5 Reasons Most Online Courses Fail (and How Not to be One of Them)

reading-at-computerThe following article is a guest post written by Michael Eisenwasser.

ELearning industry states that the global eLearning Market is expected to reach $107 billion by 2015.

That’s HUGE.

So if you’ve ever wanted to launch your online course, the best time is now.

But here’s the kicker: Every online course doesn’t make a splash. Quite a lot of them fail.

And when online courses fail, they do so mainly because of the following 5 reasons.

Reason #1: Failing to Validate the Need of the Course

When you plan an online course, one of these 2 things happens:

  1. Either you create something that you think your potential students struggle with
  2. Or you research and find out what your students struggle with and base your course on it

Research makes all the difference.

Basing a course on assumptions might result in the course never really kicking off.

Now: while researching, you might realize that your niche is crowded. There might be other online courses offering what you’re planning to offer. Sure, this makes things a little tough for you but it’s a great indicator that you’ve chosen the right niche.

Justin has given a handy 5-second hack to validate an online course idea.

And since your online course generates business for you, why not run it through a few tested business validation methods? Like the one of sending pre-sales emails that AppSumo chief Noah Kagan discusses here.

Another way to validate a course idea could be to create an eBook from your content and watch the response, and then use it to formulate a strategy for your online course.

3 steps to go about it:

  1. Create valuable posts
  2. Bundle them up in an eBook
  3. Launch an online course based on the response (or discard the idea)

Reason #2: Failing to Create a Differentiator

Validating an idea doesn’t take very long as quality indicators are easy to spot.

However, this often makes people rush into planning and creating their course.

Ideally, at this point, you should focus on your course’s differentiator or USP (Unique Selling Point).

For example, let’s say you were to launch a course on web design on Udemy. Would you just create it, and go ahead and launch it? And if you’d do this, what would be your chances of beating the heavyweights (like courses that have thousands of students enrolled)?


Instead of doing the above, you should try to see if there’s something on web design that’s missing. If there are any gaps that your course could fill.

If you think along these lines, you may find that some courses are a little old (like from the 2000s), so maybe you could offer modern techniques.

Perhaps you could do a course on how to use Photoshop CS7 or focus on Twitter Bootstrap responsive design best practices.

Rehashing the curriculum of an existing course won’t take you far.

WordStream offers a handy method to develop a USP. Create one for your course now!

Reason #3: Failing to Choose the Right Platform

devHow you choose a platform to offer your course is subjective. But if you don’t think long-term here, you will give up easily because switching platforms or taking your course from a course hosting site to your personal site or vice versa is difficult and time consuming.

If you’re looking for quick cash and you don’t have much time to invest in your coaching business, offer courses on sites like Udemy.

The fun part is that you get to hack into an enormous audience.

The not-so-fun part is the steep commission that the publishing platform takes and its binding contracts.

The better (and harder) route to take would be to launch your online course through your site. More efforts but higher returns.

And solutions like LearnDash and Social Learner make it a breeze. This way, you’re your boss. You own all the leads, all the revenue, and all the data, and you can control every aspect of the design, functionality, and marketing.

Additionally, you can revise your course, its terms and conditions without any third party involvement.

Another objective to use your site could be to create leads for your business by enrolling people in free courses. Course hosting sites don’t allow this. So choose wisely.

Reason #4: Failing to Promote

It’s normal to feel done after you have validated your idea, created a differentiator, and even launched your course.
But that’s a sure way to fail.

Instructors who don’t promote their courses never really maximize them. Perhaps the exception being of some extra-ordinary word of mouth publicity.
Remember that the slope only begins after a course is launched. So reach out. Tell the whole world about your brilliant course.

Some things you could try:

  • Guest posts
  • Advertisements
  • Giveaways
  • Podcasts
  • Email blasts
  • Social broadcasts
  • Forum posting
  • Blog commenting
  • Reaching out to your niche bigwigs and seeking reviews

Reason #5: Failing to Set the Right Price

Even the best course could fail if its target audience thinks of it as cheap or too steep for their pocket.

As a creator, you can have mixed feeling about pricing your course. However, looking at your product from a buyer’s angle could give you some insight into how they perceive your offering.

And don’t forget that your potential students have options. Consider it a given that they will compare your product with what your competitors are offering. Make sure that you justify whatever price you’re quoting.

Unemployable founder, Brian Clark asks you to think about your target audience while setting your course price.

In his podcast, he also recommends testing pricing plans to see what works best, especially when targeting financially distressed prospects.

While we take steps to ensure that our products or courses don’t fail, slips happen. Such experiences often offer the most priceless business lessons. Have you made any of these mistakes while launching your online courses? If so, I’d love to know in the comments.

About The Author of This Post

Michael is an elearning enthusiast and co-founder of BuddyBoss. He is really excited about Social Learner — it’s the ultimate BuddyPress elearning solution, that works great with a ton of popular plugins (including LearnDash and WooCommerce).


About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

  1. I have purchased Learn Dash and find it very simple to understand and I don’t believe I’ll have any problems using it…..HOWEVER, finding a theme that works well with it has indeed been an issue. Is Social Leaner a Word Press theme????
    I went to the demo and it looks great……is it a stand alone LMS?? I also went to Buddy Press and Buddy Boss websites and I need help understanding how these products all connect.
    Greatly appreciate your clarification for the above and seriously hoping this is what I think it is!!
    Pat Camillo PhD, RN

    • Hi Pat-
      Yes, Social Learner is a WordPress theme. More accurately, it is a child theme for the Boss theme offered by BuddyBoss. You installed the Social Learner theme as well as BuddyPress onto your site. Then you install LearnDash and you have the core of what you see on their demo site.

      For specific questions regarding the theme, the folks at BuddyBoss are going to be your best resource.

  2. Pat Camillo

    Thanks so much for clarifying this for me Justin. I love your blog – learning a great deal even after teaching online for many years.

  3. Well, from student’s point of view – I think that most of the online courses fail because of two things: price and poor customer service (delays in replying, etc.).

0 Pings & Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

86 Reasons To Choose LearnDash ... Show Me →
+ +