September 2

The Classroom Teachers Guide to Teaching Online

In this post I want to explain how to make a successful start to teaching online.

Specifically, I want to help you with ..

  1. A simple 5 Step Formula to make the transition from classroom teacher to online teacher a successful one.
  2. Where the best Online Business ideas come from - and how to generate these yourself.
  3. How to save a ton of time and wasted effort, by testing your ideas for commercial potential - BEFORE you invest any time in them.

But first, it's helpful to understand why classroom experience makes you perfectly suited to start a teaching business online ..

Why Classroom Teachers make Great Online Teachers ..

Can I shock you with a statistic?

The generally accepted completion rate for most online learning products is only 10%!

That means for every 100 people that pay for a course, webinar or live event - around 90 of them won't even finish it (let alone be able to apply what they learn).

The reason for this failure rate is often the terrible design of those learning experiences, and the confusing and demotivating effect they have on the learner. 

I don't blame most Online Teachers operating today - they have no experience of what works best in practice. The vast majority of them have zero teaching experience and have never benefited from direct contact with learners.

So they don't know how to teach.

As a classroom teacher, your skill in designing effective learning experiences gives you a HUGE advantage over most people earning a healthy income teaching online today.

So how do you start leveraging this advantage?

The Classroom Teachers Guide to Teaching Online

I refer to each of my Online Teaching products as 'Passion Projects'.  I select something I really WANT to teach and then test this idea for it's commercial potential - before I create anything.

Start at the right place

Starting your Passion Project in the right place is important - particularly if you are still working in a classroom job. Your time is precious, and if you make bad decisions at the outset - it is very difficult to correct these later on. 

Because there is a fundamental difference between classroom teaching and teaching online:

In the classroom we teach something because we know a student needs it - and that this knowledge will be helpful in solving their future problems.  

This is still important teaching online, but there's another element too ..

When you sell what you teach, you need to be sure that a group of customers will be prepared to pay for it - AND that they will notice your product in a crowded online marketplace.  

The 5 step formula I am going to introduce in this post will do both of these things.  Because it doesn't matter how wonderful you think your Passion Project is - if you can't sell it, you won't achieve your goals. 

So what are your goals?

Step 1. Get Clear About Why You're Doing this

There are many reasons why someone would want to start teaching online.  It is important to start considering YOUR reasons.  Doing this will help you to choose what you want to teach, and the best way to go about doing it. 

Because success as an Online Teacher can mean different things:

  • Create a Side Income - You might want an additional income to spend on family, something special, or to retire early. Success as an online teacher can achieve that additional income - while you still work your classroom job.
  • Build a Reputation - Success teaching something online builds a reputation and authority in that area. This could lead to speaking, partnership or publishing opportunities.
  • Benefit your Students - I regularly use online material in the classroom, sometimes for extension work - but often as a way to encourage independent learning skills. You could learn to teach online so that you can do more in the classroom - and for your current school.
  • Get a Better Job - If you become known for teaching something online, you can use this experience to apply for a job elsewhere. A University and several schools have wanted to employ me on the strength of my online teaching experience.
  • Replace Your Classroom Job - You might want to achieve an income from Online Teaching, which allows you to quit teaching in the classroom altogether, or go part time at school.

 So which is it for you? 

You don't need to be 100% sure right now.  But ask the question, and start considering your end goal. The clearer you are about it, the more achievable it becomes.

Step 2. Decide What Type of Online Teacher You Want to Be

The type of Online Teaching you do, will determine what work hours you keep, where you work from - and the kind of student / teacher relationships you have. 

For many Online Teachers this comes down to a question of personal style ... so are you:

  • A Pre-Planned Teacher - who wants to have everything pre-prepared so they can control EXACTLY what happens in each session. Pre-planning allows you to control the learning experience and get a predictable result for your learner. Pre-planners often like the controllable environment of a recorded Online Course to deliver their online lessons.
  • An Intuitive Teacher - is happy to see learning points and lessons evolve from the material that they share. Intuitive types are happy 'living on the edge', and enjoy live interaction. Intuitive teachers often prefer to go Live with their lessons in webinars and live classes.

So which is your dominant type? .. 

Knowing this will give you an idea of the type of Passion Project you are best suited to teach. 

Getting more specific will help - these are the main Online Teacher types you could choose from:

>> Online Course Creators

Online Course Creators produce learning materials - usually in audio or video form - and deliver them to learners on course platforms like Teachable.

Because teachers don't need to be there live with their learners, they have more time freedom - and do most of their 'work' before the course is released.  Once on sale, they need to do very little additional work to support each new student.

>> Authors and Written Course Creators

Some Online Teachers prefer to teach in written form - e.g. by writing books, reports or written courses.

It's worth noting that most online learners perceive the value of written training, as lower than that produced in audio and video form.  So to make a job-replacing income selling books, you will need to sell A LOT of them!

For this reason, many authors also sell follow-up training, courses or coaching products to those who have enjoyed their written content. 

>> Live Class Teachers

Live Class teachers lead classes of online learners using webinar software. They deliver presentations, video, interviews etc live by themselves or in collaboration with others.

During these events there are opportunities to interact live with the teacher, and learners get their individual questions answered. 

Students can also talk to each other during the session using text chat.

As learning is delivered live, there is a limit on the number of students that can be taught at the same time. But a closer relationship between teacher and learner develops due to this.

>> 'Like Live' Teachers

'Like live' teachers record live training sessions and then deliver them in recorded form - sometimes as courses, but often as 'pretend live' events, available at a lower price.

Most modern webinar platforms make doing this easy, so the teacher can deliver this kind of session - with some of the advantages of a live class, without the time commitments required of them.

>> Hybrid Live Teachers

Hybrid online teachers greet their students live at the beginning of an online class, introduce the topic - then play a prerecorded video lesson - coming back to answer questions live again, at the end.

Doing this gives them the advantage of being able to prepare and perform material in advance of the live event, and the ability to answer questions in the chat box during the session too.

>> Coaches and Personal Mentors

Coaching and personal mentors choose to teach one-to-one, on voice or video calls with their students.

They often charge large amounts of money for the sessions they sell.  This is necessary, as the time commitment for the teacher is greater for each student they teach.

Some online learners are happy paying extra for a personal approach, and the accountability they receive in return.

>> Face-to-face Trainers

Many Online Teachers offer face-to-face training to supplement the other things they offer - and there is a real advantage to getting online learners together, to meet each other.

Many face-to-face trainers offer an online element to what they do: 

Material to follow up or prepare students for a face-to-face training session for example.

This addition to a face-to-face training course makes it stand out - and increases it's value.  Developing an online reputation also helps fill seats at their face-to-face events. 

Your Passion Project could be any (or a mixture) of the above types of online learning experience.  When you are planning the best way to deliver the solution you want to teach, these are the main delivery options open to you.

As you grow as an Online Teacher, you will likely try each of them on for size - for now, just take a measure of which feels most like you .. 

I have something which will help you do that:

I have built an online tool which recommends an Online Teacher type based on your answers to 5 simple questions. 

When you complete this, I will send you some quick-start advice for the teacher type you are most suited to.

You can access this survey here.

I also have a post which examines each Online Teacher type in more detail.  If you want to investigate the Online Teachers Toolbox further this post goes into much more detail.

Step 3. What Do You Want to Teach?

Just because you have taught something in the classroom, don't let this pigeon hole you into teaching the same subject online.  The wonderful thing about your classroom skills, are that you can apply them anywhere.

  • So what would you love to teach the most? 
  • What skills and experience do you have which you would most like to share?
  • And what do you WANT to become known for?

I know when I started thinking about this question, the UK Geography curriculum for 11-16 year olds wasn't at the top of my list 😉 

So take some time in a quiet place to think about what you could teach:

  • What do your family and friends come to you for advice about?
  • What other professional experience and skills do you have?
  • In which areas of life do you hold strong opinions or values?
  • When are you most 'at peace' with yourself?
  • What great vision do you have for the future, or the future of others?
  • In a perfect world where anything was possible - what would you LOVE to teach the most?
  • And looking back at your life - when did you achieve great things? When did you positively impact those around you? .. and what was it about YOU at these moments which made you uniquely effective?

The ideal situation is that you identify something which you are genuinely passionate about.  It's YOUR Passion Project - why not choose to teach something which you would LOVE to share with others.  

There is no one going to tell you that you have to teach this, or you can't teach that. So start mixing the ingredients for a wonderful working life.

Don't worry if a flash of inspiration fails to arrive at once!  It's enough that you start asking these questions.

Your subconscious mind will start whirring away in the background when you do.  I guarantee that after doing this, more ideas will appear in the coming days. 

Step 4. Test Your Ideas for Commercial Potential

Choosing the wrong thing to teach online can have serious commercial consequences.

You want to make sure that you aren't wasting your time with an idea which won't sell.  So I have devised a test which identifies Passion Project ideas with the greatest commercial potential.

It is based on answering 3 simple questions:

Q1. Is this an area where customers are making emotional decisions?

Each one of your Online Teaching Passion Project ideas, solves a problem.  This question asks how emotionally invested a customer is in solving this problem.

The larger the problem is to the customer, the more they will be motivated to solve it - and the easier you can sell them a solution.

Q2. Are you able to create a genuine transformation for the customer?

Is the result which you are going to help your learner achieve, specific and transformational?

When an online learner is buying solutions to their problems, they pay for the result the learning product promises them.  The clearer you can be about exactly what this is - the easier it will be to sell.

This result has to help the learner do something in their lives that they can't do now.  The best selling Online Teaching products provide an opportunity for transformation in their customers life. 

Q3. Do customers have few perceived options in solving this problem?

Even if you are solving a problem a ton of people care massively about - and you have been very specific about the result the customer will get .. you could still fail to make sales if you don't stand out.

This can happen if you are offering something which is already available elsewhere.  Because if there are many places which a customer can go to solve their problem, most of them won't buy from you.

You need to make your Passion Project different.

So look at what exists online - do some Google searches and get to know your competition in each area you might create your Passion Project in ..

  • What is being offered? 
  • Who is the intended customer for these products?
  • What result or transformation, are they buying?

The most successful Online Teaching products identify EXACTLY who will buy what they are going to create - before they start making it.  

This enables the teacher to create a product which that specific customer will bite their hands off for. 

This seems tricky, until you realise something rather simple ...

Step 5. Narrow Your Niche

If you want to know which is the MOST important part of this process - this is it.   Because if you fail to create something unique, you won't be noticed - and you won't make sales.

The solution is to identify a sub-group of customers in a larger market - and create your Passion Project just for them.

Let me explain what I mean ..

If you tried selling plain old 'car insurance' now - would you stand out?


Everyone who saw your offer in the wider market, would consider the insurance designed for THEIR SITUATION to be more relevant to their needs.

If they're older - they would consider the over 50s offers. If they were female - they would check out the female only offers first. They might choose insurance for safer drivers, or if they drive a truck would look at large vehicle or van insurance first.

FACT: When customers are shopping for anything, they are looking for something designed for THEM.

So, when you are drawing up the blueprint for your Online Teaching Passion Project, you need to dig down into the wider market of customers you want to help - and identify a slice of that market to create a product for. 

Using the categories below will help you do this:

  1. Gender - Men and women often have different problems, and require different solutions. In the weight loss or fitness market products are designed specifically for EITHER men or women to meet these different needs. Could your Passion Project be aimed at either male or female customers? Would doing so help you make something unique?
  2. Geography - Sometimes providing a local angle to what you are creating makes it SUPER relevant to customers in that area. For example, if you were creating a course on selling your home - including specific local knowledge would make it stand out to customers living in that area. 
  3. Stage of life - Learners in a first relationship will want different things to those buying their first house, or having children. Often you can identify a sub-group in the wider market by thinking about the life situations of customers buying that product. Designing your Passion Project specifically for a person at a stage in their lives would make it stand out a mile to someone at that stage.
  4. Challenge - Online learning customers are very problem focused - and will be seeking to overcome a specific challenge with the learning they buy. If you looked at the wider market of people trying to solve the problems you are interested in - are there people with specific challenges to making progress? If you designed your Passion Project to help meet these challenges, these people would see your product as more relevant to their needs than anything else available. 
  5. Outcome - Often customers are wanting a specific outcome in their lives, or from the training they buy. If you look at the wider market, can you identify any of these different outcomes? Sometimes designing a Passion Project aimed at ONE of these outcomes helps it stand out and sell.
  6. Fear - Customers might have a fear or specific pain they are seeking to remove by buying online learning products. Identifying the different fears that exist in the wider market for a solution or product can uncover some interesting sub-groups to target with a Passion project.

Spend some time thinking about the solutions you want to offer - and practise splitting the customers that buy that broad product, using these categories.

  • Are there differing levels of need, demand, motivation or pain in any of the groups you have identified?
  • Are these sub-groups being provided for already by the competition?

For your Passion Project to stand out and get noticed, you need to get SPECIFIC about who you are helping - and the PROBLEM you are solving for that person. 

I can help you do that ..

What Now?

If your head is spinning with possibilities - I have something which will help you. 

I have documented this process in a book which I can give you free, if you join my eMail list.  

It is called 'Classroom Escape' and it makes following this formula easy and straightforward. 

Inside I explain everything - and give a ton of examples so you can see exactly what to do. 

When you download the book I'll also include a workbook, which creates the Blueprint for Your Passion Project as you read .. 

If you want to succeed as an Infopreneur, you have to start in the right place. 

I see too many talented people fail because they start working on the wrong thing. I want to help you avoid this.

Because online learners deserve teachers with classroom experience,

Good luck

If this resonates with you, please share it ...

About the author 

James Anthony

After teaching for 20 years in the UK, I now help Schools, Universities, and Entrepreneurs to create and deliver transformational online learning.
I also work with educators across the world helping them use their skills in new ways - to live happier healthier lives.


elearning, onlinelearning, teachercpd

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