To Evaluate Your Online Course Ask Yourself What Students Of Today May Want From Paid Courses, When Almost All Information Is Available Online For Free.
Have you invested so much time on what you think your online course should deliver, that you didn’t have time to think about what your students really want? What do you believe they are looking for in a paid online course, when they can easily “Google” to get free information about anything they want to know?
Obviously every student is different, but can your online course meet the basic common needs of your target audiences in terms of learning styles, preferences, and expectations?
Also, earlier people may have bought paid courses for getting greater value over the free stuff available online. Nowadays, maybe they are looking for paid courses to cut through the information clutter and give them just what they need to know – and nothing more.
At Solohacks Academy, we can think of another reason why people would pay for courses despite so much free information availability. People want to see certain guaranteed transformations in their lives, and they don’t mind paying for courses that guarantee them these desired personal transformations. Think hard about this when you evaluate your online course.
1. Today’s online learners want clear results and sure outcomes from courses
People don’t pay for courses. They pay for a new improved version of themselves after they take a course. The way most people subliminally evaluate online courses is by imagining what they may become after they have taken and completed the course.
Most people have either got problems they are grappling with that they’d like to have solved as fast and easily as possible. Or they are aiming to achieve some goals that they have set for themselves, that have become imperative.
When they come across a course that promises to solve their problems or meet their goals, they’d like to be sure of results and outcomes before they consider paying good money for the course.
The question is: how do they know if a course can guarantee results or outcomes?
- The testimonials of other past students would help them evaluate the course for guarantees of deliverables.
- The curriculum structure would tell them that the aspects they are looking for are covered – because they may have a shrewd guess about how their problem solution should be structured, even if they aren’t clear about the fine details of the solution yet.
- They may read course reviews and get validations of the course from peers and other networks of friends they have made online.
- They may also compare and contrast the market validations that competitive courses have received before they decide.
See if there is a good and satisfying way for you to offer result-and-outcome guarantees for your course. Show people before and after case studies (with data) of people who have gone through the course.
If you offer the price-justification of your online course by emphasizing results and outcomes more than any other benefits of your course, you’d go a long way in helping students evaluate your course the way they like to.
2. Online courses need to be relevant, up-to-date, and “valuable” to students
Relevance literally means “something that is totally appropriate to your situation in life”. In other words, when students of an online course are looking for a “relevant course” they are looking for something that ensures a god fit between their current life issues and the answers the course provides.
Student-course-fit can be an objective assessment – for instance, a student, before signing up for your course, may ask herself, “Does this course have what I am looking for right now?” Student-course-fit can also be very subjective and an emotional decision. When students sometimes like one course over its competition, they may feel an intuitive pull towards something in that course that feels like it speaks to them.
Beyond relevance, students online are also very concerned about courses being up-to-date. Technology evolves so rapidly now that a course titled, “Gardening Tips That Work in 2019” will never get a second look. That’s why it’s always safer to ensure that your course is on a subject that is timeless and evergreen. If it must include research and data, make sure to say “Look up the latest data on this” and include links where refreshed data can be found.
Finally, let’s examine the idea of what is “valuable content” to a student of an online course? What kind of content does such a student see as worth paying for? Experts agree that it may include four things:
- Your course content must be readable, watchable, hearable, retrievable – and it must all be a pleasant experience.
- Your course content must be understandable – it cannot be convoluted or haphazard. It has to flow with systematic logic.
- Your course content must be easily actionable, with the action steps laid out in cogent order. It must sound simple and do-able.
- Your course content must feel like it has life-transformational value. A student must feel like the course can be a game-changer.
3. Learners like to have device-responsive courses for “any time” learning
Clearly we now live in a multi-screen, multi-device world, where online course learners expect, at the minimum, to have their courses device-responsive. They may own laptops, tablets, and a couple of mobile phones, and may choose to learn anywhere and at any time, when convenient.
Till a few years back, just making your online course device-flexible was seen to be enough. But now the expectations of students are set much higher. They wish to have their courses seamlessly accessible from wherever they left off from their last study session on another device. For instance, they may study half of a module on their laptops at home, and they may want to finish the rest of the same module (from the point where they left off) on their mobiles as they commute.
This kind of portability is possible only if your lessons were on the cloud, which can be accessed by any device and continued from the point at which they were closed at the last session. Seamless continuity is thus a huge factor in online courses.
Most course-creation platforms and plugins now give your this kind of seamless delivery across devices and especially across mobile devices operating on different systems. Nevertheless, a bit of care has to be taken to see if your course renders very well across different devices when designing the user-experience factors. It’s also not enough that the content is available cross-device, but it has to be readable, understandable, and never a jagged experience.
4. When your course teaches strategy, students want to learn about adaptability
Strategy-teaching is always very much a part of any cource online. From cooking courses, to business-productivity courses, to specialized topics like “SEO Content Writing”, strategic thinking and conceptual understanding of the terms and technologies involved are important.
People often value paid courses over free information because an expert teaches them the strategy of how to surely achieve results, whereas all the random reading you do online can never show you a proven, tested plan. You’d have to sift through what you read and evolve your own plan – which could be a hit-or-miss.
Even when a course teaches strategy, though, the question that students ask most is this: “How can I adapt that strategy for my own life or business?” Mere theoretical strategic learning is of no use these days. People would like, instead, to be shown the customizability of the strategy. They’d also like to know how they can take the base ideas of the strategy and innovate on it.
Strategy teaching is only as good as it can be adapted to a student’s own life or business in a way that is innovative and offers an edge. It may be an edge over the competition, an edge over the problem at hand, or an edge that leads to the student becoming a different kind of thinker, with fresh ideas, after the course.
5. When your course teaches actionable content, students want to learn about systems
A lot of “How-To” courses are immensely popular with online students because they promise to teach the steps of a process to make results faster, easier, and more achievable. But alongside this, students of online courses also expect that actionable content must teach them how to set up systems that later become self-sustaining and scalable.
The process you teach must be easy to convert into a systematic habit or be incorporated into a workflow so that it starts running almost like automatic once it is set up. Nobody has the patience or time to be tweaking processes endlessly. Life has to become as simple “1-2-3 … fit-it-and-forget-it”.
Let’s take an example. Suppose a course was teaching the steps to “editing content after writing it”, the actionable content could become a checklist that you just tick through after every piece of content written. If the course were teaching a business process like “marketing automation” it should involve the setup instructions, followed by “cyclical workflows” and a “troubleshooting checklist” which could just be used to tinker with small faults rather than having to rebuild the entire system from scratch.
Courses also need to teach processes and systems that are scalable. All this is part of the value-package that students have come to expect. They won’t want to spend money on something that works once for them. They want repeatable processes and scalable ideas they can learn once and apply again and again.
6. As lone online learners, students hanker for connection and collaboration
Let’s face it. Online course study is often a lonely endeavor. Long hours of focused attention may be needed, with no one else around, when a student is sitting by himself, trying to absorb what is being said via a video or audio or text. No matter how much of an introvert a student may be, there is always something missing in a classroom of just one.
There is no ambient noise of other energetic students that makes learning more fun. There is no interactivity or sharing of ideas. Online learning makes many things possible, for sure, but it also removes a lot from the enjoyable experience of “the classroom”.
When there is no face-to-face interaction, online students hanker to build relationships with their co-learners and the instructor. They like to feel as though they are not alone on their learning journeys.
It is also validated by research that people learn faster when they can layer their thinking with other learners, with whom they can collaborate. Ideas and innovations multiply. Energy heightens. Thoughts become more streamlined, or more complex, as the situation demands – and if two heads (or even more) can be better than one for brainstorms, why miss on that experience?
Rather than have your students interrupt their lessons to go to the social media for a bit of banter and “brain-picking”, why not offer forums and community-bonding within your course framework? Yes, indeed, it can sometimes be challenging to build a forum that works for students in various geographies and time zones, but that shouldn’t stop you from providing ways for students to connect, share, and learn through access to you and to others of their ilk.
7. Online courses offering one-to-one sessions with instructors are highly valued
With everything said that online courses can be “passive earners” for course-creators, you’ll often find that you can raise course prices and value only if you offer that much wanted extra: the one-on-one interaction with the instructor. How do you offer this while also preserving your distance from the course, so you don’t cheaply trade your precious time?
One way is to ensure that you are a daily visitor to the course student forum. You can answer a few questions students have asked there, but an even better idea would be to drop a question related to your course topic and call for an “in-forum brainstorm” on it. Students would get the feeling that you are helping them by making them stretch their thinking – which is the real value of a good teacher.
Another great idea is to enable group-based “masterminds or Q % A sessions” once a fortnight for which students can send in their questions in advance. You can use a webinar-style session to answer queries and invite student interactivity through the discussion panel of your webinar.
Besides interaction with you, the expert-instructor, students also like to have sessions with other A-lister influencers who can make an appearance at your “mastermind sessions” to add their two bits and liven up proceedings. Try to do as much as you can, within your bandwidth, to make the student know you are there for him or her, and to show you are concerned about the value he or she gets from your course.
8. The skills of the course-instructor, and the quality of teaching matters a lot
Needless to say, no one would love a course and its teaching if the instructor were not top-class on topic knowledge, and if the quality of the teaching skills weren’t up to the mark. But what are “good teaching skills” when you consider an online course, where the teacher cannot see the body language or level of absorption and interest of the students?
When teaching courses online, you have to hold your target persona in mind as if they were in front of you. This is tough in the beginning, but if the persona gets etched in your mind, you will find yourself always addressing the persona one-to-one via camera, instead of trying to gaze around at a whole invisible class. This ingraining of your target persona in your mind is the best way you can cultivate empathy, and find your correct wavelength with students.
Online teaching also has to be very structured. Plan your work and work your plan. Don’t pack too much into the screen, and don’t switch between varying tones of voice. Don’t try to be funny in the middle of serious topics. At the same time, don’t be too businesslike either. A casual, friendly, but to-the-point lecture is much appreciated.
Use a lot of case studies and examples to elaborate on the points you would like to impress on students. Ask them to see how they may have adapted the same idea to their own situations. Give them a few suggestions on how they modify ideas to their needs. Show them that the course is meant to help their specific case, as much as it also teaches broadly around a topic.
See that the production quality of your videos and instruction materials looks classy and polished. It makes a big difference to a learner’s motivation that he is sitting in a best-of-breed online class, listening to a noted authority with a strong brand image. Students love the feeling that they have paid for “quality self-investment”.
9. If a course has great user experience, education becomes engaging, enjoyable
Seldom does an online course fail because it had too little information on it. Usually, it’s the opposite. There may be way too much information in the course, haphazardly structured, adding to a lot of disarray. Students may balk at the sheer amount of information overload in the course, especially when they have chosen to pay for a course that cuts through the clutter.
User experience in online courses depends on three important factors:
- Whether the course has meat, but is well-structured: There has to be a streamlined fluid quality to the progression of lessons without a feeling of going back and forth. The last thing a student wants is a jumpy, staccato feel to the course.
- Whether the course is compelling and the student feels engaged and ready to be interactive: Courses that are a one-way street from teacher to student, and ask nothing of the student except dumb listening, don’t qualify for user-experience factors – even if they look well-designed.
- Whether the course environment is pleasant to linger in: It’s the little things that make a big difference to user experience- like the soothing level of the speaker’s tone of voice, the way the page layout and colors look, and the way it all feels coherent on any device. Students dislike the feel of edginess in learning processes.
It’s quite a science and an art to create a course that is entertaining, enjoyable, and engaging – while it is also educational. Learning is one of those processes we are asked to do lifelong. It cannot be allowed to become a chore, or worse, be harsh on the eye or the ear, or be brain-addling. Students should never feel that they have to concentrate too hard to keep up with the course, when their minds get tired frequently.
10. The quality of extra learning resources you offer has a rub-off on your brand
Most often, course-creators offer a lot of extra material as add-ons to a course. They figure this will help raise the course-price. But you can get so sloppy in your choice of extra add-ons and learning materials that it all speaks poorly of your brand. Then all the price-increase you do will never make up for the erosion of your brand equity.
The idea is to give people two things when you give them extra learning materials to go through at the end of each lesson:
- One, give them genuinely valuable stuff that upgrades on the lesson you have taught. For instance, the extra learning materials must be useful to those who want to dive more deeply into the topic you have covered. The downloadables or links to other resources must encourage divergent reflection upon the topic taught, so that the student learns more by application of mind in different directions around a topic.
- Two, the quality of the add-ons and extra learning materials must burnish your own brand image by association. From the kind of resources you have given, the student must get a feeling that you value thought-leadership on your topic and associate with the content created by people at the top of your field. What you give away shows your superiority and wisdom in selection. Your brand must look like the aggregator of the best information on a topic – and after you have taught what you want to, the buffet-spread of resources you have picked for students must feel like their minds are being encouraged to elevate to a new benchmark of thinking.
Never let your add-on materials become careless afterthoughts. Sure, you will be exhausted after creating the instruction part of your courses, but you cannot afford to let the resources that go with each lesson become a poor reflection on your brand. When building your brand, the quality you are seen associating with can have a huge rub-off on your own brand.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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