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What is an ecourse, and do they actually work for making money online?

Can you actually earn money online with ecourses? The answer is yes, but only if you do it right. We explain exactly how in this comprehensive guide to ecourses.

You know all of those great online courses you’ve taken from creators you admire?

You can create your own ecourse and profit, too.

And no, you don’t need any special degrees, certifications, or multi-thousand dollar equipment to produce one, either.

Just consider Masiel (Massi) Encarnación’s example.

In 2012, Masiel was coping with a bad breakup. She knew she had to do something to snap out of it and take back control.

She fell in love with Zumba, became a licensed instructor, and now works as a personal trainer and fitness educator in New York City.

However, you don't need to visit the Big Apple to take lessons with Massi, as her fun fitness training classes are also available as an ecourse on Podia.

Yours could be, too.

In this post, we'll look at ecourses just like Massi's products. We'll examine:

  • What ecourses are and the many forms they take

  • Why ecourses have become so popular in recent years

  • The benefits of taking ecourses

  • How ecourses differ from traditional education

There's a lot to cover, but don't worry - we're here for you every step of the way, Let’s start with the basics.

What is an ecourse?

Ecourses, also known as online courses, are simply courses taught online instead of in-person.

Ecourses are often prerecorded, but they can include live class sessions, mastermind groups, projects and assignments, and many other components to give students a near-identical experience to in-person courses.

Although many popular online courses come from major universities, ecourses can be offered by any person, business, or school.

With a working definition of what an ecourse is, let’s explore the different forms they can take.

Ecourses by content creators

Content creators are simply everyday people and small businesses who create online courses to help students achieve their goals.

Many of the courses through Podia, for example, are designed by content creators, such as this “Tailwind for Pinterest Bootcamp” course by The Purple Teacup Co and “Music Production Mastery” by Full Circle Music Academy.  

For some content creators, creating an online course is a side-hustle or passion project.

For others, creating and selling online courses is their full-time job.

If you’re interested in earning extra income from your experiences and expertise, here’s a guide to coming up with ideas for your online course.

Otherwise, let’s go over some online course types that mimic in-person learning.

Online learning in blended curricula and “flipped” classrooms

Blended curricula and “flipped” classroom courses are typically taught by universities and other large organizations.

Blended curricula classrooms offer both in-person and online sessions for students with unconventional schedules, such as students who work full-time or who live far from campus.

As an example, this Master of Nutrition Science and Policy degree from Tufts University offers a completely online experience, although students gather for a one-week in-person session in Boston each semester.

The University of Michigan, on the other hand, allows students to complete 12 credits online and 18 in-person for their blended Master of Arts in Educational Studies program.

Similar to a blended curricula course, “flipped” classrooms encourage students to learn the material on their own time and complete homework and course projects during class time.

Because blended and flipped courses require so much discipline from students, they’re typically best offered when students have a strong financial or professional reason to attend.

Blended and flipped courses are also often components of a much larger online degree program, which is the third type of online course we’ll cover.

Online degree programs

Given the popularity of online courses, more and more universities are offering fully-online degree programs for students who value flexibility and more autonomy in their education.

As an example, the University of Saint Joseph’s M.S. in Chemistry offers online courses and flexible tracks for working professionals.

Though online degrees and certificates were once offered exclusively by universities, many businesses are now launching their own programs, too.

IBM, for example, offers a Professional Data Science Certificate on Coursera that over 64,000 students have enrolled in.

Students who are looking to better themselves professionally and personally don’t always need to enroll in accredited online programs, however. Self-paced online courses and ecourses work just as well.

Self-paced online courses and ecourses

“Self-paced online courses” is a kind of catch-all term for any online course not part of a formal program.

Because of that, many self-paced courses from universities and business alike are offered on platforms like Khan Academy, Codecademy, and Treehouse, with Coursera and EdX.

For example, this Introduction to Bioethics course from Georgetown University and Philosophy and Critical Thinking course from the University of Queensland are both self-paced courses offered on EdX.

From these examples you can see that ecourses can be offered by any type of creator -- a content creator, small business, large business, or university -- and address any topic under the sun.

But why are there so many online courses offered in the first place, and what makes them such a hit? Read on to find out.

Why are ecourses so popular?

Online courses are quite popular because of their low barrier to entry, affordability, convenience, and overall topic variety.

In fact, the number of students taking at least some online courses grew by over 350,000 between 2016 and 2017 -- an increase of 5.7%.

Online courses are suitable for both traditional academic subjects like literature and philosophy to hands-on, skills-based lessons on crafting, programming, and everything in-between.

But before delving further into what online courses can be about, let’s address why they’re such a hit with students across the world.

Reduced barrier to entry in skilled professions

With ecourses, students can learn from professionals who’ve been in their position before and who have a mix of theoretical and hands-on knowledge.

This is in contrast to standard classrooms, where professors may predominantly have theoretical knowledge and little real-world experience.

For example, creator Yazzi Huerta of The Soulcial Design has a background in digital media. She uses her experiences to teach spiritual and wellness entrepreneurs about technology and social media.  

Similarly, Fraser McCulloch of Platonik has over 25 years of business experience, including having built over 250 lead generation and ecommerce stores.

He uses this background to offer information-packed courses and a membership program to teach professionals and digital agencies about SEO.

Taking online courses from teachers who are not only extremely experienced but also who’ve been in their students’ position before is definitely a win for online courses over many formal academic courses.

As an added bonus, online courses typically have few-to-no entry requirements for students.

For most online courses, as long as a student can pay for the course, they can enroll in it.

If there’s a hole in a student’s knowledge, the more elastic pace of online courses means students can take time to review modules or find supplementary resources.

Another benefit of online courses is that this expertise often comes at a much lower cost than your average academic program.

Just how much more affordable? Check out the cost breakdown in the next section to find out.

Significantly more affordable than traditional education

From 2017 to 2018, the average cost of tuition at a public university was $9,970.

That number climbed to $25,620 for out-of-state students at the same public university and $34,740 for students at private schools.

Those prices can often climb higher, too, if your school doesn’t include things like technology fees, gym fees, and other extraneous costs in your tuition price.  

One of the main reasons why tuition is so steep is because tuition needs to cover hundreds of expenses, from the salaries of  university staff to campus renovations and maintenance.

With online courses, costs are typically much lower because there are fewer expenses associated with offering them.

In a study of 133,000 course sales from Podia creators, our research found the average course price was $182.59 -- much more palatable than paying thousands for one college course, wouldn’t you agree?

However, you’ll find online courses at all price points.

Vlog Your Ministry’s “Create a Stunning Church Welcome Video” sells for $20, whereas Vanesa Arauz’s “Aceleradora Transformacion Holistica en 6 semanas” is available for €997.

Furthermore, online courses offer much more financial flexibility.

For university programs, students must submit pages of paperwork in order to receive a scholarship or financial aid potentially.

With online courses, creators can offer payment plans and discounts to students for whatever reasons they deem fit, whether that’s to help lower-income students or reward long-time students for their loyalty.

As an example, Eventistry by Alecia offers a payment plan for her “Sponsorship Masterclass”, whereas many creators use discounts to help their audience afford their courses.

If you want to offer more generous payment terms and perks for your students, you’ll enjoy Podia’s platform.

As a Podia creator, you can offer your students payment plans, coupons, and run sales so you can both grow your business and reach more students.


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Regardless of your platform of choice, don’t underprice your course for the sake of getting more customers.

Online courses can offer much more value per dollar than traditional degree programs, so you can justify a higher price if your course offers great value to your students.

Considering the average amount of student loan debt in 2018 was $29,800, charging a few hundred for a course that would cost thousands from a university can be easier than you would think.

Additionally, because ecourses are offered by individual creators, they can have more accessible payment terms and discounts than colleges and universities.

More than just financial flexibility, ecourses often offer significantly more convenience and accessibility, too.

Convenience and accessibility

Ecourses can be completed wherever, whenever.

This perk is especially beneficial for students who may live far from their university’s campus or whose schedules don’t allow for travel to and from classes.

56% of students who took online courses exclusively in 2017, for example, lived within 50 miles of their school’s campus.

While that may not seem like that great of a distance, it can feel lengthy when you need to commute to school daily or juggle school with other commitments.

Keeping with that flexibility, ecourses typically offer much more elastic deadlines -- if any -- than courses offered by large institutions since students don’t need to keep pace with schedules and semesters determined by the university.

Students aren’t limited to universities’ limited topic range, either.

Diverse range of topics and subjects

If you can think of a topic, there’s probably an online course about it already.

The beauty of ecourses is that they can teach both traditional academic subjects and topics that are too niche for universities to offer.

For smaller creators, however, scaling is seldom a concern as long as they have a small but loyal following.

Mandy Vu and Virginie Viguié, for example, offer online courses and a master class about maternity and newborn photography.

Midnight Medical Coding offers a course on medical coding, whereas Mojca Zove teaches students about Facebook ads.

Worried that your niche is too saturated for you to make an impact -- and profit?

It’s possible for creators to sell an online course in a competitive subject area by using their unique teaching style and experiences to offer a customized learning experience.

This is in contrast to most college classes, where the curriculum is supposed to be taught objectively and uniformly regardless of which professor teaches it.

However, don’t worry if your niche is “boring” -- it’s possible to create engaging online courses regardless of your specialty by using online communities, student projects, and digestible videos.

Online courses’ popularity is due in no small part to the flexibility they offer students, from the topics they can pick from to their various price points.

Now that I’ve waxed poetic on the benefits of online courses for students, you’re probably wondering how they can benefit makers as well.

I’m not one for spoiling good news, so you’ll have to read on to find out.

What are the benefits of online courses?

Online courses offer creators multiple benefits, from passive income to personal growth and development.

First up, we’ll go over online course’s most immediate benefit: offering additional income.

Passive income

You are an expert, or at least more of an expert thank you think.

Online courses can be a great way to earn passive income, whether you’re looking to diversify your income streams or transition from your 9-to-5.

As an example of how profitable ecourses can be, consider Natalie Bacon, who tripled her income within one year by selling access to six digital products, three of which were online courses.

Similarly, SmartBlogger earns around $100,000 per month in online course sales, $60,000 of which could be considered “passive” income.

Of course, online courses will take some initial investment to become profit-generating products.

Depending on your course, you may spend several hundred to several thousand dollars to develop the course in the beginning.

But even though these costs may seem steep, you probably won’t need to take out a loan to fund your business.

58% of side-hustlers chose to fund their side-hustles out-of-pocket, and 38% didn’t incur any additional expenses.

So although creating online courses will probably cost you something in the beginning, they can often bring you many times that figure in profit.

What online courses require in startup costs, they often make up for in high-quality, hands-on education.

One that reaches a lot of people, for that matter.

Broaden your audience

Regardless of your field, online courses can help you appeal to a broader audience.

Online courses can help you attract new segments of your audience, such as people who are online course aficionados or who couldn’t afford your higher-priced products.

Selling online courses can also be a savvy way to increase your income if you have a service-based business, such as if you want to make more money as a life coach or earn more as a wellness coach.

Because many ecourses are offered by content creators and small businesses, they can be offered at different price points or on a sliding scale, thus appealing to a larger customer pool as well.

In hand with professional development, designing an online course can also help creators further their personal growth.

Create more compelling courses by pre-launching

When you pre-launch an online course, you can design the lessons to adhere to your students’ preferences and requirements.

But how does pre-launching an online course result in a more student-centered course?

Easy -- because you involve your students in the course design process.

Instead of creating and releasing all of your modules all at once, you release a few initial modules, assess how your students respond to them, and then create more lessons based on their input.

Even if you don’t pre-launch your course, slowly releasing course content can be a smart strategy.

Cantolounge, for example, offers multiple mini-courses for students who want to learn Cantonese.

Cantolounge’s approach to course creation is worth mimicking.

Releasing small courses regularly allows creators to gradually build their audiences, get feedback for each micro-course, and pivot course directions if need be.

Additionally, slowly releasing course modules allows creators much more room for experimentation than releasing one fully completed course.

If you’re interested in pre-launching an online course, check out these tips for a successful and profitable course launch, or better yet, pre-launch your own with a free, no-obligation trial from Podia today.

Start earning money from ecourses today

Ecourses, also called online courses, are simply courses that teach students through prerecorded video or other digital mediums instead of in-person sessions.

Although ecourses and in-person courses have many similarities, their differences are what makes ecourses such an exciting direction for the future of education.

Some of the benefits of ecourses over in-person courses include:

  • Online courses can cover any topic imaginable, from marketing to data science and floral arranging.

  • Online courses are often taught by instructors who have years of both theoretical and hands-on experience.

  • With virtually no entry requirements and an exclusively online curriculum, ecourses can be taken anytime, anywhere by any student who wants to learn the material.

  • Ecourses usually have a significantly lower price tag since it takes fewer resources, employees, and salaries to produce.

Creating and selling online courses is an excellent way to earn a profit from your passions while helping others to develop themselves professionally and personally.

Start selling online courses today to see just how lucrative -- and impactful -- your online course idea can be.

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.