Creating an Online Course on Udemy: The 10 Things I Learned
A few months ago I was approached by the Udemy staff, after they had seen my ebooks and blog posts about photography.
They thought I would be a good match for their growing video training site. They made a persuasive case to participate, and soon I was working on my first Udemy course: Night Photography Unlocked. http://www.udemy.com/night-photography-unlocked/
I had never before created any video training content, and every single step along the way was a learning process. Even though the learning curve has been steep, it has been an enjoyable and challenging experience, and I have learned so many new skills. When Udemy put out the call for guest posts for their blog, I thought sharing what I have learned may be useful for new instructors, or those considering becoming one.
Teach something you’re passionate about
Making a video course is hard work, and if you’re going to create compelling content, you have to love what it is your teaching.
If you’re not passionate about the subject matter, it will come through in the videos and your students will pick up on it. Good ratings are important for a successful course, and if you aren’t excited to teach, students won’t be excited to learn, and few will leave positive feedback. Additionally, a passionate teacher inspires their students and students will be more committed to learning as a result. That means your students will have success.
Set a high standard for yourself – rushing will show and won’t make you look good
There’s a lot of work involved in creating a video training course worth selling (or worth associating your name with, even if you publish for free), and it is tempting to take short-cuts. Holding yourself to a high standard will help ensure that your videos and thus your image is professional and inspires confidence. Poor location choice, minimal post-production, low quality video recording, and worst of all, poor audio will all create a poor impression with potential students, and won’t inspire repeat positive reviews or repeat purchases.
Have a comprehensive plan worked out before you get into the details
To make a course worthwhile, it needs to have a substantial amount of content. You need to be able to thoroughly cover the topic you have chosen to teach. The best training starts with an easily accessible foundation, which is then built upon with successively more specific and detailed topics, which often can interlink. To effectively teach complex topics, careful planning needs to be done to ensure that your students aren’t missing vital background knowledge or assumptions.
On an organisational level, you need to be sure you have everything you need when and where you need it when creating your lectures. There’s no point skipping forward to lecture 15 and talking for five minutes about a point you then realise you need to talk about earlier on to support other lectures.
Google docs are a great way to keep organized
I found that using the online office solution Google Docs (now confusingly called Google Drive) allowed me to effectively keep all of my planning documents together, share them with my production crew, as well as Udemy staff so they could see my progress and offer advice if needed. The collaborative features are useful, but the online nature of Google Docs saved my one day when I arrived on location to shoot, and realised I’d left the print out of my lecture notes at home. I just got out my smart phone, connected to Google Docs and reviewed my notes online. It was a life saver.
Good audio is critical
It’s frustrating trying to learn when you can’t hear what’s being taught clearly. By definition, our students are listening to something unfamiliar, which requires extra brainpower to process. Forcing your students to work harder to hear or understand what you’re saying makes it learning a frustrating, and difficult, experience. A frustrated student won’t become a repeat customer, and they may even leave negative feedback on your course. If you only have the budget to invest in one piece of equipment to improve the standard of your course, it should be good audio recording equipment.
Stage-fright is hard!
There are only a few people taht are so comfortable in front of the camera that they can comfortably talk at length about a complicated topic without hesitation or nerves. That ability usually comes with a great deal of time and experience. I unfortunately wasted an entire evening’s recording when I got stage fright recording a lecture in public where people were walking past. Our setting was time-dependent, and we missed the opportunity due to my nerves delaying shooting – four hours wasted. The best way to overcome nerves is to know your material very well, and to simply push yourself to just get started. I find that once I get into the groove, I’m able to forget my surroundings and talk much more naturally. So just start, and if you have to re-do the start of your lecture over and over, then do it. You students will never know!
Double check everything in the field
Lots of things can go wrong with video shoots. Cameras, lighting, audio etc. Make sure you watch and listen back over what you recorded to be sure that it’s what you expect it to be. I had some technical problems with my audio, which I never suspected would be an issue as it was brand new gear. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that there was a poor connection and all of my audio had very loud hissing and crackling. I should have realised new equipment also means unfamiliarity with that equipment. I had to go back (an hour’s drive each way) to the location another night and record the lecture again.
Video editing is taxing on your computer
Udemy requests creating content in 720HD resolution. As I was setting myself a high standard and I wanted to create my content at that quality (actually I shot and edited everything at 1080p to future-proof it). These video files are large, and when you’re applying post-processing filters to get the best looking results possible, you can put a lot of strain on your computer. In particular, since my course is on night photography, I had a lot of noise in my video, and the noise filter I purchased – Neat Video – was incredibly slow to process. The results were nothing short of jaw-dropping, but the price was that exporting a video after editing was an overnight affair. I hadn’t factored this into my schedule when planning the course, and it caused delays. My advice is don’t underestimate how long editing can take, and you can’t ever have a fast enough computer when editing video.
Don’t set your expectations too high
When creating my course, and after uploading it, I was confidently expecting that everyone would want to sign up, because it was just such a great course! However the sales were much much slower that I was expecting. When I was approached by Udemy to create content for their site, I was enthusiastically told about how there was a lot of demand for photography courses, and how well some of their instructors were performing. Perhaps I heard what I wanted to hear, and my imagination got away from me, but the reality was sales were slow by comparison. I have now reassessed what ‘success’ means for my course, and I understand that (like almost everything else) this is no get-rich-quick system, but it will take hard work over a long period of time to build a reputation, an audience and an income stream.
Despite this, I have great hope for the future, as I can see that my students are responding very positively to my course, and Udemy is doing a great deal to promote not only my work, but also to build Udemy as a whole, which is great for all instructors!
The Udemy staff are great people, they want to help, take advantage of that
And finally, on the topic of Udemy, I have found their staff to be enthusiastic, friendly, helpful and apparently genuinely interested in my success. After all, my success, and the success of their instructors is their success. Take advantage of what they offer instructors. They know what makes a course work, and they have a vision for where they want to take the site. They assign the best people for the job at hand, so their instructor liaisons are approachable and helpful. The mailing list also has lots of useful suggestions for creating and promoting your course. This is a passionate and fast growing community with one eye on the horizon and the other on its feet. I feel excited about my future here. If you decide to become an instructor, I hope you will too.