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How To Get People To Actually Complete Your Online Course

woman completing online course

If you run an online course, dropouts are a certainty. In fact, some studies show that only 1 out of 10 students will complete an online course they enrolled in. Yikes.

If we’re going to be logical about this, on some levels, it doesn’t really matter if people drop out because they paid you the money right? What difference does it make to you if they actually do the course? You’ve pocketed the cash, and you’re riding off into the sunset in your Porsche, cackling like a supervillain. I’m kidding, I know you’re much more classy than that. *side-eyes your diamond studded phone case*

The truth is, getting students to actually complete your online course will be way more beneficial for your business than if they don’t finish your online course.

Truth bomb: When a student pays for your course and doesn’t complete it, a little part of them will blame you. Deep down they KNOW it was because they were too busy or too lazy but they’ll also believe that if you just reminded them about deadlines or encouraged more participation, they might have completed the course and not wasted their money…

Which is kind of true. A satisfied student who completes your course and learns valuable skills is a massive asset to your business, so it’s worth putting in the extra effort to get as many students as possible over the line.

Here are a few tips on turning drop-outs into honour roll students who will sing your praises to everyone they know:

1. Use tracking devices

Yeah, that sounds a little creepy, but we’re not asking you to hack into their bank accounts to see if they’re cheating on you with any other course providers. Just track what they’re doing in your own course. Humans love rewards, and they don’t even have to be real rewards. If you’ve ever played a video game, you’ll know how satisfying it is to win a little gold star when you complete a level. Bank on this natural human desire for recognition and use progression task lists and progress displays.

If a student completes a section of your course and gets zero positive feedback, the incentive to continue is somewhat diminished. If you add a gold trophy sticker to their home screen in your class, they can see their progress. Leave blank spots for more gold trophies or icons to appear and you’ll have students racing through your course trying to complete their trophy cabinet.

Trust us – game companies make billions of dollars using this exact technique.

2. Use incentives like reward schemes

Everyone loves rewards, and everyone loves bonuses. Most people also respond very well to deadlines so when you combine those things you’ve got a powerful tool for getting people engaged in your course. Why not offer a money-back guarantee? If a student completes your $250 course by the specified date, they get a $50 refund.

Hot tip: Worried about losing $$$? Just add $50 to the price you’re already charging for your course. That way it’s no big deal if you have to refund – and if you DON’T, there’ll be 50 extra big ones in your bank account for no extra work.

You can also offer bonuses – so if your students complete a section by a specific date, they might get a bonus section or a 1:1 expert call. Offering value for money is one of the oldest tricks in the book because it’s not a trick at all. It’s just smart business.

3. Testing with quizzes

Most online course providers never test their students. They run their course on set-and-forget and never check in with their students once they start the class. One of the biggest advertising converters used on Facebook and as email signups recently is quizzes. Yep, I’m talking about the “What Kind of Potato Are You?” Quizzes that pop up with frightening regularity every time you load a new webpage. Run regular quizzes and test your student’s knowledge as the course progresses. Everyone loves a quiz, even if the answer is useless (case in point: Which Pixar Character Are You?) It’s more about engagement than the results of the quiz so keep that in mind.

4. Re-engage regularly

There are so many tools designed to keep teachers in touch with their students, so use them! Facebook groups, webinars, Facebook lives. You could do weekly Q&As in a student group or offer catch-up sessions to students who have fallen behind. Re-engagement is worth the time and effort to keep those students who are flagging, but haven’t quite jumped ship yet.

5. Use checklists

Even the chronically disorganised love a checklist! Give your students the option to check off the work they have completed, and they won’t be able to resist. You can also include extra actions for them to solidify the information, like this:

  • Watch video
  • Complete worksheet
  • Bonus: Make a list of 5 actions to take this week to help you achieve this goal

Remember that people are doing your course because they’re looking for answers and they want to be told exactly what to do, so tell them!

So you’ve been through all 5 steps and now your ecourse is ready for the big, wide world? All you need now is a super-fancy membership platform – and we’ve got you covered. Click here to check out our Membership Lab Essentials offer.


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