50Plus: How Different Can Online and Brick and Mortar Teaching Really Be?

The mission of 50Plus Nation is to be a community that supports 50Plus individuals in learning how to build businesses online. This gives a lot of us the option to package up and earn a living from unique knowledge and expertise we have stored up from our decades of life experience.

Our Experience Will Stimulate Lots of New Online Courses

Many of you in the 50Plus Nation community, after analyzing your life experience for value you can offer to others, will likely want to at least experiment with teaching online. Since 2006, I have had wonderful experiences as a student in a number of online courses, but, up until May of this year, I had never taught online. Before building my first course, I reflected on my three prior stints teaching students face to face in classrooms at the School of Visual Arts in 2013-14, in my business accelerator in Connecticut in 2012-13 and decades earlier in undergraduate bio-science labs as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley. My conclusion became, “It can’t be that different, can it?” 

This is the first installment in a series of at least three posts about teaching online. Hopefully it will provide an answer to my question and maybe some of yours too.

Finding a Teacher to Guide Me

Earlier this year I concluded that if I wanted to teach online effectively, I needed to find a teacher to show me how to create, manage and deliver a solid online curriculum, someone who hopefully understands my 50Plus demographic. My preference was to find an online course, so that I wouldn’t be confined to the Portland geography in selecting a teacher. I knew that I have plenty of knowledge about entrepreneurship, but I began to question whether I had enough technology skills to bring my vision to bear for an online audience. There are all kinds of offers out there, lots of very hard sales pitches with a wide range of price tags, which I began to sift through. I had come across a few of the instructors’ names in the past, but there were many that I did not recognize. I found it very hard to differentiate between them without seeing the inner workings of their curriculum and their choice of teaching platform.

Having Serendipity on Your Side Always Helps

I am a big believer in serendipity and have written in the past about our ability to make our own when we stay curious, open-minded and, most importantly, intentional in our networking efforts. I decided to step off the road to heavily touted online courses and began to explore some interesting back roads. It led to a strong batch of serendipity in March and April of this year that helped me find Jenna Soard of You Can Brand. At the time, she was not only here in Portland, but lived less than 2 miles away. However, her own success has since led her to a personal experiment with a fully nomadic lifestyle. Now back in the US after 6 weeks in Italy, Poland, and the UK Jenna has settled into a 7 month AirBnB rental in San Diego for the fall and winter. From there, who knows? Such can be the lifestyle of effective online teachers in the solopreneurship space.

Roadmaps and Checklists are in High Demand

The Course Launcher, the first You Can Brand course that I have taken, began with Jenna sharing her custom 36 item “Launch Checklist” with us. Her intention was, first and foremost, to provide an aerial perspective on how to launch a course, starting with WHAT we need to do to create a course and to sell it effectively. Beyond that, her goal was to show us HOW to execute this plan with step-by-step guidance on the technology with plenty of her courses’ signature “hand holding” throughout each step. I was deeply impressed by the detail of Jenna’s checklist, it is an excellent model for presenting the roadmap towards successful online teaching. Finally, Jenna promised an amazing community of fellow course builders to share the experience with over a 4 week period. There were 125 of us in total.

When to Sell Now or Later?

There are two schools of thought on how to best launch successful online courses. The first is based on a “pre-sell” of the course where you create a curriculum and charge full price for a brand new, untested course. Jenna and others are firmly in the second camp that believes you should do a free beta-test, the only price being rigorous feedback. Under the beta-test model the theory is that you solicit feedback after every section of your course. This way, you end up with a built-in insurance policy that your first commercial outing will highly likely be a success. It is the “lean startup method” on steroids giving you certainty that your product is fully vetted by your target audience before you offer it commercially.