Online Courses Suck Because Creators Are Greedy and Students Are Lazy

Are these graduation rates surprising or impressive?

95.5% — Graduation rate for high school seniors in our local school district. 48% — College graduation rate over a six-year period in Tennessee.

Who’s responsible when a student fails or succeeds?

The Student Is Not Ultimately Responsible

In high school, my English teacher gave every student in my class three extra points on our test because she admitted to writing a confusing question. When a majority of students got the question wrong, she knew that she had confused them. It was her fault. She had not optimized the learning experience. She had not done her job of setting us up to learn and accurately test that learning.

Teachers always share responsibility in the learning process.

To make the statement that “students are ultimately responsible for their success” removes responsibility from teachers. It says that teachers can sell crappy courses, offer inadequate support, clarity, and instruction, but ultimately the student is responsible.

I don’t buy that, and neither should you.

Who’s Responsible When 86% of Students Fail?

4–14% of online course students finish their course. That means 86–94% of students who take online courses don’t complete the course.

Is completing the course equal to success? Not necessarily. You can complete a course and not experience the success you had hoped for but the simple measurement of completion does give us a reference point for one type of success, designing a course that is worth completing.

The Online Education Scam

When students fail they experience embarrassment and shame. They didn’t pay to fail, they paid to succeed. There is a percentage of students who are just lazy, and that’s why they don’t complete their course.

If you sold something that you knew 86% of your customers would fail to get value from, why would you keep selling it?

“If you sold something that you knew 86% of your customers would fail to get value from, why would you keep selling it?”

There’s little attempt by course creators to sift through the best candidates for their courses to find students who want to succeed. Students, really they’re just customers, qualify because they have room on their credit card.

Mostly though, students fail because they were never in a position to succeed. Most online education is not built for student success. If they were, then more students would succeed.

“Students fail because they were never in a position to succeed”

Simplify the conversation. Simplify the argument. If this wasn’t a problem then it wouldn’t be a discussion. When local schools have high dropout rates there are multiple factors. Instability at home, hunger, insufficient facilities or a lack of emotional support all contribute to student failure. Bad teachers are a factor too. Bad classrooms, full of distractions, can contribute to failure.

Why Do We Tolerate A Total Lack of Transparency In Online Education?

Schools have to post their graduation rates. They post them because it’s the law but also as a recruiting tool. They want parents to send their kids to their school because they get funding from the state or the student to educate them.

Online educators don’t talk about their completion and success rates because they’re horrible. If you knew that the course you were considering buying had a 94% failure rate would you buy it? Are you part of the 6%? Maybe.

When the success rate is 6% you’re 16 times more likely to fail than succeed. Who’s fault is that? You really think that’s mostly on the students? If you do I bet you sell an online course with a bad completion rate.

How To Fix The Problem

Post completion rates as part of the sales process. Transparency breeds change. If I can see what’s going on then I have a point of reference. If everything is hidden behind sales pages and a few testimonials then I’m flying blind. Maybe the industry average should be 25%. A success rate of one out of four students would be a massive improvement.

A success rate of one out of four students would be a massive improvement.

In baseball, you’re one of the best in the game if you miss the ball 70% of the time. Maybe great courses have failure rates of 75%. Maybe that’s the most they can be optimized. The point is, we have no idea what the standard should be because no one is talking about it, until now.

Seth Godin has sold online courses through portals like Udemy and Skillshare and made hundreds of thousands of dollars doing it. Then he found out how dismal the completion rates were. He decided to create a program that students would finish. His entire process can’t be applied to every kind of course, but parts of it can be applied to every course.

He makes students apply to take part. He charges a lot of money. He has multiple coaches work with students. He uses technology to connect students from the first day. He creates healthy tension through high expectations and almost daily assignments.

Not every course creator can have students apply to buy their course, nor should they. Not every creator can charge $3,000 for their course.

But what can course creators do to improve student success?

They can do a lot more than they’re doing. So why don’t they?

It takes more time, more energy, and more thoughtfulness to create a great course experience. Most course creators would rather spend their energy and dollars getting you in their funnel and pounding you with emails than creating courses that actually work. Again, this could be argued except we know the failure rates of online courses, and they’re astronomical. We know they don’t work for a majority of students.

Most course creators would rather spend their energy and dollars getting you in their funnel and pounding you with emails than creating courses that actually work.

Students Must Demand Change

The only way this industry gets better is if consumers change their behavior. When consumers talk with their dollars, creators listen. Don’t buy courses that don’t share their success rates. Don’t buy courses where the creator hasn’t optimized the course for student success. Don’t buy a course based on the sales pitch unless that sales pitch includes information about successful students.

Don’t buy courses that don’t share their success rates.

Courses should have higher completion and success rates as they are developed. Bad schools can get better. Online courses can become more effective.

Customers Drive Change

You have a vote every time you attend a webinar. You have the power every time you have the opportunity to buy something. When you buy it, you endorse it. When you don’t buy it, you vote against it.

Why They Get Away With It

Course creators with horrible completion rates get away with it because no one is calling them out on it, and customers keep falling for the same tricks. They listen to five testimonials out of 500 students and they buy into the story the marketer wants you to believe. You just let the 1% convince you the course works.

Course creators won’t change their courses or their sales tactics until they stop working. For now, creators can spend very little time in a course, charge a premium amount and repeat the “it’s ultimately the student’s responsibility” song.

Course creators with horrible completion rates get away with it because no one is calling them out on it, and customers keep falling for the same tricks.

Ultimately, Students Don’t Have a Chance

I’ve lived a privileged life. I had a lot of advantages growing up. The deck was stacked for me, not against me. Online courses are for the most part stacked against student success and for the profitability of the creator.

Creators should and can make a great living creating courses. I’m a course creator. I want to make a great living, but until students demand better, the standards will likely stay the same.

My Next Course Won’t Be Like My Other Courses

Next week I’m going to attempt something. It might work, but it might not work. I’m launching a program to help a handful of people create a course that actually works for them and their students. To make it work I’ll have less students that pay more, get more attention, and experience more tension. Tension creates change, and change is ultimately what students and good teachers want.

What About Your Kids?

If you’re a parent, or if one day you have kids, would you send them to a school with a graduation rate of 4-14%? I hope you don’t have to do that. Your kids deserve better.

If you wouldn’t send your kids to that kind of school then why are you buying courses with identical graduation rates?

Why We Buy Online Courses

You buy online courses for the same reason I do, because you have hope.

Hope is a good thing, but we should place our hope in things that work, and that eliminates most online courses.

Links referenced in the article are below: