Let me begin by defining a solo unaided teacher.
The online teaching strategies I discuss here are for you if you –
- are not a teacher in any reputed schools and universities, and therefore do not have the backing of established infrastructures that educational institutes offer to teach online
- are from any profession, but you know you’ve good knowledge on a topic which you can teach others, and
- are eager to start your online teaching career, and want to learn the skills and strategies to succeed.
Like any business or a career, you need some kind of teaching strategies worked out in advance before the actual beginning.
This is all the more important for solo unaided teachers who mostly work alone, and do not have any institutional support to fall back on should anything go wrong.
I followed these steps diligently in my online teaching career, and I’ve seen they help a lot, especially during instances when you have to do some maneuvering in order to give a boost to your business.
In this post let me shift focus a bit, and look at some essential online teaching strategies from ground up for solo teachers.
I’ll try to break them into easy-to-follow bite-sized concepts so that you get a sense of where you stand, and understand your strengths versus weaknesses.
Can you design your online course?
When you teach online what really matters to your students is not what you know, but what they can learn from you.
In other words, who you are is of less importance than what you are able to teach.
It is apparent you have to design your online course in such a way that your students are able to understand what they are learning. This is especially relevant when you’re pursuing a niche topic.
In this context the following quote by Jo Handelsman is of significance.
With that in view, it has been seen that backward course design is an ideal model to design online course. Refer the image below.
The idea behind backward course design is based on the following 3 steps:
- It starts with a course’s learning goals, then
- works backward to decide what skills will demonstrate achievement of the learning goals, and finally
- works further backward to decide what content is required to support those skills.
What are your main teaching materials?
Once you know the topic you’re going to teach, and have broadly worked out the course design, you have to decide on the main teaching materials for your course.
There are 2 issues to consider here.
- First, which contents would you create out of the 5 main types – Text, Image, Video, Audio Podcast, Presentation?
- Second, can you make them available in digital media?
Type of teaching material is a contentious issue.
- For example, among developers and coders the opinion is divided between texts and video, with a tilt favoring texts with good visuals.
- Cooking classes almost always have videos. So do fitness lessons. One can easily understand why, because they are mainly demonstrative training. And what can make demonstration better if not a video?
- If, however you are into personality development training you might prefer audio podcasts over videos. Your students will certainly prefer that over videos or presentations.
- On the other hand, management skills training depends heavily on presentations, or slide-based videos. Students need both the texts on the screen, and the audio lecture to understand the concepts. Take away one of the 2, especially the presentation part, and the training becomes of no use.
Here is a snapshot of types of suitable teaching materials for respective course topics.
The other point I mentioned above is about making your teaching material available online in digital media.
Why is this important?
Suppose your video lessons are voluminous, recorded in non-standard dimensions, and also they are not in the popular formats like MP4. It will be tough to get these videos online for viewing. So that calls for knowing some basic video making rules.
In short you’ll have to know how and in which formats should you put up your course lessons online – for both viewing and downloading if necessary.
Are you comfortable creating your contents?
At the outset let me say no body is perfect. So never aim for perfection when you create course contents. Again, perfection is a vague idea, it varies in the eyes of different people.
That said, let me ask, are you comfortable creating contents?
Remember, it’s not about creating your teaching content just once. You’ve to do corrections, make revisions, and update with fresh lessons.
It’s an ongoing work.
So the question to ask is, are you well-placed to do these works yourself…in terms of both time and skill, and perhaps money?
There is another dimension to content creation we often overlook.
To put in a simple way, one of your online teaching strategies ought to be your ability to create fresh contents a) for the course itself, and also b) for marketing your course.
3 important factors you have to consider
What I have discussed so far above concerns mainly with the creation of online course. But this, you’ll discover, is just one part of the whole process.
There are other major factors you must consider for your overall plan of action. And these are directly responsible for connecting with your online students.
a) Hosting your teaching contents.
After you have created your course lessons they have to be uploaded to an online host. This is necessary since your students can be from any part of the globe, and may access your lessons 24x7x365. Your online host should be able to show up your lessons whenever any student wants to learn them at anytime from anywhere.
b) Arranging & delivering your online course.
To understand this, take a look at any book. You’ll never find a book with simply an unarranged mass of words. All those contents in the book will be suitably segregated into chapters, sub-chapters, and sub-sub-chapters with proper headings and sub-headings as the case maybe.
As readers we are conditioned to see a book in that way only.
The same thing happens with an online course. You have to separate the course lessons into main groups, with each group comprising of sub-groups.
If you don’t do this, your students will not be able to follow your course and learn from it.
c) Accepting payments.
If you’re not someone who gives everything for free, you have to work out some ways of accepting money from your students in lieu of teaching them. You may think it’s not a big deal since there are so many ways to take payments online.
But you are wrong.
As I pointed out earlier, your course is out there for access 24x7x365. In other words, there must be some ways to take payments from your students anytime of the day or night.
The other part of accepting payments is even more crucial. This is about re-directing your students to your course lessons immediately after payments have been received. This cannot be delayed for any reason whatsoever.
If you closely follow the 3 factors above, you’ll realize it is manually NOT possible to do these works. They have to be automated with the help of tools better known as SaaS (pronounced sæs) or software-as-a-service.
You have the options for automating your online course in your website, or in others’ websites. We’ll see which one would you choose and why in the following paragraphs.
But suppose you want a simple solution. You’ve small number of dedicated students, and you do not want the rigmarole of using technology that you barely understand.
What could the solution be for you?
Online teaching through email
The easiest way to start online teaching is by dispatching your e-learning lessons over email. There is minimum need of technology in this model.
All you have to do is, send emails to your students in fixed intervals…say once a week. And with each email attach the course materials like a PDF e-book, a PowerPoint file, an audio podcast, an MP4 video, etc.
Payment acceptance and course delivery are not automated. This means after a student pays for your course (through fund transfer, PayPal, etc.) she will not get the course until you manually start sending the emails.
The obvious downside to this arrangement is that it simply won’t work if there is a large number of students. Monitoring every student individually is a very difficult proposition.
And yet this model can work for a teacher who is well-renowned, and has a steady stream of students on the strength of her reputation. She can restrict student intake every month after a fixed number is reached. Doing that way, she can serve her students to their satisfaction.
Is it necessary to have your own website?
The answer, fortunately, is NO.
If you wish to use other websites to sell your courses, remember you’ll have a large august company. Many top online trainers and instructors sell their online courses from other websites even though they may have their own websites.
There is a very good reason for that…which is automation of the whole process.
For example, in Udemy, the largest marketplace for online learning, after you upload the course lessons and create the sales content, it does everything for you.
It will create the sales page, showcase your lessons, accept payment for you, deliver the course lessons, and even collect feedback from the students. And it does much, much more.
For all this Udemy doesn’t charge you anything, but deducts a certain percentage from the sales amount. The great thing about Udemy is that it even markets and sells your course. Not without reason that it currently (as of January 2016) serves over 10 million students, and offers more than 40,000 courses.
There isn’t anything quite like Udemy as yet (especially considering that they don’t charge you money for hosting your course). However, you have some decent solutions for offering courses from your own website when actually the course is hosted in another website.
Selling from your website when the course is hosted elsewhere
This hybrid model is also quite popular.
Let me give a couple of examples that I do for my courses.
My course on graphic designing using free tools is hosted on Teachable. And like Udemy, Teachable too creates the course landing page, accepts payment from students, deliver course lessons, and so on.
At the moment, my free account on Teachable entitles me to a subdomain, but when I pay them a monthly fee, the course URL will indicate my own domain.
When a student wants to buy a mini-course, Gumroad collects payment right in my website (on an overlay). This gives the impression as if the course resides in my website when the fact is, the course is hosted on Gumroad.
Yes, you guessed it right, Gumroad takes a cut from the course price as their fees when a sale happens.
Teachable and Gumroad are just 2 examples.
There are many more websites that offer the same service as them.
Doing both – selling from your website + from others’
Let’s say you’re already selling your course on Udemy. Now for some reason you want to sell the same course or a variation of it from your own website. Further you may wish to make the entire selling arrangement on your website independently.
This solution can be useful for large websites that offer high-priced courses to thousands of students. For them it may be financially prudent to do this instead of sharing good sums of money from sales proceeds to the other websites.
The idea here is to use software solutions for running membership courses in your website. Once properly installed and commissioned, these solutions auto-perform everything for you like arranging and showcasing course lessons, accepting payments by linking up with PayPal, Stripe, etc., delivering the lessons, and so on.
They also give advanced options, which you should go for, like drip-feeding lessons, coupons, bundling of courses, multi-level membership, gamification, analytics, upsells/downsells, and so on.
Both are WordPress plugins and known to be good ones. However, look for some authentic guiding that helps you decide which solution to use for your specific need – not necessarily the two I mentioned.
If that’s you, head over to Chris Lema’s helpful guides for your mettle.
Are you up for marketing?
Marketing is where many of us trip up.
It feels disappointing that we are NOT made up for marketing. By ‘we’ I include myself among you.
But know what, the reality is a reflection of the truism, which in the words of Bernard Shaw is:
If I don’t beat my own drum, who will?
Like it or not, you have to be able to do your own marketing if you do not want to spend money hiring others to do that for you.
The ideal place to start marketing is the social media. It is likely that you’re already using one or more social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.
In that case select no more than 2 platforms for marketing, say Facebook and Twitter, or Twitter and LinkedIn, or similar.
The moot point is you have to feel comfortable using the ones you choose.
While consuming the information from these websites, you have to remember that success in social media marketing can come when you take actions. You may fail, and you’ll know the reason for that, which you will not repeat again.
But if you do not take action, you’ll not know what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, no amount of advice would suffice unless you’re ready to put ideas into actions.
I am a great fan of QuickSprout blog. Neil Patel, the founder, provides actionable tips in every article he writes, and he also explains the steps to go about.
Sometimes you come across insightful suggestions for marketing in QuickSprout, like this one on leveraging Q&A sites like Quora to generate traffic to your website.
We have come a long way since the beginning. To sum up your online teaching strategies, here are the main action steps to follow:
- Start by designing your online course.
- Create your course with suitable teaching materials – text, image, audio, video, presentation.
- Be able to create fresh contents, both for the course and for marketing it.
- Decide on hosting the course, arranging and showcasing it, accepting payments, and delivering it to students.
- Would you sell from other websites, or your website, or both?
- Be able to market your course for definitive results.
This is a big guide.
Do share your comments and opinion below. I’ll be happy to reorient this guide based on your inputs.