How to Start an Online School: Go From Ideation to Realization in Nine Easy Steps

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Online schools are far from being a novel concept. For many people, they are an innovative and practical way to continue the education that they interrupted at some point in their lives for various reasons. But online schools, while incredibly convenient for the education of adults, are also gaining in popularity among the younger generation.

According to Forbes, more than 2.7 million people in the U.S. have turned to some form of digital education, and the percentage of K-12 students completing their education entirely online has multiplied many times over in recent years. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 21% of public and 13% of private schools offered courses entirely online in 2018. Today, over 20 states in America have free online public schools that offer 100% online or blended programs for the K-12 level.

The demand for online schools has never been higher, and the benefits of digital education are abundant. Yet it seems that few people are ready to take on the challenge of starting an online school even though they see it as a way of breaking out of a traditional classroom rut.

If you are a gifted, driven teacher on the outside with a passionate entrepreneur lurking from within, you’ve come to the right place. We can assist you in reinventing the way you teach and help your inner businessperson flourish by showing you how you can create your own online school business.

Reasons for Starting an Online School

Digital technology has impacted nearly all segments of our lives, facilitating the ways in which we shop, communicate, pay our bills, entertain ourselves, and much more. The shift towards online learning has been underway for quite some time too, so it comes as no surprise that an increasing number of people are either looking for or offering online courses.

Here is an overview of some of the benefits of online schools, both from the teachers’ and the students’ perspectives.

Benefits of Online Schools
For Students For Teachers
  • Flexibility (schedule lessons at one’s own pace)
  • Low-cost courses (due to lower business expenses)
  • Dynamic lessons (a variety of approaches to learning and accompanying materials)
  • Individual instruction (a student-centered approach without peer distraction)
  • Attendance from home (saves travel time and transportation costs)
  • Flexibility (set one’s own working hours) 
  • Remote work (work from home, a coworking space, or as a digital nomad)
  • Low business expenses (no travel costs, free online resources, no rent or renovation costs)
  • A variety of resources and materials (PPT, audio, video, infographic, pdfs, ebooks, interactive software, etc.)
  • A wide range of students (not only local but from all over the country, even international)

Online education is available to everyone, and the 2020 coronavirus outbreak especially highlighted its value. In these trying times ridden with uncertainty about our wellbeing and that of the people around us, the demand for online classes has skyrocketed. The fear of COVID-19 infection aside, digital education is invaluable for many people from different walks of life:

  • Adults looking to complete their formal education
  • Working people wanting to acquire new skills in order to advance their career
  • Children of military personnel who are always relocating and are in need of a continual education 
  • Children and adults with disabilities who don’t have access to traditional schools
  • People wanting to find a hobby or learn a new skill, such as to master another language, learn how to code, or do makeup

The bottom line is that the demand for online schools has never been higher. With that in mind, it is reasonable that many driven teachers want to expand their workspace to the virtual realm. Unfortunately, they are often hindered from doing so by the fact that they don’t know how to take their online business from an idea to execution.

How to Create an Online School

Starting a regular school requires a substantial initial investment, and it usually takes a while before founders begin seeing a return on it. Online schools are unlike brick-and-mortar ones in that regard. You don’t need a lot of money up front to start an online school business, but provided that you give valuable lessons and have lots of satisfied students, you can surely count on a hefty payout. The greatest reward of all — the satisfaction of helping reinvent the future of education!

That is not to say that starting an online school business is easy and done overnight. On the contrary, it requires a lot of time and planning ahead, but if you know exactly what you need to do and when to do it, you’re on the right path. Here is how you can pave your way toward your very own e-classroom:

  1. Define your skill set
  2. Choose a business model
  3. Determine who your students are
  4. Build your brand
  5. Set up a teaching platform
  6. Hire people who share your passion
  7. Make your first lesson plans
  8. Get the word about your school out
  9. Start taking on students

Define Your Skills

If you have knowledge others could benefit from or skills that people would gladly pay to learn, you are off to a great start! Make sure to be clear on what it is you have to offer and structure your business around it.

For instance, let’s say you are an English language teacher — but there must be much more to it, isn’t there? Will you focus on teaching grammar and vocabulary, or will you prep students for taking international language proficiency tests? Do you have what it takes to help your students become translators or authors in a foreign tongue? Can you teach students how to write copy for the web or help them become fiction writers?

Knowing how you can use your skills to create a product (i.e., a course) that your students will benefit from is the first step toward your online school.

Choose a Business Model

Now that you’ve determined what it is that you have to offer, it’s time to decide how you are going to do it. When it comes to online schools, there are two main business models:

  1. Standalone online courses
  2. An online academy

The standalone courses — popularly called “night schools” — are excellent for people who are looking to take lessons before or after their day jobs. The structure of these courses is pretty straightforward — they are tightly focused on a single subject or skill and have a set duration and an end goal. They usually last for several weeks or months and end with a formal test and a certificate.

The online academy model is more beneficial for those who are looking for continuous education and acquiring comprehensive knowledge on a particular subject. Instead of a single course laser-focused on one thing, students learn everything there is to know about the topic or skill they want to master. For example, an online course may focus on renaissance literature, while an academy will offer several courses on literature from various periods throughout the school year.

Identify Your Students

Skill set? Check. Business model? Check. Target customers? On it.

Knowing who your potential students are is another vital detail. Only if you know exactly who is interested in what you have to offer will you be able to sell it to them. The truth is, when you open your online school, students aren’t going to line up to enroll by themselves. You have to give them a shove in the right direction by:

  1. Finding your niche — figure out what professions there are in your broader community that are lacking proper schools or courses that you can provide
  2. Designing courses and lesson plans that have value for your prospective students — if you identify who they are, you can introduce a course that offers precisely what they need
  3. Making yourself available for your target group — depending on who your students are, you’ll want to design a schedule that fits in with their lifestyle (evening classes, daytime instruction, 45- or 90-minute classes, etc.)

Build Your Brand

We already discussed the demand for and the popularity of online schools. If yours is going to stand out from the bunch, it needs to be memorable and different from others that are offering similar courses. That is where your brand comes into play.

Your brand is all about explaining what drives you and what your goals are — and in the school business, branding revolves around:

  1. Mission. Lure people in by sharing your founding story: how you grew to be an expert in your respective field, what motivated you to start your own school, and how you will share your expertise with others.
  2. Vision. The goals that you have are closely linked to the benefits your students will reap after completing their courses with you. When creating a school vision statement, explain what change you see your school making for your students and the education system on the whole.
  3. Logo. A logo is an essential element of your brand. Its design is what people will memorize and associate with your online school the easiest.

Once you are set on what your online school’s brand will look like, you will be able to incorporate it into your website, the materials you’ll use, and — cue in our next step — your teaching platform.

Set Up a Teaching Platform

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When it comes to online classes, you will need to set up an eLearning platform, but you will need to hire professionals to do it for you. Browse the web to find a learning management system (LMS) that appeals to you the most and purchase it.

Consider LMS as an integral part of your online school business. It is the nifty software that helps you schedule, postpone, or cancel classes, document attendance, keep track of students and their progress, share resources with them, submit reports, and keep records on tuition payments, among other things.

Keep your students in mind here, too — will they need to access their classes from their phones, browsers, televisions, or all three? Some courses don’t need to be available across devices, and that will factor in the cost of your LMS. 

Hire Like-Minded People 

If you won’t be the only teacher in your online school — and if you decide on the academy model, you most certainly won’t be — you’ll need to hire additional teachers.

Finding people who are willing to commit to an online job long-term is harder than you think. During the recruiting process, besides ensuring that the candidates have proper qualifications, make sure that the people you take on share your vision. That way, you can be sure that they will be more driven to contribute to the school and help it grow just as much as you do.

Work On Your Curriculum

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Before you set your online school business in motion, you need to make lesson plans for your first courses. Now that the recruitment process is finished, you can put your staff to work, brainstorm ideas together, and devise a curriculum.

The great thing about online schools is that you don’t have to make long-term plans of this kind. The digital world is ever-changing, and new technologies keep on popping up at a rate that is nearly impossible to keep up. You don’t want to set on a program that will become outdated before you know it.

Instead, use the feedback you get from your first students during their studies and after they complete them to tweak the syllabus for the next generation of attendees. Repeat that every academic year (or even semester), and you’ll ensure that your lessons and methods stay fresh and enjoyable for both your students and you.

Spread the Word

Now that your platform, staff, and curriculum are all ready, it’s time to get the word out and draw people to your online school. Advertising your business through channels your target customers are using is essential — no point in placing the ad about an online culinary school in a fitness magazine, for instance. It may be best to hire a marketing specialist to do this for you, especially if you are not well-versed in the intricacies of (online) marketing.

Even if you decide to go it alone, make sure that you are present on social media and that you post testimonials from students and regular updates about your school. Enable push notifications on your website, and send weekly or monthly newsletters to subscribers. Set up a blog and publish industry-relevant content on a regular basis. 

Occasionally, it may be a good idea to have special offers, such as:

  • Discounts on the first course
  • Subscription discounts
  • One-off, time-sensitive promotions
  • Bundle courses
  • Student referral rebates

Enroll Your First Students

Now that your school is online, it’s time to have some fun! Start taking on students, but make sure you have an enrollment system in place. Don’t leave any room for assumptions, and set clear guidelines to:

  • The entrance test procedures
  • Tuition fees
  • Payment deadlines
  • Discounts and rebates
  • Any scholarships or financial aids
  • Assessment procedures
  • Certifications 

Make sure that your students get all the information they need about their digital education as they would in a traditional school setting. You can’t go wrong if you have a straightforward system of information in place — it will instill credibility and confidence in your business.

Join Our Movement

Hopefully, the steps detailed above have come in useful on your way to start an online school business. Setting up a digital education platform is an undertaking that requires a select individual with the right mindset, and since you landed here, we’re sure that’s you!

Write a piece about your story and what drove you to start your own online school, and we will include it on our blog. What are the things you think are lacking in the formal education our youth is receiving, and how can we make up for what is missing? Can virtual learning inspire a shift in the right direction?

Become a contributor and help us fuel change and reinvent education for the benefit of the nation.