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Friday, January 3, 2014

An Easy Way To Start Your Own Online Classroom

Do you have a special skill? It could be anything: math, the guitar, a second language, geography, history, literature, even elementary grammar! If you're good at something, no need to let it go unknown. There is actually a sure-fire way to profit from it: teaching.

And if you already have a full-time job, or you're not interested in dealing with schools or all the baggage that comes with being a professional teacher, that's okay, too.

In fact, it's more than okay. It's great! Because here's you how to start an online classroom - a place where you can display your knowledge and your passion for that special skill of yours, help others, and even make money doing it. You can start out – or even stay part-time - while making plenty of extra money. Or you could take teaching online full-time and make a very good living. 

Where to Begin

You might think the first step in starting your own online classroom is to register a domain name and build a website. And while that's one way to go, experts  recommend using free websites such as YouTube to start out with.

One of the most popular independent online classrooms began just that way: Sal Khan started tutoring his cousin over the telephone and email. The lessons worked. So he started tutoring a few more relatives, all in his spare time (he was working at a hedge fund in Boston at the time).

Eventually his tutoring schedule became so hectic, he started recording his lessons and posting them for free on YouTube. That way, people could watch them on their own, at their own pace, and pick the specific topics they needed help with.

Word spread and pretty soon he was getting thousands and thousands of hits. That's how the Khan Academy started. And his videos are nothing flashy; heck, he isn't even in them, all you hear is his voice explaining the lesson as he writes it down. And he covers all the big topics a K-12 student studies. From math to science, computer science to art history, the Khan Academy offers lessons for all of them.

That’s just one example of how your own online teaching career could take off. 

The Key to Teaching Success

Think about your favorite elementary or high school teacher. What makes them your favorite? I'm willing to bet it was their passion for the subject matter that made their classes so much fun. They might have told funny jokes or given light homework, but it was probably their passion and the joy they took in teaching that really shone and made you enjoy that class.

That same passion for the subject matter is also the key to success when starting your own online classroom. That's why it is suggested you focus on a particular skill you have, one that you excel at, to teach in the beginning. In teaching other people something new, it's important to have patience, perseverance, and knowledge.

As far as format, it really depends on the subject matter. You’ll have to figure out whether videos (talking head or the “watch your screen” program Camtasia), books, webpages, or some other format conveys your lessons best.

Expanding Your Brand

After you've completed a few lessons and you've developed a small following, it's important to foster the growth of that community. So make yourself available for questions/comments from the folks viewing your lessons. Get active on Facebook and Twitter. Start a free blog at www.blogspot.com and encourage participation in a forum.

This is all necessary as you start marketing your online “school” as a paid service. You have a couple of options here.

•    You could offer a subscription model, where students pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to different combinations of online educational materials like ebooks and videos.  

•    You could set up a paid membership site; members get a username and password for a fee.  

•    You could charge students you work with over the phone or Skype a per lesson fee

•    You could even sell your course materials piece by piece.

It may take a while for your lessons to get traction and for you to start making money, but that's why patience and perseverance are so important.

And you will probably discover the type of online teaching that you're the most comfortable with. It could be YouTube videos, Skype meetings, or other eLearning software like WizIQ.

Taking It to the Next Level

Eventually, you might find your lessons have become so popular that you could turn it into a full-time gig. To take the example of Sal Khan and the Khan Academy, Khan tutored online for three years before he left his lucrative hedge fund job and dedicated himself full-time to teaching online.

That's when he started his own company, hired a staff, rented office space, and even then, he ran it as a non-profit organization. His biggest source of income is from grants and other charities. But plenty of other organizations are run like corporations: they have subscription fees, sponsors, and advertising. Education is big business.

So while creating an online classroom might not be an overnight cash-cow for you, it has the potential to be a tremendously satisfying outlet for those special skills you have while bringing in extra cash. You'll help others, share your knowledge, and - if things really work out - you'll make a great deal of money.

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