7 Proven Ways to Increase Online Course Completion Rates

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The exponential growth of online learning has presented a huge opportunity for edupreneurs to sell online courses.

However, a worrying trend has set in where most students never finish an online course. eLearning statistics suggest that online course completion rates average 15% and can go up to 40% in some cases.

But should you be worried if your course has a low completion rate?

Absolutely! 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. Most importantly, your students won’t achieve the desired learning outcomes.

So, we have created this guide to share seven practical strategies for improving course completion rates. We’ll also share a bonus tip at the end.

Let’s start.

Why Don’t Students Complete Online Courses?

Before we talk about the strategies to improve completion rates, 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 their course.
  • They get stuck along the way and hesitate or are unable to reach out to support.
  • Content delivery isn’t 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. However, it’s crucial to identify the specific blockers for your students, and we’ll discuss that later in this guide.

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

1. Communicate With Your Students Regularly

This is the most effective and easiest engagement strategy to implement. Yet we see so many creators either completely ignoring it or underutilizing it.

You can tackle some common dropout reasons, like students getting busy or losing motivation, 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 Email

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

Our friends at TextileArtist.org send a welcome email to their students when they sign up for an online course, and we love the template they use.

Welcome email sent to new Textile Artist students
Welcome email sent to new Textile Artist students

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

Reminder Emails

As hectic and distracting daily life is, it’s very easy for people to forget about their online commitments. Sending regular reminders can help catch your students’ attention and bring them back to your course.

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

Regarding what to include in a reminder email, you can start by reminding them why they signed up for the course and then share details about their progress, what to expect in the new module, etc.

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

Miles Neale sends regular reminder emails to his students
Miles Neale sends regular reminder emails to his students

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

For example, you can send a congratulations email to your students after completing a module or successfully passing a quiz, which will encourage them to make further progress.

These are some ways to use email to engage your students. You can find several other examples, like people sharing success stories with their students or collecting feedback via email.

2. Build a Learning Community

Online communities provide students with a platform to connect with others, get feedback and support, ask questions, and 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, increasing the achievement of set goals by 33%.

One of the most valuable courses I have personally taken is Digital Course Academy by Amy Porterfield. The content was fantastic, but the best part about the course was the private Facebook Group.

There have been many instances when I needed help with something or felt discouraged, and the FB group came to my rescue.

Digital Course Academy FB Group
Digital Course Academy FB Group

So, there is a strong case for you to incorporate a community element into your course. While we suggest you use a specialized community platform, you can also host it on social media platforms like Facebook or Slack.

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’ resumes 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 many users join these programs just to get these course certificates.

Certification badges for Digital Marketer’s courses
Certification badges for Digital Marketer’s courses

There are other types of incentives you can offer for your course. For example, you can provide an exclusive discount on your next product 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 our eye is the 100% Pass Guarantee offered by David Young for his FAA Part 107 course.

So, if students don’t pass the FAA Part 107 exam, they will be eligible to get their money back. But it has a precondition that requires them 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 Into Your Course

While having a larger transformation goal for your online courses is great, breaking that goal down into smaller wins for your students to achieve along the way is equally important.

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.

Quote about tracking small wins
Quote about tracking small wins

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

As students go through the content and complete activities, they earn points, get new badges, unlock skill levels and collect virtual currency, which they can use in their store. All of this help motivate the students to keep learning.

Duolingo’s gamification strategy
Duolingo’s gamification strategy

However, not everyone will have the time or budget to implement full-blown points or badges system in their courses, and that’s fine.

In this 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 further encourage them to share their accomplishment with other community members.

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

5. Make It Easy to Learn on Mobile

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

Consider these stats:

  • 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 computer learners.

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. Still, it will be super awesome if your courses are also available in a mobile app since it results in a much better learning experience with features like offline viewing.

Finally, your course content must be designed keeping the mobile learners’ preferences in mind.

6. Improve Your Course Design

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

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

Use Visual Aids

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

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

There are various ways to 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 online course PDFs, infographics, illustrations, animations, etc.; we recommend using multiple content formats for course creation and delivery.

Make Your Course Interactive

If your course is just a bunch of videos or pre-recorded content, your students will quickly lose interest, which is why you need to make your course content more interactive.

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

Quiz at the end of a module in Baidhurya’s network design course
Quiz at the end of a module in Baidhurya’s network design course

You can also consider creating a cohort-based course with live Q&A calls and coaching sessions to take interaction to the next level.

Create Bite-Sized Lessons

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 grasp them at a continuous stretch.

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

7. Leverage Premium Pricing

Some students sign up for an online course even though they aren’t interested in the course topic, so they fail to take 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. For example, the average completion rate for my supply chain course on Udemy was 6.4%, and 60% of the students didn’t watch even a single lesson.

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

Completion rate on Udemy vs own platform
Completion rate on Udemy vs own platform

What explains this tremendous change is that the course sold for $10 on Udemy vs $99-$199 on my website.

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

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

Bonus Tip: Find Out the Reasons for 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 rate.

The first way to find out where your students are getting stuck is to look at your course analytics. 

You should see if there are specific lectures in your course where students drop off. Or, you might look at the video analytics and determine the drop-off points in your course videos.

Another effective way to figure out what’s causing your students to drop out is simply asking them. 

You can create a feedback survey and share the link (or make a QR code) with all the course participants. Or, you can email those who haven’t made much progress asking them about their challenges and how you could help them.

A sample survey to collect student feedback
A sample survey to collect student feedback

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


This guide discussed various ways to engage students and increase their chances of completing your online course.

However, keep in mind that while having a bigger goal for your completion rates is good, improving student engagement is a continuous process.

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

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

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