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Checklist: Critical Success Factors You Need to Incorporate Into Your Online Course

Maybe you’re a seasoned online course creator, looking to make your courses more profitable. Or maybe you’re just starting out, completely overwhelmed by the idea of creating a course from scratch. Whatever the case, to achieve the maximum potential of your online course business, you need to “bake in” these critical success factors.

After more than 30 years working with global clients, I’ve realized that low course completion rates (and their students’ level of online engagement) is a problem that needs to be solved, and this will end up having a HUGE effect on any business' bottom line.

In this article, I walk you through how we’ve managed to solve this problem in Client Engagement Academy and how it led to the birth of our this checklist.

Each one of these success factors has been proven to be critical to the achievement of a profitable online course. By incorporating one or more of these into your courses, you can put your foot on the accelerator of your business and achieve the best life for yourself.


1) Outcomes: Is your online course outcome-focused?

It's estimated that less than 15% of students finish their online courses, which means most students never achieve the OUTCOME AND TRANSFORMATION impact they invested in.

Your focus should be ensuring students reach the desired objectives they had when they purchase your online course. This means you need to help students use the information they’ve learned in our course.

Don’t fill your course with lots of dense concepts, details, and theory…You want your students to DO something – as opposed to just knowing something – when they complete your course.

I recommend providing exercises throughout your course to help students implement and achieve milestones as they progress.

When you focus more on creating actual outcomes for your customers and increasing the impact your course has in their lives, you’ll notice the results this has on your business' bottom line.

The most successful online courses make it easy for students to navigate the course, and ultimately get the most out of the money they are paying you. They make it easy for students to actually learn something, and those students end up coming back to those courses for more because they know that no matter what, you will deliver on the promises that you made them.

Read more: The Key Metric to Measure the Success of Your Online Courses

2) Consistency: Does your course provide consistency?

Don’t confuse your students with too many colors, graphics, fonts, and navigation styles! A consistent experience is not only more enjoyable, but studies prove that courses that are designed to a standard online design allows the student to concentrate on the content, not on thinking about the context or hunting for the information.

There’s a simple tool that online course creators use, over the years, to create consistent designs. Best of all, this tool is free and easy to do by anyone: Follow a style guide, using the same two or three primary fonts throughout the course.

You should also strive to ensure that all your content is concise, engaging, and tied to the stated learning objectives. Consistency improves the quality of your course and this helps to build credibility among students.

3) Digital Badges: Are you memorializing student success?

Students like to be recognized when they reach a milestone. Giving credit for achieving a learning outcome shouldn’t be left to degree programs. Instead, mark your student’s success with digital badges. Not only do you show them that you recognize their efforts, but you give them a way to share their accomplishments with people in their personal and professional lives.

The premise is simple: upon completing a course, give your students a digital badge that they can share on their Linkedin profile or website, proving their proficiency in that area.

There’s also value in being recognized as an eLearning provider who helps students build a portfolio of badges showing off all the skills they’ve mastered over time. Students are increasingly coming to expect badges so if you don’t offer them, you’ll be overtaken by course providers who do.

Also read: 6 Reasons Why Online Course Creators Should Use Digital Badges

4) Content: Are you overwhelming students?

You’re likely an expert in your field.... 

You’re brimming with enthusiasm for your topic. 

You want to inspire people. 

It’s tempting to teach people EVERYTHING you know.  Each method. Each trick. Each example. Each exception. 

BUT it’s almost always a bad idea!

You’ll quickly lose your students because they’re completely overwhelmed! Too much information makes students feel overwhelmed and leads to IN-ACTION. 

In this video I'll discuss with you the “The Firehose Effect” and how you can be more effective by just stopping doing this. 


After all, good teachers inspire their students by giving students exactly the right amount of information.

The key relies on focusing on the top 25% most important information. This helps you teach only what is necessary and break down the content into manageable lessons. Then, you can package the remaining content into additional courses.

5) Social: Do you integrate social learning experiences into your online course?

There’s no point in having the best content in the world, if that material doesn’t connect with your audience.

The Internet can be fairly lonely. Very often, when people explore new information online, they do so on their own. However, many people learn better when they can interact with others.

If you want your online course to be successful, you need to include a HUMAN element so students feel like they’re part of a group.

Find a platform on which you can easily communicate with your students and they can interact with each other. Something as simple as a Facebook group will allow you to answer questions for the benefit of the entire class. Live stream events, Q&A sessions,  and on-platform interactive forums can give learners an opportunity to interact with each other also. Doing all these things results in a number of outcomes. Chief among them: it makes students feel invested and thus attached to the course if they’ve been producing things along the way.

Having a community allows you to see how people are responding to content in real-time. Students get to feel like they are part of a like-minded community no matter where they are in the world. It's also a great way to encourage your learners to become brand advocates. When students trust you and they find your course valuable, they will leave positive reviews and tell others about your course. This comes about when you build a community with your students!

Ask former students to share their experiences and reward those who bring in referrals with discounts or special offers. Even sending an email or private message expressing your gratitude can encourage former students to keep saying positive things about your course. You can also reward those who repeatedly subscribe to your courses. 

6) Data: Are you monitoring student behavior?

What’s the point of having a great online course, if you don’t know what’s going on in the backend?

If you want to drive student engagement and course completion, you need to identify the factors which lead to low retention rates. One way to do this is to track the amount of time students spend on your site and the point at which they are most likely to drop out. This enables you to be proactive and look for ways to keep them interested.

You should also look at what the data shows about which students are completing the lessons, how often they return to them, and which sections they flag for questions.

This allows you to step in and motivate students who may be falling behind. This used to be difficult with online courses but improvements in the data generated by learning management systems make it easier. Using this data, you can provide more personalized instruction to students who need it, so they don’t give up and abandon the course.

Read: Why Students Don’t Complete Your Online Course (And 5 Ways to Fix It)

7) Accountability: Do you have an automatic accountability system setup in place?

It’s easy for anyone to sign up for an online course, but it’s often hard to complete it. Actually, more than 90% of students actually don’t complete the online courses they buy. Sometimes, people don’t even remember that they subscribed, especially if the course was an inexpensive one.

This is bad for your business. If people aren’t completing your courses, they aren’t getting results, which means the chances of buying other courses from you are drastically reduced.

You want them to succeed and to finish. Automate accountability by sending emails, notifications, and/or text messages whenever they fall behind or fail to log in for a certain period of time. This friendly little nudge is just enough to motivate them to keep going – not quite as much as a cheering crowd at the finish line of a race, but more like the good friend who reminds us to get back on track.

Show them that you are invested in their success by motivating them to complete what they started. You owe it to your students! You should be invested in their success. 

Also read: Ideas to Maximize Student Motivation in Your Online Courses

8) UX: Is the experience user-friendly? 

One of the fastest ways to kill student’s momentum is by putting up barriers which block their forward progress instead of letting them navigate your course easily. Your course’s navigation should be simple and intuitive, no matter what platform you’re using to build it.

  • Focus on your students and make learning as easy as possible for them. 
  • Make sure it’s simple to immediately progress to the next lesson. 
  • Give students quick access to all of the content
  • Let them see their progress and effortlessly get back to anything they’ve missed.

You want students to spend most of their time in the course, consuming the material, not trying to figure out how to move between modules or submit the answers to a quiz. These types of hindrances create what is known as “Learner Friction” and they stop students from getting the desired outcomes. 

When students find it easy and interesting to consume your content and they can intuitively navigate the material, it’s more likely they’ll complete the course. Students are used to websites and apps with exceptional UX so your course shouldn’t be any different.

Also read: This is Stopping You From Growing Your Online Course Business (And How to Fix It)

9) Course Structure: Are you mapping your online course smartly?

Modern students will rarely complete a 1-hour lesson. People buy your course because they want quick answers to their most pressing questions. Your course is meant to be a shortcut to their desired outcome.

So, what’s the ideal scenario?

  • Identify the transformation or outcome you want to provide.
  • Break up your 1-hour course into easily digestible 5-10-minute lessons.
  • Organize your lessons so they build on each other; each lesson is a “level” - increasing in mastery and challenge, almost like a staircase.

Breaking it up into these key modules and sub-steps is just a simple way for your students to recognize the main stages they’ll move through as they progress. 

We call this “smart client pathway” the Client Ascension Model™ - and when you start structuring your courses this way you’ll see better student outcomes, increased engagement, and massively more profits too. 

By structuring your content according to this client ascension model, you create a pathway which gets students the results they want.

Read all about it here.

10) Responsiveness: Is your online course responsive?

Many people use their smartphones as often or more often than they use their computers. Your course should, therefore, be accessible on any device or browser. Students will want to make their purchase on their phone and access the course materials from wherever they are.

11) Variety: Are you accommodating all learning styles?

Without understanding the diversity in learning styles, you might end up with a group of students lagging behind —mainly because their unique learning style hasn’t been activated.

You need to be able to accommodate a range of learning styles. Students stick around longer when they can move through the course at their pace.

Some course creators make learners wait for a set time between lessons but this can turn off those who like to take lots of information in a short space of time. However, if the course moves too rapidly, people who have difficulty with the material will be left behind.

To make the learning experience even more appealing to a range of students, you should use a variety of teaching methods including:

  • Audio lessons – For students who learn best when they hear concepts explained verbally, include some audio files. You can add voice recordings when you want to explain in-depth concepts.
  • Visual elements – These are absolutely necessary. You may choose to incorporate slides, screen shares, illustrations, or various interactive elements. You also need to give students tasks that require them to apply what they’ve learned. These can be challenges, workbooks, and written tasks.
  • Videos – These allow you to add a personal touch. You can record an introductory video in which you introduce yourself to your students and welcome them to the course. If you come across as friendly and approachable, students will be more likely to connect with you.
  • Quizzes – These help to boost engagement and they’re a fun way for students to test their knowledge.

12) Engagement: Are you implementing Prizification into your online courses?

Gamification has become the new buzz word to solve online "engagement" problems.  It might work for some things, but not online courses.

We’ve all heard students complain that there's too much content, or it takes too much time or it's boring.  Rather than fix the problem, course creators resort to adding gamification elements. 

That doesn't work.  Trust me. I've tried it. People don't want games.  They want outcomes.  They want the benefit of what they bought the course for in the first place.

You need a new mindset to solve this issue.

Enter Prizification!  This one small painless tweak makes all the difference in their completion rate.  Meaningful, relevant rewards are the key to prizificaton. Watch this video to see how we're using this now to get students to finish.


At the end of the day, students come to us to change their lives.  If they don't finish, we fail that task. Prizification helps push them over the hurdles they face so that they do finish.

And the best part?  We're seeing 500% or more increase in student completions.  It keeps them engaged so they finish and get results. Students who get results buy more courses and this rockets income.


Did this post motivate you to create better online courses? Have you included these success activators for your course? Or are you guilty of not doing them?

If you have already been through this process and have made all the necessary improvements toward becoming an impactful and profitable online course business, what tips can you provide for others?

steps to make more money with your online course

This article was originally published on eLearning Industry .


Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss
Mike Weiss is the founder of Client Engagement Academy, The Client Engagement Membership Platform and Internet Sales Experts. He has become one of the top experts in online sales and marketing and client engagement. Mike's Client Engagement Membership Platform is leading the global movement utilizing modern technology and proven adult education methodologies to increase client engagement and course graduation rates causing profit margin expansion.

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