4 Tips to Help You Build Custom Online Courses

Audrey Espey

Instructional Designer at Udemy

January 22, 2019

As a learning & development (L&D) professional, you’re likely working with limited time and budget. While relying on externally curated libraries like Udemy for Business is critical for L&D teams to provide updated content quickly, there are still customized company-specific courses that will need to be created by L&D. Creating custom online courses with a tool like the Udemy for Business Course Creation tool can ultimately help you build a scalable, repeatable L&D program. Find out more about Udemy for Business’ extensive curated content library as well as our custom course creation tool.

Creating customized online courses can eliminate the need to travel and deliver in-person training for your employees. Best of all, your online courses can be consumed whenever it’s convenient for employees, relieving you of scheduling headaches and saving precious time on your L&D team.

Wondering about the best use cases for creating custom courses? This approach is ideal when you have company-specific content including:

  • New hire onboarding

  • Training on tools, resources, processes, and procedures that are unique to your company

  • Training with subject matter experts that are only relevant to your organization.

As an instructional designer at Udemy, I work with our instructors or subject matter experts to advise them on how to effectively create online courses on Udemy for Business, guiding them through the course creation process, and managing the production of their courses. In addition, I create courses from scratch and use the Udemy for Business course creation tool to make internal Udemy-specific online courses for our employees.

Based on my experience, here are 4 tips for creating custom online courses using the Udemy for Business Course Creation tool.


Udemy for Business course creation tool

1. Know why you’re creating custom online content

Be sure you have a clear purpose for creating a customized online course as opposed to in-person training or relying on curated external online content. One of the most common use cases is when companies are scaling a process like onboarding. If your company is expanding beyond one office and you’re growing rapidly, you will want to consider how to scale your training as well. It may no longer make sense to have all employees in the same physical location, so online training makes it easier for employees to participate when and where it’s convenient. Consider situations when you need employees to get information quickly and consistently. The content itself should be evergreen so that you don’t need to update it too often. Remember: the point is to save yourself time, not to create extra work on an ongoing basis!

2. Identify your target audience

Who will be participating in this online course, and what are their goals and objectives? It’s important to clearly define this at the outset, so you can create content that’s relevant and engaging. For example, if the training is only for current employees at your company, you can assume they already have a baseline of knowledge. In this case, you wouldn’t necessarily need to provide a lot of background or general information. Understanding your audience helps you keep the content concise and to the point. Here are some questions that will help you identify your target audience:

  • What are the goals and interests of people who will be taking your course?

  • Based on these goals, who is your target student? Who would your course NOT be suitable for?

  • What skills or knowledge should your target student already have (relevant to your topic) before taking your course? What do you plan on NOT covering in the course because students already know it?

  • What will your target student be able to do by the end of the course?

  • What should students who complete your course do next? What could they do in their personal life and career, or what kind of projects could they build after taking the course?

3. Structure your content

Udemy courses are divided into sections and lectures. You can think of a section like a chapter of a book and lectures as the paragraphs or plot points that go into each chapter.


Instructor view of sections and lectures in an internal new employee onboarding course

We recommend keeping lectures focused on a single topic or skill and sticking to a maximum length of five or six minutes. Research shows that the brain can only take on a limited “cognitive load” or mental effort and shorter videos tend to maximize learner engagement, so keeping lectures short is one way to limit required brain power while boosting engagement. Plus, when people are learning at work, time is precious. It’s important to keep content short and to the point so they can get the most relevant information and return to their job.

With these parameters in mind, you might want to create an outline. You may find it useful to list out the major learning objectives for each section and which lectures would go into each section to build toward that objective. There are two approaches you can take with your content. In the “scaffolding” approach, you give more support to learners initially and gradually reduce it as the course progresses.

Depending on your content, you could also approach your course from a microlearning standpoint. Microlearning refers to a method that uses small moments of learning to drive job performance and employee development. In this type of course, each lecture acts as a standalone piece of learning, and students can maximize their time by only watching the lectures they need to get their job done. If you select this approach, you might want to think of each video as a “problem” a learner might want to solve. Think of how people might search Google to solve particular problems and then create lessons around these topics.

Once you have your big picture outline, you’ll want to plan out the script or talking points (depending on whether you prefer to have everything outlined or speak in a more organic way when you present). Also, consider how you’ll be presenting, such as through a text lecture, slide presentation, or video. What additional materials and resources will you need to support you?

4. Make your course practical

For adult learners, it’s important to be able to quickly apply what they learn. Consider how you can keep them engaged and give them the chance to use the skills on the job right away. I recommend including a “quick win” activity within the first 10 minutes of content. This helps engage learners (especially in the workplace) and make them feel like the course is a valuable use of their time.

Neuroscience research shows learning begins when the brain processes information and organizes it into neural pathways, which must be reinforced to enhance memory and learning. Students must actively practice what they learn to help neural pathways become permanent. We recommend including at least one practical activity per section of the course to help students apply what they’re learning—this could be in the form of an exercise, quiz, or other assignment.

The Assignments feature within the Udemy for Business Course Creation tool is a great way to create practical activities. This feature allows L&D to provide instructions and ask a series of questions, which can be about a case study, scenario, coding problem, etc. With this feature, you can also provide solutions so that learners are able to check their work. For example, assigning a coding project for employees to work on together can help them learn all the processes and technical requirements at your company.


Instructor view of Udemy assignments feature

Another great way to add activities to your course is by attaching documents or links with worksheets and other activities to your course lectures.

5. When it comes to creating your content—just do it!

Creating your first course can be intimidating, but it really doesn’t need to be. Getting started is one of the typical challenges we see our over 42,000 instructors face. The good news is, you don’t need a fancy camera—most smartphones these days shoot HD video. Audio quality is worth some investment, but it doesn’t have to be huge. There are microphones you can attach to your smartphone to get good audio quality. There are affordable options for filming locations like Peerspace and Breather if you can’t shoot in your office or don’t want to rent out a film studio. In addition, you can also use the Presentation feature on Udemy for Business to upload PowerPoint presentations into your course, so students can click through them slide by slide. This is a simple way to add content that doesn’t require any video.

Case example: Creating a custom onboarding course for Udemy employees

Now that we’ve covered the basics of creating a course with the Udemy for Business Course Creation tool, I’ll walk you through how we used the tool to build our custom onboarding course for Udemy employees.

We started by taking stock of our onboarding process and program. We considered what we wanted to change to enhance our current onboarding experience. We also outlined what we wanted new hires to learn within their first 60 days, so they could get up to speed as quickly as possible.

Stay high-level and evergreen in your content

Next, we considered who would be participating in this course. It needed to be designed for new hires in all positions, teams, and levels, so we had to be mindful not to get too granular. We wanted to create a course that would allow everyone to get a sense for how their work fits into the greater Udemy business. It was also important for us to create content that was as evergreen as possible. We realize there’s a lot of change in organizations—projects are constantly being launched and completed, goals are set and reset—so we considered how to offer a high-level overview that didn’t get too into the weeds. The big questions we wanted to answer were: What is our business, culture, general working norms, and company history?

After considering our main learning objectives, we began structuring the course into video-based sections and lectures.


Course outline created in Google Sheets

  • We started with a welcome from our CEO, followed by the company’s mission and a sharing activity where new employees share why they joined Udemy and what inspires them about our mission. We created social “boards” on the website Padlet where people can post discussions.

  • The next section, “Getting to know Udemy,” introduces our history, brand, products, and customers. In this section, students also get to enroll in a course and take a quiz to reinforce what they’ve learned so far.

  • Next up is “Udemy teams,” which are introduced at a high level by their executives.

  • The “Culture section” explains our company’s learning culture and working norms. And finally the course ends with a message from our CEO.

Gamification was incorporated into the onboarding course

Gamification and employee motivation were key considerations as we were planning out each of the stages of our course. We used the Octalysis framework from Yu-Kai Chai’s course Gamification & Behavioral Design: The Octalysis Framework. This framework divides motivation into eight core drivers such as meaning, accomplishment, and empowerment. We empowered employees with a sense of “epic meaning and calling” by talking about Udemy’s mission to improve lives through learning and sharing stories from real students and instructors whose lives we’ve changed. In the next section, when we introduce our history and brand, we help new employees develop shared knowledge, tapping into social motivation. To learn more about how we used gamification concepts to shape our program, see The Modern L&D Toolkit: How Does Gamification Fit In?


We shot the videos around the office to keep the look and feel welcoming and authentic

Leveraged internal marketing resources

After we planned out the course content, we moved on to production. This involved planning who needed to appear in each video and scheduling filming. We tapped into our video brand marketing team to help us shoot and edit the video. In addition, we wanted the content to feel authentic and not stuffy, so we shot around the office and gave people talking points rather than a detailed script.

Once the course was completed, we could assign it to new hires through the Udemy for Business platform. On a new hire’s first day, they get an email inviting them to take the course. New hires also receive a drip campaign of welcome emails that include a checklist where they can track their progress through the onboarding process. Completing this online onboarding course is one of the key steps.

There’s a sense of accomplishment that goes into gamification—by completing the course, new hires achieve a key task in their onboarding experience. We find that most people take it within their first two weeks at Udemy. Employees can access the course through the Udemy for Business app on their mobile or tablet, which means they can watch it during their commute or on the go.

Metrics that matter

As the course creator, I have access to a metrics dashboard on Udemy for Business which gives me visibility into how many students have taken the course and how much of the course they’ve actually watched. I can determine what percentage of the course is complete and who I need to follow up with. Employees are also asked to rate and review the course, allowing me to gather quantitative and qualitative feedback. The positive reviews and ratings by employees also serve to motivate others to take the course as well. In addition, I get a sense of which lectures were the most popular, and which were less popular, giving me the opportunity to improve the course over time.


The instructor dashboard on UFB shows you your overall course rating and how students have rated your course according to different attributes such as value, clarity, engagement, and practical activities


The instructor dashboard on UFB allows you to get an overall view of the level of student engagement with the lectures throughout your course


The instructor dashboard on UFB allows you to drill into each lecture of your course to see how many students are completing each lecture and at which point in your videos engagement starts to drop off

Going digital and creating your own online courses using new technology and tools can help you provide great content quickly as well as measure its performance and impact. If you know that training your employees in company-specific subjects at scale will be a priority, it might be worthwhile to consider the Udemy for Business Course Creation tool along with its extensive curated library of technical and soft skill courses.

About the author:

Audrey Espey is an Instructional Designer at Udemy where she is responsible for designing online courses for employees as well as advising Udemy for Business instructors on their course creation process. She was formerly at Autodesk.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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