11 Online Course Experts Share How to Improve Course Completion Rates

Eric Melchor

Creating and launching an online course is one of the best ways to share your knowledge with others anywhere and earn an additional income. 

But... there’s one problem.

Completion rates for any kind of online course, from learning the art of clowning to getting a certificate from Columbia University, are low. Very low. On average, only 15% of students complete a course. That’s right, just 15%. This has a number of drawbacks since students who don’t complete your course are unlikely to take another one of your courses, are more likely to request a refund and are more likely to submit a poor review.

With the online education market booming because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how can course creators keep their online students engaged while also building an audience and delivering an amazing course experience?

We reached out to 10 online course experts who’ve had tremendous success either growing their courses or showing others how to achieve success as an online course creator to get their thoughts on the following three topics:

  • What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?
  • Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates?
  • Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students.

Let’s learn how these online course experts are achieving high course completion rates and discover their tips on how to deliver an amazing course.

Expert #1: Diana Wilson, Founder, Online Course Resource

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

It is all about getting noticed. There is so much noise out there nowadays, I think even getting noticed is tricky. Finding ways to stand out through branding and message is a good start. Using polarizing content to take a stand is a great way to stand out from the herd and find your people. Once you find your people, make sure to ask them to jump on your list. Having an email list is still the best way to reach your audience and get your message out.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates?

Getting students to finish can be a challenge for every online course creator. There are many reasons why people do not finish online courses. Let's start with the first one. They did not get what they thought they were purchasing. This leads to low completion rates and buyers remorse. Make sure you are clear on your marketing. Another reason is simply lack of discipline. If everyone had great self discipline, personal trainers would be out of a job. By offering an accountability component to your online course, you are more likely to get more students across that goal line.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students?

An "amazing course experience" is different for everyone. This can be a difficult goal to accomplish. There are many online courses that have a live weekly group call/party. As an introvert, I find these off putting. The same goes for those vacation-like bootcamps. They are not an incentive for me. You need to have a good mix of activities that will appeal to many personality types. The common factor in all of them is ease of use. If you make sure that you are making it easy to access your online course across multiple devices, that will enhance the experience. Another thing you can do is offer little wins. Make sure that by the end of each lesson, your student has a win. They now have something they can go out and do right then and there. Once they experience the feeling of that win, they will come back for more. This brings us back to helping improve course completion rates and build an audience built on referrals from happy students.

Expert #2: Dave Chesson, Founder, Kindlepreneur

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

Being very consistent and clear about who you are, what you do, and where you do it, is the best path to building an audience.  Too many creators jump around from platform to platform whether it is YouTube or blogging or whatever, and become very inconsistent. This leads to confusion and a more difficult path for your existing fans to follow you.  Instead, be intentional about where you spend your effort and create a consistent process by which to create your content.  So, be like the old Batman show with Adam West and remind your viewers, "Same bat time, same bat channel."  

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates?

Using consistent communication with your students is the key to course completion. This could be done through a Facebook group, autoresponder system, or using an app like Bonjoro to send personalized videos to welcome them to the course, and encourage them along the way. Sending quick videos lets them know they're not alone, and that there is some level of accountability.  Because of that, they will not only keep up with the course, knowing there is someone who is keeping them accountable, but they will be happier customers in the end, feeling as though you cared about their success and completion to the end.  

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students?

The problem with most courses is that they can be long and boring.  Do you remember sitting in school listening to your teacher or professor drone on about something you know you'll be tested on...and yet, you struggle to pay attention?  Therefore, as a course creator, try to keep your courses lively and moving.  I use the rule of thumb that no  more than 20 seconds can go by without something happening on the screen.  You can use jump cuts, new visuals on the screen, new slides, or even a different camera angle.  But by keeping the camera moving, and you'll keep their engagement.   

Expert #3: Tyler Basu, CEO, Tyler Basu

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

There are 3 main strategies I recommend for driving awareness for your online courses and building your audience. The first strategy is Owned Media, which involves publishing free content (articles, videos, podcasts, etc.) on a platform that you own/control (ie. your website) to provide information that is relevant to your target audience. The second strategy is Paid Media, which involves running ads to drive your target audience directly to specific content, landing pages, or sales pages. The third strategy is Earned Media, which involves getting exposure to audiences that other people/companies have built (via guest interviews, public speaking, guest blogging, etc.). Individually, all 3 of these strategies can work well. And implementing all 3 strategies simultaneously has a compounding effect over time.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates?

To help improve your course completion rates, I recommend designing your course around a specific outcome that your students want to achieve. That outcome is essentially the finish line, but depending on the length of your course, it can be discouraging for a student if the finish line seems too far away. For that reason, I recommend dividing your course content into modules that represent important milestones towards the finish line. Encourage your students to celebrate the completion of these milestones, and to share their progress along the way with others. That being said, some students will get precisely what they wanted from a course before completing it. For that reason, your student success rates (the % of your students that achieve the outcome they intended to achieve after taking your course) are generally a more meaningful metric than your course completion rates. 

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students?

A common misconception about online courses is that the value of the course lies in the content itself. However, many students (myself included) extract more value from a course and have a better experience by engaging with a community. The ability to ask questions, interact with other students, and get feedback from the instructor (or even other students) as they go through the material helps to foster a positive learning experience. 

Expert #4: Linda Reed-Enever, CEO, The Course Creators Circle

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

When building a course audience education marketing is key to success. Education marketing is all about teaching in your message and to build a following of people who want to know more. Webinars, where you can teach and interact live, are awesome for engagement. Videos that address your student's pain points and give them a mini win encourages them to want to learn more from you and blogs with good resources and checklists are 3 of my favourite ways to build a following that want to learn from you. Quality education marketing leads to quality students and helps with completions rates.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates

Break things down and give the students mini wins in each lesson so they keep their motivation going through achieving along the way.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students

Don't overcomplicate things. If it is confusing to you, imagine how it will be for a student. Engage with your students and create a community for them where they can access you and be part of your inner circle. Things like insider tips and student exclusives make them feel loved.

Expert #5: Jeremy Deighan, Founder, Online Course Igniter

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

Building an audience for your online course business is a crucial step because without an audience, your course won’t have ready buyers to purchase it once completed.

There are three ways to do this successfully.

First, create a community of your ideal students. This can be done on forums or platforms but the most popular at this time is Facebook groups. Name your group something that speaks to who you’re trying to attract and what they’ll learn in the group. (Example: Watercoloring basics for beginners community)

Second, choose a platform to start delivering content. This will help build your authority and show others that you have the expertise to teach them in your course. It can be blogging, podcasting, or social media but the best fit I have found for online courses is YouTube videos, since someone watching a video is an easy sell into a video course.

Lastly, start having conversations with the people from your channel and your community to find out their pain points, desires, and roadblocks. You will build a stronger network with your ideal student and also find out terrific information to put in your course and marketing material at the same time.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

When designing your online course, my number 1 recommendation is to ALWAYS have the students goals in mind.

Your course should be delivering a definite goal that the student should be striving for. 

One way to ensure that your students are completing objectives is to build out worksheets, quizzes, or other assets for the lessons that make them put the theory into motion.

By giving them actions to take, they will learn more and be intrigued to continue the course to see what the next lesson brings.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

Knowing the best learning style for your students is a guaranteed way to deliver an amazing course experience for students. Sometimes it’s not always easy to figure out what each students learning style is, so you may want to incorporate different types of educational content in your course.

If you have videos, can you add an ebook or emails to help those that like to read? Would it be possible to share your information in audio form for those that like to listen on the go? 

Putting different layers of educational material in your online course will ensure that you are helping a variety of students and will be able to deliver the best course experience for each one.

Expert #6: Rebecca Cuevas, Founder Learn and Get Smarter

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

  • Be clear on your unique mission, vision, and purpose
  • Develop programs and materials that express that mission, vision, and purpose
  • Show up (in online communities) with an attitude of service towards those who seek your guidance in supporting that mission, vision, and purpose

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

Follow learning design best practices to ensure your course delivers the specific transformation it promises.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

To summarize:

  • Set up your course STRUCTURE correctly to deliver the EXACT transformation you’re promising
  • Optimize your course CONTENT to ensure learning
  • Build MOTIVATIONAL FACTORS into the course that are SPECIFIC to your target audience
  • Reduce COGNITIVE LOAD to make your material clear and easy to understand
  • Build in FEEDBACK AND ASSESSMENT throughout your course to ensure your students are learning every step of the way

Expert #7: Paul Thomson, CEO Paul Thomson

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

Whether you’re just starting out or you have an established business already, staying consistent with your content marketing is going to help you build your audience quickly & efficiently. You’ll hear from the biggest content creators in the world that their success is largely attributed to their consistency. 

If you’re looking for ideas on where to build an audience, for most course creators you really can’t beat Facebook Groups. Running your own group, building a community of super fans and then selling them your courses is a tried and true method that successful course creators have used over and over again. Be engaging, be helpful and your group will flourish. 

But if running groups isn’t your thing, a fantastic way to build an audience is to interview guests on your podcast. If you don’t already have a podcast, don’t worry. Don’t overthink this; you just want a platform to be able to interview other people. By doing so, you’re getting in front of their audience and that will drive fresh eyeballs on you. You’ll then be able to capture this attention and turn these new faces into followers.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

By far the number one way to increase the retention and success rate in your courses is to develop a strong community for your students. A course coupled with a private community is your secret weapon to success. It’s a place for students to form friendships, get help and, be inspired. It’s also a home for you to support your students with any questions they may have. Learning together is always more powerful than learning on your own. 

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

The course experience begins as soon as your students go through the checkout. It’s important to create an amazing onboarding experience for them so they feel welcome and supported. In this onboarding process, you should also answer any questions they might have, give them clear instructions on the next steps and add in a little surprise & delight. Bonjoro is actually a fantastic way to add a spark of joy to your new students. As they enrol, sending them a quick personal video to say thanks is a classy touch.  

Another piece of the course experience that really makes a difference is the course hosting. You want your students to be using a sleek tool that feels professional and is super easy to navigate. There’s nothing worse than trying to navigate a clunky website to get through lessons. Find a tool that prioritises the educational aspect of courses and your students will feel rock solid. 

And lastly a quick note on lessons to improve the course experience, you want to mix up your mode of delivery in your lessons by including slides, talking head, screen shares, demonstrations etc. The more variety you have, the easier it will be for your students to stay engaged. And where possible always have an actionable to-do task in your lessons. It helps your students maintain their momentum.

Expert #8: Tracy Phillips, Founder Video Script Success

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

Clarity, visibility and ads. It's important to have a clear picture of who you want to work with and serve so that you know how to tap into how you can help them. Then you can clarify your offer and how you approach all of your other content. And then it's time to show up and let people know you have something to offer. It's not Field of Dreams audience building. Just because you build that website, or write a great article or post a video, people will not just magically appear. You need to drive eyeballs to your content and let people know you are there.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

I find that my students have a higher completion rate when I am helping them implement a strategy rather than talking at them or requiring a lot of self-led materials. I try to keep my pre-recorded materials to about 20% of the course and the other 80% is live feedback and action. I also make sure to schedule live, group calls for question and answer or additional coaching so they feel supported and not like they are trying to create inside a bubble.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

I make sure to tap into the different ways that people learn. Some are visual or auditory and others thrive with examples and templates. I pride myself on creating content that is part education and part entertainment. I call it edutainment. I am real, raw and not afraid to admit I don't know everything. I keep my pre-recorded content to short, digestible bites and I make sure my virtual door is always open to field questions.

Expert #9: Teresa Heath-Wareing, CEO, Teresa Heath-Wareing

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

  • Show up everywhere! Say yes to everything and get yourself out there.
  • Show your personal side - let your audience know more about you and your personality.
  • Lead Magnets - create free downloads for people to receive in exchange for their email address.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

One of the most successful courses I have done from a completion rate is a “follow-me-along” course where you show up live and then hold them accountable so they follow the course with you by their side. It’s a great way to keep them engaged and doing the work!

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

I love to show up live so I can tailor the course content to them and interact with them, this way I am able to give them real life examples or answers about their business. The other thing I like to do is build a community to run alongside the course with a Facebook Group for all attendees to join and connect with one another. This has always really helped from an interaction point of view and accountability 

Expert #10: Jacques Hopkins, Founder, Piano in 21 Days

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

For me it's all about consistent, high-quality content on 3 specific channels:

  • On youtube
  • On a podcast
  • On your blog

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

It's all about listening. Truly listen to your students and have an amazing course!

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students:

  • Use Bonjoro
  • Have a community
  • Make it fun
  • Appropriate exercises
  • Live Q&A

Expert #11: Joan Kathleen Tacusalme, VA for Online Course Creators on Linkedin

What are the top 3 ways to build an audience?

  • Connect with your target audience. Build your tribe. Focus on ideal people to serve so make sure they are your ideal audience. Invest time in Social Media. (FB, Linkedin, Instagram or even tiktok) Post great content and build relationship and gain trust. Remember, that sometimes the first people who will support you are strangers. In exchange, you also have to engage with their post, simple affirmations will do. Thus, you create the impression of a coach that you are reliable, approachable and valuable. Expand your reach, connect with your target audience and build relationships.
  • When you have developed your connections and target audience, post valuable content that is related to your offerings. Build your email list with your lead magnets. Lead Magnets are your free offers, it could be PDF, a webinar, or a video. Constantly send them newsletters. With this, you’ve got a chance to introduce yourself and what you can offer to them.
  • Take Action. Expand your reach and establish your credibility. Get featured in podcast, fb groups, blogs and articles. You can do these by collaborating with other course creators.

Your #1 recommendation to improve course completion rates:

Create a community where you can give shout outs to your students’ accomplishments. They must feel that they belong in your tribe and on the right path. The point is we should not only sell the course, but we should also give them an amazing journey.

There are some also who even if they paid the course they don’t have the eagerness to finish it and be careful to that audience because they are the ones who will give testimonials and spread the reviews word by mouth.

To be able to motivate your students to finish the course, you have to notice their hard work. Create a community wherein you can give shout outs to their accomplishments. They must feel that they belong with your tribe.  That they are on the right path. The point is we should not only sell the course but we should also give them an amazing journey.

Ways to deliver an amazing course experience for students

To take your online course to the next level, Add GAMIFICATION. Research and Psychology says that gamification urges people to act and enhances the learning experience. Badges and Certificates at the end is a plus.

Wrapping Up

Let’s be realistic, an overall 100% completion rate is not an idealistic goal, but as these experts pointed out, there are some things you can do to help make sure your students are as engaged as possible. Hopefully you can incorporate some of these strategies from these course experts and start your online course with an unfair advantage. 

If you want to learn more about how Bonjoro can help you deliver an amazing course experience, sign-up for our 14-day unlimited trial.

Growth tips
About the author
Eric Melchor
Partnerships Ambassador & Chief Giver of Bear Hugs
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