skip to content

How long does it take to plan and publish an online course?

Researching, scripting, recording, and editing -- just how long does it take to produce an online course? This guide can help you with estimates.

Your online course is going to be the next best thing since sliced bread was invented.

When you can get around to finishing it, anyway.

Or, for that matter, starting it.

Inspiration isn’t the problem: planning is. All of your favorite creators say it took months (or years) to produce their courses, and you don’t have that kind of time.

Heck, even if you do have that kind of time, you don’t want to wait that long to get your online course rolling.

Take a breath. You don’t have to.

Here’s how long it really takes to plan, produce, and publish an online course.

Planning your course content by getting to know your audience

At a minimum, you can anticipate spending a week or two on getting to know your audience and planning the rough structure of your online course.

You may need to spend more time than that on it, so your mileage will definitely vary, but in either case, it’s worth the extra hours. Not only is creating an online course exciting -- it’s quite profitable, too.

Of bloggers who earned $25,000 or more per month from their blogs, around 80% of that income came from selling online courses.

To sell and profit from an online course at that level, you need to approach your curriculum strategically, especially if you’re selling online courses in a competitive subject area.

To that end, you’ll probably need to dedicate at least a few days to customer research.

First, go to the communities where your target audience spends time -- online and offline if you can swing it -- to learn more about what your customers want in a product.

This is an integral part of conducting customer research, and something you absolutely can’t bypass if you want a course your customers will be eager to buy.

You should also take a look at your primary and secondary competitors.

What topics do they cover in their courses? Where are the holes in their curriculum? Could you explain the course content more clearly or comprehensively?

And lastly -- this something many brands overlook -- is there a way you can offer your audience a better overall customer experience with your brand?

Once you have those questions answered, then you’re ready to start narrowing (or, as needed, widening) the scope of your course.

Identify the scope of your course

Courses are best for teaching one primary skill or knowledge that could be learned in one month. Fortunately, identifying the scope of your course doesn’t take even a fraction as long.

You just need to play the process of elimination. What do you want to teach, and out of that, what can students reasonably learn in a month or less?

Chad Troftgruben’s “Designing Animatable PSD Characters in Procreate” is a perfect example of a focused course topic that teaches a core skill that could be learned within a month.

If you feel like there’s still so much you need to teach your students, consider breaking your course idea into multiple smaller courses or selling a membership site instead.

Regardless, once you’ve got your primary skill for your online course nailed down, use your expertise and findings from your customer and competitor research to design your course curriculum.

You should also, at this stage, figure out how you plan on presenting your course. Video-based courses are quite common, as are courses that mix video with digital downloads, private coaching, community support, and/or peer-to-peer support.

Of course, there’s nothing saying your course must have your video content.

Nattie Golf’s “Single Swing Analysis” course, for example, offers a personalized analysis of a golf swing video that her students submit.  

After settling on your online course format, your final step is to figure out what tools you’ll need to bring it to life.

Especially if this is your first course, don’t worry too much about getting all of the latest-and-great tools -- you can easily shoot professional-quality videos on your smartphone and with a simple lighting set-up at home.

You probably have content to use already, too, if you already have some popular blog posts under your belt. Repurposed content isn’t just a great way to save time, it’s a smart way to create content.

After all, your best-performing blog posts resonate with your audience for a reason. Plus, you’ve already put the hours into validating, researching, and tweaking the core content -- on average, blog posts take around 3 hours and 28 minutes to write.

So why reinvent the wheel? If you know the content works, use it.

The same logic applies to your popular videos, too. Monetizing your videos is a cinch when you turn them (in whole or in part) into lessons for your online course.

OK, after defining the scope of your course and figuring out what, if any, content you’re going to repurpose, get ready for the weekend.

Your first weekend course

Once your research is completed, you’re ready to create an online course prototype. Yes, you really are, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

You need to test your findings and assumptions about what your customers are willing to pay for in an online course.

You can create your first course prototype within a week, or even a weekend if you hustle

After that, you’ll probably need about another week -- maybe two -- to continue gathering and analyzing feedback.

As for how to create your prototype in such a short time span, it’s easier than you think. Here’s how.

Outline the structure of your online course

With a rough course curriculum in hand, your next step is to organize it into a logical series of modules.

It’s helpful to work backwards from the end skill you want to students to learn after completing all of your course modules and then create lessons to provide the knowledge they need to acquire that skill.

However, your course prototype shouldn’t address all of these modules all at once -- it’s much better to release a few modules at a time as you gauge your students’ reaction to the existing content and where they want the curriculum to go.

Let’s say you’re creating an online course about writing better character dialogue. One of your end goals for students is to create compelling but natural-sounding dialogue in their novels.

You’re planning multiple modules for this course -- why so much character dialogue is lackluster, why what we don’t say speaks volumes, and how to understand how people really talk, among other things.

While these topics encompass many smaller subskills, they all tie back to one primary skill -- writing dialogue -- for the course.

A skill that you can break into small bites over each lesson, so it’s neither overwhelming nor resource-intensive for you to produce.

It’s simpler than it sounds. You just need the right tools and some free time.

Producing your course modules

Once you know what you’re going to create, you’ve gotten over most of the time sink in this stage of an online course. Producing your course modules with an outline in hand can be accomplished in a matter of days.

(Or, if you’re really ambitious, just one day -- though we’d recommend giving yourself more wriggle room than that.)

There are just a few core tools for creating online courses you’ll need.

A video camera, microphone, video editing software, and video hosting should more than suffice for most creators.

To shave down on equipment costs, you could use a smartphone instead of a video camera, or a camera or smartphone that comes with a built-in microphone.

Video hosting costs can add up pretty quickly, but YouTube can be a free place to host videos if you’re just starting out.

For creators who want the perks of video hosting -- ease of use, organization, and a more professional look -- but don’t want to pay exorbitant fees, Podia may be just the ticket.

You can find out about all of the features that make Podia so creator-friendly, like unlimited video hosting and the ability to sell an unlimited number of products, by joining our weekly demo.

Weekly Demo

Save your spot

Join our demo and see exactly how Podia can help your business thrive.

As with outlining your course, it’s important you don’t produce all of your lessons at once.

There’s little point in creating course modules only to find out later that your students wanted your content to go in a different direction.

Besides that, it’s generally a good idea to break your videos in digestible bite-sized videos rather than Marvel-length movies, such as how YogaKiddy did with their “Como Ensenar Yoga a Los Ninos” course.

There are a few ways you can get the ball rolling in terms of collecting feedback for these lessons.

The easiest way is by writing a sales page where students can pre-order your course.

Not only does pre-selling your online course earn money you can use to develop your course further, but it also builds students’ excitement for your product as they wait for each lesson to be produced.

Even if you’re not comfortable with the idea of pre-selling your online course, you can still have a landing page where students can join your email list to receive product updates and other helpful information from you.

You can promote your sales page in various ways. Rachel Ngom, for example, earned $1,029 in pre-sales by promoting her pre-sale using a webinar.

Similarly, Foundr measured interest in their course ideas by sending out an email that led to landing pages for the course topics they were considering.

They wanted to see which of the course topics attracted the most pre-sales, and subsequently, which courses they should create first.

Similarly, you could also share your sales page on social media or even create a series of social videos to promote your pre-sale.

70% of consumers have said they sometimes visit a company’s website after watching a branded video, and 72% prefer video over text when learning about a new product.

For those reasons -- and because 45% of consumers feel video is the most engaging content type -- sharing explainer and promotional videos on social media for your course pre-sale is a savvy marketing strategy.

Don’t worry if your efforts don’t result in a ton of momentum from the first pass, though. It’s totally normal, and in fact, a vital part of becoming successful.

Learning from failure is a necessary part of the journey towards creating a profitable product. It’s also why creating a prototype before a full-fledged product is so important.

Because, realistically, you’re probably going to stumble.

If you stumble when you’re walking -- which is what you’re doing with a prototype -- it’s easy to regain your footing.

Stumble when you’re in a mad dash and have sunk months into a product, on the other hand, and your business can crash out hard enough to qualify for America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Something that can soften the wobble in your step along the way is creating a script for your online course. Let me explain.

Writing your online course

Scripting vs. improvisation

Scripting your course videos is better for the sake of organization, clarity, and concision.

You don’t need to write a full script and memorize it verbatim, but you should write down some of your key points and examples.

Video editing software can also help you to cut out flubs, pauses, retakes, and other mistakes, so there’s no pressure to record everything perfectly in one go, either.

That being said, improvisation can be used from time-to-time to make your speech sound more conversational and natural -- no one wants to listen to a robot, after all.

If you’re hosting a webinar, mastermind group, or another live event, you can definitely get away with more improvisation, although it’s still best to have some talking points written down.

The secret to scripting is creating a script that’s natural to you -- if it’s not written in the way you talk, you’re going to struggle -- and so will your students.

Write the way you speak

Unless formality is baked into your niche, keep your speech and writing professional but conversational, and very similar to how you naturally speak in everyday life.

Communicating this way can make you seem both more relatable and approachable, especially if there are people in your audience who may not have had as much education as you.

Speaking simply can also be beneficial for your students if many of them don’t speak your mother tongue natively.

If you feel like you speak either too formally or informally, go to where your audience hangs out online and notice how they speak amongst one another.

For example, let’s say you’re teaching a course on skincare. You could go to r/SkinCareAddiction, one of the most popular forums to discussion skincare-related topics.

You’ll see a variety of voices in the forum, but the majority tend to be conversational but well-informed and detailed with a penchant for data and research.

Modulating your voice is an important way of thinking about the learner, just another way to connect with your readers and increase your chances of success.

The more you can speak in your learner’s voice, the more your learner, product, and bottom line can thrive. If there’s anything worth its weight in gold for creating content, it’s keeping the reader at the top of your mind.

Always think about the reader

Humans have never been good at paying attention -- our attention pulses four times per second, according to recent research.

It can be especially difficult for your students to maintain their attention if your course covers a complex topic, goes into great depth, or has lengthy videos.

To increase student engagement, make sure that your lessons are well-paced and challenging enough that students want to complete each module, but not so slow that they feel bored.

One way to accomplish this is by making sure that each video has a takeaway, whether that’s teaching a skill or reinforcing previously taught material.

This course from TheBlueprint.Training, for example, is an excellent model of course videos that address very specific, actionable topics.

Interestingly, research has found that people generally don’t remember what they hear as much as what they see or touch, so incorporating digital downloads, infographics, charts, and other visual elements can reinforce the material for your customers.

As with video content, you’ll want to make sure that your accompanying digital downloads are broken into multiple chapters and subsections that have clear points.

For inspiration and handy templates, check out the digital download and graphic selections at Canva and Venngage. Or, better yet, check out this guide on how to make an infographic from Visme.

Basically, the point of all of these steps -- writing the way you talk and thinking about the reader -- is to develop a connection with your audience.

That connection is what makes your product stand out from competitors, and more importantly, makes your online course effective for the people who take it.

How to develop a connection with your audience in your writing

You may not believe it, but you are an expert.

Because of that, take some time to reflect on how you felt as a beginner and how you wish your learning experience had been different.

Use these experiences to guide your curriculum and teaching style so that you’ll be in a more empathetic, understanding position.

You can also use these past experiences to create marketing copy, such as sales pages and emails, that speak to your customers’ concerns, feelings, and aspirations.

This sales page from Beauty of Selah does an excellent job of speaking to its customers’ feelings with the opening line and the value it offers in just the first few lines.

Another way to connect with your students is by working on your teaching style. Recording yourself and then re-watching your videos, or even seeking feedback from your followers and customers, can help you improve your skills as an educator.

Educator Larry Ferlazzo, for example, found that he was over-explaining and talking too much after he sourced feedback from his students.

Likewise, watching videos of your teaching can help you reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and how you can translate those into a better learning experience.

Look, this is how it breaks down:

While there are multiple ways to connect with your audience, from speaking more casually to improving your equal, they all boil down to treating your audience members as equals and improving their situation in life.

As long as you keep those two points in mind, you should have no trouble creating an online course that resonates with your students.

Earn income as a content creator with Podia

I get it -- you need more time. We all need more time.

Luckily, producing an online course takes a lot less time than most people think.

This is the gist of the steps -- and realistic time commitments -- behind each stage of creating an online course:

  • Planning your online course, especially what skill and modules you should include in your very first course, and which can be saved for subsequent courses (~1-2 weeks)

  • Gathering the tools you need to produce your online course, creating a prototype, and planning the curriculum in more depth (~1-2 weeks)

  • Writing your video scripts, digital downloads, sales page, and any other content you’ll need to either sell or offer your online course (~1 week)

One way to cut back on the time it takes to put your online together is to find the right platform before you even start. Do that, and you’ll have a much easier time creating prototypes, selling your finished product, and organizing your online course.

As it so happens, I know the perfect one for you to try. Give Podia a spin for free today and start earning an income as a content creator.

About the author

Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Taylor enjoys learning foreign languages, fiction writing, and pugs in no particular order.