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How to Come Up with Online Course Ideas That Sell

Struggling with how to come up with online course ideas can leave many aspiring educators feeling stuck, watching potential students slip through their fingers. 

The challenge of finding a unique, in-demand topic can be daunting, turning the exciting journey of course creation into a roadblock. 

Imagine overcoming this hurdle and transforming your ambition into a compelling course idea ready to inspire and educate. Dive into our guide, where we'll unlock the secrets to identifying and validating your perfect online course idea, setting you on the path to success in the bustling world of online education.

4 Essential Steps for Online Course Ideation

You could trawl through lists of hundreds of course ideas, but this neglects the two most important ingredients of a successful course: you, and the student.

To come up with an amazing course idea, you need to understand these two stakeholders in great detail, and these steps will help you do just that. 

Step 1: Understanding Your Audience

Alright, picture this: You've got a brilliant (but vague) idea for an online course, something you're excited about and know a ton about. 

Before you dive in and start creating content, there's one crucial question to ask: Who am I making this course for? 

Understanding your audience is like mapping out a treasure hunt; it guides every step of your journey and makes sure you end up with a chest full of gold (or, in this case, a successful course).

Identify Your Target Audience

First things first, who's going to be interested in your course? Think about the kind of people who might find your course as the answer they've been googling for at 2 AM. 

Are they beginners in your field looking to learn the basics, or are they more experienced folks wanting to level up their skills? 

The clearer you are about who you're talking to, the better you can make your course suit their needs.

Defining your target audience

Many course sales pages will even outline the target audience in the copy.

Analyze Audience Needs and Challenges

Next up, let's play detective. What do your potential students really need help with? What's stopping them from achieving their goals? 

Here's how to find out:

  • Surveys and Polls: Shoot a quick questionnaire to your followers or email list asking them what they'd love to learn from you.
  • Social Media Listening: Jump into online groups or forums where your audience hangs out. Look for questions that pop up often or topics that get people excited.
  • Direct Conversations: If you can, have a chat with some of your potential students. You can learn a lot from a 15-minute conversation about what they're struggling with and what they want to achieve.

Leverage Feedback

If you've already been sharing content online, whether that's blog posts, videos, or podcasts, you've got a secret weapon at your disposal—feedback! 

Which of your posts are getting thumbs-ups, shares, or sparking conversations? This is like having a sneak peek into what your audience is really into and can give you great ideas for your course.

What if You Don’t Have an Existing Audience?

If you're starting without an audience, understanding your target audience involves a bit of detective work and creativity. Here's a concise guide:

  1. Define Your Niche: Clearly identify the specific area or topic you're passionate about and can offer unique insights into. This specificity helps attract a like-minded audience.
  2. Research Online Communities: Dive into forums, social media groups, and platforms where people interested in your niche might hang out. Sites like Reddit, Quora, and niche-specific forums are gold mines for understanding what potential learners are looking for.
  3. Analyze Competitors: Look at what similar course creators or content providers are offering. Note what works well and where there might be gaps in the market you can fill.
  4. Create and Share Content: Start small by creating valuable content around your niche—blog posts, social media posts, or videos. Use these to gauge interest, gather feedback, and refine your approach based on what resonates.
  5. Engage Directly: As people begin to interact with your content, engage with them. Ask questions, solicit feedback, and encourage discussions to deepen your understanding of their needs and interests.

This process will help you build and understand your target audience from the ground up, ensuring your future online courses are well-tailored to meet their needs and interests.

Don't Try to Be Everything to Everyone

By the end of this section, you'll have a good handle on who your course is for and what they're itching to learn. Think of it like setting up the perfect birthday party: knowing what your friend loves means you can plan the activities they'll enjoy, pick a cake they'll drool over, and avoid anything they're allergic to. 

Similarly, understanding your audience lets you create a course that's just right for them—making it a hit before it even launches.

And don't be afraid to highlight who your course isn't for as well -- don't be afraid to narrow in on your ideal student and craft the course around their needs. 

Defining who your course if for

At Thrive Themes, we even go as far as to define who our courses aren't for and what not to expect. 

Step 2: Analyzing the Market

Now that you've got a handle on who your audience might be, even if they're still a bit of a mystery, it's time to play market detective. 

You wouldn't set sail without checking the weather, right? Analyzing the market is like checking the educational winds and currents before you launch your course ship.

Review the Competition

First up, let's peek over the fence at what the neighbors are doing. Don't worry, it's not snooping—it's smart! 

Search for courses similar to your idea. What are they offering? How are they engaging their audience? 

This isn't about copying homework. 

It's about understanding what's out there and thinking, "How can I do this differently or better?" If you find a crowded space, don't panic. It means there's interest. Your job is to find your unique twist.

Market Demand

Now, let's figure out if people are actually searching for what you want to teach. 

Tools like Google Trends or keyword research tools can be your best pals here. They tell you how many people are looking up topics related to your course. 

Think of it like fishing where the fish are biting. No use setting up in a spot where there's no action.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Finally, what makes your course the shiny object in a sea of options? 

Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is your superhero power. Maybe it's your teaching style, a unique angle on the topic, or an irresistible course format. 

This is your "Why choose me?" answer. It's what makes your course stand out in a crowded marketplace and gets your audience thinking, "Yes, this is exactly what I've been looking for!"

Find your unique selling point

This unique selling proposition is that they're not just going to teach people to sell, but they're going to do so without having to resort to sleaze or manipulation.

Putting all the Info Together

Analyzing the market is like putting together a puzzle. It might seem daunting at first, but piece by piece, you start to see the bigger picture. 

You discover where you fit in, how to stand out, and where the best fishing spots are. 

So grab your detective hat and fishing rod—we've got some exploring to do! Remember, the goal here isn't just to add another course to the pile. It's to create something that speaks directly to your audience's needs, in a way that only you can.

Step 3: Ideation and Validation

Alright, now that we've dipped our toes into understanding our budding audience and scoured the market like modern-day explorers, it's time to light the creative fires. 

Ideation is where your course begins to take shape, not just as a spark of inspiration but as a beacon guiding eager learners your way. 

And validation? 

That's the reality check to ensure your beacon isn't a lighthouse guiding ships onto the rocks.

Brainstorming Techniques

Let's kick off our brainstorming party with some fun. 

Yes, fun! 

Grab a whiteboard, a notepad, or even a napkin, and start jotting down every course idea that comes to mind. No idea is too wild or too tame. Think of this as a brainstorm buffet—everything goes on the table. 

Mind mapping can be a fantastic way to visually plot your ideas and see how they connect. Or, if you're more of a digital nomad, plenty of online tools can help spark that creative energy.

Creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Now, before we go building the educational equivalent of the Taj Mahal, let's start with a garden shed—a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 

This is your course in its simplest, quickest form. 

Maybe it's a short series of videos or a compact guide. The idea here is to test the waters without sinking the ship. 

Can you get people interested? Will they sign up? 

An MVP is like sending out a recon drone before the main invasion—it tells you if you're on the right track.

Pre-Launch Strategies

Think of pre-launch as the drumroll before the big reveal. It's all about building anticipation, excitement, and, most importantly, a line of eager learners waiting at your virtual door (here's our go-to pre-launch checklist). 

Start by teasing content on social media, perhaps offering a sneak peek or behind-the-scenes look at what you're creating. Consider running a webinar or a live Q&A session about your course topic to whet appetites and collect emails. This isn't just about hyping your course; it's about confirming that people are ready to leap when you say "jump."

Validation Station

Validation is the final stop before full production. Gather feedback on your MVP, engage with your pre-launch audience, and really listen to what they're saying. 

Are they excited? Confused? Crying out for more? 

This feedback is gold—it's what lets you refine your course from a rough diamond into a sparkling gem.

Use the Heart and the Brain

Ideation and validation are like the heart and brain of your course creation process. They work together to ensure that what you're passionate about creating is also what your audience is craving to learn. 

So unleash your creativity, embrace feedback, and remember, every great course starts with a single idea. Let's make sure yours shines brighter than the rest!

Step 4: Aligning Course Ideas with Your Strengths

Alright, trailblazers, we've navigated through the wilds of understanding our audience, scoped out the terrain of the market, and brainstormed our way into a storm of ideas. 

Now, it's time to match those grand ideas with what you're truly brilliant at. This step is like choosing the perfect outfit for a first date; you want to show up as your best, most authentic self.

Assess Your Expertise

First off, let's do a little self-reflection. What are you an absolute wizard at? 

This isn't the time for modesty; if you've got skills, flaunt them! 

Think about your experiences, your victories, and even the failures you've learned from. Your expertise isn't just about what you know; it's about what you've lived. That's the secret sauce that can make your course uniquely irresistible.

Personal Brand Alignment

Next, consider your personal brand. 

Yes, you have one (and here's how you can use it in your website)! It's what people say about you when you're not in the room. 

Does your course idea fit with the story you're telling the world about who you are and what you stand for? 

If you're all about making complex subjects feel like a walk in the park, ensure your course reflects that approachable, friendly vibe.

Online coaching website

Example of personal branding page templates in Thrive Theme Builder

Passion and Sustainability

Now, let's talk passion, because, let's face it, creating a course is a marathon, not a sprint. Is this topic something you can talk about until the cows come home, and then some? 

Your enthusiasm is contagious; it's what will keep your learners engaged and what will keep you energized through the late nights and early mornings. Plus, passion is the fuel that helps you push through challenges and keep your content fresh and exciting.

You’re the Secret Sauce

Aligning your course ideas with your strengths, personal brand, and passions is like finding the perfect pair of shoes for a long journey. They need to fit just right, feel good, and take you where you want to go without leaving you with blisters. 

This step ensures that your course not only stands out but also stands the test of time, growing and evolving as you do. So, let's dive deep, match those brilliant ideas with what makes you shine, and create a course that's as authentic and captivating as you are. Onward, creators!

Next Steps: Bringing Your Online Course Idea to Life


You've brainstormed and refined your brilliant online course idea. Now, it's time to roll up your sleeves and bring your vision to life. 

Let's walk through crafting a compelling course proposition, choosing the right tools for creation and delivery, and setting up a feedback loop for continuous improvement.

Crafting Your Course Proposition

With your unique course idea in hand, define what transformation your course offers. What will your students achieve or be able to do by the end of their journey with you? Make this crystal clear; your course isn't just a series of videos or articles—it's a bridge to their goals.

When structuring your course, consider the journey you're guiding your learners through. Break down your content into digestible modules that build on each other, leading your students from where they are to where they want to be. 

Thrive Apprentice, part of Thrive Themes' suite, is perfect for creating beautiful, engaging online courses right within your WordPress site. It allows you to structure your course effectively, lock content behind a paywall if needed, and integrate seamlessly with your website's design.

Thrive Apprentice sales page

Pricing your course thoughtfully is also crucial. 

Reflect on the value transformation you're offering and how it stacks up in the current market. Don't undersell yourself, but remain accessible to your target audience. 

Consider using ThriveCart or Thrive Apprentice's built-in Stripe integration for handling payments— intuitive shopping cart tools that support various pricing models, including one-time payments, subscriptions, and payment plans.

Choosing the Right Tools

For hosting your course, we've already mentioned Thrive Apprentice, which stands out for its ease of use and integration with WordPress. However, if you're looking for an all-in-one solution outside of WordPress, platforms like Teachable or Thinkific are reasonable alternatives, offering course hosting, payment processing, and student management in one package.

The difficulty with these options is that while they might offer low start-up costs, they charge fees on all your sales. This means the more you sell, the more you pay, which severely cuts into your scalability. Another problem is that you don't own the platform so you get limited say in how you present your brand and grow your business. 

This is why we always recommend that course creators should build their own sites with WordPress

When you do this, you're in complete control of how you market your courses, your lead generation, the way deliver your courses, and every other detail. 

Again though, you need the right tools for this, which is why Thrive's complete set of tools fits the bill. You've got everything you need to quickly build your own website (no coding or design skills needed), create and host courses, and attract new students. 

With Thrive Suite, every detail has been thought of.

  • Use beautiful pre-built themes to give your website the perfect starting point (Thrive Theme Builder)
  • Edit every detail in your image with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop editor (Thrive Architect)
  • Build and host advanced courses with a built in student dashboard (Thrive Apprentice)
  • Create assessments and quizzes to test student knowledge (Thrive Quiz Builder)
  • And much more...

Creating a Feedback Loop

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. 

Setting up a continuous feedback loop allows you to refine and improve your course over time. 

Encourage your students to share their thoughts through end-of-module surveys or a dedicated feedback form. Analyze this feedback regularly and be prepared to iterate on your course content, structure, or delivery based on what you learn.

Remember, launching your online course is just the beginning. The real journey starts with your first cohort of students and continues as you refine your course based on real-world feedback and results. With Thrive Themes tools at your disposal, you're well-equipped to create, deliver, and evolve an online course that not only meets but exceeds your students' expectations.

By following these steps and leveraging the right tools, you're on your way to transforming your online course idea into a thriving educational experience that impacts lives and builds a community around your knowledge and passion. 

Let the adventure begin!

Get Thrive Suite: the Ultimate Course Building Tool Kit!

FAQs: How to Come Up with Online Course Ideas

Q: How Long Does It Take to Create an Online Course?
Creating an online course can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on its complexity and content depth. Efficient planning and dedication to creating high-quality content are key. While faster isn't always better, focusing on quality will ensure your course's long-term success.

Q: Can I Create an Online Course for Free?
It's difficult to create an online course for free because you want to offer students a great experience. This means you will need basic equipment like a good camera and microphone, as well as a way to host your courses. Although there are some start up costs, it pays to get these decisions right because that value will come back to you through improved sales.

Q: How Do I Market My Online Course?
Market your online course by identifying and engaging with your target audience on social media, via email marketing, and through content marketing. Offering valuable related content can draw in potential students. Utilize SEO for better visibility and consider running targeted ads on social media or Google. Encourage word-of-mouth by asking satisfied students to share their experiences.

Your Online Course Should Allow You to Shine

And there you have it, future educators of the digital realm! You're now armed with the knowledge to take that brilliant spark of an idea and forge it into an online course that not only enlightens but also entertains and engages. 

Remember, the journey from brainstorming to launching your course is like crafting a fine piece of art. It requires patience, passion, and a sprinkle of persistence.

Don't fret about getting everything perfect on your first go. The beauty of online courses lies in their ability to evolve. With every piece of feedback and every new student, you have the opportunity to refine and enhance your masterpiece. Think of yourself not just as an educator but as an explorer, charting unknown territories in the vast ocean of knowledge.

With your unique insights, enthusiasm, and the right tools at your disposal, you're more than ready to create an online course that stands out in the bustling marketplace of ideas. 

Ready to turn your idea into a profitable business?

Get Thrive Suite today!

About the Author William P

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