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Freelance Writing Meets Online Education: How to Get Involved

Freelance Writing Meets Online Education: How to Get Involved

The incredible growth of online education represents the largest financial opportunity for freelance writers in history. Online education in the U.S. is a $60 billion industry and analysts predict it will double in size over the next two years and globally it is a $4.4. trillion industry. Once relegated to for-profit distance education, online learning is now used in corporations, high schools, traditional four-year institutions, and graduate schools. Many of these institutions previously relied solely on PhDs and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for content, now they are abandoning that model and outsourcing to professional writers. Their needs include:

  • Online Courses. Text for the screens and the audio narration of online courses. The client may need this written from scratch or need existing material modified.
  • Assessment Questions. Original questions with detailed feedback are needed for online courses.
  • Course design. Schools want detailed course blueprints for their instructor. These documents often include lecture notes, assessment ideas, and online discussion questions.
  • Instructor’s Guides. These are similar to course designs, but they focus more on the academic subject of the course and how to use the client’s Learning Management System (LMS) to administer the course.

While you do not need teaching experience or subject matter expertise to break into this field, there are qualities you do need to demonstrate to clients:

  • A willingness to research outside your field. If the client wants to interview you to write a course on psychology, research psychology textbooks. Know what topics are the staple of the field. Be ready to propose an outline. Also read about the latest theories in psychology and be ready to discuss recent research.
  • An understanding of the basics of instructional design. While this may sound intimidating, you can learn the basics in a few weeks. Be prepared to discuss Bloom’s taxonomy, how to write strong assessment questions, and how to organize material for the learner.
  • An understanding of the audience and their demographics. For example, if the client wants a course on American History for eighteen-year-olds, you cannot assume they remember the Cold War.
  • An understanding of e-learning trends. I recommend reading e-learning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer.
  • An ability to meet tight deadlines.
  • A dedication to quality. Online courses have a captive audience; learners have no choice but to read your work. They cannot vote in the marketplace, so you are obligated to provide them with a quality educational experience.

The next question will be who to target as clients. Contacting schools directly is a mistake. Schools often work with publishers, so you should target the online divisions of the major academic publishers. Or you can target editorial services companies who already have long-term contracts with publishers. For corporate online courses, you can contact corporations directly.

Working with clients in online education is rewarding in many ways: it is mentally challenging, it is emotionally fulfilling, and it is financially lucrative. Once you prove yourself, your clients will be loyal. All of the clients I had ten years ago, I have today in addition to our new clients. Even if online education is outside your comfort zone, it is worth trying to break into the field as the rewards are great.

Published first by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, 2013

2 Comments
  1. Interesting to read what you have to say here. It has certainly given me some serious thinking to do. I’m also interested in reading what others have to say on the subject matter and will check back soon.

  2. I enjoyed reading this blog post