Are you already half-way through creating an online course? Or perhaps you’ve already created your course and want to know how to improve it?
In this article, we’ll look at how you can make sure your course is the best on the market, meaning you sell more.
- Improve your online course with feedback
- Spot weak areas with a course content audit
- Reposition your online course to show your USP
- Next steps
1. Improve your online course with feedback
Getting ongoing feedback on your online course is essential if you want an optimised course that will sell.
It’s easy to put off collecting feedback when you are busy creating a course or working on your marketing content.
However, these actions are a waste of time if your online course has significant problems, either with its content, format or target audience.
So stop creating content and get feedback now.
Christopher Roberts is learner success manager at AICPA, the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession. They run the Finance Leadership Program, which is an online learning platform for students trying to get their CGMA designation (a professional qualification). He says:
When the programme was new and we were still building it, we wanted to add new features. So we initially asked students going through the programme to suggest improvement ideas.
It would have been easy for AICPA to just implement improvements that their team came up with. After all, making assumptions about what your students want is generally easier that getting feedback from them. However, your assumptions can be wrong!
The best way to make sure your online course is doing a great job – particularly when it is new – is to ask your students about their experiences and about what improvements they would like to see.
You don’t have to implement all your student feedback. You just need to hear it.
A bonus of listening closely to your students, is that your course tends to rank better in terms of student satisfaction. It’s trendy to talk about getting ‘passive income’ from online courses, but most learners want to feel that you care about their experience.
How can you get feedback?
There are a number of inexpensive or free ways for you to get feedback on your online course:
1. Use a website feedback tool to get private feedback
AICPA uses a simple website feedback tool called Saber Feedback on all the learning material as well as on the student’s individual dashboard. This way students can quickly send them a message as soon as they spot a problem or think of a feature idea.
This feedback tool supports screenshots, so students can screenshot problem areas rather than having to describe them.
Here’s our article on the 11 best feedback widgets so you can see which feedback widget best suits you.
A free option is to invite students to email or message you with feedback, which you then collect in a spreadsheet, Google document, project management tool like Trello or Asana, or a workspace like Notion. You need to be organised to make this work though, and it is harder work for your students that an instant feedback form – so some won’t bother.
2. Use ideas boards or public groups to get group feedback
You can choose to make all your student feedback visible, so other students can comment on and upvote existing ideas. This approach creates a sense of community and excitement around your online course. However, it is a higher risk approach if your online course really needs a lot of work!
Have a look at online feedback board providers like Feature Upvote (or UserVoice if you’ve got a big budget). These idea boards have in-built voting functionality so you end up with a neat list of ideas prioritised by your students.
However, if you get different types of feedback, such as incorrect content, typos, and technical bugs, then these boards aren’t ideal. This is because ideas and feature requests need you to think about them and decide whether they are worth implementing, and so it is useful to know which are popular and why. In contrast, bugs, typos and content mistakes just need to be fixed – they are actionable. So you are better off funnelling them straight to your project management software rather than leaving them for people to upvote.
You can also set up a membership forum if you just want to collect public feedback from your students rather than prioritise it. Keep in mind though forums require a lot of moderation. This article looks at the 10 best forum software to build an online community.
Another approach is to set up a private Slack channel or Facebook group for your students to leave feedback. These private channels work well because they are invite-only. However, you still have to process the feedback, so they can become a time sink as you need to act as moderator.
3. Arrange student interviews or a webinar
Reach out directly to anyone taking your course to ask for a quick chat (20 minutes max). This is time-intensive but can really help you to get more in-depth feedback about potential problems with your course as well as interesting new directions.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable doing this kind of outreach, try to push yourself to have a go. You don’t have to be the most professional interviewer in the world. You just need to ask a few open-ended questions over Zoom or Skype to get some really useful insights.
So instead of asking ‘Did you enjoy the course?’ which only requires a yes/no answer, you’d ask ‘What did you think of the course?’ which should encourage your student to talk more freely.
Ask questions like:
- What was going on in your life that made you take the course?
- What other courses did you look at before deciding on this one?
- How can we improve the course?
- If you were in charge of the course, what would you change?
- What annoyed you about the course?
- On finishing the course, what are you able to do now that you weren’t before?
- How did you feel when you finished the course?
- How likely are you to recommend the course to a friend?
If lots of individual chats sounds time-consuming, you can also schedule a webinar for students who have completed your course (although you might need to offer an incentive). Then you can ask everyone collectively about your course and get some interesting insights from the ensuing discussion.
4. Teach your course face-to-face to a few students (or at least teach it yourself over Zoom)
This might seem like a step backwards. You’ve probably created an online course because you want to avoid the specific challenges of face-to-face courses. However, if you’ve never taught your course face-to-face you can learn a huge amount about which areas students strongly respond to and which they get less value from and that confuse them.
Drew Neil sells an online course called the Core Vim Course. He’s also taught the course in person to more than 600 people. He says:
Teaching your course in a format where you can get instant feedback lets you find out what questions people will ask. Once you’ve taught the course enough times, you’ll hear all the questions people might ask. That’s good practice for creating and improving a course where people can’t ask questions in real time.
Try teaching your course (or a module or two) to students face-to-face. Or if that simply isn’t possible, actively teach your course to a small group online.
How do you implement feedback?
The easiest way to deal with student feedback is to divide it into categories. These can be as simple as:
- High value, low cost
- High value, high cost
- Low value, low cost
- Requires more thought/consideration
Put actionable tasks into your project management software, with a ‘high’ priority for the high value and low cost tasks.
This way you get your ‘quick wins’ done first, or at the start of your work session. You’ll feel motivated having achieved something both tangible and necessary, as suggested in this article about productivity.
Save your ‘requires more thought/consideration’ feedback somewhere else, because it’s not actionable. This feedback will be full of interesting ideas that you need to probe in terms of whether they are feasible, how much they would cost, and whether they support the direction you want the course to go in. After all, you can’t do everything!.
How much feedback is enough feedback?
Any feedback is better than no feedback.
However, if you can get feedback from at least 10 students you should be able to get a rough idea of whether your course is basically hitting the spot, and whether there are any major problems with your content.
Don’t stop there though. Optimising your online course should be a continuous project, if you want to stay ahead of your competitors and sell more.
Even if your feedback channels were originally about ideas for improvements and bug reports that have largely been surfaced and implemented, you still need to make sure your content stays up-to-date and that your students are happy.
Dr Edward Banham-Hall runs Clinical Skills Pro, a website offering largely video-based training for doctors taking a tough postgraduate examination. He says:
We have to feel completely confident in the quality of our course and depend on high student satisfaction to remain in business. Without that, we really couldn’t exist. That can be really challenging because medical guidelines change all the time, science moves forwards, and it is easy for our content to become stale.
With 300-400 pages of course material, he relies on students giving on-page feedback about mistakes and outdated content. For example, one customer noticed that the European Society of Cardiology had recently updated some guidelines, and that had made some explanatory text outdated.
They simply logged a note and we were able to redraft that bit of text, resolving the issue within a few hours of the change in management guidelines! That compares very favourably with our competitors who continue to have outdated information in their resources and no mechanism to directly link customer feedback to specific elements of their course.
2. Spot weak areas with a course content audit
Content audits are an increasingly popular way of giving your website a ‘health check’ to see what you are doing well and what needs to be improved.
They usually combine quantitative data (from Google Analytics, for example) with qualitative data (about content quality, accuracy, and so on).
You can employ a content strategist to do a content audit. However, there is no reason you can’t do this yourself.
This article explains how to do a website content audit.
What is a course content audit?
Website content audits can be tweaked to help you understand instead how your online course is performing.
What you really want to know is which aspects of your course are doing well and which are doing badly.
We’ll look at how you can tweak a website content audit to make it specific to your online course.
How do you do a course content audit?
Analyse your quantitative data
Start by looking at any analytics data you have on your online course. This will depend on what learning platform you are using. For example, LearnDash have a premium add-on called ProPanel enhanced reporting, which could be very useful.
Also, look at your support tickets.
You want to find answers to questions like these:
- What percentage of students complete your course?
- How long does it typically take students to complete your course?
- If students bail out, where do they do this?
- Which course elements have the highest completion rates?
- Do students watch your videos all the way through? Or are some unpopular?
- Do students skip any elements of your course?
- Are there any common themes in terms of support tickets? Or any content areas that keep being flagged up as problematic?
Your analytics and customer support data should start pointing you to areas of strength and weakness within your course.
For example, if your videos are popular with high completion rates then you are doing a good job! So you should consider more video content.
If a worrying percentage of students is not completing your course, where do they tend to bail? Is there a content or user interface problem at this point in your course? Is the topic not engaging? Or is your course just too long for your target audience?
Analyse your qualitative data
This is a chance for you to methodically assess the quality of your content.
When you are creating a course, it’s almost inevitable that some elements are great, and some got created when you were tired and not so sure about the topic.
This is your chance to spot weak areas that need improvement.
If you have a fairly short online course you can undertake a qualitative analysis of all your content. If your course is a longer one, then choose a sample of course content to be analysed, which should still offer some interesting insights.
You should include categories in your content course audit like these:
- Page name
- Content subject
- Content types (video, audio, text, quiz, etc) and completion scores
- Purpose of content (give a score out of 10)
- Accuracy of content (give a score out of 10)
- Understandability of content (give a score out of 10)
- Quick wins (quick and important changes)
- Longer-term wins (changes that require more work)
Use a simple table to collate your results.
How do you implement feedback from a course content audit?
You should now have lots of helpful and granular feedback – both quantitative and qualitative – on what aspects of your online course are particularly strong or weak.
You should also have the results from your ongoing student feedback.
Implement the highest value and lowest cost changes first, as previously suggested.
Then prioritise changes that require more effort on your part, but that should considerably improve your course. For example, more video content, a shorter version of your course or a completely revised version of an unpopular module.
These changes can seem like a lot for you to do, but by improving your course you will earn more money. High student satisfaction will translate into better reviews, upsell opportunities and word of mouth sales.
Your in-depth understanding of your course will also allow you to market it more effectively.
3. Reposition your online course to show your USP
Once you’ve put the work in to get student feedback and to audit your online course, you will have a much better idea of the unique selling point (USP) of your course.
Use this knowledge to reposition your course so potential students know exactly what they will be able to achieve when they’ve taken your course and how they can expect to get to that point.
Stronger marketing copy will help you sell more online courses.
Use your new insights to optimise your marketing
It’s hard work to write effective marketing copy, but you’ll do a much better job of it now because:
- You know what your customers actually say about your course
- You are clear about the specific strengths of your course
- You have some metrics to prove the quality of your course
Cyn Meyer, content marketer at Podia, which makes it easy for you to create and sell online courses, says:
Receiving feedback from your clients regularly is gold, for not only iterating your online course to always be better, but also for the way you present it in your copy. Using your audience’s exact verbiage, to express their pain points and the benefits of taking your online course, lets you explain your USP in a language that’s sure to resonate - after all, it comes directly from them.
You’ll also know what the key strengths of your course are compared to competitors. If your audio or video content is particularly popular with high completion rates, then focus on those content types in your marketing copy.
If your course content audit shows that 90% of students complete your course within 4 weeks then use this data for marketing. Your students want results and this kind of data proves that your course delivers them within a manageable time frame.
If your SEO performance has been lacklustre, use your new research to tighten up your SEO strategy and spot relevant and profitable keywords.
Once you have spent time improving your online course, you are in an excellent position to double down on marketing.
You know your online course is high quality and results in high student satisfaction. So by selling more you should get an even greater return, as students talk about your course to their friends and colleagues and contribute to your marketing in the form of reviews, quotes and case studies.
You also know that the positioning of your course is spot on, so by targeting certain keywords or audience types you will get the most revenue possible from your actions.