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30 July 2019

How to Create a Custom Online Course Website From Scratch

How to Create a Custom Online Course Website From Scratch

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Online education has become the hallmark of the 21st century. No wonder it is challenging for many course creators to have a competitive edge. Learners are spoiled for choice and opt for courses with quality content, a responsive website interface, gamification and a pinch of soul. Yes, those who think over every detail of the course and create a custom e-learning platform that smoothly interacts with learners, win the engagement and dedication of the latter. So let’s turn into learners ourselves and find out how to create an online course website from scratch.

Why custom?

Why make your e-learning platform custom when there are plenty of MOOCs like Coursera or Udemy on the market? Most learning management systems have a reputation for cheap and poorly-designed courses, being difficult to navigate, and for a bad learning experience. What if we make our own online courses website with a custom e-learning interface and unique content? 

 Here’s just a couple of benefits of the custom course:

  • Personalized design that will fit your business, your teaching goals and will make you noticeable.
  • Search engine friendliness, which is crucial, for bringing learners to your website. MOOC platforms usually have higher rankings in Google, but your course might be in the middle of nowhere compared to other popular courses.
  • Good scalability and flexibility, that allow you to modify the structure of the course, add or remove learning modules, and integrate the platform with third-party services.
  • The ability to focus on your target audience and pursue a learner-first approach rather than focus on the tool itself.

An actionable guide to creating an online course

1. Define your target audience

First and foremost, think about your prospective learners. Why will they need this course, what skills and knowledge will they acquire? There are few people that learn for the sake of learning, most of us do it to gain a certain knowledge or a skill. So make an outline of the benefits that learners receive from the course and create the course content with those in mind.

2. Provide learning content

The next step is to brainstorm over the learning content for your future audience.

Select the content. The keyword here is ‘select’. The art at this stage is to understand what information to leave out in order to make the course shorter but more intensive. Sort through the piles of content and throw away everything that is watery and which digresses from the learning goal.

Structure the content into modules and make a course plan. Group together your similar themes, tips, and ideas into modules. After that, make logical bridges between those modules so that the whole material forms a flowing sequence of lessons.

Determine the delivery method. Will I have videos, reading content, activities, audio content? What type of visuals will I have? Will I have community learning areas? Think through all these questions. Make sure you have a balance of visual, audio, and practical methodologies. Thus, you’ll keep learners engaged and provide a memorable learning experience.

Start the production phase. This is when you start filming, recording, and editing your online course. The method of delivery depends on your audience’s preferences, however, the video has always been considered the most effective one. This could be a ‘talking head’ video in which you are on camera and have the relevant information in the background. Another method is called screencasting in which you record your computer screen. 

Believe in your course. This is last—but not least—a rule that works in every sphere of life: Do what you LOVE to do. If you’re not passionate about the topic of your course, who will be? The list of possible topics to cover is endless. Choose the one you have experience in and pass on the knowledge you have.

What else is important?

Gamification

This is the introduction of game elements, such as challenges, competitions, leaderboards, awards, etc. Gamification ensures high levels of learner involvement, so their information perception rates are increased. So what are the ways to introduce gamification in a learning course? 

Progress tracking. People are motivated when their achievements are acknowledged and they can see their progress. 

custom lms

Source: Dribbble

Social learning. Sharing your achievements is even more satisfactory than making them. Social shares work as an effective nudge to keep going until the end of the course. 

custom lms

Source: Dribbble

Point systems. Award your students points for module completion or for individual tasks. Of course, these are not real awards, but the feeling of satisfaction is still generated. 

custom lms

Source: Dribbble

Content unlocking. You can give access to more advanced parts of the content on the basis of each learner’s success in understanding the course material. The more diligent ones will be able to go through all the modules in quick succession. Others can take their time and progress at their own pace.  

custom lms

Source: Dribbble

Standards for easy content distribution

They are needed for your course content to be compatible with any LMS. There are four types of standards: AICC, SCORM, xAPI and H5P. 

AICC stands for Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee. This is the earliest standard first used by the aviation industry (hence the name). AICC is robust, straightforward, and good at tracking learners’ progress through courses.  However, SCORM is more popular these days.

SCORM. Stands for Shared Content Object Reference Model, a very popular standard for content distribution, especially videos and quizzes. It allows students to progress in a linear fashion through a course and bookmark where they are when taking breaks. SCORM produces such useful data as course progress, assessment scores, completion status, percentages, points gained, screen time, etc.

XAPI (Experience API). This standard is a successor to SCORM and allows learning data to be produced by any LMS and from any online and offline learning experience. For example, watching a video, borrowing a library book, attending lectures, participating in a forum discussion—these activities can all be recorded by xAPI and stored in a learning record store (LRS). It provides more detailed learning data than SCORM and works on mobile devices.

H5P. This is a web-based content collaboration framework that makes it easy to create, share, and reuse any interactive content like videos, presentations and quizzes.

3. Design it

A custom UI design for an online course enhances the overall UX in various ways for each separate course. Here we’ll talk about the core principles of a learner-friendly design.

Keep it simple and clear.  Show only what is necessary on a particular screen and don’t overload users with information. Good design is always invisible and doesn’t distract users from the main goal – learning. Don’t try to be clever and edgy by over-inhabiting your course website with neologisms and rarely-used words. It’s ok to use them occasionally, but your main goal is to make the interface easy to understand and intuitive. Don’t use confusing language or professional terminology. Try to present the information in layman's terms.

custom lms development

Source: AGENTE

Pay attention to details. Small glitches in the interface can be nothing in the grand scheme of a web system, but they may drive users crazy and create a rather frustrating user experience.

online course platform

Source: UI Art

Make a consistent UI. It enhances usability and learnability. It gives a learner a clear understanding of how to move further and where to find support.

consistent UI

Source: Dribbble

Personal brand recognition is much more than making your course stand out from the crowd. It gives your product personality and shows your integrity, ethics and professionalism. People respond more readily to personalized messages and tend to show loyalty to the brand.

4. Build an e-learning platform

Now it’s time to develop a website for an online course. There are three must-have qualities a successful online learning platform should possess. It should be adaptable, secure and custom-built.

An adaptable architecture of the platform allows learners to proceed with the course at their own pace, receive timely support, and decide whether they need more theory or more practice. And what if the course runs smoothly and the learner needs more? In this case, the platform may give the learner more advanced information.

A secure e-learning platform allows all the learner’s personal data to be stored on a dedicated server with no third-party access. Your authorship is also secured, which is extremely important nowadays when there are lots of copyright breach cases. Strong multiple backup systems will ensure no data will be lost in case of emergencies. Timely security updates and patches will provide a strong barrier against malware.

A custom platform is designed to suit a particular course structure, give your course a personal voice, and establish 24/7 technical support to manage any operational problems.

5. Think of marketing and distribution strategy

To make your online course website profitable, 90% of your work needs will focus on marketing. Covering this step is worth a whole separate article. Generally, there are five ways in which you can bring new customers to your online course:

  • organic traffic from Google;
  • paid traffic from ads;
  • social media traffic;
  • email marketing;
  • PR traffic coming from other websites, previous learners, your affiliates, etc.

6. Set the price

You’ve worked hard to share your knowledge and skills with the world. Now it’s time to think about the pricing. Here are the basic pricing models:

Free. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get anything. Free courses can generate leads for your future paid courses and showcase your expertise. If your business is not only about training, free courses can help you attract potential customers for your other services or products. You can also offer a free mini-course before the official fully-fledged one.

Basic one-off payments. This model is very popular as it offers an affordable price, but try not to make the price too low. It may take away from the educational value of the course. Most paid courses come with a one-off payment

Subscriptions. In this case, you offer your customers a recurring payment option where they can pay for their membership of the course on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. This allows potential learners to choose a suitable option according to their needs and budgets. A membership site provides gated content that gives access only to subscribers with certain levels of authorization.

Premium. This pricing model is a subtype of the subscription model, utilized when you offer exclusive content, an extended course offering more features, or an advantaged course. This option provides a better learning experience. Fewer people will take this option and so they will be able to connect more with the teacher and each other. You can offer personal guidance and training for your premium learners to advance in the topic.

7. Test it

Let’s assume you’ve studied all the necessary information, learned the pitfalls and created your custom platform. What’s next? You have to test it. Gather a focus group that will represent your learner personas, and ask them to use the platform and complete the course. Their feedback on the contents, design and overall tone of the course is invaluable. Work on the course to comply with the wants and needs of the focus group. This way you’ll make sure your online course is ready to teach its first real students.

Three common mistakes course creators make

Before you start building your online learning platform, please make sure you steer clear of these mistakes:

No plan. Building an online course website is a multi-stage project that requires planning. Spend some time to outline each step to avoid delays in the future.

Lack of resources. Something great and of value can’t be built in one day and at a cost of $100. Invest in the course and it will pay off.

Misallocating resource. Thank god, you have a budget. But this doesn’t solve the problem. You may fork out on one thing and have no money for the other, more important thing. For example, you might make a lot of super-cool animation (which may distract the learner) yet have absolutely terrible audio quality in your video lessons. Invest in the basic, most necessary attributes.

online course development infographics

There is no one-size-fits-all courses platform that will be equally engaging for learners, secure and convenient for creators. But probably, this is for the better. Your e-learning platform is the place where you can stand out and demonstrate the knowledge you can give to people. You and you alone.


To discuss your next e-learning project, don't hesitate to contact AGENTE team.

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