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I was surprised to hear a while back that only a minority of students who buy online courses actually open and use them let alone finish them. That was from a respected thought leader who sells many online courses.
An article I came across recently seemed to bear this out According to this piece, although “hundreds of courses are now available from dozens of the world’s best universities and professors on the major platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Udemy, and have attracted at least 4 million sign-ups to date, more than 90% of these would-be learners don’t finish. Many don’t even start the courses”. What’s more, those who do finish their course, don’t go on to take another one.
When you bear in mind the flexibility and other advantages that online courses offer this is extremely surprising.
The perks of taking online classes are numerous. As well as the opportunities to pick up new technical or business skills, or update old ones to advance their careers, online courses offer busy students, especially parents seeking to better provide for their families and returning students looking to pick up where they left off, a unique chance to balance school with work and family.
So why is it that those people who do finish their courses, don’t tend to take another one?
My Own Personal Experience
Since I created an online solution – Legally Branded Academy 2.0 – is that some people buy but don’t then even login!
With the eLearning industry worldwide set to surpass USD 275 billion in value by 2022, according to research from Orbis, the eLearning trend is undoubtedly an important one to watch.
More and more companies are adding an eLearning component to their product suites, and many individuals are using platforms like Kajabi to create digital products based around their interests and hobbies.
It’s not uncommon for people to have little success initially but by learning how to use the platform, and better understanding their potential customers some of them achieve noteworthy success with their online courses.
Kajabi is the market leader and makes it very easy to set up a course and sell it. As a result, people are investing time and energy in learning how to use the platform so they can create their own courses, modify them and then sell using Kajabi’s inbuilt marketing features.
However, if buyers are not then consuming the courses it is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed.
Getting Buyers to Use the Courses
In my view, it’s important to focus not just on getting sales, but also in finding ways to encourage buyers to consume the course they buy from you. After all, if you ultimately want to make an impact on people’s lives, get feedback and improve your course you can’t do it if people are not using the course. Also, it takes word of mouth growth for a course to be more widely adopted, so your buyers need to be encouraged to use your courses.
As already mentioned earlier, there are many advantages to learning via an online course, notably, convenience, and the ability to go at your own pace. However, their huge drawback is that you are on your own and exposed to distractions. There is a seemingly endless array of other priorities competing for your time and attention so that it can be difficult to engage with the online material. The extreme time pressures that everyone seems to be under these days, means that unless you’re very motivated to learn what the online course is offering to teach you, chances are it will soon get forgotten and will not be used.
Perhaps people buy our courses with the intention of using them later, and then later never comes. This can easily happen when you consider that often the timing of the purchase is driven more by the special offers or other incentives sellers provide to buyers than by someone’s own availability to learn. As online courses are intangibles, it can all too easily happen that it’s a case of out of sight out of mind. How do we get our buyers to prioritise using our courses?
The Inertia factor
What I’m wondering is what difference it will make if I were to find a way to get my buyers to take that first step of actually logging in and watching the welcome video.
You see overcoming customer anxieties is a big deal. There’s almost always some friction associated with switching from one way of doing things to another. So we need to consider how to remove any obstacles that stop our buyers from using these courses.
For example, do your buyers realise that technology will not stand in their way (that is certainly the case with platforms like Kajabi) because there is no special software to download or difficult systems to learn in order to access the material. Maybe a welcome email or call to explain this might encourage them to take the first step?
While we may believe our products are so fabulous that they will erase any concerns people might have about starting something new, the reality is that consumers are often stuck in the habits of the present – the thought of switching to a new solution or habit is almost overwhelming. Sticking with the devil they know, even if imperfect, is more bearable.
Consider how sometimes people refuse to upgrade their mobile phone because they are comfortable with the one they have? This is due to the pull of the old. It requires no deliberation and has some intuitive plausibility as a solution already.
Fear Of Loss
People fear loss twice as much as they are motivated by gains. Anxieties come into play both about learning something new, but also, simply due to the anxiety of the unknown.
The new learning must have sufficient importance to cause people to change their behaviour. They need to recognise that they’re struggling and be reminded that they want a better solution than what they can currently have.
Provided the pull of the new is much greater than the sum of the inertia of the old and the anxieties about the new then people will adopt the new solutions.
Another way of putting it is that it’s difficult to get people to change their old habits. So, no matter how frustrated people are with their current situation or how enticing a new product is, if the forces that pull them to addressing their problems in a particular way, or not addressing them don’t outweigh the hindering forces, they won’t even consider adopting something new.
I’m keen to find out what the users of my course are doing about their Intellectual Property protection though, while they’re not using the course they’ve bought from me. What caused them to buy would also be really useful knowledge to glean.
What Next For Online Courses?
For now, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of online learning.
The big difference between in-person and online courses lies in how students interact with each other. You can receive your peers’ responses instantaneously in a brick-and-mortar classroom but need to wait for those who live on the other side of the country to type their comments into an online forum.
According to research people learn through a social process. The timeliness of feedback is critical for students to learn. Technology may replicate most resources of the best in-person courses, such as course materials, tests, and lectures, but it is impossible, at least for now, to replicate real-time, in person feedback from peers and teachers.
Perhaps using small group classes such as Zoom meetings where everyone can participate just like in a normal classroom setting might help?
All in all, I doubt we need to be pessimistic about the future of online learning. We just need to keep trying to do better so we improve the experience. Making changes, even to incorporate some “in class” element might have a huge effect. For example, it may be worth experimenting with giving local course attendees an opportunity to interact and meet others. Research has shown that interventions that enhance students’ interactions help them to learn better.
Putting people into accountability groups in their local area so they meet regularly with their peers to help each other stay on track and make progress on common tasks could prove valuable. Connecting with others physically is bound to make the intangible nature of a course less of a problem by reducing the feeling of isolation and disconnectedness.
Let’s hope for a better future in which everyone can become a lifelong learner as technology evolves, and breaks the limits of time and location.