With the landscape of in-person interaction changing, online education seems like the best way to safely reach customers and share our creativity, no matter what is happening in the world. Never before has online education been easier, more accessible, and more accepted than this moment, right now. Teaching online doesn't have to be overwhelming or intimidating, even if you're "not good at tech". In this article, top online educators in the creative industries share their take on teaching everything from calligraphy to digital cutters to woodworking, all online. If you’re ready to teach online, keep reading to see how and why to add online courses to your product offering.
Benefits of Teaching Online
Many characteristics of teaching online make it an attractive solution for reaching your customers when physical classes are impossible or challenging.
No Travel Costs
Traveling to teach in-person workshops can cost the instructor and store or event holder thousands of dollars per workshop. With online teaching, neither the students or the instructor have to travel so there are no travel costs whatsoever.
In-person workshops are limited to the audience that can physically fit within the store or event center and by the proximity of customers to that location. With online courses, the location of both the instructor and students are completely independent of one another, allowing students from all over the entire planet to receive instruction from one instructor.
Online Courses are Scalable
Without the physical limitations of in-person classes, online courses can be scaled. Teaching 10 people or 1000 people takes about the same amount of effort. One instructor or shop can generate more revenue from teaching a workshop once online than if they were to teach that workshop in-person many times over.
Tanner Bell’s digital cutting membership MakersGonnaLearn.com has over 8000 members. He’d be hard-pressed to find a location that could accommodate all 8000 members each month for the workshops he presents in his online program.
Scaling online courses can help the creator bring in exponentially more revenue than in-person classes by allowing the creator to teach the course once while subsequent students consume the recordings, generating 6- and 7- figure incomes for course creators who run courses for months and years after the first recording.
Evergreen Learning on Repeat
Online programs can be presented all year long as students consume recordings versus watch live.
Online courses can be played over and over again without any extra effort from the instructor. “Online teaching can be so much more powerful than in-person learning. Students can watch videos over and over if they missed a particular point, or need to hear it again,” explains Shinah Chang, Crookedcalligraphy.com.
Determine how often you’d like your sales cart open for the program and you can generate sales all year long if you choose.
Online, your students can receive a level of instruction and communication that is not possible with an in-person class structure. You can use this communication to improve your program and the customer experience.
“Take high-quality video that shows your hands from multiple angles, zoomed in or zoomed out, so that students can see details that they wouldn't necessarily have noticed in an in-person class.” - Shinah Chang, CrookedCalligraphy.com
You can share:
- Close ups and details of techniques
- Additional instruction, Q&A sessions, and bonus workshops that would take longer than an in-person class may allow
- Digital materials to compliment the instruction, such as workbooks, cheat sheets, and more that students can store and print at home without additional cost to you the instructor
- Updates and improvements to your program as materials and supplies change and students offer feedback
“We have a TON of printable resources for our courses that members can print to have something tangible. Adding ebooks & printable guides engages students and increases perceived value of your program” - Tanner Bell, MakersGonnaLearn.com
Remember, printables are digital files you upload and the student downloads and prints at their own cost. Your cost for the printing is $0!
Online programs provide an easy way to get feedback from your students and customers via surveys, comments, beta testing, and regular email newsletters. You can use this information to improve the course offering, change the supplies you recommend in the program, and provide the inspiration for new products.
“My students get success because I'm constantly asking them how I can make my program better. When I first launched my beginner calligraphy program, Modern Calligraphy 101, it had maybe half of the content and features that it has now, three years later! By beta testing, surveying my students, talking one-on-one to people, I've been able to build a program that I have 100% confidence in and that gets results for my students.” - Shinah Chang, CrookedCalligraphy.com
Online the conversations between student and instructor and among students can continue past the 3 hour in-person workshop window. These communities are rich places to continue connecting over shared creative interests, market new products, and get feedback that is not possible with limited in-person interaction.
“Creating a community of support and authenticity is integral to student success. We empower our students to not only lean on their instructor but to lean on each other. The more that is shared, the more creative inspiration flows, which keeps our students excited and motivated to practice, experiment, and learn. “ Beryl Young - Momtography.club
Students can stay connected and learn from each other in ways that are not possible or might even be seen as disruptive in an in-person class.
Additionally, students who traditionally could not attend in-person classes can now access the training from anywhere. Desiree Demali of demalihandcrafts.com loves that she can, “reach folks who can not leave their homes” with her online craft classes,
Challenges for Online Courses
Feeling ready to jump into teaching online courses? Before you get started, let’s consider some of the challenges facing teaching online, particularly online craft programs.
Choosing Materials and Supplies for your Online Class
At an in-person class, students can purchase supplies from the retailer hosting the event or the instructor can provide the supplies to be used in class. Costs are controlled by sharing of supplies such as paint and the use of instructor-provided tools like torches or glue guns.
At in-person workshops, students can try materials and tools with a minimal investment in the class without investing in the tools or full bottles of the media or supplies themselves. Shared materials and tools in physical classes keeps costs down, lowering barriers to entry for crafters to try new products.
Online classes require that each student purchase all of the supplies on their own. This would include all of the tools, full bottles of media such as paint and gesso, and sets of markers, for example, increasing the investment to fully participate in the class.
Students may hesitate to invest in programs that require materials and tools that may be:
- Expensive or perceived as pricey
- Difficult to find online or in-person due to store closures, supply chain issues
- A product they are unsure they will use again in the future
As a result of these materials challenges, students may “show up” to your online class with the wrong materials or substitutions.
“Students that come into our camera classes with all different equipment and when you're in-person, it's a bit easier to look at their specific camera, see what they're doing, and help them adjust.” - Beryl Young, Momtography.club
Consider offering alternatives and options in your supply lists.
“I try to recommend two brands for each product - high and low. This gives people options, and conveys they need not focus on any one brand for results. Experimenting with materials is half the fun!” - Amanda Evanston, www.amandaevanstonlearning.com
AFCI Designer Member Einat Kessler advises focusing on technique versus the product so students can use what is easiest for them to access.
“I teach how to make an interactive mini album they can use whatever paper they have at home because the technique is what's important, not the paper.” - Einat Kessler, Einatkessler.com, AFCI Designer Member
Shipping Materials and Supplies to Students
Shipping product to online course customers introduces other challenges:
- Reliability of shipping companies to deliver on time (or at all)
- Ease or difficulty of shipping liquids or other hazardous art materials
- Damage to supplies during shipping
- Estimating number of orders to ensure adequate supply on hand to meet demand
- Increased program cost or investment
Awareness of these challenges is key when creating your online program to give your students the best outcome and to generate the most revenue.
Facilitate your students getting the supplies they need by partnering with an existing craft supplier or retailer who has the infrastructure to ship materials all over the globe. Direct students to purchase direct from your retail partner.
“The best thing I did to help my students get the supplies they need for my course is to partner with an already-existing calligraphy supply store. I asked John Neal Books if they could create a "kit" of basic calligraphy supplies for the students who sign up for my course. Then, I just direct students to that kit and they're able to order everything they need all in one easy product” - Shinah Chang, CrookedCalligraphy.com
Negotiate a referral or affiliate fee for sales you send to the retailer to create another revenue stream from your online program.
If you’re a retailer, add online classes to your product offering to move product and provide a richer experience for customers. Dawn Lewis added live and pre-recorded classes to her site to complement her stamping online retail shop, allowing students to customize their class kit orders for their needs and budgets.
“I created a subscription box for my Copic customers. They can literally open the box, watch the video, and start creating. The only thing they need to add is their own scissors and adhesive, and they can end their home learning session with a completed project!” - Dawn Lewis, dawnlewis.com.au
And yes, bricks and mortar retailers can get in on the online course action too. Lindsay Ostrom of creatorofcuteness.com partnered with local retailers who offer kits to compliment the online “live” craft classes she teaches. “Stores really need our help right now,” she says.
Students enter with a variety of skill levels
Since anyone with a credit card can purchase an online program, you’ll likely attract crafters of all skill levels to your program. You can filter these students to different programs by using language in your marketing to communicate who your ideal student is and which students should not buy your program.
That said, students will enter your program who are eager to learn but don’t yet have the skills needed for mastery.
“Teaching online means you are teaching a whole spectrum of skill sets and experience. Edit your curriculum down to a few key concepts. What gets the most impact in the most efficient way possible? That is where you focus.” - Amanda Evanston, www.amandaevanstonlearning.com
Pricing Online Programs
Value perception of online programs, especially those that do not include materials or supplies, can be challenging to calculate compared to in-person classes. How much value does the instruction you’re providing give to the student?
There are several schools of thought on pricing, from pricing at $10 per week of instruction to pricing via the cost to take the in-person equivalent or learn this technique or idea on their own through research. Paramount in all pricing is to clearly communicate the value of the instruction to students in your sales page and marketing messaging before and during the program.
One way to do this in the program is to keep students inspired and engaged to take action on their investment.
“It’s not all about the content, but also about pumping them up to carve out time in their busy lives to actually take the courses they purchased. Online, you’re competing with household distractions for their attention.” - Tanner Bell, MakersGonnaLearn.com
Choosing a Platform to Host Your Program
There are lots of options for hosting your program. You’ll need to choose the best option for you. Here are some things to consider:
- Customer experience and ease of use
- Investment to host your program
- Integrations with shopping cart, email marketing software, etc
- Resources to handle tech issues and maintenance (some platforms do it for you)
Some platforms will require an initial investment before you make your first dollar while other platforms are free to use. Some course creators “host” their course in closed Facebook Groups or private Instagram accounts with zero cost; be sure to check platform terms of service to make sure your use of the platform is in compliance.
Lindsay Ostrom of creatorofcuteness.com says that finding a platform to sell her courses on has been the biggest challenge. She opted to host the videos on a paid video hosting site and offers her live content via closed Facebook Group, selling the access to the content via her own website.
Desiree Demali of demalihandcrafts.com teaches “live” classes online via Zoom and Facebook Live because she values the interactive elements of these platforms that closely replicates the interaction we’re missing from in-person classes.
Carefully weighing the options to choose the right platform for you can be challenging. The good news is, you can always move your content to another platform as your business needs change.
If you’ve never filmed a video or the technology behind hosting an online class seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. Everyone who teaches online started knowing nothing about how to do it and they learned what they needed to know. There are loads of tutorials on YouTube to help you learn the tech … and you can even take online courses about how to teach online courses.
Here are some of the tech things you’ll need to know to teach an online class:
- Filming or creating your lessons. You can film these with your smartphone or a digital camera and edit them using video editing software. Or you can teach the class “live” via mobile device or webcam and record it through a broadcasting tool like Zoom or Facebook Live.
- Slides - if you decide you want slides to teach your program, you can use software like Canva, PowerPoint, or Google Slides to create the graphics.
- Handouts - you can likely use the same software you already use for your class handouts. Make sure to create a pdf version of them to share with your students so they can be printed from any operating system without alterations to the content.
- Communication - you’ll need a way to communicate with your students about program updates and future offers. You can use email marketing software, a Facebook Group, or event a Messenger bot.
- Shopping cart - you can use a self-hosted cart on your site, a tool like Shopify, the shopping cart from a course hosting platform like Kajabi or Teachable, or even a Paypal button you install in a blog post with code. The key is to choose an option that allows your students to purchase access to your course easily.
Andrea Hancock of the-whole-kit-n-kaboodle.com advises to keep in mind that your students are also coming to your online class with various skill levels with technology. Students may become frustrated when they don’t understand how to use the technology or it does not function the way they expect.
Victoria Calvin of victoriamarieblog.com advises creating a welcome video with a screenshare tour of your online program to help students learn how to navigate it to find what they need.
Pre-recorded videos or Teaching Live
Two popular ways to teach online are “live” and via pre-recorded video, each presenting unique challenges.
“ [In pre-recorded courses] there’s no immediate feedback from students, so you need to make sure you cover everything efficiently … it takes a lot more planning. I can’t pick up their project and help them correct an error … it’s a lot more verbal than in person classes.” - Dawn Lewis, dawnlewis.com/au
According to Anika Ghandi of www.anikasdiylife.com video is essential for teaching DIY content. Anika advises pretending that you are actually talking to a student as you record your video instruction.
“I’m as detailed as possible, talking to every little step as I go through the process. It is easy to skip over certain parts that come instinctively to you but will not for beginners.” - Anika Ghandi, www.anikasdiylife.com
Live sessions take a different level of planning. Students can ask questions you didn’t anticipate ahead of time, leading to a richer learning experience. However, you won’t be able to edit the video to remove mistakes or the 5 minutes you spent looking for the paint you forgot to bring to the table so pre-planning is key.
Consider this when teaching “live”:
- Plan, script, and practice each class
Make sure your delivery of the craft is on point. You’ll need to pay attention that the tech is functioning properly, answer student questions, and teach at the same time so it’s important that your technique and subject matter are well-rehearsed so you can deliver instruction smoothly.
- Prepare and Arrive Early
Allow time at the beginning of the live class to make sure your equipment is working properly and that students are able to access the training platform.
“Become the expert of the not only the craft, but also the technology”- Andrea Hancock of the-whole-kit-n-kaboodle.com
Invest time in learning the platform and technology before the class begins so you can focus on the craft you’re teaching.
- Be real … mistakes will happen
Brandi Mahon of stampmesomelove.com advises “being real”. Experiment and play, allowing your students to see you make mistakes as you demonstrate.
If you encounter tech snafus or someone knocks on your door during the class, just roll with it and allow your personality to shine. This is a great way to build more connection with your community, which Brandi says be can a challenge online both when making the sale and keeping students engaged in the program.
Moving your classes online can be a highly profitable solution to the lack of in-person teaching opportunities today. Being aware of the benefits and challenges will help you in choosing the online course format, platform, and topic best for you and your students.
Students and customers are looking to learn, engage with the craft community, and get creative … you can offer that to them online and from anywhere in the world today, easier than ever before in the history of mankind. What will you teach?
As a digital entrepreneur for over 17 years, Jennifer Priest intimately understands what it means to run a successful online business and manage your online marketing needs in-house … or yourself. With over a decade of digital marketing experience for large corporations to handmade artists (and everyone in between), she knows what it takes to make content that gets traffic, to navigate the algorithms of popular platforms, and to interpret data in meaningful ways business owners can understand and use to make successful decisions.