The current period is a golden time for anyone involved in the online learning space. E-learning sites have been observing record signups during the lockdown, with some of them getting a year’s worth of registrations in 3-4 months. And this trend is expected to continue post-pandemic because schools will want to be more agile and prepared for such realities in the future. So if you want to set up an online school, there can’t be a time better than now!
But if you’re stuck and wondering where to begin and how to start developing your online school, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’re going to take a look at all the basics you should know before starting to work on building your online school.
Types of Online Schools and their Business Models
There are many types of online schools that can be created by someone to teach online. You should be aware of these options before you decide which type of online school you want to create. Here’s a brief intro to each of them:
#1. Course marketplace
- Multiple instructors selling different category of courses
- Example: Udemy, Coursera, edX
These are sometimes also known as Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) sites because they allow hundreds or even thousands of instructors to create their courses and sell them. There’s no limit to the success that you can achieve with this category of online schooling sites, but the competition is also quite high among them. Because as your popularity gains momentum, you find yourself competing against some of the most well-funded, most professionally managed, and most talent-rich websites in the world.
Further Reading: How to Build an Online Education Website like Udemy
#2. Niche-specific online school (single-instructor)
- Single instructor creating and managing courses for a particular subject
- Example: an individual-owned coaching school or masterclass
This type of school teaches a particular subject and is run by one instructor. If you’ve in-depth knowledge and expertise about any particular subject, you can create such a site where you share your knowledge and expertise with students who want to learn the subject that you know so well. This kind of website is easier to build for two reasons. First, because they don’t require the functionality of a full-fledged school or course marketplace involving multiple instructors.
And second, because they don’t pip you against the bigshots of the e-learning industry from the very beginning. You can gradually and peacefully establish yourself as an industry expert.
The downside of these sites, however, is that everything is run by you only. You can hire an assistant to help you with certain tasks if you wish, but still, the majority of knowledge-based work (i.e. creating course content, providing one-to-one tutoring, taking tests, and grading students) will have to be done by you only because no assistant can have the kind of knowledge for that.
#3. Niche-specific online school (multi-instructor)
- Multiple instructors teaching courses belonging to a particular niche
- Example: Lynda.com, Harvard’s Online Business School
These are similar to the schools that we just explored, but with a twist. Instead of you doing all the hard work, you can allow other experts to create an account on your site and teach others. This way you can still establish yourself and your brand as a niche expert, without having to stress out yourself in creating all the courses, taking all the tests, and grading all the students.
However, a shortcoming of this model is that you can’t keep all the profits yourself. When multiple instructors will be training, it’s needless to say that they’ll take a share in your earnings as well. But this can be compensated for if your students are willing to pay more, which they’re likely to do because they’ll be benefited from the perspective of more than one expert.
Further Reading: 6 Best Platforms for Your Online Education Website
#4. Supplementary learning site for academics
- Single or multiple instructors creating courses related to academic education
- Example: Khan Academy, Byjus
These sites run on the model of niche-specific learning sites with multiple instructors, but the difference is that instead of teaching anything specific they provide supplementary education to aid the academic schooling of students.
This kind of site can be developed by partnering with one teacher for each subject that is taught in the curriculum. Or if you wish, you can also hire the teachers instead of partnering with them on a profit-sharing basis. If hiring on a fixed monthly payment provides you better margins from your online school, there’s no reason why you should not do that!
#5. Fully online K-12 school
- Online school with courses from kindergarten to 12th grade
- Texas Tech University, Laurel Springs School (9-12)
Finally, you can set up a fully online K-12 school that even issues certification to the students once they’ve passed the necessary tests for each class if you’ve got the accreditation that can make your certifications recognized across the country. Many such schools have been set up by already established high schools in the US to teach their students remotely, but it doesn’t mean that only those schools can set up such online K-12 schools. You too can do that if you can get the accreditation that gives your certificates acceptance at other institutes of higher education.
The main advantage of this kind of school is that since your certificates are recognized, you can charge what a school charges from the students for a particular standard – which is usually much more than what any other e-learning site will charge. So your margins are much better than any other kind of e-learning site. However, a limitation is that the standard of your content and teaching should be on par with the standard of a real school. You can’t settle for anything less in this case, otherwise, you risk losing your students as well as your accreditation.
Case Study: Building a K-12 School with LearnDash
FREE RESOURCE: The Online School Planner
Revenue Models for Online School
We’ve already seen the types of online school sites that can be created by you. Now let’s take a look at some of the business models that can be used to monetize your school website and generate revenue from it. While there’s a variety of business models that can be applied to e-learning sites, there are only 2 types of business models that can work for an online school. Here’s a brief description of both of them along with their pros and cons:
1- Academy model
First of all, we have the Academy model, which is the model of all offline schools too. Students pay a certain fee on monthly basis to read and learn all the subjects that are part of their curriculum. You can apply the same model to your online school by creating bundles of the courses that must be completed and tests that must be given in order to pass a certain class and obtain a certificate.
This model works best for K-12 schools and supplementary education sites for the students of K-12 schools. Other types of e-learning sites can also apply it (and some have also applied i.e. Skillshare), but in order to provide the value they’ll have to create a lot more content on regular basis because unlike schools where people pay to get a certificate, there’s no reason why people would want to pay on a monthly basis unless fresh content is being published every month.
Pros of Academy model:
- Stable monthly income
- Better margins (if you hire instructors on a fixed monthly pay instead of a profit-sharing basis)
Cons of Academy model:
- There can be no compromise at all with the quality of your content and teachers
- A minimum number of students must be maintained all the time to pay the teachers (if hired on fixed monthly payments)
2- Donation based model
The second model that you can adopt to create your online school is a donation-based model. As it can be realized from its name, this model primarily relies on donations in order to sustain itself. If you provide valuable education and course content for free to educate students who are in need and who can’t afford to pay, you’ll certainly find people who’re willing to help you sustain your business with their generous donations.
A big example of successfully implementing this model is Khan Academy. The site provides supplementary education for the students of 1st standard to 12th standard, and it’s financed solely by the donations that come its way. Some of the biggest and most respected organizations have donated to it, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Bank of America, Oracle, AT&T, and many more. Recently Elon Musk also donated $5 million to Khan Academy, through his Musk Foundation.
Pros of Donation based model:
- High growth potential
- Marketing and brand building is easier (through Word of Mouth and many other channels)
- Teach thousands of students, because no student needs to worry about the cost of your courses.
Cons of Donation-based model:
- There’s a limit to how much money you can make for yourself
- If donations stop, your online school ceases to exist.
LMS Platforms for your online school
Once you’ve chosen the type of site that you want to create, and the business model that will be good for it, the next choice is that of a Learning Management System or LMS. This system allows you to upload your course content, manage it, update it, take tests of the students, track their progress and perform every other task that should be done in a school. There are many LMS platforms available for this purpose, but in this article, we’ll discuss only two of them which are actually capable of providing all the diverse features that you may need to run your online school.
WordPress+LearnDash – A flexible and easy-to-use platform
First of all, there’s LearnDash. It’s highly flexible, scalable, and pretty simple to use. Since it’s open-source it provides endless customization capabilities to design almost any kind of user experience. And the best part is that its features and a vast library of extensions provide opportunities to both coders and non-coders, to build a suitable online school. Since it is based on WordPress – a platform that has got a huge library of themes, plugins, page builders, and other tools – most of the time there will be a plugin available to do what you want to do.
Further Reading: How to start an online school with LearnDash under $800
Moodle – A comprehensive online learning platform
Another popular LMS that can be used to build a full-fledged online school is Moodle. Like WordPress, it’s also open-source software, but an LMS developed solely for the purpose of e-learning. As a result, some of its features are very unique, but the learning curve is a bit steeper than WordPress. It’s also a very scalable platform, which has allowed it to be used by some of the world’s biggest universities for creating their own e-learning sites and online schools. So you too can consider it for your school.
If you want a detailed look into the features, pros, and cons of these platforms (plus some other platforms as well), we’ve written in detail about the 6 best LMS platforms to set up an online education website. You can check it out and find out which LMS platform will suit your e-learning site requirements the best.
So that was everything that you should know before setting up your online school. Once you’ve decided the kind of site you want to build, the revenue model, and the platform, the next step is to start building it, and there are two options on the table: you can either build it yourself or hire a professional developer if you have the budget.
We’ve tried to cover almost every aspect of the process, but if you still have any questions then feel free to leave them in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them as soon as possible.
Also, if you yourself know any part of the development process that we’ve missed then you can share that as well and we’ll update it in the article. Keep teaching, keep learning, and keep sharing!
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