Competing for a Learner’s Attention

Online courses are pretty great. They are fun to take and arguably more fun to sell. But at the end of the day there is one simple truth when it comes to any online course: it is hard to create a good one.

While there are probably varying degrees of “good”, an effective course by my definition has the following characteristics:

  1. It satisfies the stated objectives
  2. It has some form of measurement (to prove #1)
  3. It has a high completion rate

If you create a course and nobody finishes it, then it’s not very good.

If people finish your course and you think it delivers upon its objectives (but you don’t have a way of measuring it), then it is kind of useless as well.

The point of an online course is to teach people something but that can be hard to do today. There are so many things that are competing for our attention.

Email is just a quick click away. Same with Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and so on.

If your course isn’t optimized for delivering micro-content then you will find it difficult to compete against these outlets of entertainment. All of which by the way will kill your completion rate.

To combat this challenge you have to design your course in a way that holds user attention in short bursts. Videos need to be concise (eight minutes max) and so does the content (use graphics instead of text where possible).

Let a learner build up some momentum in your course. Make the lessons “snappy”, bite-sized chunks that can be consumed easily. If you have checkpoint quizzes keep them to three questions maximum so users can cruise to the next lesson.

By the way, you don’t have to sacrifice the final quiz or major checkpoint quizzes when it comes to length and difficulty. I think most learners understand that there are some things that need proper time.

Whether you currently have a course or you are building one, make sure you do what you can to maximize its potential. Design it in a way that can compete against today’s distractions.


Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Twitter | LinkedIn

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