Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Teaching an online course - top tips - Part 1

In June 2013 I launched my first ever online course called The Art of Typography on the Skillshare platform. Nine months on, the course has reached over 1000 students. I'm pretty astounded by this and obviously very pleased with the success. And whilst I never thought I'd be one counting numbers, 1000 is pretty cool!

So in a mini celebration of this milestone I thought I'd share my experience of teaching an online course, the interaction with students and receiving feedback on the teaching. Hopefully this might inspire some of you to run your own courses as I've definitely learned and gained a lot from the experience.

This is Part 1 of my top tips. The post got a bit too long and I didn't want to bombard you with information. Points 1-4 are a really good starting point. Next week we will discuss the best way to deliver your course, videos, blog posts etc. and how to market your course.

It's all well and good deciding to do an online course but for everyone to get the most out of it (including you) make sure you are passionate about it. This will show in your delivery and should instantly make your course more engaging for potential students. If you are having trouble working out what's your real passion, ask your nearest and dearest. Sometimes they know you better than you know yourself. People would ask my advice about typography without me consciously thinking that's my strong point. I just love designing in general but realised other people saw one of my biggest strengths was type.

Once you've worked out your passion you need to work out if this is something other people would like to learn and know about. Be honest with yourself - there's no point putting your heart and soul into something if you and the students get no gain from it, you want people to sign up to your course! Introduce yourself in an intro video or post. But then focus the rest of the course on what the students will be getting out of it. Use examples of your experience and work to support your teaching but be careful not to just talk about yourself, people don't really want to pay to hear all about you... unless you have some sort of celeb status - then they might!

This is a two step process... firstly research your topic. Are there similar courses available - there probably are! And if there isn't you need to figure out why. You've either thought of a great course which will have huge success because there's no competition or there's simply no need for your course - maybe there's lots of free videos on you tube already covering the same subject. How can your course offer more or stand apart from anything already out there?
There are now quite a few typography based courses on Skillshare. Some are very specific, maybe on hand drawn lettering or page layout. Mine is more a general introduction to all elements of typography. There can be room for everyone to succeed. Just do your research.

The second stage of your research involves your course content. You probably don't know everything or need refreshing on certain areas. I learned so much putting my course together. Particularly about the history of type - I definitely needed a refresh in that area as it had been a long time since I studied it!

This is a very important step and it all depends on what you have planned for your course. Is it a short intense course that will be completed in a week with you on hand constantly to offer feedback, online chats or video calls? Or will it be a 6 week course where you devote 2-3 hours each week? will you set mini projects or one big project? will you be giving feedback to the students? Or maybe you are planning a series of tutorials? You'll have to decide whether the course will have lifetime access once signed up or whether there are set dates the course info is available. Ask yourself all these questions upfront before structuring the course content and working out how the course will be taught... videos, resources, pdf downloads etc.

So that's your starting point. Feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear your initial thoughts and ideas. Next week we will be discussing how best to deliver your course. I'd advise you to take a few online courses yourself before deciding on the best route for YOU. Some courses are entirely made out of video posts - whether that's talking to camera or screen recording tutorials in specific programmes. Some are held on a website where new content can be released each day or week like a blog post. Some are a mixture of both. A lot will depend on your course content and your character!

Useful links - some offer free classes or free trials...

Do some research this week, start making notes and take an online course or check out tutorials on you tube. If you fancy taking my The Art of Typography course I'm offering my blog readers a 30% discount if you follow this link and use code BLOGPOST - alternatively sign up to the membership option for access to lots of classes!

Next week - Delivery, pricing and marketing your online course...


  1. Well done Faye, that's some achievement! 1000 students is an amazing number. I'd love to put a course together at some stage. Thanks for your tips x

    1. Cheers Tina! you definitely should... good luck!

  2. Hi Faye! Congrats and thanks for sharing! I have been thinking about teaching an online class myself, I think it would be a great experience and I really enjoy taking online classes too.

    1. Keep in touch if you do one Lucie! I've just posted the final part so hope you find the info useful x