4 Tips to Increase Online Course Completion Rates By Up to 80%

Your course content may be best of breed in your niche, but if your students don’t complete it then they’re not walking away with the skills they hoped to gain. Here’s how to improve the odds of getting them to the finish line.

If you’ve ever had an interest in a topic and a desire to further your knowledge in that field, researched available online course offerings, and made the decision to go all in with one of the available options, you’ll likely know that it’s an exciting first step.

You’re fired up and full of steam and you want to get moving in the course as soon as possible. You set aside a chunk of time each day to work diligently on your course and assignments and look forward to those sessions.

However, some research shows that across all industries and various niches, that online course completion rates among courses which are not required for professional certifications or educational degrees, course completion rates may be as low as 5%.

5%! That’s a staggeringly low number!

But life happens. Perhaps a learner enrolls in a course and loses interest in the topic. Perhaps they start a new job or move or have a new child come along. We’ve seen this happen time and time again with the over 20,000 course creation clients we’ve worked with. Their students start out extremely motivated, but begin dropping like flies throughout the course.

In this article, we’ll present four tips for boosting your course completion rates to help your students achieve their learning goals.

Money Talks

This one may be obvious. 

However, we have had a number of clients who perhaps have been blogging for some time in their niche and become an authority on the topic. They then decide to package up a portion of their content and organize that into a course which they offer for free to help drive traffic to their site.

Well, traffic is just that…traffic. Most of those are visitors to your site who don’t spend any money on your site. Selling a course as premium content is revenue generation for your site.

However, that’s not the primary reason I’m advocating that you charge for any online course you create. Free courses offered online are notorious for students dropping out in as little as two (yes TWO!) lessons.

On the other hand, I think back to the first online course I took. I fretted and fretted about signing up as it came with an $899 price tag. That seemed like an outrageous investment at the time!

But do you think I worked through every lesson, assignment, worksheet, supplemental resource, participated in the forum, and sat down to every weekly coaching call?

You bet I did! I had $899 worth of skin in the game!

I wanted that investment to pay off. And in the end, it did. I was able to create a $6,000 per month online income stream using the tactics I’d learned.

Impose Deadlines

This is perhaps the most effective tip in this list.

Many course creators simply allow students to register for an online course, access all course material, and then work through it at their own pace. This creates a couple of pitfalls.

But most importantly, it allows students to drag their feet!

Furthermore, the most effective approach is to both drip content, meaning perhaps make one module available at a time, and then set a deadline on which the module will no longer be available. These can be done either on a specific date for all students if it’s a “mass start” cohort, or can be done at specific timed intervals from a student’s enrollment date (ie. Module 1 available from day 1 to day 7, Module 2 available from day 8 to day 14, etc.).

Talk about lighting a fire under your students!

If they’ve paid for your course AND can only access content for a certain amount of time, you’ll undoubtedly see completion rates soar.

Offer Incentives

Many of the course creation clients we’ve spoken with are reluctant to even consider this idea, but it does work for increasing completion rates.

You might want to consider offering a reward or prize to students who reach completion of your course. This could be a reward for: 

*All students who complete your course (perhaps you negotiate a free subscription to a software service you demonstrated during the course

*A group of students (perhaps you have all students submit a final assignment and reward the top five submissions with one hour of one-on-one coaching)

*A single student (this is popular in technology incubator programs, such as TechStars, which offer seed funding or business mentorship to a finalist)

But the opportunities here are endless, and again, it works. You don’t need to start out with an elaborate reward scheme…offering anything will help more than offering nothing even if it just generates curiosity as to what’s at the end of the rainbow.

Create Intermediate Real-World Projects

This tip is a great way to keep your students engaged with your content. While it doesn’t  directly imposing an urgency to finish the course on them, the more engaged they are with your lessons and assignments the more likely they are to complete the course.

And this can apply to almost any niche. Intermittently throughout your course, design lessons with assignments which require your learners to go out in the real world and put one of your learning topics into action in some way.

This approach can be as equally effective in an online art course (complete a design for XYZ using these materials and submit it to the instructor) as it can professional development (observe interpersonal communication in your workplace for one full day and record what you noticed most throughout the day).

You don’t want to burden your students with these types of assignments, but they are a great way to demonstrate to your students that what they’re learning along the way is worth reaching the end of the path. 

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Nate
Nate

Nate Johnson is one of the co-founders of CourseCast, and is one of the creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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