What I Learned Making An Online Course

I made and launched an online course very very recently. It took me about two months to do it.

Lesson 1: Have a very small agenda for each video.

Who knew it would take seven minutes to explain the ins and outs of Facebook- specifically the fact you need a personal Facebook account to make a Facebook page and how to navigate between them?

Not me, that’s for sure!

When I planned thirty videos and two ‘bonus videos’ I had no idea that a “small concept”  takes a long time to explain when you really dig deep into the topic and keep in mind audience members who have no background in the area.

Try to have one small point per video. If you are ambitious (Ex: five reasons why you need to drink more water every day), prepare to be very succinct on each point. You will probably ramble a bit, because you are nervous and kind of excited. Another option is to follow an exact script, if you can avoid sounding robotic. There are free online teleprompters you can use to help you get through what you need to say and help you with pacing.

Lesson 2: Do a few first.

It’s really tempting to set everything up and just get them DONE (er, “over with”). But do one or two videos and re-watch, looking for things like 1) if the camera angle cuts off the top of your head, 2) the room seems echo-y, 3) your audio is picking up your computer mic and not the nice one you have plugged in. Two out of three of these things happened to me. You’ll only notice these things if you make yourself watch the two videos you just made and make adjustments. It will feel like extra to do this but trust me, you’ll save yourself time, effort, and heartache later.

Lesson 3: The resolution is here.

You will film at a certain resolution but at full screen on some devices (ex: my giant 20 inch monitor), it will still be blurry. Remember you can always reduce your resolution (likely for file sizes) after filming but you can’t make it bigger after the fact. Compare the filming resolution of whatever software you are using with the online learning software you plan to use, then just be ok with it.  (More on picking your online course distribution software here.)

Lesson 4: Filming is grueling.

According to basic math, filming 30 2-5 minute videos will take you 30 videos times 5 minutes, maybe an additional ten minutes for snack breaks. Unfortunately, filming doesn’t follow the rules of basic math.

I filmed ALL DAY starting at 8 am and finishing at 6 pm. If you buy this course, you’ll notice the daylight changing as I go on.

Basic math doesn’t realize you will be interrupted by phone calls, people stopping in, your dog barking, your weird heating system clicking as it kicks on… and any number of other things. Plan for a full day of filming and start early if you are planning on using natural light (much easier than wrangling the perfect artificial setup). I actually almost lost my voice because I spent the whole day talking, despite only seeing one other person the entire day.

Lesson 5: Get a little help from your friends.

If you think people are going to be clamoring for your online course, think again. I’m saying this as someone who has a ‘platform’ set up for distribution- you have to do a little outreach.

I emailed a few business groups I’ve done work with to let them know about my course and offer their friends/members a discount code to purchase. This means 1) Other people besides me will be saying this is good, building credibility and 2) I can measure which relationships ‘work’ by seeing which coupons are most redeemed. I’ve even considered granting a limited number of people access for reviews, feedback, etc.

Lesson 6: Your first course is going to feel rough.

I am saying this as someone who just invested a significant amount of time and effort knowing this is will not be the best thing I ever produce.

But here’s the thing; the only way you can get better at something is to practice. Plus you’ve just spent five hours editing yourself on video (adding some title/ending slides, adjusting volumes, etc.), so you may not be feeling enthusiastic about it at this point. Ask a friend or coworker to review and catch anything you may have missed…and just release the darn thing. If you get too precious about it, you’ll never get the feedback you need for future videos. Plus, your friend will probably tell you it’s fine and not understand why you haven’t put it out there already!

My best advice? Just jump into your online course experience! Most of us have not grown up acting, video editing, or teaching so it’ll feel strange and exciting to try to show what you know to people who don’t know you. But I have a feeling the best part of what I’ll learn from making this first online course will come a few months from now and prepare me for my next project. Onward and upward!

This online course- Internet Marketing for Artists– is live now and ready for participants. If you or someone you know is an artist and want to increase your business presence on the internet, this course is for you!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

How to Write a Good “How To”

It was 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1997. My Dad embarked on a solo mission to the garage to assemble a basketball hoop for my brother and I. Armed with a tool kit, a set of instructions, and the kind of confidence you get from a neighborhood Christmas Eve party, he was ready…or so he thought. Around 1:30 a.m., he had assembled the entire hoop. Backwards. Next steps were taking apart the hoop, waking up my mother, and reassembling. They finished in time (4 or 5 a.m.) to get about an hour of sleep before we woke up, and Santa got all the credit.

Have you ever been totally frustrated by a how-to, online or offline? There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to follow instructions or a tutorial that doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to do something. You may even end up abandoning the project, and worse, harbor a bit of resentment towards the people/company who made such terrible instructions in the first place.

To avoid being the target of someone’s wrath because you’ve written poor instructions, this post is here to guide you through creating a how-to that guides people from start to finish with minimal frustration. Remember, most people “read instructions when they are impatient, fatigued, or even terrified” (see above Christmas Eve anecdote).

Consider your audience. If you’re writing a how to for the general public vs. a specific task for an employee, your instructions will probably look a little different (assuming the employee has some industry/insider knowledge, compared to a random person on the street who probably has no idea what you do).

Introduce the objective/end goal. What is the end result a person should have at the end of these instructions? This can just be one or two sentences, nothing crazy.

List all materials. This is the place where it’s important to be thorough and organized. For instance, if your product is a model airplane, include a list of a) materials included and b) additional materials needed before starting the project. If there’s something that would make the project easier, but isn’t necessary, include it in a “recommended materials” list.

Write instructions as commands. I’m guilty of slipping into passive voice, but when it’s time to give instructions things like “and then you will want to…” or “it should look like…” don’t instill a lot of confidence. People are looking to you for direction, so don’t be afraid to sound bossy.

Don’t get jargon-y. You know what people hate, especially when they’re trying to figure out how to do something? Feeling dumb. If you’re writing instructions that include a lot of jargon or words that people who don’t work in your industry will understand, it’s probably going to be more frustrating than helpful. If you do need to use industry terms to explain something (or name a part, for instance), include a picture showing what it is exactly (you may be surprised how many people find this helpful).

Speaking of visuals, these can be a great thing to include in your how-to (especially since we’re assuming you aren’t using video here). Even in your list of materials, depending on what they are, could include a visual next to each item showing what it looks like. If it’s an assembly project, showing the progress after each completed step assures people as they’re moving through the instructions that they aren’t just blindly going about things and hoping it comes out the way it’s supposed to at the end.

Have someone else read through. Chances are, if you’re writing instructions about something, you are already fairly good at it. Having someone who’s less familiar with the process, or at least some degree of separation, could provide a bit of insight toward where your instructions are unclear. If you can’t get an extra set of eyes, wait a day or so and try to follow your own instructions from scratch, taking notes on areas that could use more clarification.

Although the Christmas Eve basketball hoop incident was mainly user error, it’s an experience we all want to avoid giving to customers if possible. Keep in mind the toughest audience is people who are going to have the hardest time generally: those who are “busy” and/or “grouchy.” This additional resource below can help you cater to that particular group:


Instructions: How to Write Guides for Busy, Grouchy People



Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.