How to choose a topic for your online course

You’ve decided to create an online course. That’s great! But what will you teach?

Maybe you already have a topic in mind. Maybe you have three dozen ideas and you don’t know which one to choose. Or maybe you are having a hard time coming up with any ideas at all.

Regardless of where you are right now, this chapter will help you zero in on your “big idea” so that you can start planning and building your online course.

Before we get into the exercise, let’s take a look at why people buy online courses in the first place. People spend money on courses that they think will help them solve a specific problem or reach a certain goal.

Every person on the planet has at least one problem that they are trying to solve right now or one big goal that they are trying achieve. Problems and goals are really two sides of the same coin. If you think about it, we set goals by identifying problems or things that we want to change. Then we have to complete a set steps in order to get the result.

The challenge that most people run into is that they either don’t have a clear path to get to the result they want, or they lack the motivation needed to take action. This lack of motivation usually isn’t related to laziness, but rather fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of being judged. Even fear of success.

Habits also play a big role in changing people’s behavior and getting them to take action toward their goals. If you’ve ever struggled with losing weight, you know what I’m talking about.

Chances are you know exactly WHAT you need to do to lose weight, but your habits always seem to get in the way of doing the exercise and eating the right things. In this case, you need more than just a diet plan and an exercise routine. You also need accountability and support from someone understands what you’re going through.

Your goal as a online course creator is to not only give your student a clear path to the result they’re looking for, but to also help them overcome the things that have prevented them from succeeding in the past.

So the question then becomes, what problem are you going to help people solve?

The best courses tackle problems or goals that you have personal experience with. This could be a problem that you are currently dealing with in your own life/career, or ideally something that you have struggled with in the past and then solved. It could also be a problem that someone else had that you successfully helped them work through.

Here are a few examples:

  • Maybe you’re great at home organization and you’ve developed a process for keeping your home tidy and clutter free. You’ve also helped friends and family improve their organization with your tips and advice.

  • Maybe you have specialized training or experience that could help businesses improve their operations, become more profitable, or avoid liability.

  • Maybe you have a child that used to suffer from panic attacks but you have been able to help him/her manage the attacks through a specific combination of dietary changes and relaxation exercises.

  • Maybe you struggled with a computer program or a tool, but you’ve now mastered it.

  • Or maybe you have developed a great eye for style, design, or makeup and can help others improve their personal appearance or the aesthetic of their home.

As you can see, there are endless possibilities. But the point is, you have experienced your own unique problems, struggles, and desires. Use those experiences to create an inventory of your personal struggles, solutions, and interests.

Here’s your homework:

Identify at least three problems or goals that you are currently struggling with or actively pursuing.  

  1. ____________________________________________

  2. ____________________________________________

  3. ____________________________________________

Next, identify at least three problems or goals that you have dealt with in the past but have since solved or achieved. (Could also be something you helped someone else with.)

  1. ___________________________________________

  2. ___________________________________________

  3. ___________________________________________

If you are having trouble coming up with ideas on your own, ask people who are close to you what they’ve seen you struggle with, where they’ve seen you excel, or how you have helped them in the past.

The items in the first list are most likely things that you are currently interested in and/or pretty passionate about. The items in the second list are things that you have experience with. These are your proven skills. You might feel passionate or interested in these things, or you might not.

Now, I want you to take a look at these two lists and put a star next to the one thing that has the potential to make the most impact on other people.
In other words, which problem is the most painful? Which goal elicits the most desire? Which item is most worthy of creating a course around?       

Next, I want you to consider how you feel about this topic.
What is your level of interest on a scale of 1-10?

Would you be excited to help other people solve this problem or reach this goal?

If the answer is “yes”, then this is it! This is your big idea.

If the answer is “no” then you need to listen to that instinct.

I’ve learned through experience that you should never write, teach, or create anything on a topic if your heart isn’t it in.

It’s much better to work with a topic that you’re interested in and work to solve any knowledge gaps than to try creating a course around a topic that you know well, but that bores you to tears. People can always tell when someone isn’t in alignment with what they’re teaching and it tends to ruin the experience.

Now, if there is a topic on your list that really excites you but you find yourself saying,

“I haven’t solved that problem yet,” or

“I’m not an expert.”

It’s okay.

Depending on where you are right now, you may have some extra work to do first. Or maybe it means that you document your journey and then incorporate the lessons that you learn into your course as you go.

But maybe you’re already several steps ahead of where other people are and you can show them how to make progress towards a larger goal. That’s fine too. You don’t have to be the top expert in your field to get results for your students. You just need to be farther along in the process than they are.

Take some time to brainstorm different ideas and then pay attention to how each one makes you feel.