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:
Not aligning the course with the Expert's interests and/or expertise.
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.
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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!
You got it!
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!
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.