7 Things Your Students Want from Your Online Course

You’ve probably heard it a hundred times: doing business online is all about building trust. As Johnson Kee says, it’s about building a bridge between you and your potential customers. This helps them see how you can help them realize their vision for their lives and businesses.

That’s especially true when it comes to online courses. I’m a former university lecturer and in my experience people take courses so they can change or improve something about their lives or work.

But there are thousands of online courses out there, and you don’t get much time to make a good impression. Some research suggests that the human attention span is now 8 seconds, 1 second less than a goldfish. So you have to give potential students reasons to stick around and choose your online course over the others.

7 Elements That Make Online Courses More Successful

Here are seven factors that make a difference.

1. Trust Builders

The process of building trust starts before your prospective students even sign up.  You will most likely have a landing page or a piece of content that draws people in. The Optimizely blog has a list of three elements that must be in tune for your landing page to work:

  • Congruence and context – meeting visitors’ expectations based on how they got to your landing page.
  • Trust and value – clearly articulating the benefit they will get.
  • Ease and simplicity – making it easy for visitors to take action.

For example, if a student followed a tweet to your site expecting to see a certain kind of course, the page headline should make it clear the student is in the right place.  The page should describe what the student will learn and the registration process should be simple.

2. An Authoritative Course Leader

Prospective students also want to know that you’re a real person who knows what you’re talking about. It would be silly of me to teach an online course on chemistry (explosions, anyone?) but with 30+ years’ experience in the writing business, I can – and do – teach a course about writing.

If you can showcase your expertise on your course landing page, students will feel more comfortable.

3. Social Proof

As well as providing descriptive information (such as an “about the tutor” section), include external proof. Certifications, testimonials, reviews and other social proof will help with this. Moz says capitalizing on heuristics (mental shortcuts) is a good way to build trust.

If you’re running your course for the first time, consider an introductory rate in exchange for permission to publish participants’ feedback. This worked well for me the first time I ran the Biz of Writing. And now, I have testimonials from past students of the program to reassure other students that they’re getting value for money.

Not only will you understand what works, but you will get material you can use to attract new students in the future. When you prove that other people have benefited from your course, it sets student’s mind at rest. For best results, aim for feedback and testimonials from people in the same target demographic – or matching the same persona – as your ideal student.

4. What’s In It For Them? Course Benefits

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, students want to know exactly what they will get from your course. Course providers take different approaches to this. One provider I wrote a course for allowed students to take the first lesson for free, before deciding whether to continue. Whatever your approach, you will still need to tell prospective students how the course will help them and what it will include.

When I was a college professor, students often came to me for more information on the courses I taught. They wanted to know whether I knew what I was talking about, if a particular course would help them complete their electives, if they would learn any practical skills they could use in the future, what would be included in the course  and how the course would be delivered and assessed. Online students want that same information but you have to deliver it on your landing page or course description page.

5. Delivery Adapted to Learning Styles

People have different learning styles (there are several different models). Some people like course content in words; others in audio or video form; still others prefer to do practical activities. Delivering course content in different ways will help you attract a range of students. One course I follow delivers content in three ways: there are video lessons and content, individual written lessons online and a PDF of all the lessons for each course module for those who prefer to study at their own pace offline. That flexibility is also a big attraction for online students.

For the Biz of Writing, I delivered most course information via Facebook posts, with some downloadables and some videos. And I supported participants’ learning with online chats and group video calls.

6. Excellent Online Course Content

There’s nothing worse than signing up for a course and being disappointed. That’s why it’s crucial to deliver – or even over-deliver – on course content. Your course descriptions give a teaser of what to expect; when students click through, that’s exactly what they should get. Part of this is making it easy for students to navigate through the content and build skills and knowledge as they progress. As research published on Educause shows, online students expect excellence – you have to deliver.

7. A Student Community

The Educause research and other studies also point to the importance of creating a student community. Students value the sense of connection to their fellow students and welcome the opportunity to learn from each other. They also like knowing they can reach the course leader when they need to. Using Facebook for this worked well for me, but I’m currently experimenting with a private Biz of Writing community on Slack.

As well as being able to communicate in a classroom-like setting, it’s also important to have their own online hangout where the course leader isn’t necessarily present. Get the community element right and your students can build lasting relationships both with you and each other and come back for more whenever you offer a new course.

Get these elements right and you will be ready to deliver what students want from your online course. Visit my LinkedIn profile for an infographic with a quick reminder of the key tips:

The seven tips above should help you create and market an online course that really appeals to your students. And if you’re ever stuck, think about what swung the decision for you the last time you took an online course and see if you can incorporate something similar into your own online course landing page and course description.

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