Keep your learners invested in the long term by giving them a reason to keep coming back.
We talked in our recent article on incremental learning about how expectations around learning are changing—especially for self-motivated adults. In fact, one of the factors fueling the online education boom is the desire for self-improvement, and a degree to which people increasingly draw their identity from being learners.
For instructors who are trying to tap into that interest, the prospect of gaining a self-identified lifelong learner who plans to stick with your program for the long-term is incredibly appealing. It can cause some to offer incredible course deals that actually undermine their program—like lifetime membership schemes, or individualized bonus content that is time-consuming to create and deliver. And of course, if instructors oversell their course and it doesn’t deliver the quality or results that learners expect, they may search elsewhere for their educational soul mate.
Gaining truly lifelong learners means finding a pricing model that is sustainable for your business model while also delivering high-quality course content—and keeping all of it refreshed and up-to-date enough to satisfy learners. But since the pricing model you choose can affect what learners expect of your course, let’s take a moment to give it some careful consideration.
1. Monthly subscription fee.
The most obvious pricing model for a lifelong course is a monthly fee—Netflix for education, as it were. More and more, learners are coming to expect this model, and are willing to sign up, especially if there’s a free trial period.
The downside to a monthly subscription is that learners expect new content every month. As an instructor, this can be a heavy load to keep up with while also maintaining the quality of your work. But if you can manage it, it has the potential to be the most lucrative option of them all.
2. Annual membership dues.
Another common recurring fee takes its cue from old membership clubs. Collecting annual dues is just another subscription, albeit one with an exclusive feel to it. Membership sites generally don’t sell one specific course so much as access to the in-group. As such, they are built heavily on community, which requires a lot of nurturing and social acumen from the instructor. Of course, a supportive community is also what makes them such great venues for lifelong learning.
The biggest downside to an annual fee is that it can be much larger—and therefore a bigger pill to swallow—for some of your learners. While the some will probably keep paying the fee without thinking about it much, your more frugal learners may question whether they are getting their value’s worth. Be ready to remind them of everything you’ve released over the course of the year and what they signed up for more. Tease what’s coming soon, and work on more ways to encourage participation from your learners. The more they participate, the less they will want to lose access to their peers.
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t just offer courses the traditional way—one by one. In this model, instead of billing your brand as the only place for courses on a certain topic, you might acknowledge that you are just one course in a larger ecosystem. Your courses are there to help lifelong learners build their own curriculum.
Many learners like the course-by-course model because then they don’t have to worry about cancelling an expensive subscription. However, make sure you price it correctly. A user will expect lifelong access to these courses, and that may come back to bite you if you undercharge and then have to spend lots of time updating and maintaining it.
4. Micro subscriptions.
Micro subscriptions are like the course-by-course model, except that learners can spread the course fee out over several installments. It’s also possible to have the micro subscription automatically un-enroll a students at the end of the last payment cycle, which can be used to encourage learners to commit to the course.
Learners that sign up for micro payments might also be willing to invest a little more in related micro courses as they come out. If you sell a course for six monthly payments of $20, and then come back a year later with a $20 micro course expansion of the material, it can help you re-engage learners while also providing an avenue to raise the price of the course over time.
5. Live virtual sessions.
In some cases, you may want to offer the bulk of your courses for free, or for only nominal sums. This can help you build up a loyal following of learners, but it doesn’t help out your bottom line. Instead, use your courses to grow authority, and then you can pivot into live sessions that have a ticket price. For instance, a life seminar that allowed for audience questions, or a private one-on-one coaching session.
Live sessions are more ephemeral, but that also creates scarcity, which can drive up demand. You may find they become your most popular offering.
6. Commissions for user-created content.
Over time, your lifelong learners may come to match—if not surpass—you in knowledge and expertise. Don’t shy away from that. Instead, offer them a share of your platform by giving them a chance to create their own content. This may not sound appealing at first (after all, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of owning your platform), but not every instructor wants to commit to building their own online education website.
In the meantime, they might be very attached to yours. After all, they grew to their current skill set on your website. They’re members of your community, and they may have a network of friends and peers on your course forum that they want to share their course with. Your community might be their perfect niche market.
Under those circumstances, it’s not unreasonable for you to charge a commission fee. After all, you’re still on the hook for the operating expenses of the website, and your audience is a valuable asset.
To be successful in selling lifelong learning, you must demonstrate continual value.
Lifelong learning is a brand. In order to generate interest, you have to show that you are a lifelong educator. You have to keep your content current with trends in your field, and find new ways to help your learners learn.
Fortunately, if you can demonstrate your commitment to providing lifelong value through new content and private sessions, your learners will respond with loyalty of their own.