5 Best Sites for Teaching Courses Online

Mar 6, 2014

On the hunt for your next gig? Try teaching.

Freelancers are already accustomed to multiple revenue streams. They’ve mastered skills that other people probably want to learn, too. They’ve polished their communication abilities on the rough edges of their clients. They can develop course material during dry spells, and have a flexible enough schedule to monitor feedback and questions.

Computer classes and technology are the most popular online courses, but this should not prevent other types of freelancers from getting started. The average instructor on Udemy makes $7,000 a year! This is a huge side gig opportunity.

If you want to start teaching online, here are a few options:

1. Skillshare

Application: Yes, does not accept all teachers or courses

Course content: Must fit into one of these categories: Advertising, Business, Design, Fashion, Film, Food & Drink, Photography, Publishing, Technology, Television, and Writing.

Minimum content: 45 minutes, broken into 4-9 minute videos

Ownership: You retain 100% ownership over course material

Fees: Skillshare takes 30% of the cost of the class if you refer the student; 70% of the cost of the class if the referral comes from elsewhere.

Global Alexa Ranking (popularity of the site): 8324

Sample class: Logo Design

Average cost for students: $19 seems to be a popular price, can be as high as $30

Ease of use: Skillshare has good reviews from teachers for usability and ease of uploading and structuring content.

Other perks: Some very high quality instructors on Skillshare, like Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, have increased the visibility and credibility of Skillshare, and this seems to attract a high quality audience. The community section of each course allows students to collaborate and share projects.

Who’s it good for? If you have an existing audience or mailing list and can refer students on your own, this may be a good option, to avoid the 70% fee. With fewer & higher quality classes Skillshare, it may be easier to stand out from the crowd and build visibility and credibility for your brand.

2. Udemy

Application: No, accepts anyone

Course content: No content restrictions

Minimum content: 30 minutes, 60% of which must be video content

Ownership: You retain 100% ownership over course material

Fees: Udemy takes 0% of the cost of the class if you refer the student; 50% of the cost of the class if the referral comes from elsewhere.

Global Alexa Ranking (popularity of the site): 1782

Sample class: Night Photography Unlocked; or check out this guy who made a half a million dollars last year with his Udemy class.

Average cost for students: Seems to be about $20 per 1.5-2.5 hours of content. A 31-hour class can be as high as $500.

Ease of use: I tried to set up a course myself, and it was dead easy. The hardest part is not putting it on Udemy, but actually putting the material (videos, etc.) together!

Other perks: Udemy Studio, an instructor community, provides support and advice from successful instructors.

Who’s it good for? Udemy charges less of a fee and are more flexible in terms of content and format than Skillshare. However, there’s a lot of content on Udemy! Standing out and marketing your class will be half of your work.

3. Coursera (An accredited university)

Unlike the previous two options, here you would become a part-time employee or contractor of a University, but teach remotely. Such courses are then put by the University on sites like Coursera.

Application: Yes. For many jobs, you will need a Master’s degree.

Course content: Largely dictated by University, though you may be able to suggest material or shape the course content.

Minimum content: University-taught courses normally offer credit, and as such may be more intensive than other online courses and may require grading, personalized feedback, etc.

Ownership: You retain no ownership over course material. It belongs to the University.

Fee: According to GetEducated.com, salaries for eight-week terms usually range from $2,100 to $2,860 per course.

Sample class: The emergence of the modern middle east

Ease of use: Unlike previous two options, this varies widely, depending on the online system the University uses. Also remember that you will have a boss, which doesn’t always make things “easy.”

Other perks: The benefit of working for an institute of Higher Education is prestige, stability, and zero marketing efforts.

Who’s it good for? Unless you happen to have a Master’s degree in a science, math, or business discipline, this may not be the best option for most freelancers. Though you can’t beat the pay stability of this gig.

4. Your own website OR email

Instead of using an established platform to host your classes, you may choose to put videos and other materials up on your own website, either for free or behind a login gate, OR create a email series. In an email series, for example, you could email subscribers every day over the course of 2 weeks with different content (videos, white papers, written content, etc.) and solicit feedback through email.

Application: No

Course content: Flexible, but without any forced minimums or structure, you now have the responsibility of organizing your content and having others interact with your content in a user-friendly way. This can be very freeing, but also intimidating to those who have never taught an online class before.

Ownership: 100%

Fee: $0

Sample class: This writing course on The Minimalists or Copyblogger’s Authority

Ease of use: If you put up materials on your website, this may require some web design skills. If you choose to create an email course, you may need to use a newsletter service (most have a low fee), but in terms of ease of use, designing newsletter templates is relatively simple. You also don’t need to send each email by hand; use their auto-responder or “onboarding” feature to auto-send emails at 24-hour intervals (or whatever interval you choose).

Who’s it good for? The biggest perk here is control. Also, I’m a big believer in email marketing, and when you email content to your “students,” you’re meeting them where they already are, so the chance of them actively engaging with your content is higher. This also grows your mailing list, which can be used when you launch other projects. However, you need to know exactly what you want to teach, be able to structure your own content, and understand that you’re responsible for 100% of marketing. This normally works best for people who already have larger followings or websites with 50k/month pageviews or more, or who partner with larger organizations to offer content to their audiences.

5. CreativeLIVE

Unlike the other options on this list, CreativeLIVE has a much more restricted teacher list. However, they’re doing some unique things, and we wanted to include them in the list to show what’s possible.

Application: No, it seems you get invited or get in touch with them directly.

Course content: Focus is on art, design, creativity.

Fee: You don't pay them. Teachers can earn 5 or 6 figures per class.

Sample class: Make Money Making Art

Cost for students: $50-200

Ease of use: Since filming happens at the studio, it’s hard to say. Seems to require a significant teacher investment.

Who’s it good for? Thought and industry leaders who are well-established in a creative industry and have done speaking engagements in the past. If you’re just starting out, this isn’t for you. However, we think CreativeLIVE is a cool model that will probably get replicated in many fields in the future. The success of live events with live commentary, chat streams, and collaboration (think Sound of Music, socially successful despite terribleness) continues to rise, and CreativeLIVE captures our desire to gather at the same time in the same place and connect with other people in real time -- even if it’s virtual.

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