How To Find Profitable Online Course Ideas

Updated on May 9, 2022

By understanding what people want — and what YOU have to share — you can build your digital academy. 

We’re in the midst of the Great Reassessment, a massive gut-check that’s led many to reimagine their lives and what they want to learn, do, and experience. And that’s helped power the meteoric growth in the online learning space — an industry projected to be worth $375 billion by 2026. 

It’s a jaw-dropping opportunity, with endless possibilities for subject matter experts, entrepreneurs, and even passionate hobbyists ready to share their skills with a captive audience. 

The first step, though? Identifying the right online course ideas to ensure you’re maximizing prospective student engagement, encouraging consideration, and driving paid registrations. Here’s how to get started — and how to make an online course to sell. 

#1. Understand the online course landscape — and where you could fit in

If you’re a true subject matter expert — a highly-knowledge authority on a topic, theme, or area of interest, for example — start there. There’s no shortage of people eager to learn from a true pro — a successful entrepreneur or business leader, professional musician, published author, trainer, baker, anyone. So if you’re skilled in and passionate about a specific niche, consider potential online course ideas falling under that umbrella. 

For example, if you’re a digital marketer with experience running high-performing pay-per-click campaigns, start there. Then consider the different topics within the broader “high-performing pay-per-click campaigns” such as:

  • Creating high-performing Facebook campaigns 
  • Getting started with retargeting 
  • How to launch your first programmatic campaign 
  • Optimizing your social media campaigns 

Depending on your desired course format, you could consolidate several modules, each focusing on one of the topics you’ve identified. Alternatively, you could create shorter individual digital courses, enabling students to focus on specific areas of interest. 

And if you aren’t a subject matter expert or don’t have clear-cut online course ideas? Keep reading. There are countless ways to pulse-check your prospective audience and deliver the course content they’re looking for right now. 

#2. Do your homework

Whether you’re armed with a list of potential digital course ideas or need help finding the right topic, the next step is to dig in and do your homework. While there’s endless potential in the online learning space, there’s also competition from schools, businesses, and other independent course creators. To cut through the clutter, you want to ensure your course is filling a need — that people want to learn what you’re eager to teach. 

The best way to do that? Explore potentially competitive courses. A quick online search will turn up related content and courses in your niche — take the time to see what other experts are sharing, how they’re pricing, and if there appears to be an audience. Thousands of online reviews, for example, likely indicate a strong appetite for a certain topic. Some online learning platforms even display the total number of registrants for a specific course. 

Again, these numbers can be a good guidepost when you research and plan. As you’re reviewing, ask yourself: 

  • What themes and topics are people seemingly responding to — and registering for? 
  • How can you lend even more value to your course through content, impact, or even pricing? 
  • What gaps exist — and what “white spaces” could your online course ideas uniquely fill? 

Browsing online learning platforms can also be a good way to get inspiration for your online course. Another approach? Look at search trends. Google Trends, for example, is a free tool that enables you to understand keyword search volume, seasonal trends, and even trend predictions. A simple search of potential topics can show seasonal spikes — indicating prime times to roll out a course — and validate online course ideas on your list. 

Here’s a good example. Search “How to do my taxes online” on Google Trends, and, not surprisingly, you’ll see these queries peak in early to mid-April each year — and that, during this period, there’s significant search traffic. However, if you’re a financial pro considering digital course ideas, Google Trends can also help you compare tax prep topics to other relevant content to identify what has the most year-round potential. Side-by-side, there’s more than double the interest in “how to create a budget” and three times the interest in “how to save for retirement.” 

By understanding what people are searching for right now, you can better brainstorm high-potential online course ideas. Aligning with current search trends ensures your content syncs with what people are looking for, giving your online course ideas higher discoverability and registration potential. This is also a good way to firm up any existing digital course ideas and refine topics, themes, and program names.  

#3. Consider testing the waters with pre-registration

Now that you’ve narrowed your list consider gauging interest by opening a short course pre-registration on your website. This enables you to determine if your audience — or prospective audience — is interested in your online course ideas. If there’s little to no registration, you can postpone or cancel the course rollout without having invested significant time or resources in content development.

At the same time, if there is an interest, you can use early registrants to help guide some of your course development. For example, suppose you’re moving ahead with a “how to save for retirement” course. In that case, you can add a question or two to the registration form, asking students to submit questions or pain points — those responses can then be woven into your curriculum. Likewise, if you start to see common questions or challenges emerging from registrants, you can aim to devote more focus time to those areas. Again, this approach can significantly impact student satisfaction and overall course value.

#4. Ask for feedback — and act on it 

The best time to enroll students in your next course? When they’ve completed your current course — and feel they’ve learned something meaningful in the process. To keep the momentum going, have registration or pre-registration ready to go when a student wraps an initial course — and be sure your next online course ideas feel like natural extensions in their journey. 

For example, “how to save for retirement” may be followed by options like “how to create a trust,” which is also trending. If you’re creating a course about “creating the best paid social media campaigns” — also a high-performing topic — offering a “programmatic advertising 101” allows students to grow their skillset even more. 

#5. Get started

The final step? Don’t wait. The online learning space is growing and evolving constantly, and there’s a real need for targeted course content that delivers value. So dive in now, and you can start refining your model, building your audience, and determining the right online course ideas to develop and promote — and from there, Sensei makes it easy to post, share, and monetize your content directly in WordPress. Learn more

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