I used to absolutely love online courses, and when I first started learning about building my own online business, they opened my eyes in terms of how building an online business actually works.
They took me behind the scenes of what building an online business looks like, and taught me how to do everything from finding a profitable business idea to creating online products, selling coaching services, writing copy for my business… And for a long time, the majority of my education came from going through online courses.
I especially loved when top influencers in the industry would create new courses that I could join as one of their first students, as I knew they would pay extra attention and do anything in their power to help me succeed with them. When the courses were still pretty small and had private, intimate communities where everyone knew each other, they were also amazing for meeting other cool people and getting great feedback for your business.
Unfortunately, the industry has long evolved since I first joined online courses. As it’s easier than ever to create online courses nowadays, even people who aren’t real experts can create courses and sell them. The courses that I’ve joined years ago that had communities of 500 people now have communities of 10,000 people.
Because of this the quality of online courses and their communities dropped dramatically. They weren’t these amazing opportunities to get help with your business any more, and instead became huge knowledge banks that most people never go through (more on that in a sec).
With the evolution of the online course industry, something interesting began to happen. Many people reported their sales of online courses dropping over the last year, which resulted in revenue losses and even layoffs at certain companies.
It almost seems like the online courses industry is crashing and burning.
Is that really true? And if yes, why?
Table of Contents
- 1 Here’s what experts say about the downfall of online courses
- 2 Still, I think most experts are missing on HUGE thing…
- 3 The success rate of many online courses is catastrophic.
- 4 Are SOME people capable of self-studying through online courses? Sure. But how many?
- 5 So what makes me angry about all of this is… Almost nobody is talking about it or addressing it.
- 6 This year, I stopped selling my online courses in the background and sacrificed thousands of dollars in monthly revenues.
- 7 I disagree. I think we all have a choice that we make.
- 8 The REAL reasons why you aren’t finishing (or getting the most out of) online courses
- 9 Reason #1 – The “sticking points” are never removed from the courses
- 10 Reason #2 – The communities of online courses are mostly useless for getting help and feedback
- 11 Reason #3 – The top students in the courses aren’t taken care of
- 12 Reason #4 – They make promises they can’t deliver on just to attract more customers
- 13 Reason #5 – Completing courses usually takes WAY longer than expected
- 14 Reason #6 – Many online courses are losing the depth that they used to have
- 15 Reason #7 – Evergreen funnels make customers feel like they’re late to a wedding
- 16 Does this mean that this is the end of the era of online courses?
- 17 What we can do as online entrepreneurs to build better businesses
- 18 We have to stop building recorded, passive income courses and start building incredible live programs that actually get our students results.
- 19 Now, to answer the question: Do you really need more online courses?
Here’s what experts say about the downfall of online courses
The experts I’ve talked to around this topic are in unison – what used to work isn’t working any more. The course sales are dropping. The email open rates are dropping. The influencer marketing (getting influencers to share your content) isn’t working as well any more, which makes it harder to drive traffic to your website.
Many of them blame the industry for becoming saturated, and the consumers becoming more and more immune to marketing and online courses. I think there’s truth to that, and I do think that the market is evolving, like any market evolves.
It was probably easier to sell Coca Cola when it was the only drink of it’s kind or when it just had one major competitor than it is today when every supermarket sells it’s own brand of coke and diet coke.
Still, I think most experts are missing on HUGE thing…
And that one thing is the REAL issue that few people talk about and address.
The ones that do see their businesses grow and flourish like never before. The ones that don’t see their business attract less customers day by day.
Here’s what I think the issue is.
The success rate of many online courses is catastrophic.
I’ve seen online courses that have tens of thousands of students in them with only a hundred or so successful students. I’ve seen online courses from new online entrepreneurs that had 20 people start the course and only one person finish them. I even created courses myself that most of my students would start but never finish.
Now just to be clear, when I’m referring to “online courses”, I mean the recorded online courses where you get access to online materials and then you’re supposed to go through them on your own (or you have a HUGE Facebook group with them).
The problem with these courses is that they’re huge piles of information that most people just don’t work through on their own. It’s like trying to complete a major at a university without actually having access to live classes and by just self-studying and watching the recordings.
Are SOME people capable of self-studying through online courses? Sure. But how many?
I know I’m one of them. I’m super self-driven, and don’t have a problem with going through online courses on my own (though this is becoming with the limited support these days, even for me).
I’ve finished most courses I’ve started and even wrote about that in my Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Star Student in Online Business Courses.
But here’s where I’ll be honest – I was the exception, and not the rule.
I also didn’t just go through the courses on my own, I often reached out to peers and mentors to help me be successful with my business. I often had that advantage of being one of the first students that joined the course and getting extra treatment.
So for a while, as I saw other people around me complain about online courses, I shrugged it off. I thought the problem was in THEM, not in the COURSES. I hate to admit this, but I had my eyes and ears shut for years. I thought “well, people are just lazy and not putting in the work – or trusting the process”.
But then, as I started building my courses, I realized I was wrong. I worked with other people who were top performers like me, and I realized that even though they knew all the information, they still needed extra help from an expert to keep them moving – just like I do. I know that taking online courses isn’t enough for me, which is why I joined an elite mastermind this year and have my own coaches who I talk to every week to further grow my business. OCH blog may be a great help in this respect.
And what happens when people don’t get the right support? They start online courses, work through a few modules, get stuck / fall off track and never finish them. They might even say “it’s just not the right time for me”.
It’s not that they’re not top performers. They just aren’t getting the support they need.
Which then results in a 1-2% completion rate of online courses.
So what makes me angry about all of this is… Almost nobody is talking about it or addressing it.
It feels like everyone just sweeps the success rate of online courses under the rug and hopes that nobody will ever find out about it. They accept it as a given fact and move on to building more courses.
They might also blame their customers for their low completion rate. They say that their students just aren’t serious enough. They aren’t trusting the process. It’s not the courses’ fault, it’s the customers fault. They never think about how to actually improve their courses. Instead, they accept that a 1-2% completion rate is normal and “focus on things that will help them move the needle for their business”.
Another huge problem is the “evergreen funnels” that funnel people into the online courses. Evergreen funnels are automated processes that you never see in the background which artificially tell you that the course is open and closed within certain dates and create fake urgency (the opening and closing of the course is triggered based on when you subscribe to their email lists).
Why do people do this? Because it essentially means that they sell their courses automatically and make money while they sleep. It’s every entrepreneur’s dream, and “the holy grail of online business” – passive income.
I was guilty of this in the past as well, because I was taught that that was how things were supposed to be done. I sold my own online courses on autopilot and made thousands of dollars each month without moving a finger.
Until I had enough of it.
This year, I stopped selling my online courses in the background and sacrificed thousands of dollars in monthly revenues.
Do you want to know why I did that?
Because it didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t in line with what I believed in.
It didn’t feel right to be selling online courses to people, then seeing them never finish them. Why would I want to take money from someone without really doing my BEST to help them out and helping them get their money worth?
When I asked others in the industry about how they deal with this, a lot of them would say “Yeah, the completion rate of evergreen funnels is way lower. That’s just how business works”.
I disagree. I think we all have a choice that we make.
We can all close our eyes and pretend that we’re building an amazing business, claiming that it helps millions of people of all over the world… Or we can create products and services that actually deliver on the promise.
This is the non-sexy part of starting and growing an online business – making sure your products and services really deliver the result that they promise. But even though some people SAY they do that, they don’t really do it, because this takes a lot of time and has no clear direct ROI. They would rather use the time, energy and money to do things that do have a clear ROI.
I’m sure we’ve all gone through courses where we’ve seen 90% of people stuck on a part of the course – and that problem was never really addressed.
It’s like a hole in a ship that never gets fixed. At first, you can ignore it. Maybe you can even ignore it for a long time. Until, at one point, the ship sinks. And this is exactly what I think is happening to the online course industry – people are creating courses full of holes, people find out about that, and their ships start to sink.
The REAL reasons why you aren’t finishing (or getting the most out of) online courses
Let’s look at these “holes” in more detail, because they’re the exact reasons why you might not be seeing the results that were promised to you from them.
I’m doing this not to say all courses are bad (they’re not), but to show you that that the problem why your business isn’t growing as fast as you would want it to grow isn’t necessarily in you, but in the way these online courses are designed.
Later on in this post, I’m also going to show you two better ways to learn about growing your business, that I’ve found much more effective than online courses.
Let’s dig in.
Reason #1 – The “sticking points” are never removed from the courses
Every course I’ve ever taken has one or more sticking points where the customers get stuck.
Maybe that sticking point is customer research. Maybe it’s doing an audit of your business to see where you can make potential improvements to it. Maybe it’s finding the right niche for your business. Maybe it’s sending out pitches for guest posts and podcast interviews. Maybe it’s hiring your first team member.
These are all places where I got stuck in online courses in the past, and I’ve seen thousands of others people get stuck as well.
It’s natural for your course to have sticking points in the beginning, and it’s natural that it takes some iterations to really remove these sticking points from the course. It’s like that with everything – if you flew an airplane when they first invented it you had more chances of dying than surviving. Through years and years of gradual improvement, flights are now the safest way to travel.
The problem occurs when sticking points in the courses are never removed – for years at a time. The problem occurs when online entrepreneurs create courses from which they never remove the sticking points, keep selling those courses, and move on to creating new courses.
For you as a customer, that sucks because you’ll likely get stuck without any way of getting un-stuck. Which means you’ll spend $2,000 on a course you’ll only complete 10% of – and even worse, feel guilty about not completing.
Which brings me to the next point.
Reason #2 – The communities of online courses are mostly useless for getting help and feedback
While there are some bright exceptions, most of the online communities these days are either:
- A ghost-town where nobody ever posts anything
- Full of other people who are stuck at the same point as you (so they can’t really help you out with your problems)
- Not the best way to get great feedback from the course authors (as they rarely answer questions or give detailed, useful feedback)
I’m sure that you’ve seen a course community like this before where the group has 10,000 or 20,000 members, and every time you ask for help you either hear crickets or get a bunch of contradicting advice from people you’re not sure you can trust, a couple of “feel good” comments or just plain bad advice.
Even with the course authors that have the best intentions, it’s hard to really get great feedback from them once the group grows to thousands of people. If they wanted to answer all the questions from their students (and answer them well), they would have no time for growing their own business.
So the reality is that the course authors aren’t really active in the community, they pop in quickly after each major launch to answer a few questions and make it seem like the community is active, or just consistently refer you to the course materials. In the best case scenario, they hire coaches or student mentors to help you out, but those cases are rare (because they often don’t see the value in it, and the cost of offering extra coaching can be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year).
So if you join an online course, you’re on your own most of the time, unless you’re really proactive in building relationships with other top students from the course (which is what I did in the past) or hiring a coach to help you out.
Reason #3 – The top students in the courses aren’t taken care of
Whenever I go to my favorite restaurant, I get treated insanely well. Every request I have gets taken care of, I’m made feel at home, and the chefs or waiters even throw in a special surprise on the house for me once in a while.
That’s how I feel like every business should treat their best customers – but the sad reality is that many online entrepreneurs don’t take care of their best students that way. I’ve seen many top students go way above and beyond in helping the entrepreneurs, from helping out their fellow students to referring new students to their programs… Only to not feel very appreciated in return.
The feedback they send to the course authors doesn’t get implemented, they don’t get their questions answered once in a blue moon when they do have them, and then they wonder why they’re even trying so hard to bring more customers to another person’s business.
What happens next?
These top performing students slowly leave, stop spending time in the communities, and the communities lose the most valuable members from them, which then removes even the 1-2% of the people who can give great advice in these communities from them.
Again, there are bright exceptions, and I’ve seen some people like Selena Soo go WAY above and beyond for their best customers by bringing them media opportunities, inviting them for private dinners etc. – but these exceptions are rare.
If more people treated their best students like the restaurants treat their best customers, I’m sure they’d have much better and stronger communities. And if they listened to the feedback from their top students, they’d be able to fix the
Reason #4 – They make promises they can’t deliver on just to attract more customers
It’s much easier to write amazing sales copy that promises that everyone can grow or build their online business than to create an online course that actually delivers on that.
Building an online business is hard, and I don’t think that it’s for everyone. From what I’ve seen, people who tend to be very scattered and overwhelmed in their lives pretty much never successfully finish online courses (because they have other problems in their lives preventing them to do that). I’ve also seen that people who have “no business idea” are far less likely to be successful with a course than people who already know what they want.
It’s no coincidence that the students who are usually the most successful with online courses usually have clear ideas of what they want, and usually have some kind of background and experience with running a business in the past.
The problem in my opinion lies in the fast that the copywriters who write copy that sells online courses want to write the best possible copy, make HUGE promises, and do everything they can to get more sales of the course (which is their job, so that make sense in a way). As they do this, they usually try to address all the concerns from their audience to let them join the course.
No business idea? No problem. Feeling overwhelmed? No problem. Not sure what kind of a business you want to build? No problem.
But is there REALLY no problem?
I think there is a problem. I believe it’s misleading to try to convince people that you can help them and sell a course to them when you look at the data and see that almost nobody in the course that you’ve built has finished it successfully that was overwhelmed in the beginning, didn’t have a business idea, and didn’t know what kind of a business they wanted to build.
This is one of the reasons why the course success rates are so low – because many people, sometimes even unintentionally, make promises they can’t deliver on in the copy. The other negative side-effect of this is that if you feel your community with overwhelmed, scattered people, that’s bad for the whole community – as the quality of questions and the advice in the group will drop, and make it less attractive for your best customers who won’t be able to resonate with these new people.
Of course I understand why people do this – to bring in more revenue. It’s easier to write copy for the course and let more people in than it is to justify spending time improving the course or limiting it only to the top customers. In the short run, this might even hurt your revenues. But in the long run, I’ve seen that people in the industry who are killing it right now do just that – they select amazing clients, which brings in more amazing clients over time.
As a potential customer, you’ll actually be better off joining courses that make smaller promises and only let the right people in, than trying to join courses that are massively appealing and have let in tens of thousands of people.
Reason #5 – Completing courses usually takes WAY longer than expected
Have you ever taken a 4-week or an 8-week course that took you months or even YEARS to complete?
I know I have. I appreciate the fact that the courses are broken down (and not delivered all at once), but from what I’ve seen they aren’t broken down ENOUGH. If a course really takes a year to complete, and you position it as an 8-week course with a 60-day refund period, you’re setting the wrong expectations for your students and setting them up for failure.
If you do this, you’ll give people the IDEA that the course is supposed to be completed in 8 weeks, and when they don’t complete it, they’ll feel like they’re falling behind, and eventually give up (which again leads to the low completion rates).
It’s amazing how much of a difference in success rate you can see by breaking the course down to a REALISTIC time frame, making it as long as it needs to be for people to finish it, and setting the expectations for them right.
This is what we do in my premium program called Ultimate Guide System – I clearly tell my students that even though I can write an Ultimate Guide in 1-2 weeks, most students who have full time jobs and families will take around 14 weeks or slightly more to successfully finish their first guide – because that’s the average I’ve seen my students take in the past. We even break the coursework down to 14 weeks rather than 4 or 8 weeks for that reason, so that the students get the exact information they can actually take action on each week.
This is one of the major reasons why Ultimate Guide System has a 50% success rate, a super engaged community, and actually brings my students results – because I refuse to make promises I can’t deliver on, and tell my students things as they are and what to expect.
Unfortunately most people don’t do this, which is why you’ll feel like you’re falling behind the course pace, when really you’re just falling behind an imaginary course pace that is realistic for 0.5% of the students (if not less) who usually run their businesses full time anyway.
Reason #6 – Many online courses are losing the depth that they used to have
I recently joined an online course that I was really disappointed by, and it’s the first online course I ever refunded.
The course was supposed to cover a specific part of running an online business in great detail, but in reality it was just a few short videos without any specific information on HOW to actually execute on it.
As I went through this course, I was puzzled, and thought to myself, “is this really it?” and “what’s going on?”. It didn’t make sense to me why a premium online course would lack the depth and stick to such surface level concepts. I know I wasn’t the only person feeling this way either as I’ve seen other people have the exact same experience with it.
To me, in the moment, this made no sense. Why would someone build a premium course and NOT make it super detailed and useful for someone like me?
Then it hit me. I realized that this was an attempt to make the online courses more manageable and digestible for the people that are overwhelmed with them – so they could consume it easier.
While I see how that could work in theory, the problem with this approach is that while more people might be able to digest the course, they won’t take a whole lot of value away from it. The mistake I believe people are making here is that they are trying to make the course materials more digestible to fit the masses, rather than expanding the course, keeping the awesome materials in, and serving their best clients better.
Since I’m a customer that craves depth, great information and is willing to put in the work, this was actually offputting for me – and just reassured the idea that I really don’t need to buy more online courses. I don’t need to finish courses to feel good and like I’ve learned something new, I want to finish courses so I can get the results they promise.
Reason #7 – Evergreen funnels make customers feel like they’re late to a wedding
I’ve introduced the idea of “evergreen” funnels before and explained that these are sales funnels that are automatically triggered when someone signs up to an email list and allow people to join courses even when they’re not officially open.
Evergreen funnels were a big thing in the industry over the past few years, and a lot of people started using them to better leverage their time. I mean why wouldn’t you want to automatically bring in more sales to your business if you can?
Now I don’t think evergreen funnels are always bad – I think they’re perfect for smaller, easily digestible courses, e-books, etc. that don’t really need a huge time commitment. But when you try to sell a premium online course on autopilot your customers feel like they’re “late to a wedding”, which makes it harder for them to be a part of the communities and decreases the chances of them following through the courses.
I’ve spoken with people who sell premium courses this way and the verdict was clear – way less people who join the courses through evergreen funnels actually finish them than the people who join during the live launches where they at least get the feeling of doing the course together with other people.
Does this mean that this is the end of the era of online courses?
Well, the bad news is that the data really does show that the course sales are going down, which will be bad news for people who will just try to build more courses without taking a look at how they can increase the success rate of their customers.
This is also bad news for you as a consumer, as you might see that a lot of people will try to churn out more and more courses to make up from the lost revenues that weren’t on the level that they used to be (because developing great premium courses takes a ton of time).
On the other hand, the people who will learn how to adapt to this state of the market will be able to continue to grow their businesses – but they’ll have to start rethinking the way in which they currently create their courses.
The good news is that there is good news as well – both if you’re trying to create and sell online programs and if you want to take advantage of them to grow your business.
What we can do as online entrepreneurs to build better businesses
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve stopped using evergreen funnels to sell my online courses. I also stopped selling a few online courses which weren’t on the level I would have wanted them to be, had too many holes, ghost town communities and didn’t get my students the results I wanted to get them.
Instead I’m focusing on programs that DO work and DO get my students incredible results.
One example is Ultimate Guide System – my one year program on creating Ultimate Guides. Ultimate Guide System is different from the online courses these days in the sense that it includes a 14-week intensive training plus one year of support through additional live coaching calls. It has a small but incredible community of top performers that can actually give other students great feedback on their work.
The course is done LIVE (we have weekly 60-90 minute live coaching calls), and I’m also very active in the community and constantly available to help my students out when they need my help. I also make it a priority to frequently check in with and take care of my top students. And beyond that, I constantly keep an eye for “sticking points” in it and strive to improve it to a point where there’s no sticking points. This is the non sexy part of running an online business.
The fact that the majority of my students are loving the course, finishing it, seeing results with it and recommending it to other people is not an accident. It’s all well thought out, and I strongly believe that this is the most effective way to build an online business that makes a big impact nowadays.
We have to stop building recorded, passive income courses and start building incredible live programs that actually get our students results.
Yes, this will take considerably more time than whipping something together, selling it and forgetting it. Creating incredible programs takes months, or even years of planning, research, testing, talking to customers, and refining courses. And it takes a lot of personal involvement from the author, at least initially (until you can actually guarantee results without your involvement).
We need to stop SAYING we are putting the success of our customers first and actually DO IT.
I believe that if we manage to do that, we might suffer revenue losses in the short run (like I did when I stopped selling some of my courses). But after we go through this dip, we’ll build a foundation for a business that we can run for years or even decades, where we’ll be able to establish ourselves as the top experts in the industry.
We’ll need to adapt to what our customers actually want, be willing to ask for and listen to their feedback, and take care of our best customers like we would take care of our best friends.
If we manage to do this, our business will slowly but steadily grow. If we fail to do this, we can keep trying to release new products and services, but if we just try to increase the amount of courses we create, the quality will drop. And when the quality drops, we lose the trust of our customers. And that can ruin our business.
We have a choice to make. Either we ignore this situation and blame the market… OR we can take a deep, honest look at ourselves and see what WE as online entrepreneurs can do better.
Now, to answer the question: Do you really need more online courses?
I do think recorded online courses can be valuable, especially if you are super self-driven or if the courses are short and around small topics that you can really learn and implement over a few weeks.
But if you’re trying to build an online business and want to get deep expertise around topics like copywriting, growing your email list and creating great content, you might be better off with joining a live program (similar to an online course, but delivered live with Q & A sessions, feedback sessions, etc.) like Ultimate Guide System, by getting a coach to work on your business with you 1on1, or joining a group coaching program.
I know I’m doing the same thing myself – I’ve stopped investing in online courses and am instead focusing on getting 1on1 coaches that are insanely good at what they do and joining the masterminds where I actually get personal access to top online entrepreneurs.
That’s it for today – I know this was a bit of a controversial post, but I also think we need to start having this kind of conversations and starting to build better businesses. I hope you’ll take some things away from this post that will help you invest in yourself more wisely in the future and if you’re building your own online business, build a much better online business that actually changes lives of millions of people.
What about you? Do you agree with me or disagree with my stance on online courses today?
Let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m really curious what you think.
P.S. Everything that we talked about today applies to creating amazing free content for your customers as well. If you want to learn more about building a kick ass business, download my free e-book on growing your business by creating the best free content in your industry (through the box below).
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