5 Components Every Successful Online Course Contains

Let’s say you’re teaching an online course on how to build a successful online business. Now, imagine your course attract hundreds of new customers, and you’re making  thousands of dollars a month,

WOW…that sound like a successful online course business, right?

But what if I told you that only 8% of students actually finish the courses they buy? And of those that do end your course, most of them forget or don’t apply what they learned. ZERO results. NO outcomes.  Would you still say your course is successful?

Too often, course creators get lost in the numbers. They put all their energy into attracting new customers and generating income but fall short in understanding their needs and desires. They fail to engage, retain, and (most importantly) educate their students. And as a result, their course fails to produce value.

Successful course creators are invested in the potential and performance of their students. They know that positive client experience is correlated to client value and course success.

Here are five components every successful online course has in common.

They Produce Student Outcomes.

There’s a reason why your students are taking your course. They want to achieve an outcome.

Failing to help your client achieve this outcome will result in them becoming dissatisfied with your course, leading to poor engagement and eventually, leave your course and never finish it.

To counter this, you need to understand why your students are taking your online course and center your course material and resources around these desires. You also need to give them actionable tools to produce tangible, real-world results. For instance, at the end of each module, give them spreadsheets and cheat sheets – this will help me take action and do something with the recently learned knowledge.

Tangible results allow your members to see in what way(s) your course is making an impact on their lives. Your members believe your course will give them a “transformation” that they could not have achieved otherwise. Depending on the topic of your course, your students’ desired transformations could be anything from learning how to code a website to make a successful career change.

Be sure also to send your students updates on how they’re working towards their objective. One way would be to send them a bulleted summary of the topics they learned in the previous lessons and how it will help them in their lives (personally, professionally, etc.). Allowing members to see what they’re gaining from course WHILE they’re taking it and not just after, will help increase student completion and retention rates.

If your student completes your course, applies the material to their life, and has a positive experience in doing so, then you’ve succeeded in making an impact. Also, you’ve also succeeded in gaining a valuable client. Satisfied customers will take additional courses from you, as well as recommend new customers to your site.

Their Content is User and Mobile Friendly.

Unfortunately, I find this component often overlooked—even amongst seasoned speakers and experts. The way people consume content has drastically changed in the past few years. Nowadays, everyone is consuming content on-the-go. According to Smart Insights, the majority of consumers access sites using two or more platforms.
This means your students need to be able to log in to your site, play videos/lessons, and access course materials from any device, seamlessly. By making your site compatible with smaller screens, you’re giving members the option to consume your content even when they aren’t at home or work.  

Making your content on-the-go friendly extends beyond design too. Since people are going to be tuning in to your lessons during commutes or breaks, it’s important to keep lessons and course materials as succinct as possible. Busy and on-the-go users can’t commit to things for large chunks of time, but they can make “micro-commitments.” As a result, it’s better to have three 10-minute videos than a 30-minute one.

Keeping content short and sweet allows users to keep consuming your content and engaging with your course throughout the day.

They Hold Their Students Accountable.

There are several reasons why learners leave your online course I’ve talked about a few here.

However, one BIG reason why students don’t complete their courses is just that they’ve fallen out of sync with the course schedule. Think about it. We all make New Year’s resolutions, but how often do we keep them?

Taking a new course is a lot like a New Year’s resolution. New members tend to start off strong, invigorated and excited to learn. However, as time passes, life gets in the way. Students may find themselves unable to log-in for a day. But then a day turns into two days. Two days turn into two weeks. And two weeks turn into forever.

As a course creator, it’s important that you’re invested in the success of your students. This means holding them accountable for completing the course material. In fact, one of the main reasons why students purchase courses is because spending money on something is a great motivator to keep up with it. No one wants to feel like they’re wasting money.

Give your students reminders to keep up with the coursework and, if you can, alert them when they’ve fallen behind. If you’ve noticed a sudden change in student activity, don’t be afraid to reach out—especially if they’re a valuable client. Your reminders don’t have to be fancy. A simple email will suffice.

It’s important to hold someone accountable the way you would want to be. You should do this not authoritatively as if you were a grade school teacher, but instead as a friend with their best interest in mind. Your members will feel like you care about their success and progress, allowing you to create a valuable relationship with them.

They Test Their Students.

I know, I know. Who likes tests?

Not to mention, the question of whether or not testing helps students learn is one that’s often debated. However, the general consensus amongst psychologists is that tests DO aid in the learning process.

When students take an exam, they’re forced to evaluate right and wrong answers—requiring them to retrieve and apply course material learned. Since tests are scored, they also give students a clear indication on how well they’re grasping lessons. Making the median test score public will also give students a marker to compare their performance to.

Self-assessment is a crucial component in any successful online course too. Giving your students the opportunity to retake exams will also motivate them to review and relearn previous lesson concepts.

Things to consider when making your online course tests and evaluations:

  • How many questions are there?
  • Is there going to be a time limit?
  • What’s the passing grade?
  • Can students retake the exam?
  • Can students see what answers they got right or wrong?

If you’ve answered yes to the previous two questions, will you have enough new questions to ask in your retake?

Don’t worry. You can also make exams more fun by inspiring friendly competition and rewarding high performing students. Exams and fun in the same sentence, who would’ve thought?

This brings us to our final component.  

They Make Learning Fun.

Gamifying your online course is a great way to boost client engagement. Gamification makes learning more fun and offers students instant feedback and validation.

By implementing gamification into your learning platform, you can promote desired student behavior, such as increased participation, through challenges and incentives. You can reward course participants with “points,” every time they log in, post a comment, or engage in a forum discussion. You also can award users with digital badges when they complete a challenge like logging in three days in a row or scoring in the top 10% on an exam.

Think of a badge like a trophy. They recognize a student’s effort and success in comprehending the course material. The desire to collect more badges will inspire users to keep up and excel in the course material to the best of their ability. In addition, you can create a leaderboard, showcasing the users with the most badges and points, to help create some friendly competition. Read up more on how you can successfully implement digital badges onto your learning site here.

To learn more about gamification and for other ideas on how to engage your students, check out this piece I’ve written.  

At the end of the day, every successful course is also invested in the success of its students. Remember this and the five components listed here, and I promise you will be rewarded for it.