Thinkific’s CEO Greg Smith takes data from over 11 million courses to show you the most important factors to build into your online course to motivate your students.

What makes online courses and membership sites successful? How do you know whether your students are happy?

There are a number of metrics to consider. But in order to know whether you’ve succeeded, you first need to define success.

Most people look at completion rates, net promoter scores, sales, or revenue numbers. But there is one metric that matters most when looking at your courses, which is whether your course delivers the results that students want when they sign up.

Watch this free video with Thinkific CEO Greg Smith to learn three important course elements that yield satisfied students, and support a sustainable business.


How to Measure the Success of Your Online Course

After looking at courses with millions of dollars in sales and analyzing hundreds of student experiences, we’ve gathered insight into the common elements that make courses great. Underpinning each successful course is student success. This is paramount because unless students get the value they want, you won’t have a sustainable online course business. Let’s dig into the why a bit deeper.

When someone signs up for your course, they have a vision of themselves in the future. This could be a change they want to make or a skill they want to gain. Whether they attain their desired result is how they will gauge the value of your course. The more you can move them towards their goal, the more likely they are to become repeat customers and refer your course to their friends.

So how do you measure student success?

Ask your students. Did they meet their goals? Before they dive into your curriculum, ask what they are looking to accomplish by taking the course. Later on in the program, you can automatically ask them if they’ve moved closer to their goals. If the answer is yes, count that as a win that you’ve made a difference in their lives and that you are being successful as a course creator.

Avoid falling into the trap of looking solely at metrics completion rates, since this is not always a good indicator of whether your student found value in your course. One student may reach their learning goals at 80% of the way in, while others at 100%. The best to know whether you’ve been successful as a course creator is to ask your students.

Delivering Students Results Through Your Online Course

If you want satisfied students, you need to be laser focused on delivering the results they want. There are three key elements you’ll need to do this well.

Element 1: Table Stakes

There are table stakes you’ll need to be set up for success as a course creator: providing high-quality content, and providing content that is aligned to student goals.

Providing quality means that your content is comprehensive and informative enough to help students achieve the vision they have for their future. On top of quality, the content must also be aligned to their specific goals. Because even if you put quality content together, if it doesn’t facilitate the transformation they are looking for, students won’t see your course as helpful.

Consider how you are communicating these table stakes in your marketing messages, and ensure you’re sharing the right promises to your audience.


Element 2: Effective Training

Let’s jump into the data to look at what components make for the most effective training.

At Thinkific, we have data points from over 12 million students in different programs. In addition, we’ve analyzed a number of university PhD studies and papers on what works best to facilitate online learning. The strategies we’re about to share with you reflect this data and set you up to create an online course that will make a meaningful difference for your students.

1. Teach others

Challenge your students to teach someone else what they have just learned. This a great strategy to use early on in your curriculum where students are learning base level concepts that can be taught in a five-minute conversation. After teaching someone else, challenge them to quiz the person to confirm the learning has stuck.

In addition to cementing your student’s learning, this can act as a great word of mouth marketing tactic. The person they teach may be curious and ask questions about what and where they are learning – a potential new customer for you!

2. Coach

Having some element of coaching built into your program is a great way to cultivate student satisfaction. How you coach students may look different depending on your course topic, but it could be done one-on-one, through group coaching, or a quick phone call. Adding coaching also provides a way for you to scale your business – many course creators have scaled to multi-million dollar businesses this way.

3. Add breakpoints

Make sure you build time into your curriculum for students to apply what they are learning. Breakpoints give them a chance to stop and complete an activity that moves them towards their goals. Building these activities in forces people to move from consumption to application, which helps with motivation. If students binge-watch your content without applying it, they’ll be prone to becoming overwhelmed with information overload and discouraged that they don’t know what to do with what they’ve learned.

Each micro-assignment you build in with breakpoints will help students progress in your course, increase completion rates, and boost student satisfaction.

4. Multimedia rules

Here are a few principles for great multimedia in your course. Together they can make a big impact on student experience.

  • Video. Keep videos to 2-7 minutes.
  • Quick assessments. Between videos, try placing a quick quiz that covers the basic concepts of what you just taught. They should be easy enough for students to get 100%, testing basic comprehension.
  • Avoid words and text on the screen at the same time. This makes it hard for students to process your information since it engages the same language processing center in their brain and can produce learner overwhelm. Either use fewer words on your slide or take a break from talking and let them read what’s on your slide.

5. Avoid the unnecessary

It sounds simple, but only include what people absolutely need to learn from you – avoid adding in filler content to take up more lesson time. Remember the longer it takes for you to deliver value to your students, the more time you’re taking away from their ability to take action.

6. Be personal

Be you, especially if you’re talking to the camera. This can be tough because we all want to avoid mistakes, but it actually helps engage your audience when you are speaking just as you would if you were right in front of them. Don’t worry about presenting things too perfectly, or editing out mistakes. They make you human. Studies actually show students will learn less from you if you are too precise or methodical.


Element 3: Motivation

Once you’ve developed effective content, you need to actually motivate people to complete your course. You want to encourage students to consume all of your content, to get the full result they’re looking for. Here are some ways you can do that.

1. Accountability

Build accountability into your course by setting up systems. One way is to use small groups or accountability partners. The smaller the group the better. You can also do this with coaches, by pairing them with students. How often should they meet? Try daily or weekly depending on the amount of content and work that’s in the program. For every three to four hours of work that people are doing, aim to have an accountability check-in.

Another way you can do accountability is following up via email, phone, text messages for students who are falling behind. By implementing regular follow-ups, course creators have seen completion rates rise from 10% to over 80%.

2. Gamification

This is all about helping your students show some progress, and providing them with some reward. Now, this doesn’t have to mean gold stars or power-ups in like in World of Warcraft. You could try having a reward pop up after completing a certain module in your course, and then send them something in the mail. You could also have a surprise pop-up page with a video congratulating them for hitting that point in the course. Try working adding rewards in a creative way that suits your course.

3. Show results

Showing progress to your students as they move through the course is another way to boost motivation. Making activities visible and showing them how far they’ve come is a good way to do this. Whether you emphasize completing one step or a whole module, demonstrate and celebrate milestones they achieve that take them closer to their goal.

4. Initiation

Including some form of initiation related to how students get into your course helps drive up the perceived value of your offer. This could be a very simple application form and a follow-up phone call to say whether they’re in or out. Studies have shown that this increases the likelihood of students engaging with your content, and getting more value out of it.

Every one of these three elements can have a big impact on motivating your students and improving their overall satisfaction rates.

Which one do you think you will try first? Let us know in the comments below, and how it works for your students!

Want to start implementing what you’ve learned into your online course? Thinkific makes it easy implement everything you’ve just learned with student success features built into the platform. Sign-up for a free Thinkific account and get started today!

For more strategies for getting started creating your own online course, download this free Thinkific guide to creating and selling online courses.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.