How do you measure the success of your online courses?
People use metrics such as the number of courses sold, new enrollments, and the total market share to determine how successful their program is.
However, I can tell you one thing for sure: These metrics don’t even come close to the number one way to measure success.
The goal of education, after all, is to help students achieve the outcomes they desire.
So, it's important to identify what students do with the content they learn in your course.
- Did they achieve their initial objective?
- Are they satisfied with the learning experience?
- Did the experience contribute to their personal and/or professional life?
- Did the online course help them get a raise, a promotion, a new job? Did they start a business or project?
When you know your students are not only taking your content and doing nothing with it, but actually APPLYING it to change their life or business in some way, is when you can say your course is successful.
Below I’ve outlined my top, hands-on strategies to ensure that student outcomes are met:
#1) Backward Design
Every student who signs up for online course content has some vision or goal in mind. Students want to enrich themselves, get better at something, and transform their own lives.
This is why it is absolutely essential that course creators understand their students’ goals and align their course content with them.
The more aware of students’ goals we are when we start creating the course, the better the quality of our content will be, and more possibilities of providing the transformation we promised when they bought the course.
So how can you align your goals with your students’ goals? Use Backward Design
Backward Design basically has three steps:
- Define outcomes/results and objectives: what do you want learners to be able to do, know, or feel at the end of the course? Always think of the transformation/results people will obtain when they finish the course, then start defining what steps are required to help them achieve that outcome.
- Determine how you will know they have achieved the outcomes and objectives: How will you assess the learning? Make sure all the quizzes, formative and summative assessments align with the course goals.
- Plan the learning experience and activities to ensure learners succeed on the assessments. Every activity needs to be connected to the learning outcomes too. If students are clear on why they’re doing what they are doing and how it will help them, they’re more likely to commit and complete the course.
Don't make the mistake of starting with content, adding assessments, and hoping outcomes are met. Always start with the outcomes, then create assessments, and – at the end – create the content.
#2) Create a Feeling of Accountability - Remind Students They’re Not Alone!
Once students enroll themselves in your course, they need to feel they are supported. In other words, students want to feel someone is there, motivating them to finish the course and achieve their goals.
If you just give people passive content to consume, chances are they might learn some of the content. However, if they are receiving frequent feedback from a coach or motivation messages from their peers, they'll feel supported and connected to real human beings - which will make the experience more rich and effective.
Here are some ideas you can implement:
- Automated accountability: Students don't finish online courses most of the time because they forget or they just get busy. To help them achieve their desired goals and finish the course, you should trigger automated emails as you identify they haven't login in a while. These friendly reminders show them that you are truly invested in the progress they make and you'll encourage them to restart their learning journey.
- P2P Learning: Another way to ensure students finish the course is by pairing them with another student and offering group coaching calls. This way, students can connect with other students through a private group or discussion forum.
- Personalized coaching: Have instructors and coaches check in once in a while to make sure students are not stuck.
#3) Create A Milestones-based Structure
To keep students on track, it is a good idea to create a "milestone-based structure" where every module ends with a concrete milestone. This way, students will finish each module with the feeling of having achieved something and obtaining a tangible result.
In essence, each module should feel like a mini-course, packed with actionable information and knowledge. While creating the content, you should have a goal for each module: what is it that you want students to learn from each specific module?
At the end, students don't care about the content, they care about the transformation and result they will get. Making them feel they are progressing and celebrating mini victories at the end of each module will remind students about the results they can expect when they finish the course. Tell your students how each module they complete takes them closer to their desired goal!
#4) Incorporate Frequent Testing Into Your Course Curriculum
Studies revealed that frequent testing promotes active learning and retention. Also, it has been found to be an effective mechanism for incentivizing student completion, increasing engagement, and applying new information after taking a test on it.
To help students get closer to achieving their outcomes, it’s essential to make assessments part of your course curriculum.
Here’re some ideas:
- Add a quiz at the beginning. By evaluating your students before starting the course, they'll be able to to see what they already know and don't know; in other words, where they are now, and where they want to be.
- Add mini‑assessments frequently. Whether you choose to grade them or not, adding short and frequent questions at various points in the course will help you measure your students’ knowledge retention and keep them focused on their goals.
- Be creative with the assessments. Learners are more motivated to take a quiz or test if you use a gamified approach. Therefore, integrating different gamification elements like badges and leaderboards will help you make students feel accomplished.
#5) Encourage Students to Take Action
If we want learners to actually learn the content we’re trying to teach them, they have to EXPERIENCE those things in some way that rises above the text and video on a screen. They have to DO something and take ACTION.
It's your role as an online course creator to encourage them to apply what they’ve learned. For instance, at the end of each module you should provide a key takeaway and a point of action like:
- Participating in a discussion: Allowing students to discuss a topic can help them deeply process the content they've just learned.
- Solving a case study with a peer: Having students work with a partner solving a problem will give them more opportunities to process and understand the content.
- Writing an essay or filling out a worksheet: When we write, we synthesize the information we've learned, making it an effective way to cement the learning content in our brain.
Creating an online course is only the first step of the process. After planning, creating and launching your course, the next step is to measure the success of your efforts. So, how are you measuring the success of your online courses? Comment below!