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Increasing Your Completion Rates – How to Get Participants to Finish Your Course

Posted By Guest Blogger 29th of November 2016 General 0 Comments

Increasing Your Completion Rates - How to Get Participants to Finish Your Course

From ProBlogger Expert Sam Nordberg.

Online courses are all the rage right now, but sadly, there are some staggering figures when it comes to completion… and not in a good way.

Seth Godin shared on Tim Ferriss’s podcast once that most online courses have a drop off rate of 97%, and even his own courses have a drop off rate of 80%.

80%?! That means that only 20% of the people who sign up for the course actually get through to finishing it.

The thing is, Seth is not alone though.

Studies over the years show that completion rates of online courses are traditionally very low. Here in Australia, Government Statistics showed that just 7% of students who used the VET FEE-HELP loan system, completed their course between 2010 and 2013.

Yes, just 7%.

With all of that in mind, it is important to take some time when planning your course, to consider how you can help your particpants complete it.

Why would you want to increase your completion rates?

Participants who complete your course in full (and with that, implement along the way) are going to get much better results than those who drop out after just the first couple of modules. You get the satisfaction of watching them take what you have taught them, and use it to make changes to their life in some way.

That’s a pretty good reason to want to increase your completion rates.


Better results for your participants means better word of mouth referrals for you, an increased number of people sharing your course and better testimonials.

And this in turn, leads to better sales for your next intake.

All good things, right?

Increasing your participants’ completion rate isn’t just great for you participants (they actually learn something and get good results) but it’s better for your business.

So how do you increase your completion rates?

Lack of motivation, life getting in the way, getting stuck somewhere, and feeling like they are all alone are some of the key reasons why participants might purchase a course and then never get around to completing it.

With those things in mind, below are just some of the strategies you can look at increasing completion rates for your courses. You don’t need to use all of these. Instead you can go through and select the methods that best suit your course and your participants.

  • Break the content into tiny steps
    Overwhelm can be a key component to students giving up on a course. They see the amount of work they should do, or the sheer scale of things that they have to learn, and decide (even subconsciously) that it is all far too much work.
    Make sure that you break all your content down into tiny little steps, so that each step is easily actionable, and participants can get small wins quickly.
  • Drip feed the content
    Another way to help reduce that sensation of overwhelm, is to drip feed your content to your participants. This means only giving them access to one bit at a time, with content released each day, week or month depending on your course.
    While this helps to reduce overwhelm, it also stops those who are doing well from pushing through faster, which can be a bad thing.
  • Drip fed email support
    If you are going to provide all of the content up front, consider drip feeding email support instead. This can be an automated series of emails that touches base with the participant, reminding them of where they should be up to by now, and what support is available to them if they get stuck.
  • Include less content
    One of the most common problems I see when people are creating their own courses, is in their desire to give massive value and over deliver, they send huge amounts of content out.
    More content isn’t always the best way to help your participants… in fact, less really is more.
    Focus on sending smaller bits of content that are easily actionable, rather than feeling the need to send them everything you know.
  • Get them to take action as they go
    Have you ever put something off? And the longer you put it off, the bigger the task seems?
    The same is true for your audience. This content is new to them, and possibly a little scary. The longer they wait to take action and implement, the worse it is going to seem.
    Every time you send out little tiny steps, get them to take action and implement.
  • Increase they ways they can engage with each other
    Online learning can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. Allowing your participants to get to know each other gives them a real sense of community, an opportunity to connect with each other, and even support each other through the course.
    This engagement can come in many forms, including group calls, a forum or even a private social media support group.
  • Increase the support on offer to them
    Sometimes people just need help. Simple as that.
    This support might come in the form of Q and A sessions, coaching calls, emails, phone calls, or even just questions answered in a forum.
    Make sure your participants know how much support they have available to them and make it easy to find.
  • Badges or certificates for each module We all like the feeling of instant gratification. Rewarding your participants at the end of each module or activity can be a great way to keep them motivated, especially if it is a long course. This could come in the form of badges which unlock on their profile, based on how much they have completed so far, or even just downloadable certificates for important modules.
  • Certificates on completion
    Sometimes, it’s all about the paperwork. This is especially true when your participants are studying towards something specific, such as a certification or recognised role.
    It doesn’t have to be that formal though. YouTube issue certificates to people who complete courses within their Creator Academy. It gives you a nice feeling, something to show off, and a reason to start and work towards the end of the next course.
  • Surprise bonuses along the way
    Working towards something that you know is there, is all well and good, but isn’t it nice to be surprised along the way? Look at ways in which you can reward those who are particularly active, who engage and who implement. This could be automated, for example, everyone who gets to the end of module 2 gets a reward they weren’t expecting.
    Or this could be spontaneous, such as a reward in your Forum or support group for someone who has gone above and beyond.

Online courses don’t have to have terrible completion rates. Using a combination of different strategies and methods is the best way to help your participants get the results they wanted when they first signed up for your course.

Are you using any of these?
Got any other ideas for helping increase your completion rates?

I’d love to hear from you.

Sam Nordberg shows people how to take their passion and knowledge and create an online course that sells. You can learn more about her here and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Hi Sam,

    Looking to achieve higher completion rates is the right mindset. There are courses out there where the creators are just looking for money. Higher completion rates will only benefit in the long run – because they provide testimonials and increase the brand knowledge of your product.

  2. Hey Sam,

    From the data of the last two years, it can be stated that 80% of the online courses crash within a few months.

    There may be many reasons.

    You have mentioned the right points here. They really need to try dripping.
    The content should be in small pieces. The badges would be great.

    Glad to read this article.

  3. This is a relatively new area of course delivery compared to the real world, so there is lots of room for improvement. Thanks for your suggestions, as they will make more of these courses more effective in their aim – helping people.

  4. It’s all about building habits among your participants.

    There are 3 types of participants: active, passive and time wasters.

    You need to cut that time wasters from your course as soon as possible. They are the ones who ask for refunds without even opening any of your course contents.

    Focus on building strong habits among your remaining group and you will be seeing a huge growth in your completion rates.

    Great insights!

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