Three tips to make a good online course

Creating a good online course is an iterative design process with the end customer in mind.

Creating a good online course is an iterative design process with the end customer in mind

Online courses and webinars are becoming a good revenue source for the pioneers of the online learning revolutions that is unfolding in front of our eyes. The revolution is taking place right now, and we at Rukuku are in the middle of it all which is pretty exciting. In one of my previous posts, I talked about the independent instructor becoming the new success phenomenon in the world of media, and I concluded that the world of instruction will produce a lot of instructor entrepreneurs who will do well, and then there will be a small group of instructors who will do extremely well and have celebrity status.

The truth is anyone can be famous for 15 minutes with a course, but how does one get sustainable popularity? Here are three tips:

Make engaging and useful content
In the online training and education world the answer is no different than in any other media: an instructor has to generate fun, useful content. Remember the boring lectures at university that sucked the living soul out of you? That would never work online, and never make a course successful. The modern independent instructor needs to think in terms of entertaining their audience while training them. This thinking should permeate the design of the course as well as the presentation style of the instructor.

Less is more
Many large organizations are holding on dearly to their legacy e-learning content. At these organizations nobody is bothered that the traditional e-learning modules are badly designed: they are too long! This usually achieves one goal very well: numbing the mind of the course taker. The new knowledge that we have is that it is best to break up the courses into smaller chunks of 1 to 6 minutes long. This helps avoid learner fatigue as she moves from one logical chunk to another in a steady rhythmic way

Do niche marketing
Producing a course and formatting it in an appropriate way is only the first half of the job. The other half of the job is promoting the course and the instructor’s brand. For example, one of our instructors has figured out that her customers are best reached through professional associations so she started reaching out to these organizations on the phone and worked out a promotional deal whereby the associations became resellers of her courses. In essence the instructor found a good distribution channel for her content and invested in it by sharing revenue with the distributors. She then collected feedback from the many students that took her course and made improvements based on that feedback. Those who master the marketing and promotion game will stay relevant for years on end: good marketers know their target audience through and through, and that knowledge will then feed back into content production and formatting. We have come a full circle.

It is easy to see that in the heart of it all is learning everything about the end customer as well as understanding what, how and when they want to learn from you.

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Independent Instructor Is The New Hero

In the past several years we have seen how computer programmers changed the world: they wrote software that transformed our lives, and ultimately enabled data flow in all sort of ways. After the software was good enough for large scale adoption, we saw the spectacular rise of content sharing: from Facebook, LiveJournal and Huffington Post to Medium and Svbtle – marketing driven content platforms continue to change and speed up information exchange.

In other words, content is king. This is especially true in such content and communication heavy areas as education and training. Rukuku was started with an acute understanding that instructors generate a ton of content all the time: they prep for classes, write books, make presentations, draw illustrations and so on. They create day in and day out for a very specific, engaged and content-hungry audience: their trainees and students.

In the past, there was a huge problem: these people could only influence relatively small groups of people – those whom they could meet in a classroom environment. Nowadays with our service and other technologies, instructors can scale beyond the confines of a classroom and impact millions of people. Data shows that this will essentially be a blended training revolution.

The collective effort of these entrepreneurial and creative instructors will change the way people learn and acquire skills. I believe the blended training revolution will impact the instructors themselves in a spectacular way:

Impact_Independent_Online_Instructors

  • Some instructors will become famous – I define this category as “altruists”
  • Some instructors will become rich – “entrepreneurs”
  • Some will be both famous and rich – “celebrities”
  • Most will have limited or no impact or success – “hobbyists”

Given the massive scale of this process, my view is that the power law will apply here: the true revolution in education and skills training will come from about 20-30% of all involved independent instructors, and these individuals will become the new heroes of this decade.

Independent_Instructors_20-30_percent

 

Please Separate Pricing And Discounting Channels

valueI concluded in my last post that content marketplaces – education and training marketplaces included – should never offer drastic discounts without any regard to the content lifecycle stages. In other words, don’t do discounting the way Udemy or Tareasplus have been doing it.

I once had a conversation with a founder of a leading CFO training company about allowing a known online delivery platform manage his content. He told me that his value proposition was different from that of the platform in question, and didn’t want his content to be “regularly discounted” as he was worried that would lead to erosion of his core customer base and his entire business.

It is quite difficult to expect a discount on music on Apple iTunes or movies on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Apple never discounts anything new directly on iTunes, and the only way to get a discount is via gift cards, which can sometimes be discounted at third-party distributors. Just as luxury retailers have a clearly isolated channel for discounted products, so does Apple.

Netflix may occasionally run discounts on annual or monthly membership payments as part of their user acquisition strategy. However this approach never directly affects the price of programming that the service provides. Because Netflix redistributes revenues to content providers based on views, the brands of film studios are well shielded from any pricing incentives Netflix may provide to the consumers.
Amazon Instant Video content streaming service is bundled under the larger Amazon Prime umbrella – an enhanced high-speed delivery service, which provides fast access to both physical goods via fast shipping and video content via fast streaming. Amazon Instant Video approach is a hybrid between Apple iTunes and Netflix models because in addition to providing bundled content for the price of annual membership, Amazon also sells the hottest movies or TV episodes for a set fee. No discounts.

Apple, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have chosen simple yet brilliant price-discount decoupling strategies that enhance brands and provide value to both content providers and consumers.

To sum up, these corporations push discounts indirectly, in ways that enhance value of their content.
In online education and training, this same approach has been successfully implemented at least twice: Lynda.com is charging consumers a monthly subscription and so is Infinite Skills, Inc. This approach to pricing together with high quality content created a ton of value and both companies have been recently acquired.

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Discounts On Online Courses Are Wrong

Never discount unique and fresh online content! Competing on price in content sales is dumb. Just imagine if Hollywood studios started to offer gradually lower prices on their new movies trying to outdo their rivals on price. One can expect a bit of a price drop on old titles, but those reductions are carefully controlled.

In contrast, current prevalent marketing approach of many major online education content providers is based on extreme discounting of their courses regardless of the lifecycle stage of those courses. Companies that engage in this practice are confusing consumers, destroying their brands and killing customer loyalty. This apocalyptic scenario is well pronounced for B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) companies whose direct and most important customers are course authors.

To illustrate the trend, consider the following messaging from several providers. Here’s how Udemy kills course author loyalty, and confuses consumers. First, they email with “top 10 trending courses”, note the prices:

Udemy email encouraging me to buy courses

Then a few hours later they follow up with a discounted offer:

Discounts on Udemy are confusing

Will anyone ever buy at full price? – Nope. And one cannot imagine the frustration of becoming a course author for Udemy – whatever price the course author may think their course is worth, Udemy will always undercut the author via one of these “campaigns”.

Tareasplus tries hard to lead Udemy in the race to the bottom in Latin America:

Steep discounts on Tareasplus kill any desire to buy at full price.

In Spain, an English language course provider ABA is pulling the rug from under its own feet:

65% discount! Really?

And so on…

It seems that these companies are not aware that they are selling content. They behave like clothing retailers who need to liquidate out-of-season fashions to bring in the next season’s collection. Except, retailers know all too well what exactly their respective brands stand for: convenience, value-for-money, status statement, luxury, etc. Online education content providers do not know the exact value or positioning of their brand.

In clothing retail, the seasonal approach to inventory management is sound and explicable, although most high-value brands will never run steep discounts – or any discounts – in stores even at the risk of having unsold inventory between seasons. For instance, it is unheard of for Luis Vuitton bag at a 50% discount – unheard of! These companies liquidate unsold inventory in special “premium outlets” – stores usually situated at a great distance from key retail locations. Some companies sometimes run special and carefully controlled online sales. These measures allow the vendors to isolate the effect of discounted products on their core business and to keep and enhance the value of their brands.

To understand why discounting content is an absolute disaster and a great danger for the content provider’s brands, look at Hollywood’s war on pirating. The same is true for software giants’ fight on illegal software copying. Media industries understand very clearly that they produce unique products that can and do provide long recurring cash flows to their owners.

Education marketplaces that regularly wreck their foundations with extreme discounts need to reconsider their pricing strategies. Carefully tracking the lifecycle of a course is an important thing to do. When the course is new and you have something unique to sell it is incredibly dumb to run discounts.

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French food

BON APPÉTIT

Learn to cook six French dishes with Chef Matthieu Baron for $99.99: from the heavenly Cheese & Mustard Soufflé to the awesome French fish pie, this course will make you a legend amongst your friends and family.

You would need to register an account with Rukuku in order to enroll.
http://www.rukuku.com/desktop/#/marketplace/course/297/courseline

UPD: From Nov 1, 2014 our French Cuisine course is $99.99 – a price of a nice meal at our favorite French restaurant in Almaden, CA.