It’s really hard to be a self-help author. Despite the warm and fuzzy messages of most self-help books, the publishing industry is cutthroat. In fact, the only thing harder than publishing self-help books, is making a living as a self-help author. After marketing costs, website development and book tours you are lucky to make $1 per book.

That’s why I stopped writing books and started teaching online. And I’m not alone. In the last two years more than 30 online course platforms have cropped up. These are websites that host thousands of “moocs” or massive online courses, where students can enroll in everything from serious MIT lectures to casual subjects like knitting and kosher cooking. I had heard about online courses as an alternative to publishing, and decided to run an experiment. Luckily, my subject is much better suited to video and in person trainings as I teach body language and human lie detection. Usually I do corporate trainings – sales, human resources or managers, and occasionally host events for the public on body language for dating, poker players or entrepreneurs.

In June of 2013 I choose to film one of my basic lectures “The Secrets of Body Language” in my living room. This was the most bootstrapped “set” you could imagine. I filmed with my iPhone, used a stack of cookbooks as my tripod and dragged over every lamp I own to light the area. After exactly 56 hours on the online learning platform called Udemy something amazing happened. The course started to sell. And sell. And sell. Every morning I woke-up to my inbox filled with sales. At $49 per course, I sold $8,000 worth of courses in the first week. Thinking it was a fluke, I filmed my second course “How to Be a Human Lie Detector” in the same bootstrapped manner. This time only 42 hours after publishing the sales started to roll in. By August of 2013 I had enough for a down payment on our first home.

There are both benefits and pitfalls to teaching online. On the pro side: you can reach thousands of new students and video teaching enables more engagement than a book. On the con side: you have to be comfortable on camera, and protecting your content from copyright is more of an issue. But overall online course platforms are transforming learning. Even if you didn’t get into Harvard, you can now take their “Shakespeare After All” course online. For $55 you can take “Judaism 101” from UniversalClass.com. You can learn for free how to “Write Music Like Mozart” on Coursera.org.

I don’t believe online courses will kill books. Rather, technology has created a new category of online learning where students can be more engaged and teachers can actually earn a living. And for that, I’m grateful.

To see Vanessa’s courses visit: ScienceofPeople.com

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