How to build awesome online course content (with examples)
Now that you’re equipped with inspiration, an idea, and a firm grasp of the best content types to build your online course, the fourth chapter of this guide takes you from concept to development with detailed how-to instructions for creating your materials. We’ll cover the ins-and-outs of how to produce screen recordings, talking head videos, audio files, and text-based supplements.
In this chapter, we’ll show you how to produce effective content in each of the four primary formats. As you create this content, drop it into your online course platform. We recommend Podia, of course, but these tips will work on any platform of your choice.
How to create video course content
There are two common types of online course videos: screen recordings and talking head videos.
1) How to create screen recordings
A screen recording video is exactly what it sounds like: a recording of your computer screen.
In this kind of video, you can either record a slide presentation (e.g. a Google Presentation or PowerPoint), like this example from Justin Jackson's course...
…or you can record tutorial-style videos that show your students how to do something, like this example from Mackenzie Child's course…
If this is your first video, start with the simplest tool (i.e. the free one). After you get comfortable with the basics of recording, you’ll be churning out multi-video course modules in no time.
2) How to create talking head videos
A talking head video is one in which you record yourself speaking to the camera.
These can be really effective for explaining less technical concepts that don’t require a visual component. The benefit of talking head videos is that the reader gets to see you, which helps them get to know the creator behind the course. Don’t underestimate the impact this has on how much your students get out of your course!
You can record these with the same tools mentioned above -- or even filming with something as simple as an iPhone -- with one important caveat: lighting really matters here.
Allan Branch, founder of Less Films, suggests:
Anyone can add professional production value on the cheap with better lighting.
Your lighting should be soft but set up with a purpose so that you don’t look like a creep in your closet.
Try setting up your desk lamp (I recommend using two lights) at different angles and do some test runs to see how you look on camera. You may even find that repositioning your desk gets you a much better picture. The important thing is to play around with your space and see how it actually looks on camera!
Speak as if you were talking to a friend, rather than lecturing a class. Your video will come out more engaging, authentic and interesting to your students!
Don’t worry about your video looking polished or professional. Your first videos probably won’t, and that’s okay! The most important thing is getting started and putting something out there.
An external mic is the best way to improve audio quality, and these days, a great one can be had without splurging too much. Allan recommends a Blue orb ($49 on Amazon).
If you are looking for a deep dive on the most popular free and low cost software tools creators use to record, edit, and create their courses - check out our guide 13 Essential Tools to Create and Sell Your Online Course. And if you want an even deeper guide on creating videos for your online course, see our tips on How to Record Video for your Online Course.
How to create audio course content
The benefit of audio content is that your students can take it “on the go” with them and listen to it anywhere, just like podcasts or music.
Unlike video — where stellar visual content can make up for subpar audio recording — with audio content, the audio is all that the listener has to consume, so you need to make sure that your recording sounds great.
Your built-in computer or phone mic is probably not good enough for this. We suggest picking up Allan’s recommended mic on Amazon.
For the best sound without a recording studio, record in a room with thick carpeting, heavy curtains and soft furniture. Minimize flat walls and straight corners as much as possible, as these will produce echo and reverb that you don’t want in your recordings.
How to create text course content
Text content is the simplest of all: just write your content and drop it into your course platform, no extra tools or skills required.
You can create great text content even if you don’t consider yourself a “good” writer. Here’s how:
Think about the problem you’re solving with each piece of course content.
Imagine that a friend sent you an email asking for help solving that problem.
Then, simply write exactly what you’d send them in that email reply.
That’s it! That’s your written content.
You don’t have to worry about making your writing sound polished, because your students aren’t going to be worried about that, either. They just want their problem solved, and addressing them like you’d address a friend is the best way to do that.
Writing tip: If you’re having trouble getting started, start by recording what you want to say as a voice note on your phone. Then, transcribe it (or spend a few dollars on Fiverr to have it transcribed for you) and treat the transcription as your first draft.
You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
How to create PDF course content
PDF content is great for giving your student a handy reference that they can look at anytime, or for creating worksheets for students to fill out.
Examples of effective PDF content include:
“How to” Guides
I asked Mackenzie Child, Podia’s first designer extraordinaire, for some tips on creating better visual content. Here’s the wisdom he shared:
There a few things people can focus on to help make their visual course content better.
The hierarchy of your content is important. It helps your reader know they should read X first, Y second, and Z third. You don’t want a giant wall of copy as that’s hard to digest. You want to make it easy and enjoyable to consume the content you make.
Visual Hierarchy can be changed through the use of size, color, and spacing around an element. If you need inspiration, grab a book on your shelf and look at how they format the headings compared to the main text.
Everything should always be on a grid of some sort (both vertically and horizontally). When elements are properly aligned, it helps the reader scan down the page without having to make their eyes jump around, and that makes for a more enjoyable experience.
Let your content breathe. Don’t try to cram too much content on a single page. Spacing helps to visually group elements together, as well as separates them from other elements, making it easier to scan through and consume the content.