The Ultimate Guide to Launching an Online School

Updated on September 4, 2023

In the modern landscape of education, the concept of launching an online school has gained remarkable traction. The reasons are clear: the growing eLearning market provides opportunities due to its expected growth and demand for digital learning. 

Compared to physical schools, online schools have lower startup costs, which attracts both educators and entrepreneurs. Flexible schedules and easy access to learning materials also appeal to students seeking alternatives to traditional schooling.

This article will delve into the key steps to creating a thriving online school, from planning the format to choosing the right model and content delivery method. We’ll uncover the advantages of having a dedicated website as your education platform and explore WordPress and Sensei as ideal solutions. We’ll also show you how to get started with your first course, create an online campus, and master marketing strategies to attract students. 

Whether you’re an educator or entrepreneur, this guide will set you on the path to educational success. So, let’s begin, shall we?

Mapping out the format of your online school

Launching an online school is an exciting endeavor that holds immense potential for reaching a global audience and providing valuable education. However, before embarking on this journey, it’s crucial to meticulously plan and map out the format of your online school. This planning phase lays the foundation for a successful and sustainable educational platform.

The importance of planning

A well-thought-out plan serves as the compass guiding your online school’s development and growth. It’s akin to constructing a solid framework before erecting a building. Planning allows you to create an effective and engaging learning environment, optimize resource management, and ensure the seamless operation of your school.

  • Creating an effective learning environment: A meticulously planned format cultivates an environment that fosters learning excellence. It enables you to define your teaching methods, curricular structure, and assessment strategies. With a clear plan, you can align these components cohesively to cater to different learning styles and preferences.
  • Optimizing resource management: Efficient resource management is a cornerstone of any successful venture. A detailed plan helps allocate resources – both human and technological – judiciously. This ensures that every aspect of your online school, from content creation to technical infrastructure, is well-managed and utilized to its fullest potential.
  • Ensuring smooth operation: Online education demands technical and logistical preparedness. A comprehensive plan anticipates potential challenges and outlines strategies to address them. Whether it’s technical glitches, scheduling conflicts, or student support, a well-devised plan equips you to navigate these hurdles smoothly.

Understanding your target audience

Central to crafting a successful online school format is a deep understanding of your target audience. These are the learners who will engage with your content, and so you’ll need to learn how to

  • Address various needs and preferences: An in-depth understanding of your audience’s needs and preferences allows you to tailor your online school’s format accordingly. Are your learners seeking flexible scheduling due to their professional commitments? Do they respond better to visual content or textual resources? By gauging these factors, you can choose the most effective content delivery methods and engagement strategies.
  • Accommodate learning styles: Everyone learns differently. Some thrive in visual settings, while others prefer interactive discussions. Your plan should encompass a variety of teaching styles and methods to accommodate diverse learning preferences. This not only enriches the learning experience but also broadens your school’s appeal to a wider audience.

Consideration of resources

The availability of time, financial resources, and technical expertise will significantly influence your school’s format. If you have limited funds, you might opt for cost-effective technology solutions. Similarly, the time and technical skills of your team will determine the complexity of your platform and the speed of its implementation.

Choosing the model for your online school

Let’s explore three prominent models of online teaching businesses: the Academy model, the Night School model, and the Combined model. Each model comes with its own set of advantages and challenges, catering to different learning preferences and circumstances.

Next, you’ll want to consider which of the different models of online teaching businesses – academy, night school, or combined – is best for you. 

Academy model

The Academy model mirrors the traditional school structure, where students enroll in a comprehensive curriculum covering a range of subjects. This model offers a structured and organized learning experience, similar to what students would encounter in a brick-and-mortar institution.

The Academy model offers a comprehensive learning experience through a structured curriculum, fostering deep understanding across subjects and lending credibility to your online school. Additionally, a shared curriculum can encourage community building among students pursuing similar educational paths.

However, the Academy model demands substantial resources in terms of time, effort, and development. Its rigid structure might not cater to learners seeking flexibility or those with specific interests, potentially limiting its appeal.

Night School model

The Night School model offers individual courses that students can choose based on their interests and schedules. It provides flexibility and targeted learning experiences.

This model provides flexibility as learners can choose courses aligning with their interests and schedules. This model also reduces administrative workload, allowing for quicker course development and launch to meet market demands effectively.

On the downside, the Night School model can result in fragmented learning, as students opt for individual courses instead of a comprehensive education. Furthermore, the absence of a shared curriculum might hinder community interaction among students.

Combined model

The Combined model aims to strike a balance between the Academy and Night School models, providing both a structured curriculum and individual course options. This hybrid approach offers flexibility without compromising on a comprehensive learning experience.

This model allows you to strike a balance by offering both structured curriculum options and individual courses. This approach provides students with flexibility and choice, catering to diverse learning needs while still fostering a comprehensive learning experience. Shared curriculum components can also contribute to a sense of community among students.

However, managing a Combined model can be resource-intensive, requiring careful allocation of time, budget, and expertise. Balancing the needs of both structured programs and individual courses can also introduce complexities into the management process.

Choosing the right content delivery method

After selecting the model, the next step involves choosing a content delivery method – a tool that will be used to provide students with course materials. Most online schools primarily focus on offering asynchronous online courses, which students can access at their convenience. Other methods encompass live or synchronous online classes, blended learning, and recorded lectures and videos.

Compared to traditional classroom learning, online courses provide enhanced flexibility and accessibility. Students can engage with courses from any location. Moreover, they differ significantly from workshops and seminars due to their longer duration, typically spanning several weeks or months rather than just a single day. Online courses also eliminate the need for travel and commuting time, a characteristic feature of conventional in-person training programs.

Online courses stand as a popular choice for content delivery due to the advantages they offer to learners. Students can partake in self-paced learning, interact with engaging content, and tailor their learning journey to suit their specific requirements. Enrolled students also benefit from the flexibility to access the course materials at any time, ensuring continuous learning opportunities.

However, online courses are not the only option you can consider. Keep in mind that the choice of content delivery method hinges on several factors, such as the nature of the subject, the learning preferences of the target audience, and available resources.

Other content delivery methods include:

  • Webinars: These are effective for rapidly disseminating topical information and facilitating Q&A sessions.
  • Live tutoring: Ideal for students who may be struggling or seeking a customized learning experience to quickly overcome conceptual challenges.
  • Virtual classrooms: Suited for groups aiming to capitalize on the social dimension of collaborative learning.
  • Discussion boards: A peer-based learning approach that fosters connections between individual students.

Choosing the right platform for your online school

Choosing the right eLearning platform for your online school is a crucial decision that affects how your courses are delivered and managed, and the overall success of your school. The platform you pick can impact the user experience, course organization, and the overall image of your school. 

It’s important to consider factors like how easy it is to use, how much you can customize it, whether it integrates well with other tools, how easily you can set it up to accept direct payments, and the overall cost of setting up and running your platform.

All of this is why online educators prefer to set up a school on their own website, which comes with numerous advantages:

  • Control: When you have your own website, you have complete control over everything – how your content looks, how your site functions, and the data you gather.
  • Customization: Your own website gives you the freedom to customize everything to match your school’s brand and the needs of your students.
  • Credibility: A well-designed website makes your school look professional and trustworthy, which can help attract more students.
  • Monetization: Selling your courses directly on your website means you get to keep more of your revenue since you’ll have fewer transaction fees to pay to third parties. You’ll also have more control over the pricing structures you can implement. 

To this end, many educators benefit from combining WordPress, the world’s most popular website builder and content management system, with Sensei LMS, a plugin that enables educators to create, publish, and sell online courses directly on their website. Sensei’s basic plan is free and lets you publish unlimited courses and build certificates for your graduates. However, to build a fully-fledged online school, we recommend Sensei Pro

If you don’t have a WordPress website yet, consider the Sensei Bundle, which includes a website install hosted on www.WordPress.com, Sensei Pro, the Course WordPress theme, as well as various SEO and security tools. All of this comes at an extremely discounted rate!

With the power of WordPress and Sensei, your online school will benefit from:

  • Easy course creation: Speed up course creation with features such as AI-generated course outlines that provide the skeleton of your course and reusable lesson templates.
  • Efficient management: Manage multiple courses and get access to reports on how your students are faring. 
  • Engaging learning experience: Sensei includes interactive lessons, quizzes, and assignments to enhance learning.
  • Seamless monetization: You can easily sell courses thanks to its integration with WooCommerce.
  • Full customization: Style your WordPress website for a totally branded look, and supplement it with additional plugins for all the customization options you need

Starting with your first course

Launching your online school doesn’t require a full catalog of courses right away. You can kickstart your venture by creating just one course, beginning to sell it, and gradually expanding your offerings as you go. Let’s walk through the process step by step, highlighting how Sensei can simplify and enhance the course creation journey.

Course planning

Before anything else, plan your course meticulously. This involves:

  • Defining objectives: Clearly outline what you want students to achieve by the end of the course.
  • Target audience: Identify the intended learners and their skill levels.
  • Course content: Sketch out the main topics, modules, and lessons that will comprise your course.

Doing this manually can be time-consuming, but Sensei lets you create a course outline automatically using AI. This feature is valuable because it gives you lots of great ideas on how to map your ideas into modules and lessons before you start working and creating content. All you need to get started is to have an idea of your target audience and their skill level. 

Generating a course outline with AI

Creating engaging content

Next, you’ll need to get down to the nitty-gritty of creating engaging content. Fortunately, Sensei helps with this, too, through its Sensei Blocks feature. You can use this to include interactive videos, flashcards, task lists, image hotspots, and questions, which are designed to make courses more engaging.

Puntos calientes de imagen

You’ll also want to use Sensei’s lesson templates, which can be easily reused and adapted for different lessons. These lessons help you maintain consistency across lessons and modules, which is important for the user experience. 

Setting up assessments

Assessments play a pivotal role in online learning. Sensei equips you with:

  • Versatile quiz types: Sensei features seven quiz types that cater to different assessment needs.
  • Automatic and manual grading: Depending on the quiz type, you can set quizzes for automatic or manual grading.
  • Assessment weighting: Adjust the importance of assessments within the course structure.
  • Timers: Add timers to assessments for a controlled learning environment.

Pricing the course

You will also need to consider how you will price your course. Do you want a low price to attract a large volume of students, or a higher price for only the most dedicated learners?

Fortunately, Sensei’s integration with WooCommerce makes it easy to set and test different pricing options. You’ll need to set your courses up as products for them to be sellable. Sensei works with any WooCommerce payment extension, so you can offer courses as one-time payments, subscriptions, or memberships. 

If you’re unsure about the optimal price, consider starting with a reasonable introductory rate. As your course gains traction and student feedback accumulates, you can adjust the pricing accordingly.

Setting a course as a product.

Publishing the course

Once you’ve crafted your course and set pricing options, you can publish it! Because Sensei offers a fully native WordPress experience, this is exactly the same as publishing a post or page. Simply click ‘Publish’ in the top right corner of the Gutenberg block editor.

Creating an online campus

An online campus might not be needed for many online course websites, but if your aim is to create a fully-fledged online school, then it’s an important consideration. An online campus can provide a sense of community and enhance the learning experience.

Sensei LMS offers group and cohort learning, which ensures that students move through the course together. You can schedule content to drip at the same time for all students within a cohort. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that students will interact with each other online, so you could supplement this learning approach with other methods like:

  • Forums: Forums are an easy and effective way to foster a sense of community. Setting up a discussion forum and creating a dedicated thread for each course you offer will immediately enhance engagement. You can do this by integrating Sensei LMS with BuddyPress, a software solution that enables better communication between online communities.
  • Online events: You can also host online events such as live webinars and masterclasses to build your online campus. These provide new opportunities for knowledge sharing and also give students the opportunity to interact face-to-face. 
  • Teacher one-on-ones: The campus-building process also requires students to interact with teachers one-on-one. Sensei makes this possible through the Contact Teacher button you can add to lessons. 

Marketing your online school

The final step, as you might expect, is to effectively advertise the online school to attract students. Various marketing strategies are available and many of them are relatively easy to implement. 

Here are some strategies that are particularly effective for online schools:-

  • Building a strong online presence: You can build a strong online presence through an engaging website, active social media profiles, and a regularly updated blog. If you are a Sensei user, you might also want to submit your courses to the Sensei Showcase for more exposure from an authoritative source. Sensei will then highlight these whenever users land on its site. 
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is also important for course creators. You want your course to appear high in search results, preferably on the first page, to generate as much organic traffic to your website as possible. Basic SEO tips you can implement immediately include using relevant keywords, optimizing images, and creating quality content.
  • Social media marketing: Social media marketing also plays a vital role in your online school. Many educators use different social media platforms to reach their target audience, engage with them, and promote the courses. It’s essential for displaying your expertise and authority, convincing students to choose you. 
  • Email marketing: Email marketing can also be used to keep potential and existing students informed about new courses, special offers, and school updates. MailPoet is a good tool for this because it lets you create a wide range of beautiful emails for nearly infinite purposes, designed to generate loyal subscribers.
  • Partnerships and collaborations: Partnering and collaborating with other educators, influencers, or relevant businesses to reach a wider audience can also help. Leveraging each other’s audiences and connections can lead to new business opportunities.
  • Paid advertising: Finally, you might want to use paid advertising like Google Ads or social media ads to reach a targeted audience. Jetpack Blaze is an ideal solution for WordPress users because of its competitive pricing and ability to place ads across a wide range of WordPress websites. 

Build your online school with Sensei LMS

In this article, we’ve explored how to plan, set up, publish, and promote an online school, and we’ve seen how the best way of doing this is by pairing WordPress with Sensei. This LMS plugin offers a host of features that allow for easy course creation, efficient management of groups & cohorts, engaging learning experience, seamless monetization with WooCommerce, and full customization of your school’s website.

So if you’re ready to create an educational platform that has an impact on your students, get started with Sensei! Choose between Sensei Pro for your existing WordPress website, or the Sensei Bundle, which will create a new WordPress install on WordPress.com with Sensei Pro included.


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