Online courses are the bread and butter of the internet economy.
They are one of the most effective ways to monetize your audience, but come with a hurdle most creators have no idea how to overcome: actually getting their students to complete the course they paid for.
Why course completion matters
When I worked as a college administrator, everything we did was gauged by whether or not it positively impacted the graduation rate because the number of graduates we produced influenced how much money we got.
Of all the metrics we measured, course completion rates were the best determiner of graduation. If a student completed even just 1 course a semester, their path to graduation was all but guaranteed.
Help students complete courses. -> They graduate. -> We get our budget.
A similar cycle exists for online course creators, but we often miss it because we mistake getting the sale as the last step of the process.
It’s step one in building trust, authority, and life-long customers.
Help students complete our courses. -> They get the outcomes they want. -> We win because they win.
- Students who complete your course are more likely to get the outcome they’re after.
- Successful outcomes lead to testimonials and affiliates.
- Successful students are more likely to buy from you again because your product worked.
The more people who complete your course, the more money you make in a multitude of ways.
So, how do you make this happen?
4 ways to improve course completion rates
🤝 Institute accountability
Cohort-based courses do this by hosting each "module" live weekly. Students are expected to show up, engage, and return with proof they applied what they learned.
This is what makes cohort-based completion rates miles ahead of every other format.
✅ Simplify structure
Most courses are too long and try to help students accomplish too much. We cover this in much more detail in Value by Design, but the TLDR is this: Give your students smaller wins and help them get there with less content.
People are much more likely to finish a 5-lesson, 30-minute mini-course than they are an 8-module, 16-hour marathon of learning.
⏰ Enforce deadlines
For all that traditional education gets wrong, they get this piece right. Every college course has strict start and end dates, with clear milestones along the way (midterms, finals, etc.). Make it clear when they need to finish and why.
🎁 Incentivize completion
When you complete a college course for credit or a professional certification — you have something to show for it (i.e., credit on your transcript or a cert to hang in your office). You can do the same for online courses with a little creativity.
Offer finishers one-off bonuses, access to special guest lectures, or mail them limited edition gifts to show off to their audiences. Make completion a goal worth pursuing.
1. Low completion rates will suffocate your online business.
2. Increase them with accountability, simplicity, urgency, and rewards.
Next week, we'll explore how Matt McGarry grew his newsletter to 10,000 readers in record time by focusing on one single growth tactic.
📌 Next steps
- Start a Newsletter with Ghost. If you want to start a newsletter like this one, I recommend using Ghost. It's easy to use and affordable for new creators ($9/mo).