How to come up with an idea for your online course

Yesterday we talked about who should create a course

Yesterday I answered the question, “Who should create an online course?” Today I want to tackle your next question, which is likely how to come up with an idea for your online course. It's the place where a lot of people get stuck.

Before we get started, let's talk about the elephant in the room…

There will always be people who know more than you

When we talk about coming up with a course idea, the first problem we're going to have is our own insecurity. Because no matter what we may know something about, there's always going to be someone who knows more about it than us.

That makes us think we're not qualified to create the course.

It's even worse if someone else has already created a course on the topic, right? Because we look at it and it looks so much better than what we were going to do.

And if we invalidate every idea because someone knows more, or has already created the content, then we're left with no ideas.

What if I let you in on a little secret?

Just because people are smarter than you, or just because people have already created a course before you, doesn't mean they can explain things better than you, or create as much emotional resonance as you, when teaching.

So stop worrying about what other people have done. Stop worrying about who knows more than you. Stop worrying in general. Take my word for it, if you go down this path, you'll walk your way down a path where you'll never be able to come up with an idea for your online course.

Four ways to come up with an idea for your online course

I know people have written books and created courses with this material.

Notice I'm not letting that stop me from writing my own version in about 800-1000 words (because that's really my sweet spot and I don't care if others like to spend an extra 1000 words saying it).

What I want to do is give you four distinct ways to come up with an idea for your next online course. Let's do it.

The quickest way is to ask yourself what topic do people approach you for advice. If you are already a trusted resource for people, this should be a huge blinking sign pointed right at the content you should consider for your next online course. So sit down at the computer and jot down all the things people often ask you about. Or scan Twitter for places where people recommend other people talk to you. Look for those topics and make a list.

The second way is to look at your professional role. There are topics that you know simply because you've been doing it for more hours than many other people. If you're in sales, you likely have had to overcome blockers more than other people. And that is a topic young sales folks could learn from.

You've put in the hours, so look at the skills you use on a regular basis and consider those as areas where you could create a course.

The third way to find a topic for your course is to look at something you've recently learned. When we go on our own journey, we often navigate the entire process starting from when we were a newbie. This is something that's harder to remember if we're creating content after we've become an expert. It's hard to be an expert and think back to what life was like when we knew nothing.

But when you've just learned something, that experience is fresher and more accessible. Which makes it a great topic. So even though you've only just brewed your second batch of beer, that may be the perfect time to create your new “Getting started” course. You'll be better able to walk people thru the initial challenges.

Lastly, look at what people are searching for. It might surprise you. I left this for last on purpose. I prefer the first three methods because they come from your own experience. They're not shaped by the world out there.

But that doesn't mean that Google, YouTube, and SEO tools can't help you find what people are searching for. It's a great way to come up with ideas simply because it may shock you to realize what people want to learn. Often it's how specific the questions are that clue you into your ability to meet that need.

Additionally, there are sites out there like coursemethod.com that do this kind of research for you. Here's their 50 most popular searched for topics in 2019.

What do you do now that you've come up with an idea for your online course?

Figuring out your next course topic can take days, weeks or months. But sometimes it takes minutes. You have it. One of the four approaches above closed the deal for you and you now what you're going to teach. Awesome!

But now what? What's the next step?

Next we'll look at how to shape that course outline to keep people engaged. Sound good?

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.