What's an Online Course? Basics Explained

What's an Online Course? Basics Explained

by CreativeMindClass • 7 min read

An online course (aka eLearning) is any course that takes place online: via a website or an app.

The benefits are obvious: teaching out of a classroom without leaving your own home and creating a source of passive income.

what is online course

But what are the elements of the online course, and how a "good" online course looks like?

To answer that, we first need to understand how online course works.

New to online courses? Check out our Online Courses Basic Guide

How Online Courses Work?

In simple terms, online course is like a classroom of the digital age.

Instead of giving a class in front of people, you prepare the class and put it online. It involves things like video lessons, exercises, and file uploads.

The online course uses the help of a learning management system (LMS) such as online course platform. It simply means that a course creator uses it to create and sell their digital content.

A good online course platform provides digital features that allow creators to upload video courses with learning materials: files, exercises, homework, audio, etc.

The online course industry is a fast-growing sector and it has blown up over the last few years. eLearning Market (including online courses) is projected to grow globally to over $240 Billion by 2022.

That said, there are tons of other factors to consider before starting with online courses.

Learn more about this in our guide to how online courses work.

What makes a good online course?

It takes some time to research and find out information about a well-structured online course. So here are several examples of online course pages you can use as inspiration and to get a better understanding of its structure.

But first, an important point:

All elements included in your online course need to provide value to your students.

You can include in your online course its key element, which is a video lesson, and add multiple online course elements that will increase your online course value.

Types of online courses

Online courses can have different shapes and forms.

Before you consider developing elements of your online course, you first need to think about how your audience will view its content.

Creators use several ways to present content; videos, PDFs, or presentation slides. They also offer downloadable files and engage students with practical assignments.

Types of online courses
Types of online courses

Video Lessons

Nowadays, the go-to method of putting an online course out in the world is a video lesson. Consumers like it because it's easy to digest, entertaining and engaging. You know from your own experience how much more fun it's to watch something than to read.

To present a video to an audience, course creators can use a service called an online course platform.

Let's say that you already have a video lesson.

Now, you need to put it online.

That said, some additional things need to be prepared:

  • Title: A good title sparkles the interest of an audience. Online courses with dull titles often won't get bought.
  • Description: Briefly tell the audience about the course contents. If a product description is missing, people don't know what they are buying.
  • Price: The price you charge has a direct impact on how much money you make. If it's set your price to low, it's a lost opportunity for a higher income.
  • Bio: It's a short story about you, the course creator. If a bio is missing, an audience won't recognize the course landing page immediately.
  • Cover: You can prepare an image or a short video trailer presenting the course. It's a course packaging and branding so it can't be missing

If you’re concerned about any of these issues for your online course, consider checking out our online course portal, a pre-built website template with video course elements like title, description, price, bio, and a cover image or trailer video.

Video Class Example on CreativeMindClass
ONLINE COURSE ELEMENTS: Title, Description, Price, Bio, Cover

Lessons with PDFs

If you want to teach with booklets, the easiest is to create a lesson with a PDF file.

Presentation slides

With slides, you can create engaging lessons. Limited in-text slides and including a few key points help students to digest the information easily. You can make your slides in Canva or using Google Slides.

Digital downloads

Digital download products are downloadable files that your customers can buy. These files won't be available for them to stream directly, they will just be available for download.

Assignments: Practical exercises, homework (aka Hands-on)

Assignments are an active form of learning. Studies have shown that hands-on learning is the most successful way of learning with students.

Given that information, it probably comes as no surprise that adding a hands-on exercise to an online course increases the value of such a course.

But here's even more critical argument about hands-on learning The Friends' Central School:

Incorporating hands-on learning into the classroom or into the home is an easy way for teachers to show their students exactly how what they are learning can be used in the real world.

In other words, most students will get out of it some practical and usable knowledge.

It's important because it helps them move from theory to practice. Online courses that don't have an active form of learning lead to dissatisfaction. And even if you win and sell the course, most people won't stick around to complete your online course.

You can check if your online course platform has a hands-on feature.

Exercises and Hands-on Feature CreativeMindClass
CreativeMindClasse's Exercise/Hands-on Feature

If it doesn't, consider checking out this feature on our portal (it's free).  

How can I learn Online Course Best Practices?

CreativeMindClass offers the best resources on the web for learning about Online Courses. If you're completely new to the world of online teaching, start at the very beginning and read the updated Beginner's Guide to Online Courses.

Provide learning materials

Providing additional files in your online course, regardless of its type, influences course satisfaction.

Why? Once again, an audience wants value from your online course. If you sell them a naked course it might lead to dissatisfaction.

File uploads give rich context to your lessons. They can include a lesson plan, hands-on exercises, sketches, inspirations, and cheat sheets.

Make sure that you can upload various file types: PDFs, Word, Excel, jpg, png, .etc.  You want to check if your online course portal allows you to include working documents like Adobe Photoshop PSDs or Illustrator AIs, as it's a very rare feature.

File uploads feature CreativeMindClass
File Uploads / Attachements Feature

Alternatively, use the CreativeMindClasses file uploads. Just head to "Lesson" and look for "Attachments".

File Uploads CreativeMindClass

Lesson Plan

Creating a lesson plan for your online course is easy. Just add lessons and sections in an online course platform like CreativeMindClass, then sort your content with a drag and drop.

Lesson Plan CreativeMindClass
Lesson Plan CreativeMindClass

That said, many people fail to create a clear structure for their online course lessons.

To demonstrate a Lesson Plan that we like, let's look at an example.

Here is a Lesson Plan structure made by illustrator Riccardo Russomanno for his Combining illustration and photography course:

This is a great Lesson Plan in action. Clear structure with lessons and lesson sections.

Well-organized structure easy online course navigation: moving between lesson sections (including the START SECTION button) and getting back to a lesson when they want.

For example, the START SECTION button changes to CONTINUE SECTION when a student already watched it.

If you are looking for a clear online course structure, you can use the CreativeMindClass Online Course Portal pre-build features to do so.

Online course platforms & websites

If you are looking for a place for your online courses, you will encounter different platforms with similar features but specializing in different areas. Here is the list of the best online course platforms ones to build and sell courses:

  • CreativeMindClass

Best for Building Video Courses

  • Teachable

Best Overall Online Course Platform

  • Thinkific

Best for Low Fees

  • Uscreen

Best for Beginners

  • Podia

Best for Ease of Use

  • Udemy

Best for New Course Businesses

  • Skillshare

Best for New Course Creators

  • Kajabi

Best Hosted Online Course Platform

Final thoughts

An online course (aka eLearning) is any course that takes place online and it can have different forms and shapes.

Knowing the types of online courses is crucial when trying to create a well-structured online course.

That said, your Lesson Plan is something you must create before creating your online course content.

Don't let yourself fall into the perfectionist trap, and go for the one and only perfect version of an online course. The course content: titles, descriptions, images, video lessons, PDFs, downloads, assignments, and additional file uploads will change, and that's OK.

Looking to learn more about online courses? Check out our The Best Way to Start with Online Courses article.


What is meant by online courses?

It is an online course that can be created and viewed using a digital device such as a laptop, tablet, or mobile. It can done be via a website or an app.

What is a purpose of an online course?

The purpose of an online course is primarily to share and obtain knowledge without leaving your own home. Secondly, its aim is to create an online community.


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