Lessons learned from building my first Udemy course
Posted On August 4, 2019
It is amazing how today, a person who wants to learn something new can do so from the convenience of home, on his own terms and schedule. Access to education has never been so easy. We have a real opportunity to push for better results on both the qualitative and quantitative aspects.
Udemy contains a huge variety of courses. Topics range from programming languages to machine learning to personal finance or even meditation. I am a recurrent user of the platform and have enrolled to more than a dozen courses in the last years.
What does it take to create a course on Udemy? What are the challenges? These were some of the questions that started surfacing in my mind. Soon, the idea of creating an Udemy course became pretty tempting, but first, I needed to decide what topic I would teach.
For over 10 years, I have led different teams and interacted with many individuals. I gained a broad understanding of what kind of activities have a positive impact on results or effectiveness. I wanted to have a structure, a set of easy-to-follow guidelines, for people who are getting started in their careers. Using this course can give them an advantage and save their time.
The more I think about it, saving time is one of the core reasons for the course. As you become older, you realize how precious time is. Spending days, months, or years doing typical mistakes or not delivering to your full potential is wasteful and a shame. Building something that would help others avoid wasting time became my next goal.
Since I’ve never done this before, my first question was “how do I get started?” I discovered that Udemy has a lot of courses on how to build courses. Even without those, from the moment you open an instructor account, Udemy provides you with a lot of free resources. They share articles, FAQs and onboarding email campaigns that guide you.
One of my strategies, when it comes to learning something new, is finding someone who was successful in that topic and learning from them. I was pleasantly surprised that Phil Ebiner, one of my favorite instructors, has a course about how to build online courses. After watching his course, I had an overview of what I needed to make this project happen.
Building an outline for the course, was one of the initial steps. I started with a short brainstorm session using my favorite mind mapping tool, MindNode. I threw a lot of ideas on what aspects of personal development would be the most valuable. In the end, the result was a simple, bullet-point list with 6 topics. It is quite funny to see now, that the course ended up having 16 lectures. So, think of this bullet list as an initial direction for the course, just be ready to change it.
I wanted the duration of the course to not exceed 60 minutes. I gave myself one month to complete the project and so I began.
Sound and lightning
Last year, I purchased a Canon 6D Mark 2 for my dropshipping business, because I wanted to have good quality pictures for my products. Knowing that the camera could also record video, I was not really worried about the quality of the image. However, one critical aspect of good image quality is, lightning.
I recorded in my home, in a room that has natural lighting and used a soft light to reduce some of the shadows. One surprising factor for me was that in some videos the lightning conditions varied. When you are using natural light as the main source, remember that you will have some days more cloudy than others.
Next was sound. I set for myself, from the beginning, expectations that were not so high in terms of sound. I thought the integrated microphone of my camera would be enough. Boy…I could not have been more wrong.
Once I recorded my intro video and submitted it to Udemy evaluators for feedback, the main point for critique was sound. Room echo was an issue that I had not expected.
I started evaluating what kind of hardware I needed to improve the sound quality. Youtube is your friend for this. There are thousands of reviews on equipment for photography or videography, on cameras or mics. Plus, Phil’s course on how to make courses has an entire section dedicated to the equipment.
I ordered a Rodeo and Blue Yeti microphone and I continued recording to hear them in practice. The difference was clear, like night and day. I was so impressed by the quality of the sound, that I decided to scratch some of the previous recordings and redo them. In hindsight, I should have discarded them all and recorded them again. However, I had a self-imposed deadline in place, to remind me that this project needed to be done.
Especially, since by the end of the month, we would move to a new apartment, the “soft” deadline became a hard one. Internet would only be available after two weeks of moving. Using cellular data for uploading many videos to Udemy servers, did not sound like a very wise idea.
The next challenge that I faced was how to talk in front of a camera. I mean, should I go freestyle, have a topic in mind and see how it goes? Or do I write a script upfront and read it word for word? Or maybe having an outline with the key statements would help?
I underestimated the effort of this part. I discovered that it requires real skill, and like all other technical or non-technical skills, it needs practice and time to improve.
The way how I decided to structure my recordings was by writing an outline and the script ahead. This allowed me to put all my thoughts on paper and have them visible and ready for recording.
I used to record in batches on Saturdays or Sundays, as those were the days I had the room with the best lighting available. Doing three or four lessons in one day was hard, but once completed I knew that I was closer to the end.
When I needed to record my computer screen, I discovered a tool called Screenflow. It had everything I needed. It was simple to use and powerful. It allowed me to highlight some areas of my screen, rescale videos, and add striking effects. I decided to buy “Screenflow” and in combination with iMovie, I was doing the editing of my raw footage over the entire next week. This process was also something new to me, as it took some time to get used to seeing my face on the screen along with all the blunders in between shots.
As I was getting closer to completion, I started thinking about how to get feedback on the initial draft. Udemy provides instructors a tool where you can upload a video and request feedback on image, sound, and delivery. As mentioned before, this led me to retake some of the footage due to bad sound quality. On a positive note, the image quality was well perceived, but I guess this comes when you use a professional DSLR. Delivery was also not my strong suit, but it was good enough to propagate the message.
Additionally, I started asking colleagues and friends for initial thoughts, which proved to be very helpful. They were very supportive, gave constructive criticism and even helped me detect some of the grammar issues.
However, a new sound issue was discovered: sound volume. During a clip, I used to normalize the sound, yet across clips, there was a clear misalignment. Some were louder than others. What made things worse was that even with the specialized Yeti microphone, I discovered (one month later…), the gain throttle was at a minimum. Initially, I did not pay any attention to this. What is “gain”? or these other buttons?…, should be enough to plug it in and use it. Now as I think back on it… what a shame…
Lesson learned: whenever going into an area you have never been before, learn at least the basic concepts and terminology. Always, always check all buttons or nudges on the hardware first.
The time was almost up and one vital aspect that needed to be tackled was how to market the course. Knowing that I would be busy with moving to a new apartment, I had to prioritize where to invest the remaining time. I decided to focus on the landing page, as this has one important mission. Convert visitors to enrolled students.
At first, I looked at other courses landing pages as a source for inspiration and made the initial draft. Once I received feedback from my colleagues, I realized that I needed to do something different. My solution was to outsource the task and hire someone with copywriting experience to rephrase it. Moments like this make me appreciate that sites like Upwork exist. It gave me the freedom to focus on other tasks, while this task was done by someone with more skill and expertise than me.
The next step was to schedule a launch post on multiple social platforms, along with having a dedicated landing page on my website. Canva is my tool of choice for preparing assets, as it is very easy to use, and free. I dropped an image of me from my last recording, added the title of the course, and done. The post was ready and scheduled.
One interesting point was that even before the launch post was triggered, I saw my first student enroll. This was one of the best feelings; when you see all that hard work being put to use, bringing value to other people. At first, I was a little worried because I did not upload all the new videos that needed retouching. But in the end, he gave the course a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. This helped me understand that content is the most important part of all. With the newly acquired knowledge of sound and delivery, I knew that for the future courses or lessons, a rating of 5 out of 5 stars would be possible.
The journey for my first Udemy course was interesting and enticing from all the new things I learned. Find something that you are passionate about, create an outline of the key elements that you, 10 or 20 years ago, would value, and start recording. It is not that hard, and in time, everyone can become good at it. Don’t forget about the sound, check your equipment, invest only if you need it. Many courses are taken on a mobile phone camera and still bring value to their content. Don’t overthink it. Get started and make it happen.