To become a successful online educator, your learners have to have a successful experience in your course.

If you’ve spent much time in the world of online learning, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of industry advice out there about how to grow your course: how to price it effectively, how to manage your email marketing lists, how to market your course to new audiences, how to create an effective sales strategy, and so on and so forth.

There’s nothing wrong with these articles—we’ve written many like them ourselves. But one thing which has bothered me at times when looking at online learning platforms that focus heavily on their sales tools is how many of them neglect the most fundamental feature of any Learning Management System (LMS): the ability to launch a good course.

Part of the problem is the assumption that all it takes to teach is to know. But being a subject matter expert, doesn’t automatically make you an expert teacher. Neither does giving a good presentation, or writing a good essay.

Of course, good communication and writing skills will help you be an effective teacher. But these skills are your skills, and your learners need opportunities to exercise their own if they are going to succeed.

This is what LMSs miss when they put all their focus on features like video hosting but don’t offer decent quiz settings, or when they invest in tools to help their users sell courses but have few options to help learners learn.

And yet, given the surplus of learning platforms that seem to make their bread and butter off tools that have nothing to do with learning, it seems plenty of them are finding success by diverting user focus away from building corses and toward selling them.

The truth is that putting learner experience first is good for your learners, and it’s also good for you. Here’s why.

1. A good learner experience is good for everyone.

Most educators get into online education because they’re good at what they do and want to share it with others. While I’m sure it’s alluring to think you could earn a decent amount of money just by sharing what you already know, I think a lot of people would be disappointed to discover that the people who signed up for their course didn’t take anything away from it. Call it ego, but the first reason educators should care about learner experience is because it will help them be better at their job.

Learners who have a good experience also stand to benefit a lot. Not only did they have a good course, but a good experience is linked to good outcomes. If you took a course that engaged you, challenged you, and ultimately left you feeling a sense of confidence and accomplishment, it’s probably because you actually learned things from that course.

Learners who succeed in learning things—and who had a good time in the process—are going to be more enthusiastic about sharing their progress with others. They’ll leave reviews, recommend the course to their friends, and sign up for more courses.

The flip side, of course, is that a course which fails to help them learn won’t receive reviews (not positive ones, in any case), won’t get referred, and won’t attract repeat learners. So creating a positive experience isn’t just good for you and your learners—it’s good for your bottom line, too.

2. Online learning is not the same as in-person learning.

An educator who is successful teaching in-person courses sometimes struggles when they begin teaching online. That’s because many of the teaching techniques that work well in-person don’t translate. An educator may be used to leading in-class discussions, may have certain exercises they perform with their group, or may simply be better at reading and responding to a live audience.

Even educators who don’t have in-person teaching experience may be drawing on their own memories of in-person classes when they go to design their own course. In the process, they could be building their course on false footing.

For educators who want to optimize their course for online audiences, a focus on learner experience can help them make the necessary adjustments. You can’t pause your lecture to start a class discussion, but you can encourage comments. You can find creative ways to adjust your exercises to digital formats, and you can look for new ways to engage your audience even if you aren’t in the room with them.

3. Learner experience goes beyond learning content.

Finally, by focusing on learner experience, educators can find new ways to enrich their course beyond the raw materials being presented. After all, for many learners, the content is almost a secondary concern. Of equal importance is the community they can connect to, and the support they receive along the way.

Online learning is notoriously isolating for many learners, especially those who have no other options. One of the biggest reasons learners burn out and fail to continue a course is lack of support. If all you’re focused on is your subject matter, you could be losing learners who need that extra bit of attention. Providing a better experience will get them there.

First come the sales, then come the reviews.

I have no doubt that the tools offered by some of these sales-focused LMSs can help their users sell courses. I have less confidence that those courses will provide a good learning experience to those who buy them. And that has nothing to do with the knowledge level or expertise of the course creators.

Knowing and teaching are different skills. If you’re going to be successful as an educator, you need more than a mastery of your subject matter. You also need to present that material in a way that will stick with your learners.

If you’ve built an online course but are struggling to find learners who complete it, leave raving reviews, and go on to tell all their friends, then your challenge may have less to do with the information you’re presenting as the format you’re using to present it.

The solution is to build a course that focuses on learner experience. A better experience leads to more success, and if your course helps your learners meet their goals, they’ll remember it.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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