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.

Create your first course on Rukuku

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

 

Three Elements For Designing More Successful Online Courses

Producing content is a difficult, slow and often expensive process. Although the cost of production has gone down thanks to new technologies and desktop editing, it is still a logistical hurdle. And many discover that after so much effort, there is risk that the content will have limited appeal to the students. All of these are legitimate concerns when it comes to course authoring. For these reasons, many instructors are reluctant to author courses and forego on a wonderful opportunity to make the world a better place and earn some money in the process.

However, quite often an independent instructor’s course gets a ton of success, scales well, spreads quickly on the web and brings its author a considerable income: in some cases in the hundreds of thousands, and in exceptional cases – millions of dollars. While multi-million dollar success stories are exceptional and extremely rare, an average online course of decent quality generates anywhere in the range of $3,000 to $30,000 of revenue a year.

How do you get there? First and foremost, before you think about marketing, distribution and other business issues, the content of the course has to be relevant, useful and interesting. We are convinced that webinars are an excellent tool for iterative development of online course content, and here’s how the whole setup pans out:

1. Agile development

At Rukuku, we are big fans of agile development and customer discovery. Last year, we were blessed to have been selected for the National Science Foundation’s iCorps training program at UC Berkeley. It is not surprising therefore that we think that lean methodologies and iterative development should be applied to course authoring. Agile development methodologies for course authors can be summed up as:

  1. build your course in small increments one piece of content at a time – Rukuku Composer is perfect for that
  2. collect data and feedback on each additional piece of content – see point 2 below
  3. improve the content
  4. repeat

   2. Customer discovery

Collecting feedback is all about getting out of the building and talking with people. Pick up Steve Blank’s book, read Alexander Osterwalder’s book, or better yet – take Steve Blank’s free course on Customer discovery. This methodology is a reliable and tested approach to discovering what is right for your target customer. Simply, it boils down to doing three things in a structured and organized way:

  1. talking to your customers
  2. recording and organizing customer feedback
  3. analyzing this feedback and acting on it

3. Webinars

Use webinars as your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) testing environment. Rukuku is perfect for doing webinars, whereas webinars are an amazing way to test your content. When you are hosting a webinar, it is easy to collect feedback from your audience. You can ask the attendees to provide feedback during and after the webinar, as well as analyze the questions posted during the Q&A session or while you were going through your slides. Besides, recording the webinar and analyzing it is a great way to take a step back and look at your presentation skills and course content: pay attention to how you use your voice and how you present yourself on video; take note on the structure of your presentation, engagement of your audience, quality of your visuals and handouts – all of these elements can be tweaked to create a better course. Perhaps the best part about webinars is that you can collect payments from participants and offset the costs of producing your amazing course.

Start using Rukuku for webinars. Take your Rukuku course

3 Graphs About Udemy Revenue

I admire Udemy for their unique approach to managing growth, and I regularly collect and analyze all and any data about them that I can get. The company is a peculiar business case in the growing edtech world because:

  • They are one of the fastest growing virtual training companies in the world
  • Their business model works
  • They can be profitable

My recent annual analysis of Udemy data has yielded interesting results. In short, Udemy is deliberately diversifying its content portfolio and breaking dependencies on particular course providers.

1. Udemy is no longer overly dependent on just one course provider. In January 2014 close to 50% of their cumulative revenues came from a single company in Canada: Infinite Skills. Our November 2014 data shows that Udemy saw that risk very clearly, and worked hard to diversify its course portfolio. This effort seems to have born fruit: 50% of the company’s cumulative revenues now comes from 27 providers. As this diversification took place in the past twelve months, it seems that Udemy’s content managers and the marketing team are making a deliberate effort to break away from dependence on Infinite Skills.

In November 2014, 27 course providers were responsible for 50% of Udemy's revenues.

In November 2014, 27 course providers were responsible for 50% of Udemy’s revenues.

2. Udemy is no longer an Excel training company it used to be twelve months ago. Back in January this year, seven out of ten top courses by enrollment and revenue on Udemy were about Excel. Although Microsoft Excel courses are still VERY important in Udemy’s portfolio, the company has made a successful shift into Software development and Business categories. The new course providers that Udemy has managed to bring in generate quite a bit of revenue in areas of marketing and mobile app development.

Software development and business dominate Udemy's portfolio in terms of revenue.

Software development and business dominate Udemy’s portfolio in terms of revenue.

3. 10% of enrollments drive 50% of cumulative revenues. Udemy remains in a tough spot in terms of pricing and market positioning, although this seems to be changing, albeit slowly. In the online education and training world, I place Udemy in “basic office skills and basic technology skills” content category where brand of course provider does not matter as much as the quality of content they produce. Based on our data, in 90% of cases Udemy’s value proposition is “commoditized knowledge at bargain prices”. 50% of cumulative revenue to date comes from 90% of all enrollments within the “$1-$100″ price range. What’s amazing is that the other half of revenues to date has come from just 10% of all paid course enrollments that come from all other price segments ranging from $101 to $5000 per enrollment. Obviously, this is a completely different market segment and it is a least just as important for Udemy as its most popular price segment.

Udemy's difficulty next year would be in managing its polarized user base.

Udemy’s difficulty next year would be in managing its polarized user base.

If you need access to our database, please sign up to my live seminar: I will be doing a live review of Udemy data on January 15, 2015 at 12:00PM PST on Rukuku. During the event, I will present my findings and analysis of online trainig trends that can be glimplsed from comparing 2013 and 2014 data.

When you sign up, you will have access to the full raw database that contains most up-to-date information on Udemy’s courses, user and revenue growth, pricing strategies, etc. After the live event, you will also have access to Udemy January 2013 data as well as my analysis of changes that took place.

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Cool in School: Socialization and Technology in the classroom

I’m a social person. I’m also a little nerdy. For those reasons, one point in particular stood out for me in our recent interview with Michael Horn. His experiences observing technology in the classroom suggest that, rather than isolating students, personalizing education has contributed to a sort of learning-centered socialization.

edtech, socialization, school

Technology and personalization in school may contribute to more learning-based social interactions.

Here’s why. While kids may be plugged into individual monitors, studying lessons personalized to their individual strengths and weaknesses, they still jump up now and then to help each other out. As Mr. Horn points out, that’s a much healthier type of socialization than most of us experienced when we were younger.

It’s a nice image, right? Students chatting away in class, not about the school dance, the weekend football game, or so-n-so’s new boyfriend, but about math and history and school subjects instead. Ok, maybe not instead, but in addition to sports, social events, and gossip, maybe more students will talk about school subjects. This could be the development that nerdy kids around the world have been waiting for. Those students that understand class material and are willing to help others will have many more opportunities to socialize.

There are some big assumptions there, though. One is that teachers will allow such socialization to take place. That means a looser classroom environment with which some teachers may not be comfortable. Second, kids are competitive, especially academically oriented ones. Taking time to peer tutor other students may be less attractive as kids get older and competition for top spots intensifies.

Even with those considerations in mind, I am still hopeful. Is it possible that being a good student in school could turn into a social asset in grade school rather than a liability? Or is that just the wishful thinking of a nerdy guy? I’m interested to hear thoughts from our readers. To what extend does academic strength improve, impair or have absolutely nothing to do with grade school socializing? Is technology changing it?

The State of the Union — brought to you by our sponsors…

Education was big in Obama’s annual State of the Union address. In fact, he opened the speech by praising the work of teachers and boasting about the graduation rate, now at its highest level in decades. He then went on to discuss several education-related issues, ranging from pre-K to student debt to skills training to broadband access.

SOTU, Obama, Education

Obama chooses corporate support over congressional gridlock

None of it was new really, but the good thing about having a congress that doesn’t pass anything is that you don’t need so many new ideas, just push a little harder on the old ones. For supporters of those ideas, Obama’s continued commitment comes as good news, even if it’s not new news.

For me, two statements in particular stood out.  First, Obama repeated a 2013 pledge to connect 99% of students to broadband internet in the next four years. As an education internet start-up, we obviously liked that news. To accomplish that, the administration plans to work with the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, he said.

Second, Obama mentioned plans for the US Treasury and Education Departments to team up with accounting software company Intuit to better educate students and recent grads on how loan repayments work and what options they have. We’ve written quite a bit about student debt in this blog and are all about young adults getting some help on that front.

I was happy to hear about both of these proposals, but that’s not why they stood out to me. I found them interesting because, in both cases, Obama navigated around Congress by seeking out support from the private sector. In 2013, Congress had its least productive year in recent history. With that in mind, it seems reasonable for Obama to explore other options.

Still, the approach warrants some scrutiny. As appealing as these two ideas are, I do wonder if we are opening up another avenue for corporate sponsorship. If so, does it matter? What would a presidential shout-out in an advertisement-free, State of the Union address be worth?

I don’t mean to be overly critical. I think it’s cool that these companies are helping out and that the administration can move forward on this without adding anything to the deficit and without struggling through Congress. The relationships between corporations and governments are made of powerful stuff, though, and we should be conscious of that power, even when it’s contributing to worthy causes.