When I am developing an online or any other course I like to use various approaches to help me find topics that many people would like to learn. My experience has shown me that you never want to develop a course, nobody wants to attend (or buy it for that matter).

How to Select The Right Course Topic

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In this business (e-Learning and course development) it is important to know if something you develop has the chances to be “consumed”. As Ash Maurya have so eloquently stated it:

Life’s too short to build something nobody wants. (Ash Maurya)

Information about the target group is always useful to an instructional designer. It is important to know what people want in order to develop something would have a value.

This step is important because otherwise, you find yourself in a middle of a developing process which might end to nowhere and you drained out of time, energy and valuable resources.

Developing a course is a detailed process needs focus, plan and a systematic approach. The how to find the right course topic is a little bit science and a little bit art. But is not magic! And everybody with some knowledge and due diligence can do it!

The Right Course Topics & Other Myths

There are many approaches on how to develop an info-product or a course but there are some better than other.

Usually, you never start on blind, you have indications of an existing need or an explicit requirement, or an alarm about something missing.

Even though it maybe something you cannot pinpoint directly, if you are long in a niche market you start developing a gut feeling about something missing!

Many edupreneurs have started with an ambient ‘feeling’ just to succeed covering existing needs and requirements nobody was looking at.

If you are operating in a specific niche for quite long time, by associating the same people, sharing common ideas, moving in the same community, doing your “normal” everyday work can give you indications about what’s happening around you.

You can find clues browsing in Google or in Google trends, or you may have more specific indications as people ask you to develop a specific course, discussions on social media or specialized forums, comments on your posts and articles, etc.

All these, little-by-little can “produce” you the idea for a course needed to solve a specific problem in your market or that there is a need for a product such this.

Why You Need The Right Course Topic For Your Course

Have you heard of the “brilliant idea predicament”? Well, it goes like this.

You have a brilliant idea about something may cause a huge impact in your niche market or your industry and you are set off to start developing the next big thing.

You lock yourself up in your working place, trying to produce the best possible solutions to cover the specific need. You invest time, energy, and resources in order to hit the market with your brilliant product, which supposedly would be the solution to the X problem.

You spent a lot of hours trying to make it better to be more fit to the requirements of the people you have to address it to, and when it is ready and hits the market, … nobody wants it!

You know the feeling? It is the feeling of wasting many resources to dubious results and you produce a zero output. Yes, it is a very embarrassing feeling.

It is not as if you would build something in order to get some side-income. It is as if you spend a huge part of your life in something not worth. And for what?

Because you didn’t take the time to check if your idea has any value at all!

Indications For A Problem Or A Requirement In Your Niche Market

As I have explained you, when you are long and operate in a niche market you always have indications can lead you to identify a problem or a requirement and develop something of value.

Especially so in the course development business, where you need clear indications BEFORE you start developing anything and commit resources towards a dubious outcome.

First of all, you have your personal experience. The feedback you are receiving from your clients, the problems you are facing in your everyday work, the comments you are receiving to your articles, etc.

But there are more, more solid indications you can collect and organize when you are searching for the right course topic of your next big success.

Indications as:

  1. Your personal experience and interactions with your clients and associates
  2. A huge surge in demanding information about certain topics (indicating by Google Trends and similar tools)
  3. A raising interest on a certain course topic in specialized forums, interest groups, focus groups, mentorship groups, etc.
  4. An enhance in the advertising campaigns of specific course topic by many small business companies
  5. A rise in a number of courses with similar topics in the specialized sites as the Udemy, the Teachable, the Thinkific, etc.
  6. An enhance number of books on Amazon dealing with the specific topics
  7. Further discussion in social media, social media groups, etc. for specific topics.

All these are indications that there is a lack in specific course topics and you have good chance to have a “market” if you choose to develop a course for these topics.

But indications are not enough in this game. You need a plan, a solid approach to help you select and organize your process.

You need a specific process that with lead you to a specific output. A list of possible course topics for implementation.

And even then, when you have the “attacking plan” you need some failsafe valves to prevent you from not continue something not working or not “in demand” anymore.

You need to use various techniques such as:

  • Pre-sales procedures
  • Specific answers to questionnaires
  • Actual in-demand procedures
  • Submitting bids
  • Provide a pilot course
  • Provide incentives and motivation
  • Ask your prospect for price diversification
  • Do some free webinars with the topics selected
  • Write some posts and check the contents
  • Implement questionnaires and surveys in various media
  • (etc.)

Set The Things In Motion: Find The Right Course Topics For Your Next Course Success

There are many books can help you to select an approach and design an effective “plan of attack” for finding the right course topics.

There are excellent books around can help you save a lot of effort and energy in deciding the topics for your next course. Books such as:

All these are extremely useful resources, but you need to take in their insights and craft a plan that it is applicable to your own needs and your own special way of thinking & working.

You need to start from the start (having no clue at all about what course people want) and produce a list of topics can be successful in the market.

First of all, you need to set clear objectives and set SMART goals to help you limited the survey span and make you produce real exploitable results.

Second, you need to define a roadmap to lead you from the ideas/requirement pool to a list of course topics you can utilize for your next course.

Third, you should decide some time limits in order not to be trapped in an endless research circle trying to find the best candidates and alternatives for your next course.

My personal opinion is to have 1 or the most 2 consequent survey phases lasting 2-4 weeks each (with 1 week apart) in order to finalize the survey circle in less than 2 months.

Fourth, you need to map down the basic phases of your research and even better to use a project management tool to help you organize your project. And yes, don’t make wrong, it is a project that can save you a lot of resources in done right.

I generally use Evernote for outlining and collecting notes about the course topics, and Asana, Trello or Wrike for organizing all the research effort (whatever you think is useful for you).

When you have decided on the basic premises of your research, it is time to start generating a list of ideas and requirements in your niche market.

1. Ideas & Requirements

Ideas are everywhere and I bet you have many during the day. Ideas are one of the all-favorite currencies of the digital economy and their management and employment are rather an art than an exact science.

Many people have made a business around various simple ideas that help them to make a difference and bring them a handsome side income before becoming mainstream jobs.

Such ideas may become a successful business. Companies like Netflix, Uber,  Juno, ZipLine Drones, Truebill, Slack, Dropbox, Inverse, Product Hunt, Patreon, process.st, Carousell, Giphy, PlayBuzz, Opinio, Nozbe, are just a few of them.

The problem with the ideas thought is not how fast you can generating one. It is how to evaluate the best, select the ones to have a high degree of materialization, verify them and realize them in a feasible and efficient (cost productive?) way!

For a task as this, you need a process to help you be on track. Especially so in course development area where you need to find the course topics that can make the best impact and help you to become financially independent or provide you substantial advantages.

The process you need is the one that helps you set goals, timetable, milestones and clear outputs. There are many approaches you can use here (like Key Performance Indicators [PKI], other project management techniques, etc.) but the best are usually are the ones you know and can use effectively.

To start with, you first, need to use your experience and your personal input (comments, discussions in your site, requests, etc.) in order to start compiling the first list of possible ideas for course topics might be eligible for materialization.

You do not need to filter anything in this phase as the filtering is something you should do it lately on!

Second, you need to filter your original list making intelligent questions based on educational guesses, your gut feeling, your abilities, niche market’s requirements, the alleged market demand, etc.

This process would help you the add or remove certain ideas or requirements from the list and focus your efforts. The questions you would set should test the validity of your ideas/requirements.

The best case is to end this phase by having 10-20 questions which can evaluate your ideas.

The next task is to decide on the criteria you should evaluate and verify your course topics ideas.

This task needs some work because the compilation of this list is important and should be based on the intelligent questions you have design above.

There are many methodologies and guides can help you to select the best training topics in a discipline or niche market.

Based on a little research and your experience, you can select various criteria for guiding your research. Some common criteria you can use are the:

  1. Volume of people want the course – popularity
  2. Importance of topic in relation to certain target groups
  3. The volume of people are willing to pay for it (tt can cover more than one target group?)
  4. In-house capability? (my skills to organize it or to start to design it or to developing in with my own or companies resources)
  5. Accessibility/availability of materials for course development
  6. Clear organization of goals and units (some topics are not eligible for online courses)
  7. Is the topic multifunctional? (help the learners to learn more than one concept, skill, case, or problem)
  8. Can provide clear outputs for the learners
  9. Cost effectiveness (can I develop it with my current resources)
  10. What are the potential advantages/profits the particular course can bring me (profits viewed in a general term. Included features like visibility, fame, profitability, other advantages, etc.)

2. Research

Now you should start to do some real work in the sense you need to start researching which ones of your ideas are feasible or not.

This phase usually starts with filtering your questions and limit them to 5-10 alternatives that may produce and evaluate a set of 5-7 different course topics. This is the time to limit the scope of your research in order not to fall in an endless research phase.

In this phase, you should also put some timetables in order to know for how long you should research the possible course topics. As I have suggested earlier on, you should estimate 1 or the most 2 subsequent phases to clarify, collect, organize and verify the best ideas (if you have the time).

In this phase you can employ various research methodologies to research the various parameters of your research as:

  • What your audience wants
  • What are the needs of your niche market
  • What is hot today
  • What is the major problem the companies in your niche market face,
  • etc.

You can use for best trends in Google Advance Search, Google Trends to start getting some indications about what’s happening. If you have access you may use and advance tools like the BuzzSumo, the NinjaOutreach, or the Serpstat to evaluate trends and check what competition in dealing with.

Here you should also design or employ (if you have them ready) highly targeted questions to use them to check your ideas on specialized groups.

You, also, need to focus on certain specialized sites have provided you with valuable results in the past.

It is worth in searching on sites as the: Amazon, Quora, Udemy, Clarify, Teachery, Teachable, ThinkificCoursmos, SkillShare, etc. to find what other people want and demand in terms of education, resource, and training units. These sites can provide high-value input about what is in demand currently.

To get valuable results, you should also need to utilize special interest sites like the AllTop, the inbound.org, the GrowthHackers.org, the Product Hunt, the Hacker News, the Reddit, etc., forums like the Digital Point Forum, the Self-Starters Weekly Tips Forum, the Wicked Fire, the Warrior Forum, etc.

You should also expand your research on social media networks utilize relevant Facebook groups, Google Plus communities, LinkedIn news and groups and, of course, the Twitter. These are also the sites you can start growing a little bit feedback by broadcasting messages and ideas and check the responses.

You cannot continue the process for long as I have written because you need to stabilize some results and start creating winning ideas.

Until now, you should collect and filter many different course topics’ ideas and you should have found the best way for you to collect them and organize them.

There are many ways, like databases, spreadsheets, the Evernote, text files, word documents, etc. but one of the best ways, according to my opinion, is one or more Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheets.

The spreadsheet will give you some ideas about normalizing the results setting some common denominators for later evaluation, filtering, etc. And of course, will permit you to select the basic criteria in relation to the ideas you have already collected.

In the results you have collected by far, is time to do some real field work my start utilizing the most widespread research tools, which are specific questionnaires, on the topic surveys and various polls.

Most social networks today provide similar facilities, while there are many tools to help you do a more integrated work like the Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, TypeForm, etc.

Having collected and documented your by far results would permit you to analyze them more easily and filter them using the criteria you have selected in the previous stage (like volume of people interested in the course, discussions have been made, capacity of implementing it with own resources, material availability, etc.)

3. Analysis

Getting this far is a huge leap ahead towards getting the most “hot” course topics. But all this work is not enough if you do not analyze the data you have already gather and do not draw the right conclusions for your goals (i.e. to develop a course everybody wants it!)

This is the time to collect all your loose notes, remarks, comments, and put all your data in a form easily workable and able to provide usable results.

It is also the time to remove the bias, the “noise” the clutter you may have accumulated in your data and start discern patterns, evaluate trends, and the possible course topics.

It is the time to work as a classical “data marketer” and gather some real evidence to support your hypotheses and the course topics you find as more suitable for implementation.

You should compare the list of course topics you have compiled by far against the criteria you have select as primary for your goals and remove everything does not comply with your specifications.

Here a large number of the course topics you have recorded as best candidates for implementation should be removed (a normal rare is that you will remove more than 80% of the course topics you have accumulated through this process).

This does not mean that the topics to be removed are not good. It means that for various reasons these are the topics, presently you cannot implement (for various reasons as not availability of resource, or no skills for implementation, etc.)

4. Organization

With the final set of the “winning” course topics (according to your specifications) you should further a little more, in order to codify them, to normalize their expression and format, and set them in a sortable and usable format.

If the things have gone as planned, you should also have a list of winning course topics can be implemented from the topics with higher candidacy for implementation to the topics with the least candidacy.

But the work is not finished yet, because what you have is a list of course topics people want and you can provide but, still, you need to select the best ones for implementation.

To do that you will need to limit your list to 3-4 course topics at the most.  To do so you need to find ways to remove more clutter from your list. Or in another word you need more ways to verify which course topics have a further advantage in becoming a success.

5. Verification

The verification process is an important one, as import were all the previous ones. Every step by far is functioning as the classical network models do (with OSI as the main representative), in which every layer takes services from the previous ones and provide services to the next one.

The process has similar characteristics with every step in the chain forging strong interconnections with the rest ones.

But the verification process is a little bit different because this is the process you need to take some real decisions.

Until now you have a list of excellent rated course topics “able” and “fitted” to succeed in the current market. But before you spend time and effort you need to verify which ones are the ones which will give you the best benefits (in terms of resources, connections, fame, money, etc.)

To have chances of success in this activity you need to employ some further activities can reassure a “better” course of action for the courses you might want to implement. You need to see how these may “work” in real conditions.

It is a classical example of developing a “simulation” for the course(s) to be in your niche market (exactly as in the business games). But how you can do this?

There are many ways to do that. But first, you need to codify some specific “announcements”, messages and posts based on your winning course topics and customize them for usage on specific groups, social media, forums, discussion groups, etc. (again a spreadsheet can again help to collect and codify the various messages).

Your second step is to “feedback” your results (i.e. the winning course topics) in various ways and via various channels to prospects, leads, and interested groups.

You can start by the people you work and associate with, by design special messages and announcements and send them to the people you trust their opinion most.

You can send direct e-mail and message to a selected list of interested friends, to communicate your intentions to your affiliation networks, to discuss them to your mentorship groups or even forming some focus groups with people you trust.

Of course, you listen carefully and record every feedback or comment you receive and add it as a critical factor in your list for enhancing the relative position of a topic or for removing a different one.

A second approach is to feedback the results (in a specific way, i.e. certain in Facebook, other, different ones, in Google, other in LinkedIn, etc.) and check again the results.

Again you collect the results and feed them back to your course topics list.

Other ways you can utilize for verifying your ideas include:

  • Launch a pilot mini-course(s) (incorporating 3-4 of the winning topics) with limited-functionality
  • Pre-selling of the course in order to verify that there are people want to pay for it
  • Make a series of webinars with corresponding topics
  • Write corresponding articles
  • Publish specific announcements to discussion groups and forums
  • Send “cold emails” to leading leads, prospects, etc.
  • Start collecting a mailing list with interested parties (offering something in exchange for their email address)
  • Post targeted messages for specific target groups

Of course, all these activities needs a little organization to work because you need ways to collect the feedback and integrate it into your results.

6. List of Possible Topics

The end of this procedure is (or should be) to end up with a list of 3-4 course topics can be used for developing a course which will provide value to the marker and to the people will going to attend them.

This is the end of your research process and ideally, the start of the developing one. Now you have a short list with course topics can surpass the wall of market indifference and bring you the advantages you have scheduled to succeed.

IF you have a shortlist of 3-5 course topics can be potential winners in your niche market, it is now a matter of simple selection for the one you would pick for implementation.

This decision may be varied and become dependent on various restraints (financial, business, software development constraints, lack of necessary resources, etc.) but now you should have a clear path as far as the courses you need to develop concerns.

What do you say?