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A lot of people want to create an online course these days. Should they?

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A lot of people want to create an online course these days. Should they?

Who’s the only one finishing online courses these days?

EVERYONE’S DOING IT

Thinking of creating an online course? Your friends and colleagues are.

In a recent (unscientific) poll I conducted on LinkedIn, 73% of respondents said they either constantly think about creating an online course, or are, at the very least, entertaining the idea.

Does that seem high?

It does to me. Why the interest? And, do online courses even have a future in the age of generative AI?

Let’s unpack.

$$$

Creating a successful online course does sound pretty sweet. Who wouldn’t want to earn money from course sales while they sleep? What’s more, pushing a course would seem to bolster the instructor’s authority in their particular field, increasing future income potential— both good things.

That said (though cynics may find it hard to believe), many online course creators probably just genuinely want to share their expertise with the world.

Some creators may even be motivated by the idea of addressing gaps in existing education systems.

Or, they may simply want to find their people: courses foster communities, after all, by sparking and facilitating discussions and networking.

STUDENTS WANTED

If that’s what’s fueling the supply, where’s the demand for online courses coming from?

Several places, actually.

There’s the always-on desire for personal and professional growth. Online courses give students a chance to acquire new skills, helping them remain competitive in the job market, or allowing them to pivot into new careers. They also let people explore new areas of interest or deepen their existing ones. Many folks simply love learning about diverse subjects across all sorts of fields.

On top of that, online courses —at least those with live lessons and group Slack channels— can also fulfill our emotional and social needs. The desire to be a part of a community is universal, after all.

THE DEAL HAS ENTERED THE CHAT

Longtime Fv readers know that The Deal is my nickname for the advertising-supported business model. That model has fueled everything from the earliest radio stations to Google and TikTok, and I don’t believe it will ever, ever die.

As you may well have noticed, everything is marketing today, and online courses are no exception to that rule. LinkedIn Learning, HubSpot Academy and Grow with Google are just three examples of tech giants offering countless online courses, for free, to help market their core businesses.

Yep, even education counts as content marketing these days, and it’s actually a huge business.

CHATGPT HAS ENTERED THE, UH, CHAT

Generative AI introduces a wrinkle, though

Systems like ChatGPT are obviously only going to get better with every additional article, video, and, yes, online course they ingest. Even the ones currently behind paywalls. (Think about it: what’s stopping the data teams at Anthropic, Google, and OpenAI from simply buying Masterclass, Coursera, or Udemy subscriptions and just feeding the transcripts from those countless courses in to their systems? Nothing!)

And don’t forget, multi modal AI (fancy AI speak for chatbots that don’t just read and write but also watch, listen to, and return videos, songs, speeches, and more) is coming, which will make it even easier for AI firms to train their content using the world’s training videos.

OK, WHAT’S THE POINT HERE?

Will we even need online courses, if we can just ask ChatGPT whatever we want to know?

In our view, yes.

Earlier this month I wrote about online courses’ dismal completion rate.

My thesis as to why: deep down, everyone knows the value of education lies with the connections you develop at school, not the information you download. It’s just that, for some reason, most people seem to remember this fact after they buy and start the course.

So, go ahead and build that online course you’ve been thinking of. Just be sure to build in plenty of live sessions, community elements, and —if you can— in person meetups.

Or buy the course you’ve been thinking of taking.

But whichever side of the supply/demand equation you’re on, rest assured: every module, workbook, and unfinished video seminar will sooner or later end up getting ingested by artificial intelligence firms, nourishing the next generation of generative AI systems.

In our view, that’s a good thing.

You’re probably never going to complete that principles of SEO sprint, or digital strategy bootcamp anyway.

At least GPT-5 will.

Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Just reply! 

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