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The importance of topic selection


If there's one thing that's important for a first-time course creator, I think it's in choosing the right topic to teach. So, here's a dump of my own thoughts on how to approach this.

The biggest decision you can make when launching a new course is what topic you’re going to teach. If you choose the wrong topic, it doesn’t matter how good your course is. Teaching a topic that’s not in demand, or teaching that topic poorly, will ultimately be a waste of your time. This is the one thing that is absolutely essential to figure out.


Ideally, you want to find a topic that you love and have a real interest in. That will help keep you motivated through the long process of creating a quality course in it, and make it easier to maintain your energy and enthusiasm while you’re recording the course. When you’re teaching something that excites you, that excitement becomes contagious to your students. And that alone can set your course apart, and increase the impact it has on the people who watch it.


Think about the great teachers you had in your life – they’re the ones who inspired passion in you for a given topic, and I bet they did that by demonstrating their own passion for it. If there’s one guy who changed my life, it was my math teacher in high school, Mr. Foresta. He somehow made calculus fun, because he had fun with it himself while teaching it. Be like Mr. Foresta. Be a teacher who inspires, by teaching something you love.


Passion alone isn’t enough, however. You have to know what you’re talking about, and your potential students need to trust that you are an expert in what’s being taught. Udemy does not vet its instructors in any way, nor are our courses accredited in any way.


The onus is on the student to decide whether or not you’re going to teach them accurate and complete information, and not just making stuff up. You have to be able to establish yourself as an authority in your topic before students will trust you enough to teach them on it. Perhaps you can convey that authority through your professional experience, through higher degrees you’ve attained from college, or by running a successful business related to the topic you’re teaching. But you can’t just go read a book and declare yourself an expert on something, and expect students to hand you money to learn from you.


You need to have some sort of real experience in the field you are teaching. Not only does it give students confidence when enrolling in your course, that experience also gives you confidence while you’re teaching.


Students will sense your uncertainty if you’re teaching something you don’t really know about, and that only leads to fewer sales and poor reviews.


The most important circle in this Venn diagram is “what students need.” You already know what topics interest you, and what you’re an authority on. But Udemy’s students couldn’t care less about your personal interests. They are looking for specific skills that they need, often to improve their career, make more money, or solve some real pressing problem they are facing. Too many instructors focus on the intersection of “what you love” and “what you’re an authority on” and produce a course in that, in the name of “following their passion.” But if your passion is underwater basket-weaving, well, good for you – but you’re not going to find anyone willing to pay even $10 on Udemy to learn underwater basket-weaving. They can learn things like that for free on YouTube, and since learning to weave baskets underwater isn’t going to make money for them or further their careers, they’re not going to come to Udemy actively searching for courses on that topic to spend their money on.


If you’re looking for financial success on Udemy or to have any significant reach, you need to teach things that solve a real pain point for students on the Udemy platform. Things that are so painful that they are going to actively search for that topic on Udemy, and spend their money to learn about it. For example, I teach topics related to machine learning, big data, and artificial intelligence. There are a lot of people who know their technical careers can’t move forward without understanding these emerging fields, and they’re fearful for their livelihood if they don’t learn them. What I’m selling is some confidence in emerging technology topics that will enable people to keep pushing their own technical careers forward. It is an absolute no-brainer to spend $10 for that. Will the value of what you are teaching result in such a massive return for the student that they’ll be willing to part with their money to learn it? If not, then you’re not teaching the right topic.


“Need” also implies that there aren’t already a bunch of awesome courses in your topic that fulfill that need. Demand for a topic is only half of the equation; you also need to make sure you can produce a course that’s substantially better than the courses that already exist for that topic, if there are any. If your competing courses already fulfill the needs these students have, what can you offer that’s better? Fortunately, you don’t have to guess what pain points Udemy students are struggling to solve – Udemy provides the Marketplace Insights tool so you can gather real data on the demand and competition for a topic you are considering. But that's a topic for another post.

Who Me Too'd this topic