How to Get More Students to Finish Your Online Course

How to Improve Online Course Completion Rates

Online learning has grown exponentially over the years and has presented a huge opportunity to those who want to sell online courses and monetize their knowledge.

While more and more edupreneurs are launching new courses every year, a worrying trend has set in where a majority of the students never finish an online course. 

There are online learning statistics that suggest that the completion rate for online courses averages just about 15% and it goes up to 40% and beyond in some cases.

Completion Rate Graphic

While there are certain problems with how the course completion rate metric is defined, you should still be worried if your course has a low completion rate.

Not just that you’re more likely to get bad reviews and refund requests but you’ll also lose out on repeat purchases and word-of-mouth marketing.

Even if we were to discount all of this, the idea behind your online program is to help students get success which won’t be possible unless they complete the training.

Before we talk about the strategies to improve your course completion rate, let’s briefly discuss the reasons why students drop out in the first place:

  • Students get busy with other things and can completely forget about your course.
  • They get stuck along the way and hesitate or are unable to reach out to the support.
  • Content delivery is not engaging or, the course is too long, resulting in your students losing interest.
  • Students lack motivation and don’t see much value in going through the entire program.
  • They had unrealistic expectations about the course or even the work involved.
  • Students face technical difficulties in accessing the course content.
  • They just needed a small part of your course and are done with it.

These are some of the most common reasons for students dropping out.  But it’s important for you to identify the specific blockers for your students and we’ll discuss that a little later in this guide. 

Now, let’s shift our focus to the strategies that target these problems and will help you improve your course completion rates.

1. Communicate with Your Students on a Regular Basis

This is the most effective engagement strategy and is also the easiest one to implement. Yet I find so many creators either completely ignoring it or underutilizing it.

Some of the common dropout reasons that we discussed in the previous section like students getting busy or losing motivation, you can tackle them to a great extent by putting in place a proper follow-up strategy.

Here are some of the commonly used engagement emails you can send out to your students:

Welcome your students

As soon as someone signs up for your online course, you should send a welcome email and provide their login details, sets the expectations, share the course schedule, provide details on how to join the course community or reach out to the support.

My friends, Joe & Sam, they send a welcome email to their students when they sign up for the Exploring & Texture Pattern course and I really like the template.

They use the welcome email to deliver the bonus they promised, tell them what to expect from the program and provide details on how to access the members’ area and the private Facebook group.

Send a welcome email to your students
Welcome email sent to new ETP students

Send reminders

As hectic and distracting the day to day life is, it is very easy for anyone to just forget about their online commitments. Sending regular reminders can help catch the attention of your students and bring them back to your course. 

Now, you can either send reminder emails every week or only when new content is released. It really depends on how your course is structured.

As far as what to include in a reminder email is concerned, you can start with reminding them why they signed up for the course and then share details about their progress or what to expect in the new module, etc.

My client, Miles Neale who teaches the Contemplative Studies Program sends notification emails to his students whenever new content is available or an assignment is due and this has helped him significantly boost student engagement.

Send reminders to your students

Now, email needn’t just be a way to send reminders and notifications but you can also use it to motivate your learners.

For example, you can send a congratulations email to your students after they complete a module or successfully pass a quiz which can help motivate them to make further progress.

These are just some of the ways in which you can use email to engage your students. You can find several other examples like people sharing success stories with their students or collecting feedback from them via email.

2. Create an Online Community

Online communities provide students a platform where they can connect with others, get feedback and support, ask questions as well as share their wins.

When someone is part of a social group, they tend to spend more time on those platforms. They can discuss their problems and learn from the knowledge and experience of others which prevents students from getting stuck. 

Moreover, sharing their commitment publicly on a social platform can help learners be more accountable which can increase the achievement of set goals by 33%.

One of the most useful courses that I have taken till date is Pinterest Traffic Avalanche by Alex and Lauren. Obviously, the content is awesome but the best part about the course is their private Facebook Group.

There have been many instances when I needed help with something related to Pinterest and their FB group came to my rescue.

There have also been a couple of instances when I felt discouraged by my Pinterest account growth but then someone shared their success story that kept me going. 

PTA Facebook Group
Pinterest Traffic Avalanche FB Group

So, there is a strong case for you to incorporate a community element in your online course. You can either use a social media platform like Facebook or Slack to run your community or you can also build a community area on your own website 

3. Offer an Incentive for Completing Your Course

It always feels good to get a little extra for the efforts we make for something. So, having an additional incentive at the end can push more students to complete your course. 

One of the commonly used incentives is certificates. Certificates add value to students’ resume and serve as a motivation factor for them to cross the finish line. 

They work particularly well as an incentive if your course teaches a professional skill. One of the best examples of using certificates is Digital Marketer’s training courses. 

They offer several master classes, all of which offer certification and I know many users who joined these programs just to get these course certificates.

Digital Marketer Certifications
Certification badges for Digital Marketer’s courses

I too offer a certificate of completion for my Supply Chain Network Design course and it works really well with my audience.

There are other types of incentives that you can offer for your course as well. So, you might offer an exclusive discount on your next course or give access to your mastermind group to anyone who completes your entire course.

And you can get really innovative here. An incentive that caught my eye is the 100% Pass Guarantee offered by David Young for his FAA Part 107 course.

So, if you don’t pass the FAA Part 107 exam, you’ll be eligible to get your money back but it has a precondition which requires you to complete all the modules and pass the quizzes.

Drone Launch Academy's Pass Guarantee
Drone Launch Academy’s Pass Guarantee

4. Incorporate Small Wins in Your Course

While it’s great to have a larger transformation goal for your online courses, it’s equally important to break that goal down into smaller wins that your students can achieve along the way.

Getting smaller wins from time to time makes students feel that they’re making progress and prevents them from getting discouraged and thus from dropping out.

Leverage the performance of small wins

One of the best ways to incorporate smaller wins in your course is through gamification. Duolingo, a popular foreign language learning program, uses gamification extensively to engage their learners.

As you go through the content and the activities in the course, you earn points, get new badges, unlock skill levels and collect virtual currency which you can use in their store, all of which helps to motivate the students to keep learning.

How gamification can improve your student engagement
Duolingo’s gamification strategy

Now, not everyone will have time or budget to implement a full-blown points or badges system in their courses and I totally understand that.

In which case, you can keep it as simple as sending a congratulatory email to your students after every module or milestone they complete, reminding them what they learned and how they could use it in their real life.

You can then encourage them to share their accomplishment with other members in the community.

More than how you do it, the important thing is that you recognize the importance of smaller wins and incorporate them throughout your course.

5. Make It Easy for Students to Learn on Mobile

Mobile learning is no longer just a nice-to-have option for your courses but it has become a must-have. 

Consider these stats from the E-Learning Trends Report 2019:

  • 89% of smartphone users download apps, 50% of which are used for learning.
  • 64% of learners find accessing their training content from a mobile device essential.
  • Smartphone learners complete course material 45% faster than those using a computer.

So, while exploring online course creation platforms, you should consider the availability and adaptability of your courses on different devices including mobile. 

At the minimum, your course should be accessible in a mobile browser but it will be super awesome if you can offer your course through a mobile app as well because it results in a much better learning experience with features like offline viewing.

Also, it’s important that your course content is designed keeping in mind the mobile learners and their preferences.

6. Improve Your Course Design

Good content design is the most important matrix for user engagement and can affect the completion rates significantly. 

Apart from the quality of the content, the following methods can help you make your course more attractive and engaging:

Use visuals aids

Making your courses more visual in nature makes understanding the concepts a lot easier and is more convenient than reading texts.

However, visual learning doesn’t just helps with comprehension but it can also improve retention and further motivate learners.

Now, there are various ways in which you can incorporate visuals in your course design but the best (and the most popular) format for visual learning is videos.

You can also use other visual content types like infographics, illustrations, animations, etc. and I definitely recommend that you use multiple content formats to deliver your online course.

Make your course interactive

If your course is just a bunch of videos or pre-recorded content, your students can easily lose interest. What you need to do in this case is to make your course content more interactive.

The easiest way to do that is by using quizzes and assignments throughout your course. This helps the students get feedback on their learning and it helps engage them in the course.

Teachable Quiz
Quiz at the end of a module in my supply chain course.

You can also consider doing live Q&A calls or coaching sessions as part of your online program to take interaction to the next level. 

Create bite-sized modules

The attention span of a typical student during lectures is believed to be around 10-15 minutes. So, if your videos or modules are too long, it can be difficult for your students to be grasped at a continuous stretch.

Moreover, we talked about mobile learning in the previous section which makes bite-sized learning modules even more important.

7. Leverage Premium Pricing

There are some students who sign up for an online course even though they don’t have an interest in the course topic and so, they fail to take any action.

One of the best ways to avoid these non-serious students in your course is by selling your course at a higher price point.

This is something that I have experienced personally. The average completion rate for my supply chain course on Udemy was 6.4% and in fact, close to 60% of the students didn’t complete even a single lesson.

Now, when I started selling the same course on my own platform, the completion rate was more than 25% and there were very hardly any non-starters.

Premium pricing can help boost your course completion rate

What explains this tremendous change is the fact that my course was selling mostly for $10 on Udemy vs $99-$149 on my website.

Apart from weeding out non-serious students, premium pricing means a higher investment from your students which generally leads to a higher commitment towards your course.

Teachable did a study in 2017 that showed that online course completion rates were 61% higher for courses priced above $200 than for those priced below $50.

8. Find Out Why Your Students are Dropping Out

Unless you know where and why your students are dropping off in your online course, you won’t be able to improve your completion rates.

The first way to find out where your students are getting stuck is to take a look at your course analytics. You should try and identify if there are some specific lectures in your course where students are dropping off.

Or, you might take a look at the video analytics and figure out the drop-off points in your course videos.

Another really effective way to figure out what’s causing your students to drop out is to simply ask them. You can either create a survey and send it to all the course participants.

Or, you can simply send an email to those who haven’t made much progress asking them about their challenges and how you could help them.

Course Survey
My friend Michael Bunting sends a survey at the end of his program to collect his students’ feedback

Once you identify the specific blockers that are causing your students to abandon your online courses, you’ll be in a much better position to create an engagement strategy using the best practices suggested in this guide.

Before we end, there’s something very important that I want you to keep in mind. While it’s good to have a bigger goal for your completion rates, you need to realize that improving student engagement is a continuous process. 

So, you’ll need to take baby steps in order to progressively improve your course completion rate and ultimately reach your goal over time.

I hope you found this guide useful. Do you have any questions about any of the strategies? Which of them do you think will work best for you? Please let me know in the comments below.