Building Courses for Tuts+

Over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time building video courses. It’s actually quite a long process given my client commitments but the end results are rewarding.

There is a lot of research required to understand and explain concepts in the best possible way. This means reading a ton of code on Github, blog posts by other folks and finally getting down to structuring the content in a meaningful way.

Luckily I have great support from the Editors at Tuts+ and they help me in reducing scope, cleaning up my narrations and adding the required polish. So far I’ve published a few courses, but this year has been more busy with:

Process

1 The process starts out by first proposing a topic on the Trello Board. If there is sufficent interest, it will be moved to an assigned state, from where on development begins

2 Basecamp is the chosen communication platform for developing the course. There is a fixed template for every course and it starts out by first creating a outline. This is a required step to carve out the scope and ensure the topic stays sufficiently focused.

Recently Tuts+ has started with two kinds of course formats: Long and Coffeebreak. All of my earlier courses were in the long format, which is roughly 1.5 hours. The coffee-break format is a shorter format and involves just an intro video followed by a single 15-min lesson.

3 Since most of my courses are code-based, I first create a Github repo and finish building the course material. I then break it down by lessons and start recording.

4 I use ScreenFlow for recording all the lessons. There are some strict requirements around the screen resolution and pace of the video and they are all outlined in the instructor site for Tuts+.

5 After screen-recording its time for the voiceover. Some folks tend to record and narrate at the same time. I find that a little restrictive since you don’t always have the best sentences to say while writing code! Keeping these two activities (recording + voiceover) separate gives me the flexibility to pause the video, slow it down, add additional context or even speed up the video while I narrate the relevant text. I have been following this technique for all my lessons and so far I am happy with this approach.

I use Final Cut Pro X for doing the editing and narration. The magnetic timeline of FCPX makes the whole editing process a breeze. Early on I had to decide between ScreenFlow, Premiere Pro and FCPX for editing the video. I am glad I chose FCPX and the time I spent learning it has been worthwhile.

I post the videos on Basecamp as and when I complete them. My editor would chime in occasionally and give some guidance around the content, narration style or other pointers to watch out.

6 Once all the recording and voiceovers are done, its time to prepare the Intro lesson. This is usually done last to take bits and pieces of all the recordings and add preview footage.

7 Finally the last step is to prepare the course notes, descriptions of each lesson and also an overall description of the course. At this stage, the finish line is close. It normally takes a month or so for the course to go live. Tuts+ does some post-production like adding watermarks, animations and preparing the course site.

Takes time

As you can tell, the process is time consuming and requires significant effort. However doing it a few times, makes it seem less so. I have become comfortable recording and narrating without redoing too many times. The editing process has also become quick with sufficient practice. Between the long and coffee-break formats, I am leaning towards the shorter one.

The first time you start doing these courses, it will seem like an eternity to finish. However its also lot of fun going through the process. There are some side benefits as well:

  • You become an effective communicator
  • You learn to prioritize and structure content
  • You pick up skills at Editing video, Narration and overall course production
  • You learn a LOT. In fact, this is the biggest reason I do these courses!
  • You get a sense of achievement when a course goes live! This is hard to describe in words but you will know the feeling is great.

You should try it out!

If you are passionate about a topic and would like to share your viewpoint, you should try building video courses. You can start out with simple, short videos on YouTube and then get into serious course production. It doesn’t hurt to have more people explain topics their own way :-)