Communities are Fuel for Getting Students Through Your Program

Studies show clearly that completion rates for online courses and programs runs below 10%. That’s a horrible statistic.

I’m sure anyone building any program believes in what they teach. They understand the potential value students can get from taking their course. They put hard work into building and writing and delivering their materials. It’s extremely frustrating that only one in ten get through it. The other nine miss out so we should be fully dissatisfied with the results.

The effort you put into getting students through your entire course is time and money well spent. It leads to students buying more from you and referring people they know and care for. But what are the steps you can take to get students through your program?

One sure fire way to improve this situation is to add on the power of community to your program.

Go back to how we all learned growing up. From elementary school through high school and then in college, you toss a group of students together with an instructor. Learning one-on-one with a good instructor is priceless, of course, but are their enough instructors to go around? Even if there were, that one-to-one model isn’t affordable for any teaching institution.

When anyone builds any course, you first consider your content. You organize your course content so the students learn foundational materials first. That prepares them for what’s next. One lesson leads to the next with other lessons building upon the previous lesson.

That’s the typical thinking when you develop a course. There’s nothing wrong with this.

What online course builders often miss is the dynamic between the people learning. It’s a given in the in-person classroom model. I’ve done a lot of teaching and I catch myself asking, “Are there any questions?” a lot. It’s not a thoughtless question. It’s a way to confirm the students understand what I just shared with them.

Something interesting happens in most of my classrooms. I’m sure it happens to everyone. You have these quiet students who won’t ask questions. They prefer to take notes or ask the instructor after class. Maybe they prefer staying out of spotlight. They won’t raise their hand even if it slows down their learning.

Then you have the vocal students that ask a lot of questions. They learn better by asking questions, interacting with others, etc. If the classroom dynamic is right, this works well for everyone. The instructor confirms the learning. They get a chance to clarify what didn’t come across clearly. The vocal student gets their specific question answered. The quiet students listen in on the back and forth getting answers to questions they may have wanted to ask and to the questions they didn’t think to ask.

Students learning online benefit from having a way to get their questions answered. An obvious solution is to have them contact the instructor. That works assuming the instructor is available. A problem is the instructor ends up answering the same question over and over again. They answer it to you student at a time.

A way to address this is to create a Facebook group. There are other tools like BuddyBoss for creating online learning communities, but Facebook is a natural and easy to implement solution. You use this as an alternative to email so everyone sees the question and the instructor’s answer.

This works well if you run sections or cohorts of a course with everyone is taking the course at the same time. However, if you run your program evergreen-style, meaning people sign up whenever they like, the answer may be difficult to find. If everyone is taking the class at the same time, the answer shows up close to when the topic is being covered in the class. If it isn’t, the questions and the corresponding answers are in there, but Facebook groups don’t have good search features.

We build online courses using WordPress often times using LearnDash. This has a feature for allowing for comments at the end of each comments section. That can be used the same way and now the questions and answers are tied to where the topic is covered in the course. That can work nicely.

Another solution is to include a forum for each course. Forums can be organized so there are topics corresponding to the course sections. If done right, this can become a searchable FAQ where students can search to find an answer to a question that may have previously been asked.

This has an added benefit. The forum becomes a place where all students discuss course topics. Over time, you may have students that jump in and answer question. A student farther along in the course can answer questions for a student that’s just starting. A student can point another student to the place in the forum where their question was discussed. This can leave a trial of valuable interaction between students that’s good for everyone including the instructor who is instructor offing answering questions to other students.

Everyone is happy.