How To Develop an Online Course: Full Step-by-Step Case Study

laptop displaying Todd Herman's 90 Day Year Membership site built with AccessAlly

 

When you’ve never done it yourself, online course creation can feel like a mysterious and complex undertaking.

Luckily, there are successful course creators we can learn from, and the process they follow to develop their online courses tends to look similar.

In this step by step tutorial for how to develop an online course, we’re going to focus on best-selling author Todd Herman’s multi-million dollar online course.

Shining the Spotlight on Todd Herman and His Multi-Award-Winning Online Course

If you’re not familiar with Todd Herman, he’s the creator of the Leadership & Skills Development Program, 90 Day Year.

He’s the author of the WSJ bestselling book, ‘The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life’, and recipient of Inc. 500’s Fastest Growing Companies Award.

His professional programs are delivered annually to over 200,000 professionals in 73 countries.

His online course “90 Day Year” runs on the AccessAlly course platform, and we’re proud to have him as a client.

Now let’s take a look at what Todd has done to create and sell his online course so successfully.

#1 Start with a successful one-to-one client framework

Online course creation

One thing that many would-be course creators want to skip is the one-to-one work of getting clients results… and developing a unique framework for repeating those results.

Todd Herman has been working with elite performers in the world of sports and business for over two decades. As a result, he’s been able to spot common patterns among his clients, and come up with his own approach to solving their problems.

If you’re just starting out and you haven’t worked with clients one-on-one, then I highly recommend you prioritize this type of work before creating an online course.

Your course participants will thank you for it, because they’ll be going through a course based on a proven framework that gets results.

This brings us to the next point…

#2 Decide on an achievable course promise

Before you can develop an online course, you need to get clear on what an achievable outcome will be for your students.

If you’ve followed step 1, then you know what your clients might expect after working through your framework… so then the question is whether you can translate that to your online course or not.

Having worked with clients 1-to-1, you’ll also have gotten a sense of what people are willing to pay for and how they talk about solving their problems.

In Todd’s case, he realized that business owners were spread too thin and having a hard time performing optimally. He knew the roadblocks his clients faced, and he could promise a 4x improvement based on his previous work.

The concept of the 90 Day Year, and the promise that goes along with it, is that you can get a whole year’s worth of progress in just 90 days through this course.

Your course promise should be easy to understand, appealing, and speak to your clients’ most pressing needs.

#3 Reverse engineer the customer journey into your online course

How to make online courses

There are many ways that an online course can factor into your business model.

Maybe you’re….

  • An author like Todd, who wants to have book readers become online course students
  • Looking to use your online course as an additional stream of revenue beyond your one-to-one client work
  • Using an online course to educate people before they join a live event
  • Complementing a physical product with an online course component
  • Offering training to corporations and teams

The way that people enter into your work and world will help you decide how best to guide them to the next step.

When designing your customer journey, you’ll want to think about how people find out about you, and what problems they most need help with at that point.

For example, in Todd’s case there are multiple ways that people find out about his online course. Some might see him speak, buy his book, or hear about his work from an alumni of the 90 Day Year.

By designing a clear pathway for people to get a taste of the course, either through a free video series, a sample chapter or sample course module… you can give prospects an idea of whether or not your course is right for them.

#4 Decide on a course format

This might seem like a no-brainer, since most online courses use videos… but knowing exactly how you plan to deliver your course will help you down the line.

In this step of the course development process, you want to play to your strengths.

If you’re a natural on camera, then choosing to record straight-to-camera videos makes sense. If you prefer to have supporting visuals, then using slides and speaking over them might be better.

In Todd’s case, his video format has stood the test of time, and he focused on putting together short and actionable videos.

With each video, there’s also a corresponding exercise PDF or workbook companion.

You might also decide here if you want to include things like quizzes, homework assignments, and other touchpoints to help students check their understanding of the material as they go along.

#5 Define your course communication and facilitation plan

When it comes to online course creation, we often focus so much on the content that we forget the people on the other side.

Chances are that you’ll want to offer some sort of interactive component, whether that’s through an online community or forum, live facilitation or group coaching calls, or ongoing email communication.

Maybe even all of the above.

If you’re running your online course “live” with groups enrolling and participating all at the same time, then you can more easily facilitate the learning process through live calls and communication.

On the other hand, if your course if entirely self-paced, you might need to automate some of the course communication… but you’ll still want students to be able to get in touch through a customer support channel like email.

With the 90 Day Year, the program runs live a few times per year, and Todd is available to answer questions and coach participants through live group coaching calls.

Get clear on how much time you can devote to facilitating the course: it can be a big “make or break” factor in your students’ success.

#6 Outline your course content and start to map it back to your course promise

How to Develop an Online CourseOnce you’ve decided on how you want to deliver your online course, and how much facilitation you’ll be able to bring to the table… it’s time to map the flow and structure of your course.

You can do this by breaking down your framework into modules and lessons.

Or drawing a flowchart of how you expect to onboard new students, and which topics you’ll cover, and in what order.

It helps to give each step of your framework its’ own name, so that everyone taking the course can have a common shorthand when talking about the material together.

As online course creators, it’s tempting to want to include “everything we know” into our courses… and this is to the detriment of our students, and ourselves.

Go through your proposed course curriculum with a fine tooth comb and remove anything that does not directly contribute to achieving the course promise.

For example, in Todd’s long career, there were countless additional strategies, examples, and techniques he could have included in his course…

But to make sure that students didn’t get overwhelmed and stayed focused on the big promise of the course (getting a year’s worth of productivity in 90 days!)… he left those out.

#7 Create your online course content, record videos, write materials

Real talk: this is the hardest part of the course creation process… but it’s not because writing scripts or recording videos is hard.

It’s because as a creative or teacher, you might have a hard time committing to one specific way of saying things… or one particular example to include and which ones to leave out.

Essentially when you put together your materials, you’re entering the land of perfectionism and in turn procrastination.

Getting stuck in content creation mode is common among course creators… but here’s where we can take a page out of Todd Herman’s book.

When you step into your alter ego, you can focus on delivering a top notch performance to your students and course participants.

And remember: your videos and content won’t need to live on forever. You can always launch your course, use feedback from your students, and improve from there.

If creating course content has kept you stuck in the past, it’s worth considering doing a “live beta course” where you deliver your lessons live instead of pre-recording and pre-editing them.

#8 Set up your online course website

Online Course Creation Tips

Unfortunately, I see a lot of would-be course creators spend all of their time trying to decide on which platform they’ll release their courses. (Instead of actually launching!)

One thing that Todd Herman did was get the first version of his course out, so he could get students in the door… this helped him validate his course promise, get glowing testimonials, and earn money early on.

That gave him the flexibility to then find the right course software platform. Here’s what he had to say about his course platform evaluation process:

"After an extraordinary loooong search for the right platform, we’re moving all of our memberships on to AccessAlly. Thanks for building such a great product to make it happen.” - Todd Herman

Now when you’re just getting started, it’s fine to do it all yourself. But Todd knew that bringing on a team was key to growing his course’s reach and business income, so he hired Jamie DuBose at Zenplicity to set up his new course site.

This is what she had to say about the move:

“Before we started using the AccessAlly course software, there was a bottleneck because there was only one “tech guy” who could make changes to course content, which was inefficient. 

Because AccessAlly is a WordPress-based plugin, the team was able to make additions or edits to content quickly and more effectively without worrying that making those changes would “break” the system.”

You can compare different options, and one of the big decisions you’ll want to make is whether to start with a hosted option or a self-hosted WordPress site.

Either way, designing your course website is something that’s unique to each course and business owner. Todd’s site has evolved a lot over the years.

#9 Test your online course: registration, progress tracking, and completion

One thing you won’t find on most “how to develop an online course” lists is the testing step.

As the course creator, you might know exactly how things should flow from payment, delivery, and so on. But unless you personally run through the steps as if you were a student yourself, and ideally have a team member or colleague do the same…

You won’t find the little corner cases that often get forgotten, but could cause a lot of admin headaches down the road.

As Jamie DuBose said, when they were creating Todd’s AccessAlly course website:

“We wanted to create a membership experience that would make content accessible from wherever they were in the site, so customers would stay engage longer.

We architected customizable dashboards that made it easy for customers to find and consume course content as well as track individual progress.”

That kind of course design is extremely effective, but without testing it to make sure that students saw the right dashboard or that their progress was being tracked properly… you can’t be sure your course is ready for prime time yet.

Take a look at our course testing recommendations here.

#10 Launch your online course

You’ve done all of the hard work, now it’s time to post on social media and watch a mob of excited customers sign up for your course.

How to create an online course

Not so fast.

Launching your online course is an art, and it will take more than just one announcement post or email to get sales.

We’ve got an entire post on how to launch an online course, and what no one tells you about it.

But one thing you can learn from how Todd Herman launches the 90 Day Year, is that you need to build anticipation and make it easy for people to sign up once registration opens.

One thing that Todd has done very well over the years, is to empower his course alumni to become affiliates who help him spread the word about the program.

He rewards his affiliates with a commission, and gives them the tools to showcase their success stories in connection to the course.

If you’ve never set up an affiliate program yourself, then read this to get the lay of the land.

#11 Iterate and improve your online course over time

Once you’ve welcomed your first cohort of students, it’s time to celebrate but remember that the party is just getting started!

No online course is ever really “done”, and the best online course creation happens with feedback from real people.

You might decide to change up your course website’s navigation to make it easier to find things… You might write a few more follow-up emails for students who fall off the wagon.

Or you might re-record or update some of your materials, based on where students seem to get stuck in your course.

Using a learning management system for your online course will give you some of this data, but the best way to make sure your course is hitting the mark is to ask your students directly.

You want to hear from students: the good, the bad, and the results.

The more you can write case studies or have success stories to share from your students, the better. That’s one thing that the 90 Day Year is known for: people get results, and they tell their friends about it.

Todd has continued to improve his course over the years, to remove the things that didn’t deliver on the course promise… and to add those that would.

Your Turn to Dive Into Course Creation Mode!

Now that you know how Todd Herman put together his online course, it’s time for you to plan yours.

If you’re an author who has a ton of material already, then make sure to set some time aside to work with clients or hone in on which area your course will deliver solutions for.

Or maybe you’re a blogger or community leader who wants to create more of a recurring membership site than a course. There’s a lot that applies from this course creation process, too.

Hopefully this step by step case study for how to develop an online course gave you a strong start to get going!

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Todd Herman

Todd Herman

Author, Speaker, Coach

“After an extraordinary loooong search for the right platform, we’re moving all of our memberships on to AccessAlly. Thanks for building such a great product to make it happen.”

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