How To Sell Online Courses

How To Sell Online Courses
Julia Tim/
Summary: This article is for those who are planning to sell online courses as a business. If you fall into that category, you’re tapping into an outstanding business opportunity. But rather than add to the justified hype in that direction, let’s get to the actual nuts and bolts of how to create, format, market, and sell online courses. This article is about doing rather than dreaming. So, how exactly do you sell online courses?

Tips On How To Sell Online Courses 

If you want to sell online courses that are ready to go and properly formatted for Learning Management Systems, you can skip the parts about creating and formatting them (though there are some useful tips there as well) and go to the marketing and selling sections of this article.

So let’s get to it.

Creating Content

  1. Create valuable course content. 
    • Identify your audience.
      Get as detailed a vision as you can of who your target customers are. What do they want to learn? Why do they need to learn it? Is it to gain a certification to advance their careers, learn an essential skill that will improve their prospects or achieve compliance in their industry? That’s the kind of course content people will pay for. It has value to them because it helps them to achieve their goals.
    • Hang out on forums where your target learners are.
      Get to know their likes, desires and gripes. Find out about the challenges they face. That will help you to mould your course offer to address their inner motivations more directly and thus create real value. Talk to a few of them – it can’t hurt, and you can get valuable insights.
    • Pitch your material appropriately.
      What level of education do your target learners have? What knowledge are they likely to have already about the field? Knowing this will help you to make the courses just right – not too hard, not too easy.
  2. Differentiate your offer. 
    • Do one thing and do it well.
      Focus on a niche and aim to build a brand in it. Unless you have a substantial budget and plan to run a whole online university, you’ll need to have a specialty. Build a loyal following first - you can diversify later when you’ve got a good number of learners on board.
    • Try to offer a special hook.
      What makes your courses different from the rest? Could you target a particular demographic with an approach that appeals to them? Microsoft Office skills for silver surfers would be one example. Or use enticing titles like “Time-Saving Tips & Tricks” in your subject area. Those are just two ideas. Get creative with this and shape your offer to draw people in and get them reading the course description.
    • Put a learning path before them.
      Plan a series of courses that have a straightforward progression and take them on a learning journey. Make the learning outcomes clear for each stage of the journey. That way you won’t only sell one course to them, but a series of courses. Keep them coming back for more.
  3. Write compelling content. 
    • Make it clear why they need to learn this.
      List learning objectives and outcomes.
    • Make it as interactive as possible.
      Get learners to do active tasks frequently, like checklists and worksheets.
    • Prune your materials to get rid of any content that is not essential.
      This gives it more impact and makes it more memorable.
    • Split it into chunks that are easily absorbed and roughly equal in length. 
    • Use short paragraphs and bullet points. 
    • Stimulate more than one sense.
      Use video, audio and images to convey knowledge as well as text.
    • Make sure key learning points are repeated often.
      Set quizzes to test their knowledge along the way.

Formatting Courses

If your budget is substantial you can hire one of the many excellent Instructional Designers out there to make the courses for you. However when starting out it might be more prudent and affordable to make the courses yourself.

If you are making them yourself, start by thinking of some of the great and memorable textbooks, classes, presentations, or eLearning courses you’ve come across in the past. Why do you remember them? They were presented in an accessible, attractive format that drew you in and carried you from one point to the next. You can do the same with your online courses by designing them with quality images and graphics, and using an appropriate format to convey the information.

Unless you are using one of the industry-standard authoring platforms, an easy way to achieve good formatting is by using PDF or PowerPoint. It’s possible to create quality courses using just these everyday tools.

With PDF, you can make files read-only or read-write with areas that learners can edit. This makes for a basic level of interactivity – they can take notes or answer quiz questions within the PDF.

PowerPoint can also work well if you are careful about keeping the layout consistent and accessible. PowerPoint now has a free plugin called Office Mix which enables direct export in SCORM format, which is recognized by most Learning Management Systems.

Which brings us to SCORM. Short for Shareable Content Object reference Model, SCORM is a set of standards created for web-based educational technology. You need to make your course content SCORM-compatible to make it work on all applicable Learning Management Systems. That way, your courses will have a greater reach and be useful to a wider audience. There’s more about SCORM here.

Discover the best LMS Software to Sell your Online Courses
Compare the Top Learning Management Systems with Shopping Cart Functionality!

Offer Your Courses On The Right Platforms

With formats that conform to SCORM standards, there are a lot of choices for platforms to offer your courses on. One of the most widely used of these is Moodle, which is a free open-source Learning Management System (eLearning platform). Moodle has a large community of users, so getting help is easy, and it has a very robust set of learning tools to draw from when creating new courses, too.

If you want to add more functionality to your courses, you may want to consider Totara, which is another free eLearning platform that builds on Moodle’s core functions. It’s more for corporate learning environments, but has features that might become more appealing as your business grows:

  • Performance management.
  • Team learning management.
  • Personal development plans.
  • Accreditation management.

Then there’s Joule, which is a paid Learning Management System (with a free 15-day trial) that gives you a lot of added functionality, plus full support and an easy means to create compelling content for your learners.

Now for arguably the most important thing you need to sell online courses:


  1. A dedicated website is a must.
    Even if your catalog and shopping cart are elsewhere, you’ll want a place that features information about you and your courses, as well as where to buy them. This gives you the opportunity for Search Engine Optimization to drive buyers to your courses, as some catalog solutions don’t do much of that for you.
  2. Blog about topics relevant to your field, making sure to use relevant keywords naturally.
    Share and curate relevant content.
  3. Build a social media presence for even better search engine rankings.
    Start a fan page on Facebook, and create dedicated LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram accounts for your online school. Post regularly, but not just adverts for your products. Share content that’s of interest to your target learners and post your opinions on your niche in the elearning industry. Encourage people to comment and interact with you and build conversations. Do everything you can to get them engaged and keep them engaged.
  4. Consider adding your courses to a course search engine.
    An example is These sites aggregate courses from around the web and offer affiliate marketing channels to get your courses noticed.
  5. Stay in touch with your learners after the sale.
    Encourage them to write reviews of your courses – this not only gives you feedback, but keeps you sharp with your course offer. A negative review should be a great motivator to do better! Keep a mailing list of your learners to let them know about new courses or offers you bring out. Connect with them on social media. Use a learner management platform like CourseCRM to generate engagement reports and stay in touch with your learners.

Sell, Sell, Sell!

To actually take payments you’ll need a shopping cart or ecommerce platform. This connects your courses with payment gateways so that people can purchase them with a credit or debit card, PayPal etc. Basic ones are available, but if you need a full-featured eCommerce solution to sell online courses, check out Course Merchant.

For more on shopping carts and eCommerce, read these essential tips on what to look for when choosing an eCommerce system for your eLearning courses.

Good luck!