The world of online learning has a dirty secret.
As a course creator, understanding this secret can save you a lot of frustration. It can also increase your chances of success and fulfillment.
The number and variety of online courses have skyrocketed in recent years. This allows people the chance to learn about almost any topic from almost anywhere in the world.
Savvy marketers have grown multi-million-dollar businesses enrolling students in online programs. Solve your big, fat problem for only $1997!
The sad truth is most people who buy online courses don’t complete them or get the expected results. Sometimes they never even sign in. They get busy, distracted, intimidated, or overwhelmed. Or they just hit a roadblock and give up.
Industry experts estimate that less than 5% of people who buy online courses finish them. Most are wasting money and not making progress on their goals.
There’s also emotional fallout. They can end up feeling ashamed or frustrated with themselves, or they can blame the teacher.
This is bad business.
It costs 5 to 25 times more to attract new customers than to keep current ones. So as an entrepreneur, creating a great experience for your students offers huge financial rewards.
And the opposite is also true. Students who don’t get results from your course aren’t having a good experience. That translates to fewer testimonials, referrals, and repeat customers for you. It also means you need to spend more time, energy, and money on marketing and sales. All while plagued by a nagging feeling that you’re failing your students.
The industry as a whole suffers as well. The more people catch on, the less willing they are to shell out their hard-earned cash or wrack up more debt.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As a course creator, you can’t force your students to succeed, but you can stack the deck in their favor.
These five keys can boost your student success rate and your bottom line: Inspiration, Motivation, Organization, Connection, and Updating.
Read on to find out how to put these principles into action in your course business.
1. How to Inspire Your Students
Inspiration is essential for getting students to learn. It’s all about engaging their vision, desire, creativity, and enthusiasm.
The most successful course marketers inspire potential students in some way. They get people to enroll. But many neglect to apply those same methods of inspiration inside their course.
These methods include success stories, praise and encouragement, and easy wins. Getting people in touch with their pain as well as their vision and desire can also help.
Here are some specific ways to inspire your students once they’ve enrolled.
Give Them A Big Welcome
Send them a welcome email as soon as they sign up. Offer encouragement, reassurance, and a success story or two of others you’ve helped.
Give them small actions to do right away and help them get familiar with the learning environment.
Make them feel welcome, wanted, and part of a community. Show your enthusiasm for what they’re doing, and invite them to share their goals and dreams with you.
Uncover the Why
Get your students to think about and share their reasons for taking your course. What problems or challenges are they looking to overcome? What do they hope to get out of the program? Why does it matter so much to them?
Normalize the Emotional Rollercoaster
Remind your students that learning is a process of change with many ups and downs, and remind them that it’s normal and okay. Getting in the proper frame of mind will help them avoid becoming too discouraged when challenges come up.
Make It Fun!
These days, most of us want some entertainment with our learning, so infuse your program with a sense of fun and enjoyment. Nerd Fitness is an online course and community for “nerds” that want to get healthier and stronger. The platform invites members to create video game-style avatars and “Have FUN completing quests, tracking progress, and gaining experience.” They turn the toil of physical exercise that many people dread into a game they’re excited to play.
2. Motivation Secrets for Student Success
If inspiration is all about feelings and desire, motivation is about turning those feelings into action.
Dale Carnegie wrote in his classic book How To Win Friends and Influence People, “There is only one way … to get anybody to do anything … and that is by making the other person want to do it.”
Sound obvious? It should be, yet the stats show that many course creators are failing to make their students want to go through their programs. They make people want to buy their courses, but they also need to make them want to take all the steps necessary to get results.
Here are some ways to foster that “want” in your course participants.
Get Input from Your Students
People generally value things more when they’ve had a hand in creating them. So involve your students in the ongoing development and improvement of your course.
“Not ALL students will complete your course (or implement the learnings). But it’s important to make sure you focus on collecting insights and feedback from those students that will,” says course developer Nicole Girouard.
“When we create courses, it’s tempting to develop content that WE know students will need to be successful. We often times forget to ask students what they want. When you provide your learners with the information that they want, you increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining the right students who go on to be successful.”
Give Learners a Mission
Like Nerd Fitness, create quests, goals, and specific attainments for your students to reach. Provide an overview of the whole path right from the beginning, and at each step, explain what they’re doing and why.
Provide Continuous Small Wins
Video games hook people with colorful, celebratory visuals and never-ending levels of advancement. Social media platforms give us likes and shares to keep us online. These small rewards trigger dopamine releases, giving us a sense of pleasure that entices us to keep going.
Many Learning Management Systems (LMS’s) provide options for badges and points for just this reason. Even a low-tech solution like checklists or gold stars can be effective in helping students feel like they’re making progress.
Offer Praise and Encouragement
Dale Carnegie suggested that leaders “praise every improvement.”
He wrote, “People love to receive praise and admiration. If we truly want someone to improve at something, we must praise their every advance. Abilities wither under criticism. They blossom under encouragement.”
So keep your students motivated by acknowledging as many of those small wins as possible.
Use Social Proof to Keep Students Engaged
Most marketers are familiar with the concept of social proof, in the form of likes, shares, testimonials, case studies, and reviews. But let’s put it into the context of learning.
We humans tend to look at others who are like ourselves in order to decide how to act. “Social proof” refers to those observations and how we interpret them.
Robert Cialdini’s classic book Influence describes the immense power of social proof. With stories of suicide and murder, he shows how it can even affect life-and-death decisions.
It can also be a great motivator in the learning environment. This is especially true in courses on niche topics where the participants have a lot of similarities.
For instance, if one of your students explains how they consistently make time for their coursework, others may feel motivated to try it. They may then share about it as well, reinforcing the social influence on the group.
To harness this powerful principle, copy the tactics of motivational speakers and evangelists. At live events, they’ll hire people to pose as audience members and run up to buy something or give a donation at just the right moment. The real attendees suddenly feel compelled to follow suit.
You can use this trick in a benevolent way. Invite one or two of your course participants to serve as role models in exchange for extra support. Have them display the actions you want the rest of the students to take, and encourage the others to follow their example.
3. Organize Your Content for Ease of Learning
Well-organized information can be another factor in motivating students to keep going and take action. On the flip side, confusing or poorly structured content can quickly demoralize people and make them want to give up.
Give each of your lessons a single focus, rather than combining many topics into one lesson. Introduce the topic at the beginning and recap at the end. And review the main points of each lesson at the end of a module.
Make sure there is a logical flow to the information within each lesson. Also check from one lesson to the next, and from module to module. And explain your logic to your students as often as possible.
Provide just enough information, and avoid overwhelming them with details they don’t need to get the desired results.
Get feedback and make changes as needed to improve the experience. As Girouard says, “Listen more than you speak, and build curriculums around what people say they want. Once you’ve done that, then you can weave in the information that they actually need.”
4. Build Connection and Community into Your Course
Research shows that people tend to learn better in groups.
Social learning provides accountability, improves morale, and helps students grasp new concepts faster. In contrast, e-learning can be isolating and depressing, even if the topic interests us.
So build community and connection into your course. This can include personal interaction between you and your students, as well as creating a space for them to interact with each other.
By interacting with your students, you can help them apply what you’re teaching to their unique situations. You’ll be able to troubleshoot when things aren’t working and provide reassurance when they’re struggling.
Copy Chief is an online community for copywriters and business owners. It does a great job of bringing people together to support each other’s learning and growth.
It includes a variety of courses and a forum. With an ethos of support and camaraderie, members give each other feedback and guidance in a forum. A small team of ambassadors welcome and support new members and moderate the forums. And founder Kevin Rogers offers regular Q&A sessions and provides every new member a one-on-one coaching call.
And with a community environment, you can encourage your students to do these things for each other, taking some of the load off of you.
You don’t need a custom-built forum or a team of ambassadors to create community in your online course. If you’re just launching your first program, you can use popular platforms like Facebook and Slack to create interactive groups. Some LMS’s even have forums built in, which can help your students avoid the distractions of social media.
Be sure you spend time nurturing your group, and elicit support from a few active students to bring extra energy. A community with no participation erodes trust and can be worse than no community at all!
5. Keep Your Course Up to Date
The world changes fast these days, and information is outdated almost as soon as it’s published.
This is more of an issue with some topics than others. If you’re teaching something related to technology or social media, for example, you need to review and update at least once a year, and possibly more.
Some topics are more timeless, but even in those cases, students may see your course as irrelevant if you haven’t updated it for several years.
Another way to keep your course content fresh is through your student community. Discussions raise important topics and generate new insights. They can even provide content that you might put into your course, or into whole new courses.
Over time you might create an array of courses as hot new topics emerge in your industry or among your students. Keeping them all updated can become a large task.
But having a growing library of programs can create a lot of value for your students. They’ll want them to stay updated as much as you do. You’ll then be able to hire or elicit help to manage your course content.
So there you have it. Five keys to helping your students get real results from your programs: Inspiration, Motivation, Organization, Connection, and Updating.
The more you can help your students succeed, the more likely your course is to be successful. And the better you’ll feel about the impact you’re having. If you build these principles into your course and your marketing, you’ll stand out in the sea of online educators.
How are you inspired to apply these principles in your programs? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author: David Kirshbaum is a freelance writer, marketing consultant, and course creation expert who helps thought leaders and organizations attract and retain customers. Find out more at davidkirshbaum.com.