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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Assess to Impress: Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Learning assessment is an essential ingredient of education in any form.  Teachers can gauge the progress of their students and identify topics and skills needing more review. Students also learn from the process by challenging themselves and determining their strengths and weaknesses. Assessment can come in several forms, all of which are easily transferable to online venues.

Online Teaching, Assessment

Assess to Impress:Homework, Quizzes, and Personal Attention

Homework is the most common form of assessment, and to maximize the benefit for your students, it is a good idea to put in some work of your own. First, communicate the goals or basic objectives for the homework, so students can see the bigger picture and understand the relevance of the work they are doing. Second, encourage students to pose questions to the class bulletin board rather than sending them to your personal email. In this way, other students, which may have similar questions, can see your responses and join in the discussion.

Once you’ve collected some of these questions and your responses to them, put them together in a single Q&A document and include it for reference with the homework assignment in future classes. Speaking of reference, include links in the homework for students to find further background information and/or illustrative examples of how students have responded to similar homework tasks.

Quizzes are another great form of assessment, and Rukuku plans to introduce a special quiz building feature to its Composer service in coming weeks. For online classes, teachers can take advantage of technology to randomize questions. This will reduce chances of students improperly working together but more importantly, it will allow teachers to offer multiple tests to a single student covering the same material. Students can solidify their understanding in this way and prepare for final tests.

Finally, personal interaction is a great form of assessment. Good old fashioned question and answer sessions help teachers determine how well students understand the class material. At Rukuku, we’ve made a point of emphasizing small, private, online classes, or SPOCs. With smaller class sizes, teachers can build a personal relationship with each student and hopefully get a sense during class time of his or her level of understanding. If a particular student is struggling, consider a private chat, where you can work with him or her on the material. Personal attention goes a long way.

Saved by the Bell: How long should online classes last?

A big step in structuring online classes relates to the duration of the lectures and the discussion classes. For both, the type of material and sophistication of the students influences that length significantly. A graduate student will likely be able to follow a longer lecture than a fifth grader, for example.

online classes, time

Teachers can break up lectures into 15-20 minute chunks to increase convenience and keep students’ attention.

One of the most important distinctions to make, when putting together an online class, is between lecture time and class discussion time. A big advantage of online classes is that lecture time can be recorded in advance and included for students to watch at their convenience. In fact, teachers can even utilize lectures from other sources, if they feel the lectures adequately cover the topics.

Even given this flexibility, it can be challenging to determine the proper length of time for a lecture. Traditionally, lectures last about hour, at least in most high schools and universities. Some evidence suggests, however, that lectures broken up into chunks of about 15 – 20 minutes are easier for students to process.

Again, online education has a big advantage here. Teachers can break up their lectures into smaller chunks of time more easily than teachers in traditional lecture halls and classrooms. Students can watch the lectures at their own pace, taking as much time as they would like between portions of the lecture.

As for the discussion portion of the class, this can vary widely, depending on the topic material and personal preferences of the teachers and students. Generally, it is good to plan for 50 minutes to an hour, even if the official time for the class is shorter.This will give you more time to let the discussion grow organically.

The most important thing to remember in this process is to keep the focus on the students, creating as many opportunities as possible for the students to talk or otherwise be actively involved in the class.

Get Online and Stay Interactive: Media tools make interaction easy.

When venturing into the online classroom, many teachers worry that they will lose the personal interaction present in the traditional classroom setting.  There, students and teachers are face-to-face, which creates that old-school type of interaction called conversation. In many popular online learning management systems, that interaction changes to a written format, which allows students to continue making comments 24 hours a day. This flexibility is one the biggest selling points for online education.

online classes, interactivity, teaching online

Teachers can utilize video chats, virtual whiteboards, and forums to increase student interaction.

At the same time, the spontaneity of live class discussion can be lost. Students often learn more from those discussions with teachers and classmates than from their homework, reading, and problem sets. The slower format of class comment, and even live chat, which operates in real time through written formats, can dampen that discussion.

At Rukuku, we’ve tried to maintain all of these elements by offering a live video chat feature, as well as written chat and comment sections. We also include a virtual white board, which allows both teachers and students to write via iPads or on their computer screens. For example, a teacher could write a math problem on the white board and let the student solve it. Through all these features, online channels can actually strengthen interaction.

Strengthening that interaction takes more than technological tools, however. It takes time. This is one of the biggest surprises for many first-time online teachers. Because class discussion can continue 24 hours a day, teachers must commit to checking in on their classes and commenting often. For better or worse, most online students have come to expect prompt responses.

Toward that end, many online class services require teachers to respond to student comments within a certain time frame, usually 48 hours. Teachers that don’t have those requirements specifically should impose them on themselves. We all have emails from friends and family sitting in our inboxes, waiting for responses. Those responses usually don’t happen if they don’t happen quickly. If you are planning an online class, set a deadline at 12, 24, or at most 48 hours to respond to your students’ comments.

AND, in addition to that, schedule a video chat, just as you would in a traditional course. You may be able to include your lecture in recorded video form as preparation material, together with assigned reading. But make sure you schedule some time each week to lead a video chat. It will add spontaneity and virtual face time, while bringing your students closer to you and to each other.

Multimedia Magic in Online Education

One of the most common themes from conversations during our few days at the annual Educause conference was that professors and teachers would like more help putting together online classes. They often want to do the classes, and their schools almost always want them to, but difficulty exists in knowing where and how to start. For that reason, I want to include topics in our blog with advice about teaching classes and look in particular at ways in which Rukuku is equipped to help teachers through the process.

online education, multimedia

Teachers should take advantage of many media options to engage their students online.

The first of those topics relates to class materials. The world is full of exciting media resources and the range of possibilities expands daily. Professors and teachers in online environments can choose text, photos, illustrations, charts, tables, podcasts, other audio material, and video files, and they can create that content themselves or license it from other sources or even refer students to independent information sources on or offline. Teachers of online classes can take advantage of all these media to engage students, including those with less traditional learning styles.

At Rukuku, we make the process of creating and collecting materials for class very easy. Our Composer service allows teachers to cut and paste text and graphics or drag and drop files of any sort into a worksheet. In this way, a teacher can give a class lecture, offer background research, detail homework requirements, even suggest supplemental reading simply by creating a class worksheet. By incorporating existing materials, they may complete that process in minutes. Voila. Class preparation complete.

In our next post, we will discuss the essential element of personal, real-time interaction as well as the importance of prompt feedback.