This summer I set out to launch an course for people seeking to enter the medical marijuana business in PA. I wanted people to pay for the course online and planeed to deliver much of the content through recorded course modules. I had never launched an online course before so I had some research to do. In this post, I'll share what I learned.
Besides the actual course content and interaction, there are three key components to consider in launching an online course:
1) The Online Course Studio
2) The Online Course Back Office
3) The Online Course Marketing
The Studio - online platforms for recording the course
The first key decision involved recording the course material. I planned on having multiple faculty members collaborating from different locations, needed the ability to visually share a presentation and (ideally) the video of the speakers. Having had too many negative experiences with online technology failing, reliability was important to me. I looked at a number of platforms including Adobe Connect, WebinarJam and GotoWebinar.
WebinarJam has an excellent price point and a wide range of sophisticated features. However, as a frequent user of Google Hangouts, I couldn't get past the fact that WebinarJam is built on top of the Google Hangouts technology. I've found this technology to be fine for informal meetings and conversations with other team members, but way too unreliable to use with clients or serious business meetings. Maybe this will change over time, but I wanted my classes to go off without a hitch and couldn't take the risk. It's also possible that WebinarJam is built on a more reliable version of hangouts then I use casually. This platform is definitely worth a close look!
AdobeConnect was almost my first choice. This industrial grade platform has a range of capabilities that go beyond a webinar platform. I can manage course catalogs, track learner progress, develop tests and more. At the end of my evaluation, I decided it was overkill and overly expensive for my fledgling training company.
The final choice came down to GotoWebinar. I had experience with its little sister, GotoMeeting and found it to be reliable and effective. It has a simple interface but it has never failed me. (Once I forgot to push the "record" button and had to re-do a 1 hour course as a result - but I can't blame GotoWebinar for that). GotoWebinar allows me to easily set up a new event, send out invites to panelists, record and publish the resulting recording. Publishing your recorded module can be done through a managed interface which captures names and emails for future contact when someone accesses your platform. I also like that GotoWebinar allows you to optionally record video of the participants in addition to whatever is showing up on your desktop. For me, that was usually a PowerPoint presentation. I found that having dual monitors made management a lot easier - although a single monitor can be used to pull this off.
Managing the polls, questions and live interaction are all manageable. The user interface for the questions and polls could be improved, but we've used them with success in our online course modules.
I refer to GotoWebinar as my virtual studio. Using the cameras built into our laptops and a headset (or even built in microphones), you can record and integrate anyone with a laptop (or smart phone) and internet connection. As I told many of our faculty, it works better if we are in different rooms, each on our separate "studio" portal. Once you put multiple people in the same room, you need different kinds of audio and camera equipment. GotoWebinar keeps it simple and straightforward to produce an online course.
Of course, these aren't the only games in town. Webex from Cisco, Google Hangouts and Join.Me represent other online platforms for collaboration and recording.
The Online Course Backoffice
My next question is how to process the back-end? I considered using Paypal directly from my Website and I looked at an eCommerce platform called e-Junkie (promotion shown in the button below).
After evaluating the options, I settled on a platform called GumRoad. This platform makes it easy to add modules to your course...
In addition, GumRoad processes credit card payments. For $10/month, the processing fee is 3.5% plus $0.30 per transaction. Students are given a platform that they can log into and access their course material. One feature I'd like to see is a more in-depth review of which modules were viewed by each student. At this point, I only get which modules were viewed.
GumRoad makes it easy to create new versions of your product, something I'm experimenting with as I re-purpose many of my modules to an "online only" version of the product. They also have an affiliate process which allows me to share links with special discounts that can be credited to partners willing to promote my class.
GumRoad support is currently through email only. This can be a little frustrating if you want to talk to a person. At this time, that's all they offer - but my experience is that they do respond in a timely manner. GumRoad fit the need I had for managing my courses and collecting revenue.
The Online Course Marketing
Your Website should have a strong landing page for your course offering. A well-designed landing page can mean the difference between converting the sale or losing the sale.
I found that using live information sessions through GotoWebinar, promoted in advance through social media and email marketing, were the most effective conversion tools. Since I recorded the information sessions, I could embed the video into my Website's landing page. This powerful combination worked well to drive course sales.
For interested parties, I use the Divi Wordpress Theme and it makes editing and manipulation of pages like this easy to do.
The combination of GotoWebinar, GumRoad and a strong Wordpress theme are used to create an online course offering. The beauty of this platform is that it is easy to use, accessible to all Internet users and can be easily reconfigured and re-purposed to future needs.
Do you have some online course tips you'd like to share? Please leave a comment for us!