Do I need to be an expert?


6 minute read


  • Common Questions

This is the probably the most common question we get from people that want to create their own online course, and the answer is a resounding NO. Part of whats so amazing about this revolution in online learning is that we can learn from anyone – you don’t need to be THE expert on your topic, and to be honest if you were THE expert, you would actually be at a disadvantage.

Who would you rather learn from?

Think about it. Would you rather learn to play cello from? Someone who has been playing the it since they were 2 years old and have spent decades mastering it playing at the highest levels where they can’t even remotely relate to what it is like to be a beginner? Or someone who recently learned how to play the cello, who struggled through the learning curve recently but found very useful strategies and tactics that can help a beginner like you?

Would you rather learn Algebra 1 from someone who knows it really well and has tutored it in the past, or from a math PHD who spends all of their time trying to solve P vs NP (apparently this is one of the toughest unsolved theoretical math problems with a reward of $1M USD for anyone who solves it). Someone who recently taught it or someone who is at such a high level, they haven’t even though about basic Algebra in decades?

Elite experts are way too busy to teach online and they can't relate to beginner learners.

Besides, most of the time the true experts are way too busy to make online courses on their own and if they do, they’re often not very good at teaching precisely because they can’t related to the challenges of a beginner learner. Part of what works in education is if the teacher knows what it feels like to be in your shoes and to learn the topic for the same reasons and the same context.

That’s not to say that the rare well known individuals who do make courses in their area of expertise don’t do well—a strong reputation and brand certainly doesn’t hurt. And while some students would prefer to learn from a big name, often times to make it all worthwhile, the big name instructors will create a course that, while fancy, doesn’t feel approachable for the average person. In our experience, we find that the vast majority of students actually prefer to learn from someone that feels more approachable.

Would Warren Buffet be a great teacher if your goal was to just buy your first stock? Not for most people. He’s worth $110B as of May 2021. The way he invests takes advantage of the fact that he has billions in cash to make moves. That’s not something most people who are looking to set up their Roth IRAs can relate to. But learning form someone who has been growing their own portfolio and figuring out what works and doesn’t work and is a few years ahead of their students, that’s far more useful, and far more appealing.

Knowing a little more than your students is enough for making an online course

The not-so-well-kept secret of online education is that you just have to know more than the person you’re teaching. As long as there is a sizable group of people that know less than you do currently – you can teach them. This is the reason we can ask a TA in our classes to help us with their homework. If any of you had younger siblings you might have to teach your younger sister or brother how to ride a bicycle – are you an expert in bicycle riding? No, you probably just learned it a couple months ago.

Think of it like this – imagine you can rate your knowledge on a topic from 1 to 10. If you rate yourself a 6, then that means you can teach people who are a 5 and below. When Evan created his Instagram course, want to guess where he was? He would put himself at a 4 – he didn’t even have an Instagram account. At first the course worked for people that knew nothing about the platform, and by doing so he ended moving himself up to probably a 7.  So as he added his newfound knowledge into his course, the content now can appeal to students who are a 5 or 6 in knowledge.

That course has paid him over $140K so far.

When I first created my courses on real estate investing, I would rate himself a 5 out of 10 on knowledge. But just like Evan, through the process of creating a detailed course to help others get past the same learning hurdles that I experienced, I was forced to become more knowledgeable. I can confidently rate myself an 8 out of 10 on knowledge and feel comfortable teaching the materials to complete newbies and intermediate students who are 6s and 7s already.

That first real estate investing course that I created, while starting out feeling like a 5 out of 10 in expertise, has earned me over $350K so far.

So lack of expertise, although it made us feel insecure starting out, did not ultimately stop us from making our courses.

Almost every instructor will experience self-doubt. That is a normal part of the process.

Like all instructors, we had to overcome extreme self doubt to start, sustain, and ultimately get our first courses to completion. Regardless of whether you consider yourself knowledgeable or an expert on the topic, you will constantly wonder, “Who would want to learn from me?” That’s okay. That’s normal and common—almost all new instructors go through some version of this self doubt. But it gets easier as you keep working. It never goes away completely, which is a good thing because a little humility can help you push towards a better course.

So, just keep that in mind, you only need to know more than the people you’re teaching and by teaching you will increase your level of expertise.

Frankly you can make courses without knowing ANYTHING about the topic – how does that work? You find someone else who does and you work together to create the course. You being a beginner to the topic working with someone who has expertise brings the best of both worlds to your joint effort course—they bring insider knowledge from their experience and expertise while you your learning and getting up to speed on the topic keeps the course grounded and connected to the beginner learner (since you are a beginner learner!).

Another common variation of this question we get is – don’t I need some fancy credentials to teach? Again, no. Do any of you know what Evan and my credentials are? Yeah didn’t think so. If you can deliver results, thats ultimately all people care about. That doesn’t mean to having relevant experience or education can’t help, it’s just not necessary.

Zero credentials. Makes online courses. Get great results.

For example, one of our early students Broderick now teaches the best selling watercolor painting courses on Udemy. When he first joined SFI, he was worried about competing with other instructors who had formal art training and had earned art degrees from prestigious art schools. The fear nearly stopped him from trying but after he published his courses, he realized that his students only care about one thing—how much did his course help them learn watercolor painting?


You'll never feel like your course is 100% complete

And that’s perfectly fine. But for many instructors, especially first time instructors, that desire to put out a 100% complete course is often just another mask for self doubt. Your students won’t know that you don’t consider your course 100% complete. You have the curse of knowledge: you know what you’re not covering because of your knowledge! You only feel this way because you have enough knowledge to know what is missing! So when you’re stuck at 80% or 90% complete, get the course out into the wild. Broderick had 95% of his materials recorded but it stayed on the shelf collecting dust for over a year. It would have stay on the shelves had he not had the push from SFI to launch it as is. And guess what? His students doesn’t think he’s missing anything. Don’t want for perfection.

To his pleasant surprise, he discovered that because he didn’t go to former art training, he had to develop his own unique way of learning to suit the self learner, which became a simplified and much more approachable way to learn watercolor painting. And his students are loving it. His approach is unlike anything else out there, which easily differentiates his courses from others. Had he gone to formal training and relied on his background to create his course, he may not actually performed worse! You can learn more about his journey here.

Not only do you NOT need to be an established expert in order to make a successful online course in your topic, being too much of an expert could actually be a liability for you as a new online instructor

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