Have you ever wanted to make money online by selling your knowledge? You are not alone.
The E-learning industry will climb to $325 Billion by 2025, and any wise entrepreneur will look for their way to get a slice of the pie.
In this tutorial, I am going to walk you step by step through the process of building your own online learning empire.
By the end of this tutorial, you will:
- Understand why building an online learning empire may be better than launching your own courses by yourself
- have built professional looking website that is ready to sell online courses
- know how to enlist multiple instructors to design and sell courses on your platform - while you get a slice of the pie.
What Is An Online Learning Platform?
An Learning Platform is an online resource that focuses on developing and selling a wide selection of online courses for paying members.
The two most online course platforms today are Udemy and Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning).
While these are massive businesses with thousands of contributors, it's important to break down their business model so we can truly understand it.
In general, Online Learning Platforms follows a standard framework:
- Multiple Courses Offered for Free or for Sale
- The ability to provide courses taught by multiple instructors
- The platform owner creates a revenue-sharing model with the instructors for all sales made on their courses
- Courses spread across multiple categories, industries, etc
- Instructors can interact with their students directly from the platform using Announcements, Assignments, Quizzes, and Q&A forums
Why Should You Consider Launching An Online Learning Academy?
It can be difficult enough to create a single online course and launch it to your audience… so why would you want to create an entire empire of learning? Here are some of the key reasons to consider:
Reason #1 - Creating & Maintaining Multiple Online Courses Is A Lot Of Work!
My wife and I have launched over 12 online courses and sold to over 50,000 students. And we absolutely love learning and teaching, but solopreneurs have a major problem with this model.
It's simply a difficult way to scale your business.
Each course you launch becomes one more asset to maintain, update, and support.
And you should care as much about your 50,000th student as you do your first student, even though you might have moved on to other topics in your course library.
Building the online empire model allows you to enlist more teachers and takes a lot of burden off of the school owner.
Reason #2 - Go Deep AND Broad
As a solopreneur, you probably have a special power – a main focus that you build your courses around.
But the students you teach may not have the same skill set, and they may need some additional strengthening to get to your same level.
When you bring on multiple instructors to round out your online course platform, you can strategically find instructors that round out your weaknesses.
This way you can focus on what you love to do, and bring in experts in areas that are needed to serve your community.
Reason #3 - Students Will Stick Around Longer
Building out a full library of courses and instructors builds a different type of loyalty in your followers. As you scale and create new content, your platform will become the first place students will look to build up a new skill.
If you keep your content high-quality and consistently over-deliver, your entire ecosystem will benefit, and you will experience better conversion rates across the board.
Less churn, higher lifetime value of customers, and a more manageable workload for you as the instructor, since you will be dealing with more tenured students instead of always bringing on new clients.
Ready To Build Out Your Own Online Course Empire? Good, We're Going There Next!
For this tutorial we are going to use the Tutor WordPress LMS plugin to launch our online course.
They have a free and pro version, so you can get started on a small budget and upgrade as your business becomes profitable.
Here are the other tools that we will use to build out this platform:
Tools Used in this Tutorial
The Edumax adds a ton of functionality that makes it point and click easy to add a full online learning academy like Lynda.com or Udemy to your website.
Online Learning Empires Made Easy. Revenue sharing, streamlined course creation, and advanced quizzes in WordPress.
Milestone #1: Build Your Website And Install Plugins
Let's lay the groundwork for this project first by signing up for Bluehost hosting and picking out your own domain for the project.
Once you have signed up, we'll go ahead and create a WordPress site from the Bluehost menus:
Follow through the next few screens by giving your site a name:
And Bluehost will give you a few options of default plugins to install – I recommend you skip these. You can always add them in later:
Just like that your WordPress site is ready to go! Go ahead and log in to the site so we can start to install the tools we really need for this project!
Install Your Theme
In this tutorial I am going to use the Edumax theme from Themeum because it has the tightest integration with the Tutor LMS plugin. However, you can use any theme you'd like – I like the Astra and OceanWP themes if you want to stick with a free one.
Once you have purchased the Edumax theme, head to Appearance -> Themes in WordPress to install it:
And since the Edumax theme is premium, we will want to click upload to load our theme to our new site.
Find the .zip file that you received after your purchase, and click Install Now to load it in. Once it has loaded, select “Activate”.
Installing The Needed Plugins
As soon as the theme is active, you will get a helpful message at the top of your WordPress dashboard to install the required and recommended plugins. Go ahead and click “Begin Installing Plugins.”
Just select all the plugins recommended and select Install.
Activate Your New Plugins
Awesome, so your new plugins are installed – we are going to repeat that process one last time to activate the plugins. You'll have a similar notification at the top of your screen now:
At this point you know the drill – select all the new plugins and click Activate and Apply.
Once this is done WooCommerce will start its onboarding wizard process. Take your time and fill out each step.
A couple of notes about the WooCommerce setup process:
- I prefer the Stripe and Paypal Payment gateways
- I connect JetPack to my sites – it provides easy stats reporting and uptime monitoring
- Don't install the Storefront theme – we are all good there!
Setting Up Your First Free Course
Let's get into the fun parts now.
In the sidebar of your WordPress Dashboard you'll now have a section for Tutor LMS – click on Courses so we can add our first new course!
There are a ton of options when setting up your new course. But what's great is that all the options are on one screen. Trust me, that's a huge benefit compared to zipping around all over the place to set up a single course.
These options are mainly used on the course landing page to fill in the details your students need to know before they make a purchase.
This is quite nice, because it serves as a reminder – it tells you the things you should be telling prospective students.
Kind of a “mad libs” for online course creation.
Here are the options you can play with:
- Course Title
- Course Main Description
- Course Builder – This is where you add all the lessons (more on this later!)
- Total Course Duration – Get the calculator out and tell your students how long your videos are
- Level – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced?
- Benefits of the course
- Requirements / Instructions
- Targeted Audience
- Materials Include…
- Course Intro Video – There is a dedicated spot to insert your own sales video on the course home page – nice! Need help getting started with video marketing?
- And Course Announcements. From this single screen you can also interact with your students with blasts with any updates or questions you have for them.
Doesn't this home page look super professional? I love how it takes away the need to be a professional designer to make your page look great. And as you bring on more instructors, you can be sure your course content will look uniform since they are only filling in text blocks.
Tutor LMS currently supports Youtube, Vimeo, and self-hosted HTML5 video.
The video embedded in this example lesson is a Youtube video.
Tutor LMS does some fancy technical things in the background to allow you to use Youtube videos without a ton of fear of pirates. (I still recommend using a dedicated video host if you are selling premium courses).
Adding Lessons To Your Online Course
Once you have filled out the course overview page, head to the course builder so you can start adding your topics and lessons.
Tutor LMS divides its courses up into Topics (or Modules) and Lessons.
This keeps the course organized and flows nicely for the students. Begin by adding a new topic and lesson to your course:
Every topic obviously gets a name, but you can also add a quick summary which will appear for your students and help them understand what benefit they are going to get after completing that section of the course.
Adding Lessons To Your Course
Within every topic of your course, you can add lessons and quizzes. Let's add our first lesson now.
Tutor LMS lessons pop up as simple lightboxes on top of the course screen. That makes the entire experience of navigating and adding content to a course very intuitive. No unnecessary bouncing between screens to work through your course.
On the lesson screen you can:
- Add a lesson title
- Add the main text of your lesson
- Add a Featured Image
- Upload or embed the main video content for the lesson
- Add a video run time
It's not the most options available in a LMS system, but that keeps things easy and forces you to focus on the real important stuff… actually creating and selling courses! You can enable the Gutenberg editor in settings, but keeping it simple is probably best when you have multiple instructors
Previewing Your New Course
Now that you have a few lessons and topics added to your course, it's time to enroll in the course and review the experience:
Since you are logged in as the admin, all you have to do to enroll is click the “enroll now button,” which immediately becomes a “start course” button. Now the fun starts as we dive into the course itself:
The lesson page of Tutor LMS is about as good as I have ever seen – on WordPress or otherwise. Let's break down the elements of this page:
- You can easily navigate the entire course using the lesson list at the left. Scroll between topics , lessons, and quizzes. You even get a nice indicator to show you which lessons have already been completed.
- Got a question while going through the course? You can ask questions directly in the Q&A section and check what questions other students have asked.
- A no-frills learning area puts the video front and center, with the text below. Simple, clean, effective.
- Easily complete lessons with the big button on each page to keep your students progressing through the course.
Now that we have our first course set up, let's set up the user experience – how our visitors find our site and engage with our courses.
Setting Up A Course Archive Page
We just published our first course, but how do people find it? We need to build a course archive page.
Let's publish a blank page called All Courses.
Once the page is published, head to the Tutor LMS settings and select the “Course” tab.
Here we want to set the course archive page to the page we just created:
Now let's take a look at our new course archive page on the site – very professional looking already!
Organizing Our School's Menu
A school can grow to be a pretty big website, so let's keep it clean and tidy from day 1.
Luckily the EduMax theme helps a lot by giving us a search bar, shopping cart, and a very powerful Account menu that lets students and instructors access their most important information easily:
Let's just add a simple menu at the top to let our students easily locate all the courses in the school. To do this, head to the customizer, and create a new menu. We will call this “Main Menu”, and set its location to Primary Menu:
Click next, and you can begin adding pages to your main menu. For this example I'll only add the Course Archive page we created together, but you could also add a “start here” page, “About us” page, and a “Blog” page as examples. Let's publish the changes and exit the customizer.
Enrolling New Students
Now that we have a basic navigation set up for the site, let's test the user experience. Open your site in an incognito window so you can see the logged out user flow.
When a user wants to enroll in a free course, they will be able to easily register or log in with automatic pop ups.
Registration is painless, and in a few more clicks you can enroll in free courses yourself!
They keep the UI clean for logging in as well – you can easily toggle between an equally beautiful log in screen:
Supporting Your Students With Tutor LMS
So far we have created a beautiful course with Tutor LMS, but a great learning experience requires more than just delivering content. It takes quality support.
Luckily Tutor LMS gives you a simple and effective way to support your students' learning process with Quizzes, Q&A, and announcements.
Managing A Q&A Area For Your Students
Answering student questions is one of the most basic functions of a learning management system, so it's important to get it right.
As soon as it becomes inconvenient for your students to use the Q&A solution of your tool, they are going to start emailing you. Which is fine if you only have a few dozen students. But as your school grows, it's simply impossible to support all the student questions that can come in.
Tutor LMS has a very effective Q&A section to their LMS.
There are a few things I really like about this Q&A section:
- All the student questions get organized naturally based on the lesson they are asked on. Saves the instructor time when getting the context needed to answer the question.
- It's so easy to click “Browse Q&A” and ask a question that your students are actually going to do it and not send you emails whenever they have a course-related question. (Bubble #1)
- It develops a sense of community because other students can pop in and answer questions for you (Bubble #2)
And the Q&A section is not only easy for the student, it's also nicely organized for the instructor:
Every instructor in your school will have their own Q&A area that will show notifications whenever a new question comes in. They can quickly pop in and answer them to keep things flowing nicely.
I like how it organizes the Q&A for each instructor so you don't have a mess on your hands as your empire grows.
Creating Quizzes In Tutor LMS
Quizzing your students is a classic way to check for understanding at scale. Let's build a quick one in Tutor LMS by going back to our course builder in our free course and selecting “Add Quiz” at the end of our topic.
Give your quiz a name and quick description, and we can start adding questions. In the free version you can select between the most common question types – multiple choice, true false, etc.
But Tutor LMS also gives advanced quiz question types like matching, ordering things correctly, etc – which are included in the Pro version.
It's a very simple process for instructors to add new questions to their course. Simply select a question type, add a few answer options, and add a tick mark to indicate which answer is correct.
You can even randomize the question and answer order to throw off your students – you sneaky instructor you.
Once you are happy with your quiz questions, you can set global settings like a time limit, passing score requirements, and other options to customize the experience:
The Quiz Experience For Your Students
Your quizzes show up directly in the course structure, and have a great default display for learners:
The quiz flows naturally, and once completed, you can see your stats and final grade instantly.
No matter what type of content you are teaching, you will be able to check for learning easily with Tutor LMS.
Sending Announcements To Your Students
Courses should be dynamic and ever-evolving content. So it's a good feature to be able to make announcements to your students to bring them back to the course when new features are released. Tutor LMS has you covered here too.
From your course screen, you can add announcements to your students just as easily as you would create a new lesson or quiz:
All your enrolled students will receive an email with the course announcement and will easily be able to return to your school (and maybe even make another purchase!). Make sure you are sending emails from a professional email address to increase open rates.
In fact, let's cover making money next.
Charging For Courses With Woocommerce
So you've built out a course or two – now you're ready to start making money.
Since we have already installed WooCommerce in this tutorial, all we have to do is enable it and start making money!
To begin, head back to our Tutor LMS settings and select our WooCommerce Tab. Enable selling with WooCommerce, and decide if you'd like to allow guest checkout (optional).
hit Save, and you're ready to sell!
Create A WooCommerce Product For Your Course
Now that we have WooCommerce enabled, we need to create the products that we will link to our courses.
To do that, head to Products -> Add New and make a simple digital product with a price and a name (best practice to name the product the same as the course name). Publish the product.
Now back in the course screen for our course, we will have a new box in our settings.
Here we can link the course access to a specific WooCommerce product:
Update the course, and when you preview it from a new incognito browser, you'll be able to see the checkout experience with WooCommerce.
Students can now add the product to their cart and make purchases to get access to your courses. Sweet!
In the video I mention the sales process for customers as requiring too many clicks. You can adjust this in WooCommerce settings by redirecting students directly to cart once they click the "Add to Cart" button:
Enrolling And Managing Instructors
Now that you can create courses and make money, it's time to start building your empire by enrolling new instructors for your school.
In this section we will cover Instructors and Revenue Sharing settings.
Registering New Instructors
In your Tutor LMS settings we can enable Instructor registration and marketplace.
I'd recommend you leave the “Can publish course” setting unchecked. This means instructors can create course content, but it's up to you as the school owner to finally approve and publish the course. This is just good quality control.
Once the settings are saved, your students will have a new option in their profile where they can request access as an instructor:
Once you click the button, the school owner will be notified and can enable students to create courses of their own!
Separation for Instructors
When I tested this feature, I was nervous that people could mess around with other instructors' content. Tutor LMS has protected content well so that instructors can only manage their own content and students.
Sharing Revenue With Instructors
To really scale your online course, you need to build a strong incentive for course creators to come to your platform.
Revenue sharing is a simple way to do that with Tutor LMS. Simply head to your settings and enable Revenue sharing, set the sharing percentages, and decide which fees should be deducted if any.
Once this setting is enabled, your instructors will instantly be able to be paid for the work they do, and you will start getting more and more courses added to your site (without you lifting a finger!).
Benefits Of Tutor LMS Pro
It's hard to believe, but everything we've done so far has been possible with the FREE version of Tutor LMS. Crazy, right? Extremely full-featured free version, for sure.
So what do you get with the Pro Version? Well, more awesome stuff:
- Advanced Quiz Question Types (Short Answer, Matching, Image Matching, Image Answering, Ordering)
- Certificate Templates for Completing Courses
- Powerful Reports to monitor your school's health
- Course Pre-requisites to help your students build a logical learning journey
- Multimedia attachments
- Course Previews
- Email Notifications
So, the question is – do you need Tutor LMS pro? It all depends on what type of school you want to build.
Certificates of completion are a huge benefit if you plan on offering accredited courses, or simply to improve the perceived value of your content.
Reports are a must as your school grows.
Advanced quiz question types can help keep your students engaged throughout the course.
If you are just starting out, I would test the free version, but as soon as the school started to make money – I would make the upgrade just to support this pretty incredible team.
If you've made it his far – pat on the back! We've built out a complete learning platform from scratch, enlisted additional teachers to create content and profit from it, and we barely broke a sweat while doing it!
Tutor LMS is a powerful platform for sure – will you be putting it to use in your own online learning platform? Leave a comment below and let me know!