Generating online course ideas that will make money seems to be getting more difficult for the masses of entrepreneurs, who have flocked to Udemy and other online course platforms in search of financial freedom. It’s one thing to daydream about online course ideas you’d like to create. It’s another thing entirely to determine if you can turn your idea into a money-making machine.

Maybe you’ve launched an online course or two on a topic you really like, but you haven’t reaped the financial rewards, you were expecting. Or perhaps you’re just looking at the thousands of tech courses on Udemy and elsewhere thinking “how can I ever compete?”

In our Teachinguide database, we can see firsthand the kinds of subcategories and topics that are popular, that are growing in student numbers, that have little or a lot of competition, etc.  So we’re pretty passionate about conveying the fact that it’s important to research and understand these kinds of influences on your online course idea’s profit potential.

In this article, we’ve broken the process of generating profitable online course ideas into two broad phases: Generating course ideas for your online lessons, and determining the profit potential.  For each phase, we suggest some steps you might want to take. Then we finish with a “bonus” suggestion for a profitable online course idea.

Phase 1: Generating Online Course Ideas

This is the easy part, right? I mean you already have 25 ideas listed on a notebook, right?  Just get out your whiteboard and start brainstorming, yes?  Well, that may all work of course, but it helps to put a little structure around your thinking to make sure that you are really considering everything you possibly can and not leaving money on the table. Here are a few things you can do.

1. Answer the obvious questions for brainstorming online course ideas

These include:

  • What are my hobbies?
  • What are my passions?
  • What are my close family/friends/colleagues’ hobbies? Their passions?
  • How have I made money before in my job or otherwise?
  • What skills do I use daily in my job or otherwise?
  • What do I know a lot about?
  • What would I like to learn about myself?
  • What’s a problem myself/my customers/clients/colleagues/friends have?

These should get you going and it’s kind of fun to see just how many things you could consider educating others on. Record your answers freestyle, with no judgments. It’s likely all of your answers could be turned into some kind of online course (or a series of courses).  After this, consider the following additional online course idea-generating steps…

2. Find people’s biggest fears

Would you want to do a downward dog in front of 30 people?

Here’s a fun generator of course ideas. Think of things that people are too embarrassed to do in person, or don’t have the time for. One obvious example is yoga. Not everyone carrying an extra 20 pounds on their body wants to do a downward dog in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror and 30 classmates. Many consider it extremely embarrassing especially if you have confidence issues. That’s why there are a ton of “yogiprenuers” selling courses out there.   

That said, we looked at the number of yoga classes on Udemy. In fact, there are just 10 separate yoga topics on Udemy and the majority of course ideas fall under the simple Udemy topic.  However, in 9 other topics, such as Yin Yoga or Hot Yoga, there are just 1 or 2 courses on Udemy. These would be examples of a “niche” online course idea, which we’ve discussed in previous articles and will discuss later as well. Given the popularity of yoga, they might do well. This is definitely one of the more creative online course ideas.

Speaking of health and fitness, it seems like every day there’s a new trend.  Barre classes, the proper Ketogenic diet, or Pilates might be something people prefer to know a little more about and practice at home first before paying $20 a class and donning tight leotards and throwing their legs up on a ballet bar in public.  Other embarrassing things to do in person? Trying to speak a foreign language, dancing Hip Hop, or singing like Katy Perry perhaps?

As for lack of time, who has time to go to the gym (at least that’s what we tell ourselves, right)? Who has time to learn how to build their own website or how to use the latest, greatest iPhone or social media apps?  Is there a skill that you can teach “in 3 hours or less?” to make life and learning easier for a lot of people? What are some aspects that make great online course ideas?

3. Think about the hot “buckets” of subject matter

You can fill a red hot topic bucket with a LOT of ideas

 Things like “Health”, “Relationships”, “Tech”, “Money/Wealth”, “Arts”, “Relation”, “Politics” and whatever other large buckets you can come up with that get people going. Then start breaking these down or filling the bucket with as many ideas as possible.  So for example, you may not think you know much about “health”. But perhaps you have diabetes? Or your child has ADD? Suddenly you know something about “health”.  You can go from there and list down all the course ideas you can come up with. Surely, you would surprise yourself with how many topics you are knowledgeable of.

4. Create Combinations Of Online Course Ideas

This is called the topic “convergence”. Could you combine, say yoga with wealth? Or, learning an IT skill with health? If you can think of a way to combine your course ideas then that would be perfect.  This exercise will help you create even more online course ideas, some of which could turn out to be a profitable niche.

5. Aim To Create A “Transformation” Within People If Possible

Books about personal transformation are very popular

Delivering transformational learning is a popular tactic for authors, vloggers, motivational speakers, and yes, even to online courses.  This idea stems from the success of the advertising industry in using the concept of transformation to attach emotional experiences to product use.

Have you done something that has changed your life or others’ lives in the past? Maybe you lost a lot of weight after college.  Or you helped someone during a hard time to get back on their feet. OR you finally have your ADD under control. All of these life experiences are transformational in some way. You can teach what you know from those experiences and help others through their own transformation.

So try thinking of online course ideas that you can spin into a transformational course that will give people a big result that they feel good about. There are courses on Udemy that literally use the word “transform” in the title, for example, “Transform your mind – transform your life”.  Which is a lot different than saying “Learn how to be happier”. And what does that title mean anyway? We don’t know but the result sounds great!

6. Find Your Niche

Many successful online instructors will tell you to try and find a targeted niche because it makes it a lot easier to focus your online course delivery on the specific needs of a target group of students/learners. Niche online course ideas provide a way to differentiate yourself and hopefully make your online course ideas more profitable. 

For example, if you choose to focus on creating a fitness course because you work out as a hobby and you are passionate about it and getting fit transformed your life in some way, that’s all well and good. But the competition is steep.

How do you stick out? By finding a niche. Your online course ideas need to stand out among the rest. So for example, you might focus on getting one part of the body fit, something that you struggled with, for example, arms or abs.  You might choose a unique way to get fit, such as working out in a park setting using benches and playground equipment. Perhaps you can create a fitness program for couples who want to get healthy together. Chances are in this kind of category with a lot of demand but also a lot of instructors, you’ll eliminate a lot of your competition by being more targeted with your online course idea.

Finally, being specific helps you connect better with your chosen audience. It helps your communication and marketing as well. Creating a specific resource for a very specific type of person/group signals to your target audience that you’ve created something “just’” for them. And on certain online teaching platforms, this typically allows you to charge a premium price.

Phase 2: Choosing Profitable Online Course Ideas

This phase is often called “validating your online course ideas” which translates to “determine if you should spend 50 hours creating this course” or simply “will people pay for your course?”. How do you know if your online course ideas will be profitable and worth your effort? Just like any business, there is no guarantee of making money but you can always stack the cards in your favor.

What factors contribute to making your online course ideas a financial success? Generally speaking, the idea addresses a very specific and somewhat measurable audience, or customer persona, who are willing to pay for the results the course will deliver.  Even then, you have to know that you have a chance of convincing the audience you identify to buy your course over competitors’. The online course idea you choose should be growing in demand ideally and allow you to create subsequent courses to offer your audience if, in fact, your course ideas turn out to be profitable.  With that in mind, here are some specific tips.

7. Find Your Audience And Determine If They Will Pay

We covered how to validate an audience for your online course ideas in a previous article “10 Steps To Online Course Creation”. Check it out, but here’s a summary. 

Think about everywhere someone who is interested in your topic might go to learn more about it. So, look at Amazon Kindle and audiobooks, Youtube, Slideshare, Quora, Google trends, Facebook, and so on.  You can create a spreadsheet and keep track of the number of purchases, downloads, views, and any pricing or payment information that indicates demand.  From this, you can determine if your online course ideas are ones that people will pay for. 

One nice trick to finding out if people will pay for your online course is to go to the paying course platforms. Coursera posts an annual list of its most popular courses. Here’s the list for 2018.  Class Central also publishes a list of the most popular free online courses. Here’s that list.  You can probably find more like this.

You can also survey potential customers via a Survey Monkey or Facebook group or even on Twitter or Reddit.  

8. Determine who’s your competition

It’s all fine to have narrowed your topic down to a niche with a great audience who will pay, but you have to ask how many people have beat you to it.  Is the market big enough for you considering what’s already out there on Udemy and elsewhere?  Go on Udemy and see how many other courses compete with your topic idea.  Then look at Skillshare and other online teaching platforms.

Also, look at competing instructor blogs if they have one very carefully. Why?  Well, a search for your topic might return a lot of websites and “expert” blogs that are marketing ebooks and courses. But check to see how active those websites are. Is the content recent or outdated? If the expert has a Udemy course, check to see when was the last time the courses were updated. In fact, check all the competing Udemy courses to see when they were last updated.

Courses that haven’t been updated leave you with an opportunity to market your course as “the latest and greatest” on your topic. This is one ingenious way of bandwagoning off other people’s course ideas.

9. Do Real market Research On Your Online Course Ideas

Besides looking at the usual websites and Google trends for audience interest, it pays to research your topic and find out what’s being written about it and what experts are saying that would indicate demand. Market Research can give you ideas and a steer about what people do or don’t find valuable about the topic you are considering. Market Research reports cover growth areas and different sectors. If it’s trending in these reports, then that is great!

Another way to do primary market research is to test people’s interest in your online course ideas.  You can create freebies and e-magnets. Create a checklist, infographic, or guide to generate hype. Offer it to topic interest groups on forums, Facebook, and Twitter. Publish content on LinkedIn or Medium and see how much interest you get. If you are using a lead magnet on a website, of course, have people sign up to be informed when the course is launched.

10. Look For A Topic Around Which You Can Easily Create A Series Of Related Courses

Going back to our workout in the park example, you could come up with other locations to work out such as the beach, and do follow-up courses. If you’ve identified a specific audience such as hot yoga fans, maybe you break your course into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels courses.

Generating Online Course Ideas: Examples

Montessori interest is on the rise

Looking at our Teachinguide database, we can see that for the topic “Montessori” there are just 5 courses on Udemy. The average course rating is 3.2. The topic is “Montessori methods”.  So let’s say you are a teacher or student of the Montessori method, or a parent of 3 children all of whom attended Montessori school – and you are passionate about this very specific (niche) topic. 

Now go and do some research on the interest in Montessori, and you might find an article like this recent one in Forbes titled “The Montessori Comeback”.  Now add to this, parent disgruntlement with the current education system, and voila, you have found a yet-to-be-discovered niche topic on Udemy that has a very specific audience, can provide lots of material for subsequent courses, and will likely experience some growing demand niche topic that can “transform” a child’s life or a eliminate parent worry.

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