Creating an online course doesn't have to come with a high price tag.
With strategic choices and the plethora of free tools available, launching your first online course is more accessible than ever!
Let's dive into how you can do this without spending a dime.
Choosing a Course Platform:
Your course platform is the foundation where your content lives and where your students will log in to engage with your course.
It also happens to be one of the biggest costs when starting a new course. A few of my favorite platforms run as high as $495 to get started (ThriveCart) or $400+ per month for a plan with all the bells and whistles (Kajabi).
Fortunately, there are cheaper options and even some free ones.
If budget is a constraint, Teachable's free plan is an excellent starting point.
While it's free, it comes with transaction fees—a fixed rate of $1 plus 10% of the course price. For example, if you sell a course for $100, Teachable will take $11, leaving you with $89. Although you can only publish one course with this plan, it's a practical way to start earning money while on a tight budget.
Course Creation Tools:
Aside from the course platform, there are some essential tools you need to create a course. For this section, I've assumed you already have a few things like a webcam on your computer or laptop or a slide presentation tool like PowerPoint or Keynote. If that's the case, you truly can create a course for free.
As for the tools mentioned below, I'll only mention free resources.
For each one, I'll explain why you need the tool and how to get it for free.
#1 - Slide Presentations - The Why and the How:
Why You Need Slide Presentations:
Slide presentations are a fundamental element of online courses. They serve as a visual guide for your content, breaking down complex information into digestible slides that support your teaching. Effective slide presentations can enhance comprehension, retain student interest, and provide a reference point that students can revisit. They are particularly useful for summarizing key points, illustrating concepts with graphs and images, and structuring your course material in a logical flow.
Here's a peek into our Create Awesome Online Courses presentation.
How to Create Slide Presentations for Free:
To craft these essential course components, you don't need to invest in expensive software.
Free tools like Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote are likely already at your disposal. These programs offer a wide range of templates and design tools that can help you create professional and visually appealing slides. PowerPoint, for instance, is known for its user-friendly interface and wide array of functionalities that cater to both beginners and advanced users. Keynote, on the other hand, is known for its sleek design capabilities, making it a favorite among Mac users.
#2 - Recording Tools - Visual and Audio Capture:
Why Recording Tools are Necessary:
Recording tools are crucial for capturing your course's visual and auditory components. They are the means by which you impart knowledge and connect with your students.
A webcam, for example, allows you to record lectures, creating a more personalized learning experience. Audio clarity is also essential, as it ensures your message is heard without distractions or misunderstandings.
How to Utilize Existing Recording Tools:
Your computer's built-in webcam can be a starting point for recording video content. While it may not offer the high definition of specialized cameras, it can adequately capture your lectures. For audio, even if the webcam's built-in microphone isn't of the highest quality, there are ways to enhance the sound through positioning and post-recording editing. Ensuring a quiet recording environment can also significantly improve audio quality.
I personally use a tool called Descript, which is a paid tool but can make subpar audio sound pretty dang professional.
Screen recording software is indispensable for creating tutorials, walkthroughs, and demonstrations. It allows you to capture the exact process or steps needed to perform a task directly from your computer screen. For subjects that require step-by-step explanations or software demonstrations, screen recordings can be a powerful teaching aid.
For example, you might record your screen to walk a student through how to design a webpage, or like we do for CAOC where we recorded our slide presentation. Either way, it's a must-have tool.
Free Screen Recording Solutions:
There are several free screen recording tools, like Bandicam, that enable you to record segments of your screen and download the video. The only restriction is the videos can only be up to 10 minutes long. But you may be able to find other tools that allow longer videos.
This limitation can actually be beneficial, encouraging you to segment your course into focused, manageable lessons. It’s also a good practice for online courses to keep video content concise to maintain student engagement. And remember, you can always supplement the videos like we do in CAOC with text and helpful downloads.
#4 - Video Editing - Refining Your Content:
Why Video Editing is Crucial:
Video editing tools allow you to remove mistakes, add titles and transitions, and create a polished, professional-looking final product. Even if you're not looking to win any video design awards with your course, you need to at least be able to edit mistakes or any time gaps before or after you start talking.
(I should mention if you're really good, you can hit record, deliver a flawless performance, hit end, and may have zero editing to do. So I guess an editor is not 1,000% essential, but I find it comes in handy.)
Options for Free Video Editing:
For those on a PC, HitFilm Express is a comprehensive free option that provides a professional feel with its range of editing features. Mac users can turn to iMovie, which, while simpler, is perfectly suited for basic edits and is a great starting point for beginners.
#5 - Video Hosting and File Sharing - Distribution of Your Course:
Importance of Video Hosting and File Sharing:
Once your content is created, you need a way to distribute it to your students. Video hosting allows your students to stream your content without the need to download large files, while file sharing services enable the distribution of supplementary materials like PDFs or audio files.
Leveraging Free Hosting and Sharing Services:
Again, with Teachable's free plan, you won’t need to worry about video hosting, as it’s included. This can save you from the limitations of free hosting services like Vimeo's two-video-per-month cap.
If you choose another platform that doesn’t include hosting, Wistia’s free plan allows for up to 10 videos, which can be strategically used for your course’s key visual content. For sharing other types of files, a service like Dropbox can be utilized in its free capacity, providing enough space for documents and audio files that complement your course.
With these tools, you could structure your course into 10 bite-sized video lessons(due to Wistia's video number limit on their free plan), but complement the video training with text instructions and other downloadable resources like audio and pdf's.
In reality, it would need to be a pretty short course. Probably just one or two modules with 10 total lessons. If you use Teachable as a platform, you could make it longer, however, since you won't be restricted to the number of videos.
This approach maximizes the free video hosting limitations and focuses on delivering value through concise visual lessons and detailed textual content.
Putting It All Together:
When launching an online course for free, remember that your primary investment is time and creativity. Leveraging free tools effectively allows you to construct a course without upfront costs. The goal is to create a learning experience that is both engaging and educational, despite the budget.