Times have changed. 5 years ago, you could put your knowledge into a series of lessons, upload them into an online course, set up a sweet sales page, run a bunch of Facebook ads and BAM you’d have a list of students signing up and some ‘passive income’ coming in, without the need for you to do much else. That bubble has well and truly burst.
Earning passive income from online courses is a thing of the past (not that it was ever really ‘passive’, but that’s another story): if you’re not offering support on some level to your learners, your courses won’t sell. Ask anyone who has tried in the past few years. It simply doesn’t work.
Why don’t courses sell without support?
In my experience, it’s for a few reasons.
1) Once burned, twice shy, and who hasn’t been burnt by a dodgy online course? The culprits tend to be shoddy operators looking to make a quick buck, or well meaning subject matter experts who are just woeful at teaching. The shoddy operators take your money then literally disappear, offering no support or follow up, often times removing the learning product, and literally ghosting their clients. Subject matter experts are brilliant in their field, but aren’t necessarily natural teachers, so sometimes there’s just too much of a gap between what they know, and how they can get it across. Regurgitating a bunch of knowledge, simply isn’t a learning experience. It’s curation. And by itself, it simply doesn’t work.
2) It’s human nature to want to ask questions when you’re learning something new. Learning isn’t passive, it’s an active process where the learner and the guide can interact; where the guide (facilitator, teacher, trainer, coach, mentor, whatever you call yourself) literally walks the learner through the learning process. Being able to ask questions and confirm understanding is part of the learning process and if, as a guide, you’re not offering that in some way, shape or form, you’re taking away the most crucial element of learning: where it all comes together and the learner KNOWS they’ve got it right, where they’ve applied their learning, where they KNOW they’ve achieved the goals or outcomes they initially set out to achieve.
The simple fact is, that these days, people want to work with YOU. Learners don’t want to be a nameless number in a self study online course; they want your content, but more so what they really want is your expertise and support.
They want to ask questions.
They want to check their understanding of the concepts and whether they’re ‘doing it right’.
They want your time, your attention, and your understanding.
If you’re not offering support, your online courses simply won’t sell. Ask any of the 000s of professionals I’ve worked with over the past 5 years. It’s become the new industry standard. Here’s what Nikki Smith, has to say. Nikki is a Psychologist and Career Change Coach who has taken well over 130 clients through her 7 Step Career Change Program which includes an online course and various levels of coaching support:
It’s been absolutely crucial to the success of my program; for people to complete and get the best outcomes, they need that support – when they get to a sticky point, or a place of uncertainty, they doubt themselves or overthink and procrastinate. Being there to cheerlead them, give them strategic insights and boost momentum by providing accountability is the key to their success. With that coaching support, my clients can achieve outcomes they never could have imagined on their own.
Nikki Smith, Psychologist and Career Change Coach: 7 Step Career Change ProgramNikki Smith, Psychologist and Career Change Coach: 7 Step Career Change Program
If you’ve ever wondered why people like Kate Toon can create an empire with their online courses, it’s not simply because of the knowledge she’s curated. In actual fact, in her case, the content is second to none in her field and having been a student in her courses, she definitely over delivers in the content department. Well structured, loads of demonstration, templates, tutorials, presentations, her online courses are the definition of best practice.
But I honestly don’t believe it’s just the content that has created that success. Kate is relentless in her ability to show up and give support to her clients – relentless – anyone who has been a student of Kate’s will agree that she leaves no student guessing, answers questions to a fault, and provides a ridiculous amount of value and ongoing support well after the live round of the course has finished. Just watch the video testimonials on this page – many of them make specific reference to how helpful the coaching calls are, and all the ways Kate supports and helps you when you’re a student in her course.
So what are your options when it comes to providing support for your online learners?
First, you need to decide how your course content is going to be delivered, because that impacts the kind of support you’re going to be able to offer. Your course content will more than likely be:
- Evergreen: all content is online, and learners can access it anytime, and go through the content at their own pace.
- Drip fed (pre-recorded) in ‘live rounds’: all content is pre-prepared and online, but access is given in weekly or monthly ‘chunks’ so that learners can focus on one section at a time. Usually this option is combined with the ‘Regular online group calls’ option in the support section below, so that learners can ask questions and get support on a specific section at the same time as all the other learners, or:
- Drip fed (delivered live) in ‘live rounds’: the same as the above option, but instead of all the content being pre-recorded, the facilitator delivers it live, week by week or day by day, much the same as you would deliver a face to face workshop; learners attend the sessions and often the sessions are recorded just in case learners miss a session and need to catch up later.
There are disadvantages and advantages to each option, but the main ones are:
- — Disadvantages:
- Harder to sell (in terms of there not being a ‘launch date’ or the build up you can generate pre-sale).
- Harder to provide targeted support as learners will always be at different stages of the program.
- +++ Advantages:
- Easier to sell as part of a private coaching program or package, OR as a blended learning workshop (ie learners do the learning before the facilitator arrives to workshop the tasks or outputs with the clients).
- Easier to white-label or sell and deliver to targeted groups who will generate their own community or support mechanisms (schools, organisations, corporates).
- — Disadvantages:
- Drip fed (pre-recorded) in ‘live rounds’:
- — Disadvantages:
- Much like preparing evergreen content, it can be quite an involved process to learn the skills required to record, edit and produce video training resources (or quite costly to outsource most of the process). Your content then can also become outdated and need reviewing and updating, which is again costly in terms of time and money. It’s also harder to tailor the content to the needs of the current round of students.
- +++ Advantages:
- You don’t have to keep delivering the same content every time you have a new round of students. Your only commitment to every new group of students, is to turn up and deliver whatever ‘support’ you’re providing.
- — Disadvantages:
- Drip fed (delivered live) in ‘live rounds’:
- — Disadvantages:
- There’s much more of a time investment whenever delivering the live rounds, as you have to prepare and deliver the learning content with a live audience, who may or may not interrupt to ask questions or seek clarification. If clear boundaries are set around question time, this can be managed however it depends on the personalities in the group.
- +++ Advantages:
- Your content gets better every time you deliver it, and you can tailor it directly to the specific needs of the students in each cohort. You can record these sessions and have them as additional resources in the learning management system (where your course content is held).
- — Disadvantages:
Then, you can choose the kind of support you’re going to give:
- Regular online group calls: where participants can have questions answered or ask for advice/review/support with their challenges or tasks – this could be daily, weekly or monthly depending on the intensity of the program.
- Community support: where learners are part of a community of people who have done the course, or are doing the course. Support can come from the community itself, or the facilitator might have regular days or times when they’re available to answer questions. These groups may stay open for all alumni, or be closed down when the live round is finished.
- One on one support: where learners contact the facilitator directly for personalised support – this might be on an ad-hoc basis, or as part of a coaching package.
So which one should you choose?
There are disadvantages and advantages to all of these support options, but at the end of the day you really just need to decide what your clients are most likely to need, what time commitment you’re willing to give, and what boundaries you set for yourself around that.
Online group calls can be better for learners so they have a deadline to engage with the content and be prepared with their questions; this will drive them to engage with the course content and they’ll be more likely to complete the training. It’s also good for you, as the facilitator because you’ve got good boundaries around the amount of time you spend helping the learners. If the groups get too big though, learners can feel like just a number if they don’t get the chance to have their question answered or challenges heard. It can also be tricky to get all your learners at a time that suits everything especially if you’re dealing with different timezones.
Community support can be a brilliant way for learners to work together and support each other without the need for the facilitator to be online 24/7 answering all the questions. It can easily turn into that though, a never ending stream of requests for help or questions to be answered so as the facilitator you really need to be clear on how much support you’re giving and what the boundaries around that are, especially when the groups get bigger. There may also be a need to moderate if students are giving each other answers that aren’t quite right, rude or inflammatory so it can turn into full time job if you’re not careful.
One on one support is obviously the most personalised option which also means it can attract a higher service fee. I find this option doesn’t have the stress that the other two tend to bring with them, in that there’s much less co-ordination and needing to be everything to everyone. It is important though that if you’re offering one to one support, that there are clear boundaries on how you’re going to deliver that support and the time that you’ll provide it; it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘answering a few quick questions’ via email, that end up taking far longer than a quick chat so it’s important to make sure that your one to one clients know how and when to ask for support, and that you stick to the clear boundaries you’ve set up.
Want some examples of professionals who have chosen the right options for them and their learners?
I’ve put together a list of clients I’ve worked with (or professionals I’ve been a student of), and they’re all listed out below. They’re from a range of different disciplines and their target audiences are all completely different. Have a look through the list to see how many different combinations can work for different types of learning needs that are out there.
So – how do you choose a delivery method and support option for your courses?
Essentially you have to know two things:
- What’s going to work for YOU and
- What’s going to work for your learners.
It’s as simple as that. I have literally given each of the options a go, over the past 5 years while I’ve been running my online business, because if I’m helping professionals make these choices it’s better if I’ve done it first hand myself – and what a ride it’s been!
The one I’ve settled on, is to combine the evergreen content into coaching and consulting packages for private clients. Sometimes I work with organisations, sometimes with small business professionals and sometimes even with international Ministries of Education; any of those clients can have access to my IP and in doing so, they’ll get some up-skilling in the area of best practice teaching and learning for adults, whilst they’re working alongside me to build their learning resources.
It’s a win-win scenario for all of us, because I don’t have to keep repeating myself and they can access the learning anytime, as they need it, to make our sessions more efficient. I can set them tasks to do before our next session, so they have time to digest the new knowledge, and do some thinking and planning so that when we meet, we can hit the ground running.
Much better than recreating the wheel for each client, hearing myself say the same thing again and again, and waste time in sessions that could be better spent with the client working at their own pace – right?
Although I love delivering face to face workshops for groups of people, and that is also an offering I’m happy to deliver, I find that I get the most joy out of working with people one to one and getting their online learning resources projects off the ground. I also find being on social media all the time really draining so prefer not to have to manage Facebook groups or online communities – although I know some professionals LOVE that option and find it’s where they get the most traction and referrals from!
It’s another reason why I’ve shifted from offering very low cost online courses that don’t have any support included, to making all my courses come with a standard ’60 minute power hour’ with me. The courses may have all the information you need, but they always have tasks and activities that you’ll need to do to apply the learning – now you can run them by me with all your questions or challenges, and you can move forward with confidence. Check out the courses I have on offer, here.
So – over to you – which options are you going to choose for your online learners? In case you need some inspiration, here are some professionals I recommend whose course content and support combinations are working brilliantly for their clientele:
Donna Vincent, of Solo Accounts
- Delivery and support: Evergreen content with one on one support
- Target market: Australian sole traders who want to DIY their bookkeeping and incorporate day to day admin tasks for running a small business
- Course outcome: Recognising and applying day to day bookkeeping skills for sole traders
Jane Webster, of Code9 Parent:
- Delivery and support: Evergreen content with one on one and community support
- Target market: Teachers, parents or guardians wanting to understand the way their children can safely use social media apps
- Course outcome: Setting up apps for optimum safety when being used by children
Jo Johnson, of The Content Coach
- Delivery and support: Content delivered in live rounds, with weekly group Q&A and community support
- Target market: Those wanting to write engaging content (books, articles, website copy)
- Course outcome: Writing business content efficiently and confidently, in your own voice
Kate Toon, of the Recipe for SEO Success:
- Delivery and support: Live rounds (pre-recorded) with weekly group calls
- Target market: Those wanting to improve SEO for their website
- Course outcome: Achieving higher ranking in Google
Katrina Walton, of Wellness Designs:
- Delivery and support: Drip-fed content with one to one support, and blended learning options. Launching soon, the new membership hub where clients can access support on a month by month basis.
- Target market: Organisations who want to implement wellness strategies for their work place
- Course outcome: Having strategies in place for workplaces that are thriving with happy employees
Lacey Filipich, of Money School:
- Delivery and support: Evergreen content with community support and direct support by appointment.
- Target market: Adults and families who want to be financially independent
- Course outcome: Knowing the steps and strategies to achieve financial independence
Nikki Smith, of 7 Step Career Change Program:
- Delivery and support: Evergreen content with group calls and one on one support
- Target market: Adults who are ready for a career change
- Course outcome: Uncovering your best-fit role, gaining confidence in job seeking or returning to work and learning a methodology to get hired with ease
Vicky Moriarty, of RACGP (Royal Australian College for General Practitioners):
- Delivery and support: Structured monthly webinars, delivered live, with monthly small group follow-up meetings.
- Target market: GPs who are moving into leadership positions.
- Course outcome: Developing leadership skills for General Practice.