How to Prepare to Scale Your Online Course
Ready to expand your course to a broader audience? Here’s how to prepare for growth.
A sudden influx of learners can quickly swamp a small e-learning program that doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to handle the workload, and this can quickly result in dissatisfied learners leaving bad review and demanding their money back.
It seems like a great problem to have, especially if you’re working hard to fill enrollment slots. But that burst of interest can sink a program’s reputation fast and put your budding online career quickly out of business. The good news is, it is possible to avoid disaster with the right pre-planning.
So, before you sink thousands of dollars into a marketing campaign, and especially before you sign a supplier contract with a large corporation that’s expecting you to train hundreds of employees, lay the foundations for a course that can expand to meet the new load.
1. Make sure you’ve ironed out the kinks on a small scale.
There’s a reason why we often suggest beta testing as a valuable way to prepare a new course for release. In the best-case scenario, a beta test shows that your course is working as you’d planned. But the reality is, there’s usually some hiccup, and it’s better to spot that early, when it’s still easy to make a change.
Once your course is out in the wild, small problems multiply. Handling a few support requests on a small scale isn’t so bad, but receiving dozens of complaints about the same bug quickly becomes draining. So, the larger you expect your audience to be, the more care you should take in the beta test to ensure your course is ready for them.
2. Choose an LMS that can helps you work with your learners..
How well does your current LMS help you manage your current course load? This isn’t just a question of how many learners you can take on, but also one of tools and functionality. Many LMSs, especially those on hosted platforms, make much of the startup work simpler, but leave educators under-equipped to handle larger course loads.
I’m talking here about LMS platforms like Coursera or Udemy. You’re probably aware of these brands because that’s what they are: large e-learning brands that attract instructors because of their market recognition from educators and learners alike. But educators who launch courses on these platforms often find the easy publicity comes with a cost: their course is tied to the success of their hosting platform, and the course experience they are able to provide their learners is limited by the tools offered them.
This is an aspect of choosing your LMS which you cannot afford to overlook if you every hope to scale to a larger audience. If you want an LMS that can adapt to your needs, choose your platform wisely.
3. Automate as much of your administrative needs as possible.
Little tasks add up. If you only work with a small number of students, responding to emails, drip feeding content, sending introduction emails to new learners, and maintaining a discussion forum may not take too much effort. But the more you grow, the more these small tasks pile on top of each other, and before long, you may find yourself swamped with administrative tasks that are pulling you away from the high-value work you should be focusing on to build your course.
This is where automation steps in. You don’t want to waste time composing and sending administrative emails, following up with learners about assignments, or responding to FAQs. Instead, find ways to automate these tasks. Send reminders when they don’t login after a certain time period, automate grading on quizzes, and schedule your content in advance so that you don’t have to remember when to send it out. Then reinvest the time you’ve freed up into your course.
4. Account for the time you need to spend per student.
How much time do you spend per student on your present course? Now, by how much have you been able to reduce that time load through automation, tutorials, and FAQ guides? Depending on the type of course you run, you could have a per-student time burden of a few minutes to a few hours—and if the latter, scaling your course could quickly take over your life.
Scaling an online course is a balancing act between offloading as much of the work as possible so that you aren’t overwhelmed while still providing enough personal attention to learners so that they don’t feel ignored. That means you will want to identify the places where personal interaction will have the most impact—maybe more time spent discussion questions on the forum with students, and less time responding to those FAQs.
5. Plan your next steps.
If you’re planning to scale your course, it’s important to work toward certain goals as well as to account for possible problems. So while it’s smart to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong, it’s even smarter to think strategically about how your expansion could help position you for success further down the line.
A larger course makes you a more authoritative voice in your field. How can you use that for your next growth opportunity? You could start planning another course, look for speaking opportunities, or create a downloadable guide your learners can purchase using some of your highest-value content. You could even do all three!
Be ready for growing pains.
Growth will bring new and unexpected challenges. However, the more you can prepare for them, the less likely they will be to take you fully off guard. The good news is that more learners means more resources at your disposal to build your course. Whether that means devoting more time to growing your business or even hiring help, you’ll be better equipped to handle it as you grow.