categories of content or conceptual pieces in your course that help guide students to recognize the big ideas. ...
  2. Label your modules clearly and consistently. ...
  3. Create modules of consistent structure.
16 Aug 2017

Can you create an online course with canva? ›

Canva is a great platform for creating online courses, as it offers a wide range of features and templates to help you get started. The first step in creating an online course in Canva is to sign up for a free account. Once you have done this, you can then start creating your course.

How much does it cost to develop an online course? ›

At an estimated 80 to 280 hours required to develop a 1-hour course, you can expect to pay roughly $5,850 USD to over $15,000 USD to get a fully polished course, in addition to the cost of your Instructional Designer (ID) and SME.

What are the top selling online courses? ›

The most in-demand online courses right now are in the following course categories:
  • Blockchain and Crypto.
  • Trading.
  • Video Production.
  • Graphic Design.
  • Photography.
  • Arts & Crafts.
  • Health and Fitness.
  • Personal Development.
13 Oct 2022

Is selling online courses profitable? ›

Creating and selling online courses can be quite lucrative if you're able to provide great content and reach your target market. Plus, with existing modern platforms, you can launch your course and start making money right away.

What is a course creator? ›

An online course creator is someone who develops virtual learning materials. Your students will complete your lessons, perform exercises, and put their knowledge to the test by taking quizzes and exams all from their own devices.

What are the three basic technical requirements needed for an online class? ›

Minimum Computer Equipment and Software
  • A computer (no more than 5 years old if possible) will be needed for at least some course elements. ...
  • 1GB of RAM *
  • 2 GHz processor.
  • A reliable internet connection: 512 kbps minimum, but a high-speed connection is recommended.
  • Adobe Reader/Acrobat or another PDF reader application.
13 Jun 2022

What equipment do I need to teach on Zoom? ›

Minimal Equipment List
  1. Laptop.
  2. Zoom application installed.
  3. Stable Internet connection (wired connection preferred)
  4. Microphone for audio capture. Integrated laptop microphones work fine but you can improve audio quality by connecting a headset or connecting a USB microphone or webcam with integrated microphone.

Do I need a webcam for online classes? ›

In short, it all comes down to communication—and that's where a good webcam can make a big difference. Both teachers and students rely on visual cues to communicate effectively, and webcams make that possible even if teachers and students can't be in the classroom together.

Who developed online student engagement scale? ›

Dixson (2015) developed the online student engagement (OSE) based on the four factors identified by Handelsmann et al. by identifying the equivalent actions for these factors in an online environment. This study focussed on: study skills engagement and participation. ...

How do you measure course engagement? ›

How Can You Measure Learner Engagement?
  1. Sign-up Rates. ...
  2. Completion & Drop-out Rates. ...
  3. Weekly and Monthly Active User. ...
  4. Mandatory vs. ...
  5. Learning Time Spent. ...
  6. Community Interaction. ...
  7. Feedback Surveys. ...
  8. Percentage of Employees Using Their New Skills.
3 Jul 2020

What is student engagement questionnaire? ›

The Student School Engagement Survey measures students' cognitive, behavioral, and emotional engagement in school.

What is the Phillips ROI Methodology? ›

Phillips ROI Model builds on the Kirkpatrick Model, which is one of the most commonly used models to evaluate training programs. It classifies data from different types employee training programs to measure: the reaction of participants. the actual learning of participants. the behavior change from these learning.

What is ROI training and development? ›

Training ROI measures how much an organization gains from its investment in training. It is a financial metric that expands on the benefits and business results relative to a training program. It is not a training satisfaction measure, which indicates how happy the employees are with the training.

How is roti calculated? ›

Once you have entered relevant financial data, the Calculator will automatically calculate the ROTI % as follows:
  1. ((£ Benefits - £ Costs) / (£ Costs)) X 100 = ROTI% The Benefit to Cost ratio will also be calculated as follows:
  2. £ Benefits : £ Costs. ...
  3. Notes on ROTI Results:

What are the 4 types of assessment? ›

A Guide to Types of Assessment: Diagnostic, Formative, Interim, and Summative.

What are the assessment tools? ›

Assessment Tools: Introduction
  • Rubrics. For assessing qualitative student work such as essays, projects, reports, or presentations, we recommend the use of rubrics. ...
  • Curriculum Mapping. ...
  • Focus Groups. ...
  • Portfolios. ...
  • Structured Interviews. ...
  • Surveys.

What are 5 learning outcomes? ›

5 types of learning outcomes
  • Intellectual skills. With this type of learning outcome, the learner will understand concepts, rules or procedures. ...
  • Cognitive strategy. In this type of learning outcome, the learner uses personal strategies to think, organize, learn and behave.
  • Verbal information. ...
  • Motor skills. ...
  • Attitude.
26 Jul 2022

How can I create an online course for free? ›

Follow these steps for creating your online course:
  1. Create a free account in an easy-to-use online course platform.
  2. Get a custom domain, or set up a free URL.
  3. Choose the brand colors for your online course website.
  4. Setup your course website home page.
  5. Create your first online course using a course builder tool.
13 Sept 2022

What is course creator? ›

An online course creator is someone who develops virtual learning materials. Your students will complete your lessons, perform exercises, and put their knowledge to the test by taking quizzes and exams all from their own devices.

What is scorm and how does it work? ›

SCORM is a set of technical standards for eLearning products. It provides the communication method and data models that allow eLearning content and LMSs to work together. It tells programmers how to write code so that what they build will “play well” with other eLearning software.

Does Thinkific have a free plan? ›

The Thinkific free plan is very generous. You can have unlimited students on their free plan and can build one full course. This includes all the hosting for content like videos. You'll also have access to their quizzes and surveys as well as instant access to any revenues you bring in.

How much does it cost to develop an online course? ›

At an estimated 80 to 280 hours required to develop a 1-hour course, you can expect to pay roughly $5,850 USD to over $15,000 USD to get a fully polished course, in addition to the cost of your Instructional Designer (ID) and SME.

What is a digital course creator? ›

What is an online course creator? An online course creator is an entrepreneur, educator, thought leader, expert, or professional who creates virtual learning materials for a targeted audience. Online course creators use different learning management systems that provide people access to online classes.

What mooc means? ›

What Is a MOOC? A massive open online course (MOOC) is a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance.

What is course creator in Moodle? ›

create a course. If the setting "Creators' role in new courses" (creatornewroleid) in Site administration / Users / Permissions / User policies is left as default (teacher), then the course creator is enrolled as a teacher in the course they have just created and can then edit the course settings and enrol other users.

How do I convert a PowerPoint to SCORM? ›

How to convert PPT to SCORM step by step
  1. Open a PPT in iSpring. Download and install iSpring Suite first — it will appear right in your PowerPoint.
  2. Click Publish. Go to the iSpring Suite tab on the PowerPoint ribbon and hit Publish.
  3. Select SCORM format. Choose SCORM 1.2 or SCORM 2004 and click Publish — and that's it!

What is the difference between SCORM and xAPI? ›

Where SCORM only tracks desktop LMS activity, xAPI pulls data from multiple sources both on and offline into one place, a learning record store (LRS). This translates to a more complete data set that demonstrates where and how learning is happening, and, crucially, where it is not.

Is SCORM dead? ›

SCORM is not dead, but it's past its prime.

That's 140 in dog years, or 500 in technology years. The wrinkles have been showing for quite some time.

What is better than Thinkific? ›

More affordable Thinkific alternatives:
  • Podia: Paid plans start at $39/month, with no transaction fees on any paid plans.
  • LearnWorlds: Plans start at $29/month.
  • Teachery: The annual plan comes out to about $39/month, with no transaction fees.
  • LearnDash: Plans start at $199/year.
  • Mighty Networks: Plans start at $39/month.

How much does Thinkific cost per month? ›

Thinkific Pricing Plans

Free Plan: $0/month. Basic Plan: $49/month or $39/month when billed annually. Pro Plan: $99/month or $79/month when billed annually. Premier Plan: $499/month or $399/month when billed annually.

What is the difference between teachable and Thinkific? ›

The biggest difference between the two is that Teachable's free plan gives you unlimited courses, students, and products. Thinkific gives you unlimited students, but you can only create up to three courses with a free plan, which may limit your course experience and revenue potential.


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