Teach Using Blog, Book, or Course?

In case you missed my last couple posts, about a year ago, I played around with the idea of writing a guide for product management for startups. I was getting a lot of product management related questions from colleagues and friends…so I thought, why not just write out all my knowledge about my subject once, and just refer people to the resource. In working through this project, I basically laid out my three options for sharing this content: start a blog, write an ebook, or create an online course.

I had a few basic parameters. First, the content had to be written. I didn’t have the nerves or the patience to create course videos, so that was out of the question. Second, I wanted to monetize my knowledge to some degree. Sure, I didn’t expect to strike it rich, but I did want some potential return on investment for my efforts. Lastly, I wanted to distribute this content digitally online…that meant, no physical books or in-person lecturing.

I just wanted to share my thought process in weighing out each option…hopefully you’ll find it helpful if you’re going on a similar journey.

Blogging

The first option that popped into mind is blogging. It’s far and above the most familiar of the three options, and probably needed the least effort to get started. Getting WordPress or Tumblr setup to start writing would take nominal effort.

So, the best thing I liked about the blog approach was that I could write and release material progressively. That meant, I didn’t need to have an entire book’s worth of content complete and written out before sharing my ideas with the world. By releasing an article at a time, it was something easier for me to commit to. Another factor I liked about blogging was the potential to engage in conversations with the readers. Comments make it really easy to engage in these conversations and to get live feedback on the material.

The weakness of blogging, is that it has no real structure…for the writer and for the reader. When teaching something, it’s often more effective to teach things in a linear way. Student many times have to learn “A” before “B”…and again “B” before “C”. With books, chapters solve for this quite simply. With blogs however, it’s not really laid out in a sequential chapter format. Common user behavior is to jump around from post to post…and there is really no beginning-to-end structure. This makes it very hard for students to learn things taught in blogs in a systematic way.

The other big hurdle with blogs is fulfilling my parameter of monetization. With blogging platforms, it’s not simple to setup some way to collect money for this premium blog content. If you’re using WordPress, you’d need to dig into the world of memberships sites, paywalls, payment processing, and other such plugins to glue together the mechanism to charge people for your premium content. Some technical skills and time would be involved.

eBooks

With ebooks, the path to monetization was pretty straightforward. Instead of setting up all the technical infrastructure of paywalls and payment processors…you’d just release your ebook on Amazon Kindle or Apple iBooks. They’d just take care of all the online sales and payment processing, and they’d give you royalties on every book sold.

The other great thing about ebooks, as mentioned above, is that books are naturally structured, sequential, and cohesive…making it a great format for instructional material. Students read one chapter to the next, following how you designed them to progress through the material…versus having students randomly skipping around from article to article as in the case of blog reading behavior.

The cons of ebooks is that finishing a complete book is really hard…and sometimes hard even starting. Books, by definition, have a beginning and end, which forces an author to write and release everything at once. This can be quite daunting for most people. You don’t have the prerogative to release a bit at a time as you do in blogging. Another con of ebooks is it doesn’t really let you engage directly with the audience. Lastly, it’s not as easy to setup as a blog. You actually need to learn some digital book authoring tool so you can create the ebook format to submit to Apple or Amazon. This is not trivial.

Online Course

The third option I considered is creating an online course. There are platforms that lets you create an online course, giving the instructor a cohesive lesson-by-lesson sequential structure. These platforms also usually let you engage directly with the students…much like how you’d be able to engage with them with a blog.

The problem I found with these online course platforms is that most are video based…which once again, I was not inclined to teach on camera. My knowledge would definitely be better laid out in written form. Alternatively, there’s courseware software available that helps you put together the  technology needed to run a course…including payment processing, registration, etc. But the problem with this is it does take some level of technical skills to setup…which most authors aren’t inclined to do.

Conclusion

It’s really hard to say which of the 3 strategies is best for monetizing written instructional content. As I detailed…there are definitely pros and cons of each option.

Here at Grokks, we’ve designed a platform that combines ALL the benefits of the 3 options…while trying to eliminate ALL the negatives of the 3 options…and we’re getting really close to a solution! Also, we’re adding a couple extra benefits that none of these 3 options have…just for good measure!

What we’re currently stuck on right now is, does Grokks help you create a blog, book, or course? Each of these terms convey a different message to different people…and we’re not too sure the best way to brand our solution, since our platform is really a combination of all 3. All we know is we’ve designed a platform to help authors simply write, publish, and sell their instructional (blog/book/course).

What do you think?…we’d love to hear your thoughts!