The adult education market is becoming increasingly crowded as for-profits discover the once exclusive domain of higher education, trade associations, and professional societies. Besides offering high-caliber curriculum and instructors, how can you add extra value to your online courses and ensure they stand out from the pack? The answer: find ways to supplement your curriculum with valuable extras.
These “value-adds” provide encouragement and support to students, give them opportunities to apply what they’ve learned, increase the likelihood of their success, and encourage them to pursue further professional development with your association.
Make sure your marketing copy includes a description of these additional course benefits. Or, consider surprising students with one or two of them as an unexpected bonus—a great way to boost word-of-mouth buzz.
#1 - Provide pre-course resources.
Understand the obstacles students must overcome before registering for an online course. What resources can you provide that will quell any fears or concerns they have about committing to your program? How can you help prepare them for the work ahead?
- Provide a review of the basics or refreshers of prerequisite courses.
- Offer help for developing a learning habit.
- Share study tips or a collection of advice from past students.
#2 - Add context.
Information needs context to really stick in an adult learner’s brain. Educational consultant Jeff Hurt says to “use context and stories in order for your attendees to move the information from short term memory to long term memory.”
Supplement your course material with interviews with past students or others who have applied what you’re teaching. Ask them to share how they applied the strategies or tactics in real life, and what obstacles they encountered, lessons they learned, and successes they enjoyed. These stories also demonstrate how the course impacted their life or business and will help keep your current students motivated.
#3 - Provide an optional deeper dive.
Give students the option of going a bit deeper in some of the course’s units. Include material from a more advanced course, conference session recording, or webinar. Make these deep dives optional—they can choose to listen to the audio, watch the video, or read the lesson, but it’s not required to move forward in the course. These previews may also whet their appetite for your other online educational offerings.
#4 - Add community.
Adults don’t learn by sitting passively absorbing information from talking heads. They need to discuss and share what they’re learning to make it stick. An online community helps learners practice and remember what they’ve learned.
You can incorporate an online community into your curriculum by seeding the community with questions and requiring students to participate in a specific number of discussions per unit. Or assign students to online community study groups based on their position, career stage, geographic area, interests, or other factors.
#5 - Invite guest instructors.
Add another perspective, perhaps even a contrarian one, to your course by including guest instructors for specific units or lessons.
- Past or future speakers
- Author of assigned readings
- Industry influencers, trailblazers, or innovators
#6 - Arrange access to experts.
Schedule “office hours” when students can have individual or group web conferencing sessions with instructors or other guest speakers. Arrange “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) web conferencing sessions with industry influencers, mentors, or leaders.
#7 - Provide take-aways.
Give students resources they can use or modify to use at work, for example, checklists, timelines, contracts, slidedecks, or templates.
#8 - Offer audits.
Give students the opportunity to get their product, service, or other work related to the course content audited or reviewed by the instructor or others, for example, an audit of website usability or security, or a review of a marketing or business plan. Students in advanced programs could also perform these reviews for credit under the instructor’s supervision.
#9 - Provide motivation for when things get tough.
Talk to past students to find out when they felt discouraged or overwhelmed during the course. Send emails with short audios, videos, or messages of encouragement to students during these challenging times. Acknowledge their difficulties and let them know they’re not alone. Find out how past students got past these challenges and share those tactics with current students either in your online community or via these emails.
#10 - Offer discounts.
For students who complete and pass the course, provide a discount for related publications or events.
#11 - Continue the connection.
Keep the engagement momentum going with students after their course ends. Follow up with them as a group to find out how they are applying what they’ve learned—a great way to collect marketing testimonials too.
Create alumni groups in your online community where students can share challenges, success stories, ideas, and plans for future professional development. Invite alumni to provide feedback on course content and share advice for future students.
#12 - Provide exclusive access.
Invite alumni to meetups at conferences and industry events, for example, a VIP session with a keynote speaker. Host receptions for students who stay involved or assist with educational programs.
Identify which bonuses would be most valuable to your target market by talking to past students about their needs and challenges during their courses. The more you understand your target audience, the better you’ll be able to hone in on the value that will differentiate your online education programs from those of your competitors.