Create, Launch & Sell courses on your own site

How to build an online video course platform

I get asked the question a lot of how Thinkific built our online video course platform.

To provide a seamless video solution with a custom solution is not as simple as it may seem. At Thinkific, it has taken many iterations to get all the right pieces working. You need to encode the video to many different formats (mp4, webm etc.) and to support all browsers using HTML5, and then support a flash fallback for those that don’t support HTML5. In addition, you need to provide video sizes such as 720p and 360p in all these formats to ensure students are able to watch the video regardless of how fast their internet connection is. This is just a few of the many things you need to get right.

For online video courses, you need to provide a seamless experience that can be viewed ideally with no stuttering. The last thing you want is someone watching your course videos and getting frustrated because the technology is getting in the way of their learning.

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There are 5 main components you need to consider to build a complete solution:

  1. Video Player (this is extremely important and has a big impact on quality of delivery & experience). Options include Sublime Video, MediaElementJS, VideoJS & JW Player (has been unreliable and support isn’t great in my experience). These are just a few.
  2. Encoding. You will need to encode videos to multiple formats and sizes. Zencoder or AWS Elastic Transcoder are both good from my experience.
  3. Storage. AWS S3 is definitely one of the cheapest and most reliable options.  Hard to beat this.
  4. Delivery. This can be done by S3 but a CDN is ideal to improve downloading & buffering speeds. AWS Cloudfront is sufficient for most scenarios but there are many others depending on budget and need.
  5. Uploading. Handling large video uploads can be challenging. At Thinkific.com we rolled our own and has taken a few attempts to make this reliable and simple to use. Our recent bulk video uploader and course creator is just another iteration on this.

If you’re just looking to just host videos, then Wistia or BrightCove are great solutions. If, instead, you’re looking for a complete course hosting solution then Thinkific.com would be what I’d use!

– Matt @ Thinkific

New Features Announced! Improved course authoring & more

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Hello Thinkific fans! We’ve been rolling out some great new features here at Thinkific HQ, and wanted to share a few of the recent updates with you.

We’re constantly working behind the scenes to make Thinkific even more amazing, with lots of fun stuff in the works. Have fun exploring!


Upload and lay out your entire video course in one step

New Feature: Bulk Video Uploader & Quick Edit. This is a big one! Instructors with video courses can now bulk upload and edit their entire course in one step. Simply create your new course, then click on “Quick Edit” in the top left once in the course editor. Drag in all of your files, and while they’re uploading you can name your lessons and chapters and move things around, all on the same screen. Be ready for launch in no time flat! Details here.

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Shiny new options for text-based content creation

New Feature: Updated Text Content Styling. Many of our instructors are creating courses using multiple content types – Videos, PDFs, Quizzes and Surveys, the list goes on! We’ve now updated our Text content type to make it more robust, both for creating content right in the tool and for pasting in content from other sources. Authors can now author text content right in the system and apply basic styles without ever having to touch the HTML view (which is still there for our power users, of course).

Data exports now available

New Feature: Survey & Quiz Exporter. Survey and Quiz data in the system can now be easily exported. Wahoo! Quiz data is great to track student progress and see exactly which areas students are struggling with, and the export feature makes surveys more robust. Find the new exporter in your dashboard under Reporting -> Quizzes and Surveys. Instructions are up here. 

Social discussion forums added

New Feature: Disqus. We heard you! We’ve integrated with the Disqus social commenting platform to give you more control over discussions for your classes. Disqus offers social logins, moderation and notifications, and robust commenting features such as image support.
Learn more about using Disqus for your school here

Native PDF content support added

New Feature: PDFs. eBook authors rejoice! Native PDF support means that PDF files can now be added as course content directly from within your editing dashboard, and viewed by students right in the browser (rather than as download only). Turn your existing PDFs into lessons as part of your new dynamic course. Details on the Knowledge Base.

Counting Down to Black Friday – Using Promotions to Drive Sales

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We all love a great deal, and perhaps even more as we get into the last couple months of the year.

The other day I was talking to a friend about a service I was thinking of buying, and she suggested I wait until Black Friday sales at the end of the month (for our readers outside of North America, the day following American Thanksgiving widely known for being the biggest promotional day of the year). In recent years, especially as commerce is increasingly online, Black Friday sales can be found around the globe.

Two things immediately came to mind when my friend suggested I wait – first, that I had no idea if the company I was planning to purchase from was even going to offer any promotions. Second, if I waited and no sale happened, how disappointed I’d be for then having to pay full price along with the added frustration of having waited the extra time!

If you’re looking for a way to drive new sales to courses you’ve had up for a while, Black Friday is a PERFECT excuse to have some fun with your marketing. Now is the time to make the plan. Here are some things to consider to get you started:

  • Straight up Black Friday sales – an awesome promotion, based on a % or $ amount off, for a single day. You can create coupons for your Thinkific school directly to make this one easy, details here.
  • Sweeten the deal – how can you make your course offering even more compelling? Think about add-ons for your promotion. Perhaps access to a second course, a half hour coaching call, or bonus course content could fit the bill here.
  • Get your fans excited. Remember the post last week about building anticipation? This is a great way to put that hype-building knowledge to work on an existing course. You don’t want your audience to question whether you have a sale coming up (like I did) – make sure they know and are ready for it!
  • Encourage new visitors to sign up on your list to be the first notified – perhaps list members get extra time to cash in on the deal (made possible by giving list members a discount code that expires at a later date), or extra value (like the sweetening options above)?
  • Seek out new audiences! Use your Black Friday deal as a way to share your promotion with new groups. Hit up LinkedIn or Facebook groups that would be interested in your course with exclusive Black Friday promotions for them to share with their members.

And of course, be sure to let us know what you’re up to! We’re looking forward to hearing what everyone does as we get into the busiest shopping time of the year. Have fun!

Lessons from The Chef

I just watched Chef, the movie, and it reminded me why I do what I do.

If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it. Chef Carl Casper, Jon Favreau, finds himself unhappy cooking under a restaurant owner’s yolk and with no time to spend with his ten year old son. He quits his job and starts a food truck with a friend and his son. They embark on a cross country road trip serving up Cuban sandwiches, and with the help of his son’s tweets, vines, and Facebook posts, they take America by storm.

freedom-of-online-teachingWhat really struck me was the power to take control of your life and your time with a business of your own. Working for yourself, whether it’s running a food truck or teaching online courses, can give you the freedom to spend time with your kids, go fishing, learn a language, or whatever you’re dreaming of. And we’re all dreaming of having a little more time and money to work with.

I guess I identify with the Chef, as his move from a fine dining restaurant parallels my jump from one of the largest law firms in the country to teaching online courses. I loved law, but the freedom of teaching online is amazing. It wasn’t an over night success, but with a little time and attention my first course took off and left me with the time to pursue my dreams.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer. And if you haven’t started teaching online, think about it. Or think about a food truck.

The Chef had a passion for food and wanted to share it with the world. What do you want to share with the world? What can you teach people? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

– Greg @ Thinkific

Marketing before launch: Building Hype


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Anticipation, buzz, hype… whatever name you give it, one of the absolute best times to be marketing your course is before it’s available to purchase.

Whether it’s the anticipation buildup of watching a trailer for an upcoming movie, commercials for the next season of Game of Thrones (we have to wait until APRIL!), or Apple’s latest product announcement, buzz is all part of the excitement. Your upcoming course should be no different.

Marketing in advance and building buzz can not only lead to a truly successful launch, but also gives you plenty of opportunity to build an even larger list before you go live. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • When you start putting together a course, begin marketing at the same time. A “coming soon” banner on your website, talking about what you’re up to on your blog and emails, and social media mentions are all great places to start
  • Supercharge your existing website prompts to join your mailing list (or add this if you’re not doing this now). Rather than “sign up for my newsletter,” change your call to action to something related to your new content, such as: “Join my VIP list and get 5 tips from my upcoming course right now”
  • Talk about benefits, not features. The compelling message isn’t that your new course is going to have 27 lessons of content with videos and so on, the message is how your audience will be better off. Turn those messages into prompts for action – “5 days to the release of my course which will give you back 5 hours a week in lost productivity. Don’t lose another hour – sign up for early access”
  • Let some people in on it early. Select tips to VIP audience members, signups for advance access, and early release to key influencers in your community (think review copies) can be a great way to get people talking about it up front

Entire courses can be written on planning a successful launch, but these few tips should help inspire a few ideas that you can get started with, even if you’re still perfecting your content!

Happy Monday!

 

Updating your email list with LinkedIn connections

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Happy Monday, everyone!

I wanted to jump in and share a quick tip this week on something simple you can do to help market your online courses to your existing network. Whether you’re launching a course for the first time or mentioning an existing course in an email out, it’s important to do a double take to be sure you’ve fully captured your existing contacts in your email list.

My favourite way to do this is by exporting my LinkedIn connections. Even if I did this originally I’m always adding contacts and may not have captured everyone I want in my email list. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Visit the LinkedIn exporter at: http://linkedin.com/addressBookExport (it will prompt you to log in to your account if you aren’t already)
  2. Choose your export type (I suggest sticking with the default .CSV file for most uses)
  3. Hit Export. That’s it!

Once you have your .CSV file of your LinkedIn contacts, you can import the list into whatever tool you use to manage your list. Here are the instructions for a couple of them:

Many of our instructors find that their existing networks are one of their biggest assets when promoting new courses, but don’t realize there’s an easy way to export email addresses of these connections. When dealing with email, always remember to play nice by abiding by any applicable anti-spam legislation in your country, and giving subscribers the chance to opt-out. Otherwise, email is a great way to stay in touch with your network!

Happy emailing!

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