How Dr. Lily Filson Utilizes Udemy to Expand Her Art History Lessons

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  • Who: Dr. Lily Filson
  • Courses: Udemy and Tulane
  • Course Topic: Art History
  • Interesting Stats: 1,000+ students on Udemy/year

Who are you and what course have you created?

I’m an art history professor at a private American university. I offer online versions of my courses on the Udemy.com platform. I received my Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Formative Sciences and my M.A. in Italian Renaissance Art History. I’ve been the recipient of other awards, including a European Research Council Grant Fellowship at the Universita’ Ca Foscari in Venice, Italy, the Katerina Duskova Memorial Fellowship from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the Syracuse University Florence Fellowship.

My studies and career have brought me into contact with numerous artworks and sites. These go beyond traditional art history survey courses. My lectures feature unique content and fresh perspectives on the greatest story ever told: why and how art is made and how we relate to it over time. I bring first-hand experience and a warm delivery style to video lectures which bring ancient artworks to life. I’ve created 29 Art History Survey courses which range from Prehistoric to Modern art.

Dr Lily Filson's site

What market does your online course serve?

My lectures are great for all ages but are primarily focused on high school, university, and continuing education.

What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?

My courses offer both the “greatest hits” of a traditional Art History Survey paired with insightful and original content from my own award-winning research.

How did you get into the market?

I was writing a ten-page lecture for every class I taught, averaging about six a week! Transforming the written lectures into scripts and ultimately into online video courses was a way of maximizing the energy and time that went into writing them and sharing them with as wide an audience as possible.

Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?

I actually started producing online courses way before classes went remote in the Spring of 2020 due to Covid-19, but many of the motivating factors behind the big shift to virtual were the reasons for creating the courses in the first place. One of these is the 24/7 availability of the courses; as online content, they are accessible to students anytime. My attendance policy in my university incorporated three “free passes” to the online version of the lectures; if they were unable to come to class for any reason on those three days, they could access my online course free of charge and at their own convenience which I think minimized stress to a certain degree.

Dr Lily Filson's site

Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?

I definitely wondered about the demand outside of my university position for my course lectures. My thinking was, “OK my students have to take my class for their requirements, but does anybody really care about learning Art History Survey?” Luckily, the response I received from the global student body on the Udemy platform was overwhelmingly positive, which gave me a huge boost in my classroom confidence too.

What’s your online course like?

My courses are 100% video lectures that mirror my teaching style; in the Udemy platform, you’ll see the video of myself talking juxtaposed with the original Powerpoint slides and images I produced as well. Similarly, I wasn’t lecturing my students with the goal of preparing them to jump through a series of quizzes and testing hoops. I structured my classes and online lectures to be as low-stress experiences as possible. I suppose I’m “old school” in my philosophy that learning about art should be a pleasure!

How long did it take you to create your course?

Once I became comfortable with the process, it only takes me about an hour to produce the course itself, but the research and writing of the 10-page lecture script can take MUCH longer. When the script is ready, I record segments using my computer’s camera and video recorder which the Udemy platforms allow me to easily sync to my Powerpoint images, which I save as PDFs. From there, it is a really intuitive and fluid process setting it up as a live course on the site.

Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).

I was focused so much on creating the option of having an online version of my class lectures, that my first sales came as a total surprise! I didn’t promote my online lectures at all in the beginning; they were originally conceived as being an option for my in-person students to take advantage of instead of scrambling for notes on the days they were absent, but the interest from the global Udemy community made me reevaluate how online courses can be a great tool for teaching beyond my university.

Do you have a lead magnet?

Currently no, but during the lockdowns of Spring 2020, I shared public free links to my lectures on my social media. This was when everybody was chipping in entertaining virtual activities for quarantine. This drove unprecedented traffic and sales on my site.

Dr Lily Filson's site

What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?

Offering free courses intermittently to my social network and to my university students (I teach around 180 students per semester) energizes traffic to my courses and raises their profile on the Udemy site. - Dr. Lily Filson Click To Tweet

In turn, this generates more sales to the global student body. It has turned out to be an inspiring arrangement for me. The standards I hold myself to for my university teaching have set the bar for my online courses. The global reach of my online courses has led to some really insightful feedback and exchange.

What online course platform are you using?

Udemy and I like it.

Are there any features you wish it had?

I’m quite busy with the research and lecture-writing side of being a professor. I wish it had more marketing services and promotional tools to distribute my courses more widely!

What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?

I found the process of combining recorded videos with the PDF versions of my Powerpoint presentations to be the smoothest system to learn and repeat. Udemy offered a well-organized production studio and archive for all my 29 courses!

Dr Lily Filson's site

What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?

Take advantage of workshops and discussions in your school or community! I’ve had many conversations with colleagues, particularly those who had awkward transitions to Zoom teaching this year. This has refined my understanding and appreciation of online courses.

Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?

If you are a professor like me who teaches online as well as in-person for a university, you have to be very clear about what the cross-over will look like. You also have to set boundaries. For example, the three “free passes” I offer to students as the attendance policy.

Please share some idea of revenue.

My Udemy earnings qualify as royalty revenue (I know this because I’m fresh from tax season). Their impact has established a comfortable passive stream of income with over 1000 students on Udemy so far. During Spring 2020 when classes switched to virtual and many were in quarantine, I saw my monthly sales average several hundred dollars a month.

Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.

My supplemental income from my online courses has supported my family. As a single mother and a junior professor, the passive income stream has been crucial support in an uncertain year. Having a successful online course business has made it possible for my young daughter to attend the summer camp of her dreams this year!

Dr Lily Filson's site

In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?

I built up over 1000 online students worldwide in the past year. That was by creating 29 original Art History Survey courses online. I wanted to bring my lectures to a greater and more diverse audience than the small number of students I taught in person. There’s not really a hidden trick at all. The secret was diligence and perseverance. Then put in the hours it took to record and upload all 29 courses (and I have about 20 more in the pipeline to come!).

What advice do you have for people just starting out?

Stick with it! When you upload a finished course, the results won’t be immediate. It takes time for people to discover great things. - Dr. Lily Filson Click To Tweet

Also, don’t limit yourself to just one or two courses. You want to offer your students as much of your teaching and learning that you can! (this applies to both in-person as well as online teaching)

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