The bet was that by 2025 the vast majority of learning budgets would be devolved to the individual employee and that they would spend these budgets on interactive, subject-specific, online learning. I also predicted that short, specific digital-based training would start to disrupt the long-established business model of higher education.
Do you think I will win the bet?
The world of education has been fundamentally altered by the growth of the online learning. Previously the domain of The Open University and gradually expanded across the higher education sector to include the biggest academic brands in the form of MOOC – Massive online open courses.
Whether you want to learn to knit, make stained glass, present better or to code, you can learn it online.
Online Learning Advantages
Online learning has many advantages for the student. You can learn at a time and place that suits you, you can recap a class and revisit it. You are not limited by the geography and facilities of your local area and you can be taught by experts at a price you can afford. My husband bought me Masterclass for my birthday this year and I was thrilled! Learning non-fiction writing with Malcolm Gladwell! Tennis with Venus Williams! Only $200 a year!
Digital has lots of advantages for the coach too. After the initial pain of birthing your course, you have a customizable product that offers repeatable returns and a scalable business model.
The cost of delivering the course takes neither your time nor your resources. Marie Forleo, Gary Vaynerchuk and Susan Pierce Thompson (Bright Line Eating) have demonstrated how quality education can be distributed worldwide.
After 15 years of career coaching 1 on 1, some years after my bet was made, I decided to create my own online program in my area of expertise Career Navigation and Career Change.
I wanted to share my journey with you to help you decide if adding a digital offer to your practice would be right for you. Here’s what I learned.
To produce a course, in the real world or online, you have to be an expert. You have to know your stuff. It helps if you have been in the field for a while, delivering education in person, with war stories, and with a proven method.
You may have a postgrad in your field and 20 years of professional practice – or you might be a passionate amateur.
Whether you want to teach digital marketing or gardening or events management, the important thing is to focus in on a very specific area.
Start with a small course, a practice run, not an epic masterpiece.
This enables you to try on the digital education space for size and see how it suits you – a pilot if you will. Decide on a very specific problem to solve – How to build your own website, how to make your own knickers… and go from there.
For example, our all-new Your Career Plan digital course.
It’s still selling now. It as entirely homemade and taught me loads about the medium. I actually didn’t focus in on the careers aspect of my work until I had piloted a simple course design.
2. Beginners Mind
To teach well, you need a beginner’s mind. You need to be able to go right back to basics (unless the course is specifically for advanced learners).
So take time to think about what you want to teach and how people learn. When I was building my course I used post-it notes to capture all my ideas for ‘chapters’ or ‘modules’ of the program.
Then I moved these about until the order made sense.
Then I showed this design to a potential participant, talked them through it and got their feedback.
This was very useful prior to actually investing in the hard work of the build. Always pilot a small version of the initial idea before investing more time or money.
3. Know Your Audience
Which brings me to the most important aspect.
You have to know who you are speaking to, what troubles them and what kind of solution will suit them best.
When I began thinking about a career planning program, I was most focussed on the audience of women leaving corporate.
They had been the clients most attracted to working with me 121 as a career coach and those with whom I had the most success. Who is the equivalent for you? Knowing this gives you an immediate community of engaged would-be users from whom to get feedback and advice.
4. The Power of the Platform
There is a huge range of platforms available on which to publish your digital program, with a range of functionalities and price brackets. There are a few key decisions you need to make before you invest.
- It’s free to use.
- You get very good guidance on what makes for a high-quality product.
- The scrutiny and feedback here is invaluable.
- There is a fixed maximum price point.
- You can’t collect emails –and thus build an engaged mailing list and
- The competition. You are on a marketplace platform with thousands of others and may struggle to get heard/seen.
At the other end of the spectrum, is the option to self manage.
If you have a WordPress based website, it might be worth considering Optimize Press. This is a simple plugin for a one-off small cost.
This enables you to add a membership function to your existing website – effectively creating your own course environment.
This was the option I went for. I liked it because I had control over the email collection, the price point, the design process, and the content.
The downsides – it does require a bit more admin to manage your own platform, though this can be contracted out for a small fee. Y
ou are also responsible for the look and feel, so thinking about format, design, and fonts all become more important.
They have some neat functionality for notetaking for students and interactivity for sessions, classes, notes, etc.
You can charge what you like and you don’t have to worry about designing an aesthetic landing page, its plug and play.
The downside is that monthly fees rack up, so if you take longer than you expect to get going or get distracted by another project, you can easily rack up $100’s of dollars in fees.
If you cancel the subscription, your hard work to build a course disappears and you will have to move the content elsewhere.
In the end, when it came to Your Career Plan Digital, we actually decided to mix up both videos hosted on an email course format, with small live group classes, delivered via both Zoom and WebinarJam. Our experience has taught us that a blend between live and online sessions delivers the best results, encourages momentum and ensures our participants get the results they want.
5. Quality Brand, Design and Delivery
It’s not just the content that makes a good course.
Branding, visual appeal and easy access for your students is also important. Consider how you want them to feel about your course, what the price point will be, what value you deliver and make sure that the user experience and identity are in line with that.
I’ve been on some quite scrappy websites that want me to pay $800 +. I’m not down with that. You want as high-end production values as possible on as economical a budget as possible.
Again, you can do it yourself, with videos on an iPhone using a tripod and a small simple mike, do the editing on Quicktime/PC equivalent or even use Screenflow, Camtasia alongside a good quality podcasting microphone.
Or you can pay for professional filming and editing, animation or illustration using talent on platforms such as People Per Hour or your local freelance community.
The first time round I did all my filming in the comfort of my own home and paid someone to top and tail my edits.
I paid for a logo and brand and for someone to help me set up the membership site. It wasn’t until I did a complete product pivot that I went high end with the videoing and branding but by then the price point had also moved, from $350 per person to a whole other model that scaled across an entire business.
7. Marketing is Massive
So your course is designed and uploaded, your materials are made. You are ready to go live – but to whom? You want to remember to let people know that the course is coming and to engage your audience early, whether via email, Facebook communities or LinkedIn.
Tenacity, regularity, and relevance are key.
The Airbnb founders tell the story of launching three times and no one caring! It takes time to build an audience and community and despite talk of ‘Six Figure Launches’ and all, the reality is that your first fanfare will likely end in a small number of sign-ups from a pilot group.
For more information on marketing digital products skilfully, check out Alexa’s blog
8. Routes to Market and Promotion
When your course is out there the next stage is continued promotion to new audiences. You might offer free webinars to interested parties, speak at relevant events or attract a new audience through an offer on someone else’s’ mailing list (this is called a Joint Venture).
The most crucial thing I learned was that actually, I was marketing to the wrong audience.
There were lots of people thinking about a career change, but many of them were in big companies. In time, the company pivoted from a coaching company serving the public to a consulting company service business clients.
I found that the digital course I had built on career change was actually a great product for our corporate audiences and had the benefit of a higher client value – as now I was selling not one place on the program at a time but actually hundreds of places in one go.
Whether you are thinking of launching a one to many group coaching program, a standalone educational course or a scalable digital solution for companies, there is a model of digitizing that can work for your thought leadership and industry. I hope my story has set the cogs whirring about how this exciting new model could work for you!
Your Career Plan Digital is now live!
We have started the first pilot. The next cohort will begin in October.
Life’s too short to feel trapped. Too many of us just fell into our careers so it’s little surprise that things don’t always work out. Your Career Plan Digital gives you the chance to focus on your career and take stock.