Completion rates for online courses are abysmal. By some measures, as low as 7-14%!  How can we provide transformative learning for students if they don’t get through the course?

We have to do better, folks!

So, I reached out to eCourse experts to find out the most effective methods to increase completion rates.

The insights from these pros cover the basics that you must get right if you want students to complete your courses. Plus, there are some amazing innovative ideas that could boost your completions to new levels, resulting is successful and satisfied students who will spread the word about your courses and come back for more offerings.

Remember that higher completion rates mean better learning for students and a sustainable business for you.

The responses from the experts are so chuck full of useful information that I organized them into 5 categories:  Setup For Success,  Creative and Actionable Content,  Build a Learning Community,  Accountability Structures, and Let Go of Perfect.

Give one or more of these ideas a try in your eCourse and let us know what kind of an impact it had on your completion rates!

Helping students to complete your course starts long before they ever get anywhere near the actual content. The preliminaries set the stage for success. Get the basics right with proven strategies from these 5 experts.

From Sarah Cordiner:

To Get Honey, Recruit Bees: As an online instructor, your goal is to make happy students.  Happy students complete your courses and often tell their friends to go and do the same.

A great way to increase our online course completion rates is to make sure that we are only attracting the people who really really really want and NEED our course.  Finding those who desperately want and need your content means that your content is highly likely to help them and therefore they will be extremely likely to finish it.  If you are attracting people to your course who don’t really need or want your content, then they are less likely to like and finish it.

To increase your online course completion rates, refine your course descriptions, learning outcomes and marketing language to ensure that only the right people are enrolling in your course from the outset.”

From Jerilyn Veldof

Be clear about the end game. Frequently remind your learners about the outcomes they will experience if they stick to your course and implement what they learned. Do this inside the course as well as outside (via email blasts or Facebook posts, for example) and do it often. Include case studies about what your successful students achieved, tell your own story, find learners who are seeing results while still taking your course.”

From Racheal Cook:

Instant Gratification! A big challenge I see in online programs that have a set start date is the waiting game before everything actually kicks off. Remember, your students are most excited at enrollment! Giving them something to do right away helps keep the excitement going.

Know Your Students. This takes more of your time, yes, but I’ve found that when you actually take the time to learn about your students, they connect with you and engage with your process. A quick getting-to-know you questionnaire, asking for introductions in the group, or regular assignments give opportunities to actually connect personally and check in on student progress.

From Reidy Brown

“Don’t undervalue your offering. It may be counter-intuitive, but the first thing you can do to increase course completion rates happens before a single student enrolls in your class. When you are setting your course price, don’t fall for the temptation to underprice it– courses that are perceived as “inexpensive” have far less value to the student, and students may be far less likely to stay involved for the duration of the course. What’s the right price? It will depend on your market, your students, and your teaching experience. Competitive research can help you set a fair price for your offering, and it’s generally money and time well spent.

Set clear expectations and a reasonable pace. Who’s the course designed for? The more specifically you can answer that question, the more you will attract your perfect students. If there’s a mismatch between your course and your students, your course completion rates will fall off.”

From Breanne Dyck:

“Getting people to complete your online course or program is as much about what happens before you get them into the course, as what happens after. If you sell people a promise and then don’t deliver on that promise, they’ll never complete the course.”

If you want your students to complete all of the content in the course, make it both action-oriented and interesting.  Some creative ideas from the experts:

From Jennifer Kennedy:

“Make your program action-oriented: Your students are taking your course to reach a specific goal. So, instead of dumping information on them, ensure that you’re providing resources, tools, and opportunities for them to take action on the content.”

From Sid Bharath:

Make your course content engaging. Create interesting videos, mix it up between different styles like talking head, screencast, voice over slides, audio, text, and multimedia. Also keep an open loop by building curiosity in earlier lectures about concepts you’ll cover in later lectures.”

 

From Breanne Dyck:

“You need to frame your entire product experience around enabling the buyer to *do the things they want to do*. Don’t teach things that they “should know” just because you think they should know it; inside the program, you need to be providing them with actionable steps that move them consistently closer to their goals.”

 

From Sarah Cordiner:

“The ‘Paint by Numbers’ Approach. We’ve all seen the  stunning paintings that even a complete novice can create, simply by matching the  colors to t numbers.   Similarly, by breaking down your course into small manageable chunks,  even the most complex topic can be digested by the most ‘newbie’ of students.  The ‘painting by numbers’ approach also promises a completed, tangible product that can be seen and admired at the end of the work.   When students know that they will have a clearly defined result that they can see, touch and be proud of at the end of your training program, they will be far more likely to strive to complete it.

Shorten and Minimize.  In this digital age, where information comes thick and fast, our attention spans are reducing rapidly.  This means that we need to place careful consideration on the length of the course and of each piece of content.  To increase the completion rates of your online courses, make your courses shorter (it’s better to have 10 x one hour courses than 1 x ten hour course), keep each video under 10 minutes and ensure documents are less than 10 pages each.”

 

Hands down, most of the experts agree that building community and nurturing relationships is vital to boosting completion rates. Get the engagement part of your course right with these insightful suggestions:

From Kathryn Hocking:

“In my experience, low completion rates result from disengagement and lack of confidence in the participant and all the mindset issues that arise for the participant. There are many ways to engage participants with modern technology including live interactive webinar training, Q&A’s in Facebook Forums and the great new technology of Facebook Live Streaming where you can do direct training or just Q&A’s at either planned or spontaneous times.

I also think that high-quality learning experiences will address the mindset, resistance, procrastination, fear and alignment issues that are invariably the reason why people do not complete the training.”

From Devin Slavin:

“Showing up.  If you have a discussion forum or private Facebook Group, actually show up in it regularly and answer questions that come up there. Of all the courses I’ve participated in, the ones where the teachers show up in the forums have by far had the most impact. 

Check in.  If your participant hasn’t logged into your course for a few weeks, check in with them and see what’s going on. Sometimes they just need a little extra encouragement. This process can be automated with many course platforms. Simply setup a personalized automated email to go out if they don’t log in for a few weeks or a month.

Go live.  Offering live calls or webinars to help participants through blocks will majorly “up” your engagement & course completion. I’ve run ourCourse Creators Bootcamp in multiple formats – as delivered completely live, partially live, as well as 100% automated. Which one do you think had the MOST engagement? The one with the MOST live interaction. But of course, you have to determine what facilitation style suites you best.”

From Racheal Cook:

“Encourage Engagement. In my experience, there are some people who quickly jump right into the conversation and others who will sit back and lurk. The best way to draw out those conversations is to prompt them with teaser question and assignments to share with the group.”

From Jennifer Kennedy:

“Support and motivate: Yes, even us adults need support and motivation! Think of some creative ways to help your students as they complete your content. Make them feel less lonely in this online world by providing a community. Build in friendly-competition to encourage them to complete the content. Decrease confusion by providing explanations on how to use your program. Get creative!”

From Jerilyn Veldof:

Enthusiastically encourage them.   Always wanted to be a cheerleader? Here’s your chance. Make sure your learners know that you are watching and cheering them on. Spend a portion of the introduction to the course and each module encouraging them to keep going and to get into action. Send emails. Be present in your Facebook group. Reach out if you notice individual students fading away. Don’t give up on them!

Let them fall in love with you. Chat with them straight on (no hiding behind slides, at least for part of the course!). Bring your true, authentic self to the course. And remember, teachers who bring in donuts to class are always rated higher than those that don’t. So do the little extra things that will endear your learners to you. It sounds silly, but a portion of your learners will be more motivated to finish the course and implement it if they feel they are making a true connection with you and would let you down if they bailed.”

From Sarah Cordiner:

“Create a Learning Community.  One study showed that where there were online learning communities or virtual teams as part of an online course, students were 5x more engaged and 16x more likely to finish it.

Humans like to feel ‘part of something’ and naturally avoid situations (especially unfamiliar situations) in which they feel alone.  When people feel like they ‘belong’ and are ‘part of something’ with like minded people, engagement will increase.Therefore, the more you can create an online community as part of your course, the more likely you will be you increase your course completion rates.

You can do this by using Facebook groups, discussion areas inside the course and Google+ communities, as examples.”

From Reidy Brown:

“I have a soft spot for online communities, and an engaged course community is worth its weight in gold. Not only will it help ensure a higher course completion rate, it’s the best indicator for repeat business. Whether your course engagement happens in a private forum, on social media, or via live calls, give your students a place where they can feel safe and comfortable asking for support and forming a tight-knit community.

Set explicit expectations for community behavior, provide regular topics for discussion, and join your students as they explore the class material in a way that draws out the discussion. Make sure that students can participate in the online community even when they are falling behind in the course. Make at least some topics of discussion independent of specific course content– rather than “what did you think about this week’s video?” ask them “what do you think about topic X?” Let them bring their own subject matter or life expertise into the discussion, and they will reward you by staying engaged with the course, even if they haven’t had time to read the assigned materials for the last few weeks. Address individual students directly in the conversation to bring shy, reluctant, or waning students back into the course environment.

The stronger the community bond in your online course, the more likely your students will stay engaged in your course, and even sign up for your next course offering.”

Good teachers set up helpful boundaries that enable their students to expand and grow. With online courses, since you don’t have the container of the classroom, adding a few structures to the course to help accountability can make all the difference for completion rates. Check out these pro tips:

 From Mike Weiss:

Issue Digital Badges upon graduation. We’ve seen 300% to 400% increases in success rates by our clients when we incorporate all of our engagement strategies, however, if I had to pick one, Digital Badges would be the one that packs the most punch. Why? Well, it comes down to expectations. Generally speaking, when people have a clear expectation of what’s expected of them, they will perform. The challenge with most online education is that there isn’t a definite beginning and end, and when there is an end to a course, it’s not promoted as one of the key outcomes. A properly installed Digital Badge program incorporate strategic position in the pre-sale conversation, during the course and at the end of the course. If every student knows before buying the course that the course has been set for them to graduate, you’ll achieve get better outcomes. Additionally, when you explain the powerful ways that the student can leverage the badge achievement, they usually hit their target and graduate.

Reporting is another essential tool. When you utilize reporting, no longer are you guessing about the success of your course. You know exactly where each student is located 24/7. You know the average number of days it takes to go from lesson to lesson and the scores your students are getting the lesson quizzes. All of this data provides you the opportunity to analyze where you can get better. The three areas providing the biggest areas for improvement are the client pathway, the course material, and the user experience.

A third area is user experience or accessibility. Brick and motor institutions have it easy. Show up for the call and listen to the professor, read the book and take some tests. Do you see any technology roadblocks during that experience? eCourse’s are a different animal! Start with most adults stink at technology. Add the fact that they are not using the same technology. Laptops, computers, Ipad’s and the hundred’s of mobile devices create a very challenging jump off point. Next layer in that each device has different size memory and chip speed. . Woops! we forgot software and operating systems. Now let’s move on to LMS, responsiveness and site speed.

If your platform does not nail all of these, you will alienate your students. In an article in Fast Company, they reported a one-second delay in load time for Amazon could cost them $1.6 billion. When we don’t get the technology right, what’s the cost to completion rates? Finally, we must consider that we drive away our customers when web page design and readability don’t let people know instantly where they were, where they are and where they need to go.”

From Cate Stillman:

“My longest and toughest course is the 15 month Yoga Health Coaching Certification. Each member gets a google spreadsheet to record their Certification requirements. I trained a course concierge to familiarize the members with their record and keep on the members to update their record regularly. Each new group is assigned a Yoga Health Coaching Mentor who is responsible for escorting their group through the certification requirements and final exam. Once we added these support measures our numbers of members becoming certified skyrocketed.”

 

From Sarah Cordiner:

“Have an Accountability Mentor.  This involves having a real person who regularly ‘checks in’ with the learners to ensure that they are progressing at the right pace, asks them how they are feeling about their learning  and if there are any areas where they require further support and guidance.  The same study referenced earlier in this article showed that where students were working individually only 2% completed their course; whereas when there was a mentor present a massive 44% completed their course.

If you are an online course instructor you can increase your completion rates by ensuring that you regularly contact your learners and provide them with LIVE advice and support that is as personal and one-on-one as possible.   This could be yourself,  or you could nominate an ambassador within your learning group.”

 

From Jennifer Kennedy:

Survey your participants: It’s super valuable to continuously gather feedback from your participants. They are your best judges! Use the feedback to improve your program for future students.”

 

From Sid Bharath:

“Create regular checkpoints with quizzes and surveys. This makes them think about the concepts they’ve just learned and apply it to your questions. You can also get them to submit their answers and talk to their fellow students in your course discussions area.

Gamification goes a long way to increasing completion rates. At the end of every lecture, show students the progress they’ve made so that they are motivated to make more progress. In Thinkific, you can also set up automatic progress emails that go out to students every week to show them what they’ve completed and remind them to come back and finish the rest.”

As these pros remind us, 100% completion rate is not the only consideration.

From Breanne Dyck:

Realize that 100% completion rates should never actually be your goal. It’s not only impractical and unrealistic as you scale, but it’s also misguided. Rather, your goal should be on providing transformational results. If someone is able to achieve the result they want in just the first lesson, and they feel as though that transformation is worth the investment they made, then who are you to argue with them?”

 

From Jennifer Kennedy:

“Course completion rates are a hot topic now. However, I don’t want people assuming that just because a student completes a course, that she is successful. Sure, the more people who finish, the more likely more will be successful. But, one does not equal the other.”

From Kathryn Hocking:

Remember that you are mostly likely teaching adults who have chosen to purchase your program. Your responsibility is to facilitate a quality learning environment with a suitable level of engagement and support for the price – it is ultimately their responsibility to engage and take action.”

Your KickAss eCourse Experts

Siddharth Bharath is an entrepreneur, digital marketer and writer. He’s the VP of Growth at Thinkific, an amazing robust software that you everything you need to easily create, market, and sell your own online courses. Say goodbye to the tech headaches – Thinkific lets you focus on your business.

Reidy Brown is ’ an online learning and community building pro,who helps solopreneurs and small businesses bring their real-world success into a vibrant online offering that will grow their biz to the next level.  She believes that  solopreneurs can successfully move into the online space, even if their tech wizardry is limited to hitting the Power button and hoping a reboot fixes everything.  Check out the Quick Start Website program for a simple online home for your business, and get that much closer to your leveraged biz dreams.)

Racheal Cook, MBA teaches savvy, soulful, smart women to uncomplicate business so you can work less and live more. She believes it is essential to shift from a mindset of solopreneur to a true CEO who is focused on systematizing your offerings, marketing, and business operations so you can deliver an incredible experience as you serve more people . Through her signature online mastermind Sweet Spot Strategy, I teach women entrepreneurs to design their businesses 100% around their Business Sweet Spot, so they can earn more, work less, and love every minute of your life as you grow your business.  Discover your business sweet spot!

Sarah Cordiner is a trail blazer in creating profitable edu-businesses. Her online courses have reached thousands of students in over 90 countries, and she is a best selling author and in demand speaker. Join Sarah’s Facebook group Entrepreneur to Edupreneur’ or take this free webinar on how to structure and plan out an engaging and profitable online course.

Breanne Dyck is the founder of MNIB Consulting, a firm that helps owners scale their world-class training companies. MNIB takes online courses, coaching programs and training products to the next level through real-time collaboration with experienced learning, operations and technical specialists so that you get practical, actionable insights that you can apply immediately. Don’t miss her amazing guide,   The Secret to Engaging Curriculum 

Kathryn Hocking is an ecourse expert and launch strategist who left her corporate job and built a six-figures eCourse business in just 12 months. Her true mission: helping other people to launch their own successful eCourses, so they could create an abundant freedom-based lifestyle for themselves. If you are ready to make the shift, check out one of her signature offerings – the e-Course Idea Generator, the eCourse Launch Formula and Mastermind Program.

Jennifer Kennedy  is an educator who provides training and coaching for women who are ready to take action on their goals so that they can have more freedom in their lives. She believes that learning takes action. As a course designer, you should look for creative ways to get learners to take action on their content. Learning is not passive and real change comes from action.   Jennifer teaches online course creators oodles of practical skills to be successful like her Workshop on Worksheets program and the Ultimate Course Planning Workbook.

Devin Slavin’s calling is  Conscious Webpreneur.  His mission is to help conscious leaders gain traction in making their visionary projects a reality. His tremendous success in growing online businesses – building online platforms, creating just about every major type of online product or program out there – led him to use these skills and knowledge to empower others to do the same!  Check out Devin’s premier programs designed to get you teaching online:  Course Creators Bookcamp and Conscious Coaching Kickstart

Cate Stillman is a pioneer in online yoga and wellness education. She started YogaHealer.com in 2001 and now offers a dozen ecourses and trains yoga and Ayurveda practitioners to create profitable online courses. Check out her free training Map to Your Signature System

Jerilyn Veldof is the consummate instructional designer, helping people convey their knowledge with hundreds of workshops and ecourses over nearly 20 years.  If you know that an e-course is the best next step for your business but aren’t sure what you need to do to set yourself up for a successful course, check out her free webinar: Get Your Ducks in a Row BEFORE Starting Your eCourse!… and set yourself up for a painless and quick course creation process

Mike Weiss is one of the top experts in online sales and marketing. His design and architecture of automated sales funnels has produced millions of dollars in sales.  Michael has been coaching, teaching and working with business owners and fortune 500 executives for over 25 years. His Client Engagement Academy is one of the world’s top builders of E-Learning and Membership Website Platforms, specializing in adult education methodologies to increase engagement and graduation rates and leading the way in  the execution and deployment of Digital Badges.