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Maximize Enrollments with Smart Topic Planning Techniques

For us online educators, there's no sadder sight than a beautiful, engaging online course with zero students making zero revenue.

So, how does it happen, and what's the solution?

The short answer to how it happens is poor planning. The two main planning pitfalls developers fall victim to that largely contribute to low enrollment are:

  1. Not aligning the course with the Expert's interests and/or expertise.

  2. Not aligning the course with the Audience's interests and/or learning needs.

Now, for the solution: Chalk & Tablet, of course. Chalk & Tablet works with clients to prevent the above issues by utilizing an 8-Step Topic Planning & Refinement Process. Each step could constitute an article on its own, but for the sake of providing you with the most crucial information for each step, we'll just cover the basics for you here.


Want a detailed, interactive look at our 8-Step Topic Planning & Refinement Process?

Our first set of courses in the new C&T Academy will give you just that!

Sign up early and take the courses for free.


Expert Misalignment

The first reason courses end up without students is because the course content doesn't align with the Subject Matter Experts' (SME's) interests and/or expertise.

Case in point...


Have you ever taken a course from a professor who was obviously forced into teaching a class for any reason other than of their own volition and consequently has zero interest in the topic?

If not, you're very lucky, and you'll just have to use your imagination for the rest of this section. If yes, then you know that a teacher's lack of interest in their subject matter can have disastrous effects on students. Beyond both instructor and student likely to be bored out of their minds, this scenario prevents students from achieving learning objectives and even turns them off from the topic altogether.


Have you ever taken a course from a professor who seems to know nothing about the topic?

If the aforementioned lack of interest isn't enough of a course-killer for you, imagine the instructor doesn't know anything about the subject matter they're teaching. If they're learning along with you, how successful can you expect to be in the course? You simply can't teach what you don't know.


I know what you're thinking...

Actually, it's not uncommon for course developers to put the needs of their audience over their own, either by choosing a course topic they are not interested in or one they know little to nothing about. They may do this because they know they'll make more money off of a certain topic, or because they truly want to help their audience and are willing to step out of their comfort zone to do so.

Whatever their motive, choosing a topic that works for your audience but not for you rarely ends well. After all, you can't help your audience or make money if you share inaccurate information or never even finish the course because you're not interested in the topic in the first place!

The solution...


You got it! Planning is the solution.

The first four steps of Chalk & Tablet's 8-Step Topic Planning & Refinement Process will help you identify topics that align with your interests and expertise.

Here's a quick summary of each step:

Step 1 | Brainstorm & List Topic Options

Start with some initial brainstorming to build a broad list of potential topics. And, yes, I mean 'topics'! The purpose of brainstorming is to list as many topics you can think of that meet the following criteria:

  • You are interested in it enough to get cozy with the associated content for a while.

  • You are knowledgeable enough about it to craft accurate, relevant, and engaging content.

Step 2 | Prioritize and Narrow Your Topic List

If you end up with over 5 potential topics, you'll need to do some initial narrowing through a process of prioritizing, shifting, and removing topics with the aforementioned criteria in mind. If you somehow end up with 5 topics after your brainstorming exercise, you'll only need to prioritize your topics. This is a critical step because the formal refining and aligning process that comes next involves competition research and audience analysis for each of your topics. That's a time-consuming process for just one topic, so the goal is to get down to five topics before we start that step.

Step 3 | Analyze the Competition

With your curated list to reference, it's time to assess your competition. A little research on who else is offering courses on your topics can go a long way in helping you narrow your list further. As you snoop, rate each topic according to the following:

  • Market demand sweet spot (i.e. plenty of demand without too much supply).

  • Uniqueness (i.e. how it stands out from the competition).

Step 4 | Prioritize and Narrow Your Topic List

You'll then prioritize your topics once again, but this time based on your findings from step 3. This will help you further narrow your topic list before it's time to get to start researching the audience for each topic, which can be time-consuming, so a smaller, more focused topic list is a good thing!

Audience Misalignment

Your content can be in perfect alignment with your interests and expertise, but still not attract or retain students. That's because the content must also align with the audience's interests and learning needs.

Case in point...


An instructor knows A LOT about the subject area and is VERY passionate about the topics, but where's the limit?

That's an improvement from our previous scenario, right? Not always.

Though an instructor may clearly be knowledgeable regarding their core subject matter, often a consequence of specialized knowledge is a lack of limits. Their knowledge may be unlimited, but their course should have limits. If not, students will quickly notice that nothing they're learning will help them achieve the posted learning objectives.


An instructor includes unnecessary, irrelevant, and off-topic information.

Instructors generally develop their course's content before they meet their students, so it can be easy to include content in your online course that's not relevant to your students and ventures outside the learning objectives at hand. Online instructors also generally don't have the opportunity to read body language and carry out impromptu assessments to gauge learning. As such, they can't adapt the content to better align with student needs while the course is ongoing—or at least not as quickly as they could in an in-person class.

I know what you're thinking...

It's very common for the above scenario to occur in online courses, although it plays out a little differently online than it does in a traditional classroom.

In order to align your course with your audience, you have to know and understand your audience—and their wants, needs, and expectations.

The solution...


Right again! Planning is the solution.

The best way to tailor your content to fit your audience is to get to know your audience as early as possible. Steps 5-7 of Chalk & Tablet's 8-Step Topic Planning & Refinement Process help you learn about your audience's interests and needs so you can further prioritize and narrow down your topic list.

Here's a quick summary of each step:

Step 5 | Identify and Describe Your Target Audience

Your target audience is the large group of people who are likely to take your course. At the very least, you need to conduct a basic audience analysis by offering a broad description of this group, including their shared demographics and behaviors. Identifying your target audience can be the hardest step in the online course development process, but it can also provide the most benefit. The more you learn about your audience, the more aligned your topic will be with their needs, and the more likely they will be to enroll in your course!

Step 6 | Create an Audience Persona

You'll then build upon your audience analysis by creating an audience persona, which is a specific profile of the "person" who best represents your target audience. You'll hone in on the demographics and behaviors you established in the previous step, and get more personal by describing their goals, challenges, interests, and more. Though this step can be time-consuming, you'll use this audience persona in every step of the course planning and development process. It will be your most valuable tool for aligning your course with their needs, and, thus, maximizing enrollment potential and student satisfaction!

Step 7 | Conduct a 5 Whys Analysis

If you want to maximize enrollments, you need to help your audience solve a problem. By this step, you should know your audience pretty well, and have an understanding of the problems they may have that you can address. But you can’t help your audience solve a problem if you don’t understand the root(s) of that problem. That’s where the 5 Whys Analysis comes in as it guides you through the process of breaking down your problem and determining the ‘roots’. Stay tuned for our next blog, where we'll break down this process in more detail!

Step 8 | Prioritize and Narrow Your Topic List (Audience)

Armed with the information gathered in steps 5-7, you can prioritize and narrow your topic list down to one topic!

Conclusion & Next Steps

With these 8 steps complete, you can feel confident that you're headed in the right direction for high enrollment numbers. But maximizing initial enrollment isn't the same as ensuring continued enrollment. But that's a topic for another day, so stay tuned!


Don't forget, for a detailed, interactive look at our 8-Step Topic Planning & Refinement Process? Register in advance for our first set of courses in the new C&T Academy!

Sign up early and take the courses for free.



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