Your learners have completed your course. How do you retain their interest in your program?

It’s a truism in the marketing industry that it’s harder and more expensive to find new customers than to retain the ones you have. This is why so many businesses devote substantial resources to growing customer satisfaction. However, in online education, it’s all too easy for recipients to get what they came for and walk out the door never to be seen or heard from again.

Growing a customer base with that kind of business model is a challenge, but it’s not impossible, especially if you’re marketing to a professional industry where learners have ongoing education requirements. However, relying on your learners to automatically choose your course again can be a gamble, especially if you have competitors who might be offering something new and exciting that your learners haven’t tried before. Instead, course creators should find ways to retain learners so that they keep coming back for more—and maybe even spread the word to their friends and family.

Looking for inspiration? Here are 7 ways to engage your learners and build customer loyalty.

1. Advanced certification.

Many professions offer progression models so that workers have a clear path to follow if they want to progress in their career. Just as a college offers 100-level classes to first-year students and 400-level classes to seniors, you could consider advanced certification programs for learners that have already passed certain prerequisites.

For instance, you could offer your program to learners who have already passed one of your courses, possess a similar level of certification from one of your competitors, or have a certain number of years’ experience in their trade. This will be a smaller pool than those just starting out, but it’s also a niche market that is potentially underserved in your industry. Launch an advanced certificate, and you might even draw learners away from the competition.

2. Micro courses.

Advanced courses explore a subject more narrowly, but micro courses offer a chance to go broad rather than deep. Maybe your course on SEO could benefit from a micro certification in local SEO. Learners who graduated your main course could come back for the supplementary material, those who are currently taking your course could take it as an add-on, and anyone on the fence could try it out without committing to the full course. Micro courses provide a flexible way to add to the value of your program, and are easier to develop than another full course.

3. Focused webinars.

Like micro courses, webinars create an opportunity for learners to engage with material in a new way. They also allow you to connect more personally with your audience. Through a webinar, you can respond to learner questions, create a discussion, and incorporate up-to-the-minute material more rapidly than through a course. And if you record your webinar, you can share it later with learners who weren’t able to attend.

4. Content marketing.

You’ve probably heard of content marketing, but if you haven’t, it’s a way of building customer trust and loyalty through high-value content such as blogs, podcasts, a video series, or downloadable PDFs.

Content marketing is usually presented as a way to recruit new learners. By writing articles and producing other audio/video material, you give your audience a way to connect with your material, learn about your field, and get a sense of your instructional style. But you also provide a valuable resource for your learners to return to for new insight and information. As long as you keep that connection alive, you have a chance to convince those learners to come back for new courses.

7. Community.

We’ve talked about this many times before, but learners frequently turn to online courses for community as much as for the material you have to teach. Giving learners a place where they can connect with each other as they work toward their learning goals is a powerful way to keep them engaged with your learning website.

If you don’t have the resources to build a forum yet, you can also create a community on social media. LinkedIn and Facebook both offer private, invite-only groups. What if you created a group for everyone who completed a course from your program to join? Doing so would create a networking opportunity for members, and it would keep your program front of mind.

6. Newsletter.

If you’re doing half of any of the above, you should create a newsletter so that you can share all this information with your learners. The newsletter doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it can be as simple as offering to email subscribers new blog posts when they come out, as well as any news on courses as they become available. But if you’re going to do a newsletter, plan on making it at least monthly, if not weekly. Otherwise, your learners are likely to forget they signed up for it and are more likely to leave your emails unread.

7. Resource library.

Over the course of developing your online course, you’ve doubtless accumulated various resources, original or otherwise. You probably can’t share everything for copyright reasons, but anything in the public domain—and certainly anything you’ve developed yourself, could be compiled into a resource library for your learners.

That could include infographics, helpful YouTube videos, white papers, PDFs, or even e-books. And for those resources you can’t share for free, you could still offer links to books and articles so that your learners know where to go for more information. This isn’t as dynamic an option as some of the others we’ve mentioned, but it still has the potential to provide value to your learners, and it’s relatively easy to assemble.

Use your course to cultivate lifelong learners.

If there’s any unifying theme from the ideas we’ve presented above, it’s that learning doesn’t stop when your learners finish a course. Instead, it’s an ongoing process that learners should re-engage with throughout their lives. If that’s the case, there should be plenty of benefits to learners in remaining with your program, even after they complete their first course. All you have to do is give them a reason to stay.

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