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What is an online course? (Definition & examples)

Learn what an online course is, the different types of online courses, and examples of real online courses built by creators.

What is an online course?

An online course is any learning program that is hosted virtually instead of in person. You might also hear online courses referred to as e-learning or ecourses .

Online courses are usually organized into modules and lessons. Some courses — like online classes through educational institutions — are part of a certificate or degree program. Others are more informal courses created by individuals, focusing on a specific new skill or interest, like African history , sketchnoting , or homesteading

Online courses are often made up of pre-recorded videos, but they can also include several other elements for an engaging online learning experience:

  • Live webinars

  • Coworking sessions

  • Discussion groups

  • Coursework and projects

  • Quizzes and assessments

  • Course materials like worksheets and templates

Many creators choose to sell online courses as a digital products . To publish and sell an online course, you need a learning management system (LMS), digital product marketplace , ecommerce website, or an online course platform like Podia.

Anyone can create an online course to share their expertise with the world!

Types of online courses

Here are a few of the most common types of online courses:

Live course: Lessons are taught in real-time, and all students need to attend on a set schedule. Recordings of live courses and webinars can also be turned into self-paced, evergreen courses.

Self-paced course: Students can enroll at different times and work through the course content at their own pace. These courses are often evergreen, meaning that the content and learning materials stay relevant and valuable long after the course launches.

Cohort course: A cohort is a group of students who work through a course together over a set period. Cohort courses often include group discussions via video meetings or discussion forums and live interaction with the course instructor.

Drip course : When students enroll in a drip course, they don't receive access to every lesson at once. Instead, the content is released (dripped) at a set pace. For example, students might unlock a new module weekly until they complete the course.

Online course examples

Sketchnote Academy

Emily Mills is a professional illustrator, author, and the founder of  Sketchnote Academy , where she teaches students sketchnoting (visual notetaking) online.

Emily offers two types of online courses: Self-paced courses , which students can take on their own time, and  cohort programs , where students work through a course together.

Each self-paced course includes evergreen content, making them more flexible for students and less time-consuming for Emily. For example, Emily’s free  Beginner Sketchnote Drawing  course gives new sketchnoters the tools they need to get started.

The Sketchnote Academy cohort programs are small groups of around 25 students who go through a curriculum together over one or two months. The group meets over Zoom to learn, discuss, share progress, and get feedback.

Learn more about Emily's creator business in this product and website tour .

Despegue Musical

Adrian Dalsus is an author and music marketing specialist who teaches independent musicians how to self-promote in today’s industry through  Despegue Musical .

His  flagship music marketing course includes pre-recorded modules so students can study independently. There are also weekly live group calls where students can get support and ask questions. This structure combines the flexibility of a self-paced course with premium access to Adrian's industry expertise.

Adrian also offers mini courses . These courses are self-paced, don't have a live component, and cost less than the premium course. They're a great fit for musicians with packed schedules.

Learn more about Adrian's digital products and audience-building insights .

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