My Course Creation Workflow & Tools

I just finished producing a new video course, and I decided to document my process here for any geeks or creatives who may be interested.

When I’m creating a course, I tend to work as a jack of all trades: I write, record, animate, edit, and produce everything myself. This is not the most efficient approach, but it’s how I prefer to operate.

My workflow can be broken down into four distinct stages: planning, writing, recording, and animation.

Planning

The planning stage begins as a chaotic mess of notes and ideas that I’ve accumulated over many months. Often these ideas pre-date my intention to create a course—they’re just things I jot down because I feel they may be useful.

When I decide the course is actually going to be a thing, I start collecting these notes into a central location, like a Google doc. I make a list of things I’d like to cover in the course, and then I start doing research.

The research phase tells me what’s out there—what’s been done, what hasn’t; what’s good, what’s not; what people want to know about the topic, what doesn’t matter; etc. I also invariably learn more about the topic during this process, which I enjoy.

When the course transforms from a vague concept to an actual project, it’s time to start outlining.

The way I do this varies. In the past, I would create a long and convuluted bullet list in Google Docs, but that gets messy fast.

While outlining my latest course, I found that I really like the mind map format. I used FreeMind, a Java app, and despite some weird graphics issues on my MacBook Pro, it worked well enough.

Next time I’ll likely go with a native Mac app, though, as there are plenty.

I try to do the majority of the thinking work during the outlining process. By the time I have a completed outline, I feel I should be able to deliver coherent lectures on the spot, if prompted.

Writing

From there, I begin the writing process. Some people are surprised to learn that I write every word of my lectures in advance (though I often go off-script). I value preparation.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs, mainly for the convenience of cross-platform editing, not to mention the peace of mind that every change I make is saved automatically—revisions and all.

Writing, for me, is the most intensive part of the process. I’m obsessed with the details: articulating clearly, avoiding fluff and filler, packing in as much value as possible.

Recording

Once I’ve got a script, it’s time to record.

I record audio in Audacity with my trusty Audio Technica ATR2100. My tools and processes are almost exactly the same today as in my podcasting days.

Now, you would think four hours of content would equate to four hours of recording—but you would be wrong. Again, I’m obsessed with the details. I’ll often do six or seven takes on a single lecture, and I follow up with a meticulous post-production process. I don’t think I want to know the ratio of recording/editing time to finished content, but delivering an outstanding product is very important to me.

Animation

My last two courses have been animated, as opposed to the traditional slide deck format. I think it helps to keep people engaged.

This part is a lot more fun and laid-back, though I’m still very detail-oriented.

My animation software of choice is VideoScribe. It’s pretty easy to pick up if you’ve never used it before, but it still offers plenty of advanced functionality.

I also use Screenflow for screencasts and some post-production work, and I’ve been quite happy with it.

So, that’s my process in a nutshell. Definitely an oversimplification, but it shows what I’m actually doing when I disappear to work on one of these projects.

12,000

I recently passed 12,000 total students across the six business and technology courses I teach on Udemy. I’m so grateful for everyone who has enrolled—if that’s you, thank you!

Those 12,000 students collectively represent 154 countries, with the United States accounting for less than a quarter of the pie.

Just a few decades ago, the notion of a single educator reaching 12,000+ students in the majority of the world’s countries would have been absurd. The Internet is a cool thing, isn’t it?

Education is changing for the better, and I’m stoked to play a small part in the e-learning revolution.