How to Build and Launch an Online Course in a Crowded Market

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

When we work with brands to develop an online course from existing content or from the ground-up, we know how important it is to design a product that will stand out in a crowded market. Teachers already have many products to choose from, which means plug-and-play content and turn-key solutions will only take your company so far.

Even if you already have tried-and-true learning content to work with, translating a validated curriculum into the digital realm is a deceptively heavy lift. It requires more research and more creative design thinking to create an engaging digital tool based on existing intellectual property. Not only are you working in a different medium with new challenges (and benefits!), you’ll also have to re-validate your content with subject matter experts to ensure the new learning experience is still valuable for students.

But this work is where the magic happens—and what can actually make your product stand out from the crowd. With a strong commitment to user experience research (UXR), you can leverage all the strengths of the medium to drive student engagement, facilitate learning, and differentiate your online course in an overcrowded marketplace.

Stand out from the Crowd with Engaging Features, Sequencing Tools, and Teacher Support

As soon as you move from textbooks and worksheets to eCourses and digital curricula, the expectations of school administrators, teachers, and students change. In order to be adopted and supported by educators, your new online course needs to fit into their curricular ecosystem—and deliver on engagement and ease-of-use.

Here are a few of the tactics we always consider as we work with clients to differentiate their products:


Wherever we can, we look for ways to interject the interactive and peer learning features that make content more engaging.

Not only are these features more interesting than testing or assessment, but they also support teachers who want to use whole-group instruction to get to the heart of content. Encouraging participation with tools like Kahoot, used to conduct real-time polling, can also keep students engaged as they see their peers’ opinions unfold in real time.

By designing engaging features that complement your learning content, you’ll receive user data that demonstrates your product is more effective than an eCourse without these features. Often this corresponds to greater satisfaction from teachers, too. Your product makes their job easier. If you also include strong reporting tools, your product will make educators look good in front of both bosses and parents—a win-win.

Together, engagement and reporting features are more likely to spur teacher advocacy and school district adoption. And that means your tool is more likely to get noticed.


From an edTech design standpoint, eCourses are meant to sequence information in an intuitive and intelligent way. Traditional sequencing allows students to work asynchronously and finish lessons on their own time—an especially important benefit during remote learning.

Smart sequencing tools can also react to learners’ individual interests, promote learner agency, and spark more engagement. For example, low-stakes questions about content can establish where a learner’s interests lie and offer multiple ways to engage in the next step or piece of content.

Whether you use traditional sequencing features or amp up your design, automating these features will streamline a teacher’s workload. When a tool is easy to use and helps teachers cut down on administrative tasks, you’re one step closer to adoption.

Teacher Support

In order to be adopted, your product has to do more than engage students and help teachers sequence information in smart ways. It also needs an exceptionally designed teaching experience.

Onboarding elements should help teachers understand how your product is an easy-to-use part of their toolkit that fits seamlessly into their classroom or curriculum. Improve searchability, so teachers can easily find materials for specific concepts or explainers that link your content to state and national standards.

Providing superior teacher support means teachers will spend less time learning how to use your tool and more time doing what they’re best at—teaching.

How SuperD!ville Transformed a YouTube Channel into a Full SEL Curriculum

SuperD!ville was founded to empower students with learning disabilities, prevent frustration, and reduce stigma. Before re-launching their site, the company had developed incredible video content that taught students of all abilities SEL skills. Their videos feature students with learning disabilities and address issues as diverse as bullying and coping with dyslexia. In order to reach more students and make a bigger impact, SuperD!ville wanted to transform their stand-alone videos into a full SEL curriculum.

To provide SuperD!ville with the scaffolding they needed to reach more users, Backpack Interactive built a high-quality interface that helps teachers integrate video content and interactive lessons into their curriculum. When it comes to SEL, we know how important it is for kids to discuss content and reflect on behaviors they encounter in their own lives. With discussion prompts and tips, teachers who use SuperD!ville’s curriculum can now create those important reflective moments in their own classrooms.

We worked with the SuperD! team and content experts to create smart activity sequencing for teachers, as well as pre- and post-assessments for each lesson. Multiple rounds of product testing with teachers validated the importance of SuperD!ville’s content and the effectiveness of the curricular guides. By incorporating teacher support into the design, we ensured teachers would find immediate, tangible value in the product.

In addition to developing the UI for their video content and curricular materials, we provided additional strategic and design support for SuperD!ville’s eCommerce and subscription models. By taking early elements of SuperD!Ville’s branding and developing them throughout product design, their new site became the foundation for the entire corporate look and feel. On the back end, we built tools that allowed SuperD!ville to monitor user behavior and adjust or iterate as needed.

When the Right Features and Brand Elements Help You Reach More Users

Ultimately, the development of SuperD!ville’s new site is a classic example of how designing for one persona affects all the personas in the product’s ecosystem. (Around here, we tend to call that “persona resonance.”) On the surface, we helped SuperD! develop a fun, engaging product for middle school students. In reality, however, the content demanded that we also develop a product that spoke directly to middle school teachers. By creating curricular coherence through design and using a sophisticated approach to packaging, we ensured that teachers would use, love, and adopt SuperD!’s transformative SEL content.

Even when you start out with incredible content, like SuperD!, the product development process for a new online course is intensive. But when you invest in content experts, UXR, and high-quality design, the end results speak for themselves. With engaging features, smart sequencing tools, and dedicated support for teachers, you can take strong learning content and leverage incredible UX to make a product guaranteed to stand out from the crowd.

If you need help taking your learning content to the next level, let’s talk.
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