5 Ways to Know Your Online Course Idea Will Sell


Do you have a great online course idea waiting to be discovered by your potential learners? It can be daunting to start a new online course, let alone validate a course idea—but rest assured, we’re here to guide you through the process.

Research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift from face-to-face education to online learning, done remotely via digital platforms such as OpenLearning. The overall market for global investments in online education is projected to reach a staggering $350 billion by 2025.

On top of that, online education has been shown to increase learners’ retention of information and takes less time to absorb. These are all positive signs that online learning is here to stay.

If you’re still wondering whether selling an online course is profitable, there are several tools you can use to figure out whether your course will be a great source of passive income and side hustle for you! 

Let’s walk through a number of best practices to help you create and sell high quality online courses like a pro. You may choose to use some or all of these methods to test your course idea.

1. Do your keyword research

For any new business idea, it makes sense to validate your idea by searching for demand in the market. The easiest way to find out is right at your fingertips: search engine keyword research! 

Let’s start with the world’s largest search engine: Google. Open up Google Trends and type in a topic idea for your course. Remember to change your geographic location on the top right corner if necessary to tailor your audience, hit enter… and voila!

Pro Tip: Remember to set your audience location and choose a suitable time frame. In the example above, Google Trends shows that the search interest for the topic ‘Industry 4.0’ started low in mid-2014 and has grown over the years.

Google Trends is the simplest, most basic channel that can help you to start analysing the popularity of your top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages. The best part… it’s all real-time and unbiased, so you know you’re getting the best results.

A few questions to ask as you explore the data from Google Trends are:

  • How has the topic grown over the last 5 years? 
  • Can you pinpoint spikes and explain why interest in the topic may have surged? 
  • And how does it compare to other topics such as “climate change” or “creative writing”? 

2. Tap into social listening

Another best practice to validate your course idea is to do some social listening. Social listening is a technique that you can use to see what your potential learners are thinking, talking, sharing and asking about your topic… and yes, in totally legal and acceptable ways (we’re not tapping any phones here!)

As a course creator, here are some platforms where you can find freely shared, honest opinions:

  • Quora: Quora is a forum where questions are asked, answered and edited by netizens and subject matter experts. A great starting point to see what the conversation looks like around the topic.
  • Reddit: Reddit is an online community where people can share news and content on whatever they are interested in. Similar to Quora, you can discover what discussions are happening on your topics.
  • Facebook: Besides forums like Quora and Reddit, social media is where you can get insights on what your potential learners are talking about. If a government agency or initiative is involved, that is also a strong indication that this topic will definitely be a popular one for some time.
  • YouTube: You can search your topic idea and see the number of views for relevant videos. This will provide you with an idea how popular the topic is. Pro Tip: Pay extra attention to the date of upload to see how relevant it is today.

You can also browse free tools online such as Social Mentions to gauge what and how your potential learners are interacting with your topic.

3. Find out what your competitors are doing

Next, let’s take a peek at what your competitors are doing. Believe it or not, competition can actually be good for your online course business, as this provides you an opportunity to discover what is currently existing in the market. This can also spur new, better ways of bringing your own teaching perspective and style that may be more attractive to your audience.

Start digging on online course marketplaces such as Udemy or Class Central, as they:

  • help us evaluate the demand for specific topics,
  • understand what people are willing to pay for,
  • reveal where there may be gaps to fill.

Competitor analysis can be valuable for you to review how to market and sell, explore content design, structure and also the course sales strategy.

4. Feedback goes a long way

So you’ve done your keyword research, social listening and know what your competitors are up to—what’s next?

Now, here’s the fun part: it’s time for you to ask for direct, honest feedback on whether your course idea is valid. There are a few options, ranging from the easiest to the most difficult:

  • Ask expert peers and friends,
  • Ask a subject matter expert, and/or
  • Create a survey and post it in the community groups that you identified during social listening.

Start by asking simple questions like these:

  • What do you know about this topic?
  • Have you applied this knowledge at work?
  • Would you enrol in an online course on this topic?

Follow the natural flow of the conversation from there. Use it to fine-tune your ideas along the way.

5. Offer early-bird access to gauge your market

The next level of validation is to get people to pay for your course before you have even finished building it. Whether it be pre-selling or even, offering special Early-Bird discounts as part of your strategy, it can be a measure to gauge the level of interest of your audience for your course idea.

For example on the OpenLearning platform, you can set your course start date to sometime in the future, then begin pre-selling it using your own course landing page.

The landing page houses the ‘Join Now’ button, and it is the place to market your course to potential students. When setting up your landing page, be sure to address the following:

  • the main purpose of the course
  • who the course is for
  • any prerequisite knowledge required before taking the course
  • how taking this course will help students in their everyday lives

Set a course start date in the future to give yourself time to build the course. If you see enrolments coming in before the start date, that is a good sign that your course will be successful.

Another great advantage of this method is that you can set pre-enrolment questions which your learners will have to answer before they can join the waiting list. You can use the responses from pre-enrolment questions as a way to validate whether your course is designed to match your learners’ needs.

Bonus: Build, Launch, Sell Your Course in 30 Days

Did you know that you’ve just previewed OpenLearning’s FREE course on how to Build, Launch, and Sell Your Course in 30 Days? Enrol today to complete the whole course for more best practices here.


There you have it, you’ve taken the first steps to get your course idea from paper to reality.

Next up, it’s time to build and engage with your potential audience. Read why this is a great year to create an online course and get inspired! OpenLearning has loads of free tools and resources that can help you in many areas of online learning and teaching. We are here to help and wish you the best in your online teaching and learning journey.

Featured Image by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.

OpenLearning is an online learning platform that encourages learning through social interaction and active, authentic learning experiences.


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