Making Your Online Course Better Isn’t Only About Getting That Competitive Edge. It’s Often More About Decoding What Makes A Big Difference To The Student.
When I set out to curate this roundup, I expected to see a lot of course-creation experts talk about “standing out against competition”. But that’s what I didn’t find. And that was a surprise.
At Solohacks Academy, our roundups usually pick topics that most people would consider a question that begets inspiring answers. On a topic like making online courses stand out, most course creation entrepreneurs and experts seem to be writing about being very student-centric, delivering terrific learning outcomes, and even welcoming competition as the best thing.
There are a lot of ideas below that you’ll find are eminently practical, and yet brilliant as a strategy. That’s why we have chosen to collate suggestions from those who’ve got smart thoughts on the topic.
Our picks for this Solohacks RoundUp include 10 great quotes from the blog posts of Danny Iny, Mike Weiss, Brendan Moloney, Steve Penfold, Kamy Anderson, Kyriaki Raouna, Cindy Nicholson, Nate Johnson, Sarah Cordiner, and Derek Halpern.
1. Not only do you have to deliver a stellar course, you also have to be a maverick at marketing it: Danny Iny
Danny Iny in the article “4 Ways to Make Your Online Course Stand Out”:
Not only do you have to deliver a stellar course, you also have to be a maverick at marketing it. That’s exactly what my friend, Jonathan Goodman, is doing with the Online Trainer Academy, the first-ever certification course for fitness trainers wanting to expand their services online. It’s hard enough that fitness is a crowded industry. But Jon also has to compete with fitness institutions–many of them well-entrenched in the consciousness of trainers.
Although his course is delivered online, it also has a physical component. Students get a textbook and workbook mailed to them, no matter where they are in the world (Jon has students in 75 countries). They also receive other surprises in the mail, as a way to encourage them to complete the course. For example, two to three weeks after they enroll, they get a notepad to write their three daily priorities. Another few weeks down the road, they get a branded water bottle–something all fitness trainers use frequently.
Aside from motivating students to move through the course, these gifts also result in plenty of free marketing for Jon. “When somebody gets something beautiful in the mail, the first thing they do is post it on social media,” he says.
These initiatives are more complicated, more time-consuming, and more expensive than creating the usual online course. For example, Jon’s company will spend half a million dollars in printing and shipping in 2018.
But going the extra mile has resulted in free advertising, happier students, and fewer refunds. “I did the financial analysis,” Jon said, ” and spending the large amounts of money on physical fulfillment made me $264,939.82 because of our really low refund rate (~2.9%) compared to a commonly-accepted industry average.” This is in addition to a 36.1% completion rate, which, considering most online courses hover around 5%, is pretty darn good.”
2. To ensure a world-class student experience, you need to ensure that you dedicate enough time strategizing your course: Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss in the article “6 Ways to Differentiate Your Online Course from the Competition”:
The key to success for online courses is to focus on the students and make their learning process enjoyable and easy.
The eLearning boom has led to an abundance in the number of courses being created. Topics that were once considered niche subjects now feature tens, or even hundreds, of online courses. In such a competitive atmosphere, online course creators need to understand how adults learn best, and what type of format and structure increases course comprehension.
If your course is streamlined into easy, consumable components, not only will it improve comprehension, but also more students will complete the course, meaning more students will achieve the results they desire and paid for, therefore benefiting the online course creator (you!) through increased referrals, high satisfaction levels and great reviews on your site!
It is your role to present the right amount of information in an exciting way. Recording some videos, uploading them to a platform and calling it a day is not enough! From a tidy course layout to reduced content overload, to a frictionless navigation experience, every step can enhance the student experience.
In order to ensure a world-class student experience, you need to ensure that you dedicate enough time strategizing your course. It’s not only about technology as many people use to think. There’s not a technology solution you can throw at it and say, “Boom, boom, I’m done. I’m gonna have rabid success.” I actually believe it’s 75% strategy, 25% technology. An unorganized and content-laden course is likely to confuse and frustrate students.”
3. Don’t underestimate the power of delivering your course in a bite-sized format, offering mini-modules: Brendan Moloney
Brendan Moloney in the article “Make Your eLearning Course Stand Out From The Rest”:
Don’t underestimate the power of delivering your course in a bite-sized format. Even if there’s a lot of ground to cover, offering mini-modules gives students the chance to feel as though they’re making significant progress.
For those who are exceedingly busy, it’s an excellent way for them to incorporate training into their lives in the most manageable way possible.
If you’re wondering whether bite-sized format courses are at all popular, you only need to take a look at the Multiple Open Online Course (MOOC) statistics. Around 81-million people worldwide use them to MOOC topics from prestigious universities and other course providers.
Courses can range between six to 12 weeks in size, making them small and manageable. Although not all of these count towards an official qualification, the fact that the courses have such a high uptake despite their small size speaks volumes.
If people are willing to participate in small eLearning courses even without a measurable outcome, you will find it easy to sell your bite-size course when it contributes to a qualification or another benefit.”
4. Elements that create a high level of engagement – like gamification – will give you an edge over competitors: Steve Penfold
Steve Penfold in the article “5 Tips to Make Your Online Training Stand Out”:
Use gamification elements. Applying game-like mechanisms – such as points, status and badges – to your training makes it more engaging and enhances the learner experience. Gamification activities motivate trainees to strive to perform well. Trainees derive a sense of achievement from overcoming obstacles and progressing towards an end goal.
Some ideas you can try include:
- Badges incentivize learners as they progress through a course or master a topic.
- Leaderboards allow learners to see how they are performing compared to their peers. Look for authoring tools and learning management systems that let you use leaderboards to entice learners to take up more courses or improve their ranking.
Use branching scenarios for easy navigation. Your online training navigation must be simple to use so learners can focus on your content without distraction. Navigation must be intuitive and engaging, and branching scenarios can help to create a high level of engagement.
Medieval Swansea is a great example of easy navigation. The forward and back navigation make it feel like you’re panning around a landscape rather than moving from screen to screen.
Elements that create a high level of engagement like this will give you an edge over competitors that employ a boring “click next to continue” methodology.”
5. Make sure that learners participate in the creation of your online course and tell them your story: Kamy Anderson
Kamy Anderson in the article “How to Make Your Online Course Design Stand Out”:
Make sure that learners participate in your online course.
Find out what they think. This is an essential step for creating an effective online syllabus.
- Ask the learners what things they want to learn, and their ideal expectations from the course.
- Conduct a market and training needs analysis to understand the knowledge gaps.
- You can do this by either adding a short survey form along with the enrollment form of your course or by contacting them via emails and social media.
Share your story.
- Tell your learners clearly about the objectives of the course, how your journey was, what your professional experience is, and how that course will be able to make a difference in their lives.
- For instance, if you are blogging for 10 years now and you want to share your knowledge about blogging through a course, you can easily explain your story about how you became a blogger, the challenges you faced, and how you overcame them.
- Inspire people with your story. Share interesting facts that will make them interested in developing the skill you are providing through the course.”
6. You need to grasp the attention of learners and encourage them to remain active members of your community: Kyriaki Raouna
Kyriaki Raouna in the article “7 Tips for Creating a Knowledge-Filled Online Course”:
When it comes to selling courses, you have to keep nurturing your relationship with existing students and attracting new learners. This way, you get to have an opportunity to keep them engaged, connect with them, offer them the chance to offer feedback and ensure they are happy.
An excellent way to do this is by creating a membership site, where you sell online courses and work with a specific community of learners. With a membership site, you ensure that your learning content is gated, secured, and accessible only by a group of people that you choose to share it with.
Now, there are tons of ways to keep in touch with your students and it’s up to you to choose how often you what to reach out to them. Amongst the most popular ways to do this is the email. With a dedicated email list, you can send scheduled emails out to your learners to inform and let them know where you are up to.
Another way to communicate with students is through your online community, where you allow them to communicate freely with each other, exchange knowledge, ideas, and opinions about the course. Don’t forget there are also web and video conferencing tools which offer a more personal approach and interaction with your students regardless of where they live.
Social and interactive learning is without a doubt, the best way to learn since it offers in-time solutions to your students’ problems and personalized training that meets their needs. But for it to work, it needs to grasp the attention of learners and encourage them to remain an active member of your community.”
7. If your course teaches a skill, include a real-life, scneario-based activity at the end: Cindy Nicholson
Cindy Nicholson in the article “The Best Activities To Include In Your Online Course”:
Chances are, if you’re wanting to change behaviour in your course, you are going to be teaching people certain skills, things they need to be able to DO. If they’re learning a new skill your students need to practice, practice, practice.
I hate to break it to you, but just because you say something in a video doesn’t mean they will automatically be able to apply the knowledge. Remember, you can’t learn to ride a bicycle from watching a video. The same principle applies here too.
If your video is teaching some sort of skill, include an activity at the end of that video that will have them practice applying it. Your students are the most motivated to try something as soon at they have learned it. So get them practicing.
The best types of activities at the end of these lessons are usually scenario based. Give them a scenario that is as close to how they will be applying it in real life as possible so they can see how it works in the real world.
The best learning happens when you can do it for yourself. Remember, the type of activity depends on the type of lesson that you are teaching.
So many courses miss this step. I know it is going to take a little longer than just throwing a bunch of videos together but the learning experience will be so much better for your students. That’s how you get raving fans.”
8. Confidently create a once-sentence course USP you believe in and you’re well on your way to success: Nate Johnson
Nate Johnson in the article “How to Set Your Course Apart With a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)”:
A really good USP would directly address a specific need experienced by your ideal customer and emphasize what individual quality separates your course from the rest. If you can confidently create a once-sentence USP which you truly believe in and when you sit back and look at it you say, “Wow…that’s good” then you’re well on your way to a successful course launch.
Take Nerd Fitness. The fitness blogging niche, if you could even call it a niche anymore, is a crushingly saturated space. Fitness websites which cater to nerds? Well, as far as I can tell, there’s one.
And how many nerds are there out there who may be sit behind a computer all day writing code and drinking soda and know they need to do something about their health, but are too intimidated to even type bodybuilding.com into their web browser because they know the first image that pops up is going to cause them to think, “Forget it…I’ll never look like that”? Well, I personally know at least 20 people that fit that description!
Everything about this site stands apart from other fitness blogs. Their community is called “The Rebellion” and they refer to their members as underdogs, misfits, and mutants. Their about page states “As we’ve learned from Optimus Prime, small changes can eventually add up to huge results”. It’s fantastic stuff and it’s a great example of a powerful USP …
It addresses a specific need…someone who is out of shape, wants to get in shape, but is intimidated by everyone else who is already in shape. And they lead with how they’re unique…”we get you, welcome home”. It’s even evident in their choice of domain name.”
9. Don’t underestimate the importance of learning outcomes for your reputation and your bottom line: Sarah Cordiner
Sarah Cordiner in the article 10 Steps To Creating A Wildly Successful Online Course”:
Don’t underestimate the importance of learning outcomes. If you don’t do this for your online courses you could severely risk your reputation and your bottom line – let alone make the course creation process a frustrating one. Would you hand over your money to someone for a product you don’t understand and you have no idea what it will do for you? Of course not.
Just because you know what your course will give your students, it does not mean that they will know. If your students don’t know HOW your course is going to help them, they are unlikely to enroll in it. Learning outcomes clearly explain, with measurable verbs, what the learner will be able to do, know and feel by the end of your course.
- What skills will they be able to demonstrate?
- What new knowledge will they have obtained?
- What feelings will they have moved away from or to?
Having clear learning outcomes also ensures that only the RIGHT students are joining your course – which means higher completion and satisfaction rates and lower refund requests.”
10. If someone already has created the course you want to create, that’s good news – competition is a good thing: Derek Halpern
Derek Halpern in the article “How To Make Money With An Awesome Online Course: The Complete Guide”:
Let’s get specific: You can create a course about something you already know. Or you can create a course about something you’re just learning. But how do you choose a specific idea? And how do you make sure your idea is PROFITABLE? You don’t want to spend time creating a course and then find out later no one wants to buy it …
In fact, this is the BIGGEST mistake new course creators make. They create a course, but they don’t make sure students actually want to learn about the specific topic they chose. No wonder they struggle to attract students!
But I’ve got you covered… The FIRST lesson about choosing a profitable idea is this: If someone already created the course you want to create, that’s GOOD NEWS! I know that’s counterintuitive, but bear with me …
When you come up with an online course idea that has NEVER been done before, that means one thing: there’s probably no one interested in buying it. Seriously. You might think, “But people need what I’m selling,” and maybe they do. But the internet is so large that if people need it, and are willing to buy it, there WILL be someone else selling it.
As a matter of fact: if you come up with an idea for an online course, and you can’t find someone selling a course similar to what you want to offer, I’d find a new course. Of course, there are specific strategies for figuring out what to create an online course about. For now, I want you to know this: If there’s competition, that’s a GOOD thing.”
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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- How To Market Online Courses To Drive Sales … 10 Tricks
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