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Top online course mistakes

Top Online Course Mistakes

So you’ve decided that you want to create an online course, or maybe you have one in place but just not getting the sign ups or the engagement that you want. How do you manage the potential pitfalls and avoid making mistakes? In this article, we want to share the top online course mistakes and how to avoid them.

1) Creating content rather than results

This is an easy trap to fall into. You know your stuff and you’ve trained to get where you are. You list out what you know and chunk it down into a series of modules. All you need now is to create some videos, add some handouts and you’re good to go right? This could be your first mistake. People don’t buy courses to learn what you know, they buy because they want results you have achieved (or have achieved with others). It’s the difference between offering a list of ingredients or a full recipe. Knowing what you know may not be enough to create what they want. They also need to know how to use that information to achieve the results they want.

Core Question: When you think about your course content, what do you need to include to ensure your students are able to replicate the results you have achieved?

2) No clear pathway

This follows on from #1. Imagine if you downloaded a recipe and all the instructions were there, you just didn’t know what order they came in. People need direction. If they are buying a course, they want to know the steps they need to take to get from A to B.

    1. What do they need to do to get from depression to contentment?
    2. How do they get from overweight to healthy?
    3. What will it take to go from a business start up to a six-figure turnover?

Your course should take your students on a clear and easy-to-follow pathway of steps from where they are now to where they want to be.

Core question: What are the keys steps that will take your students from their current situation to their desired outcome?

3) Too much content

The next of our top online course mistakes is too much content. You didn’t become an expert in your area overnight. You’ve built up a lot of knowledge and you are keen to share it with others. There’s a myth in online course building that more content equals more value. However, it simply isn’t true. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes is trying to share all of your expertise in one fell swoop. If you overwhelm people with information, they will disengage. At best, you’ll lose any repeat business; at worst, they will be asking for refunds. Instead, get precise. What do your students most need from you to achieve results? It is far better to have a series of smaller courses covering multiple topics than trying to be ‘all things to all people’ in one product.

Core question: What content is essential for people to know to achieve their desired outcome? (And bonus question: How can you condense this even more?)

4) Too little content

Not giving enough content is also in our list of top ten online course mistakes. People need enough instruction and direction to be able to achieve the results they want. It’s easy to make assumptions that your audience knows the process and skip vital aspects. If you drive, think of it like your first driving lesson. Imagine if the first time you got in a car, you’d been told to turn on the engine, release the handbrake, push the accelerator pedal and start steering. Hopefully, you’d have stalled before you did any damage! Make sure you give your students enough information to do what they need to do.

Core question: Are there any key steps you have overlooked in your pathway? What else might your students need to achieve their desired results?

5) Getting the pricing wrong

Pricing your online course can be one of the biggest challenges. Most of the people we speak with are terrified of over pricing. But pricing too low is also detrimental. It devalues the offer. We saw a course that promised a certified coach programme for £27 (around $40). Knowing the level of skills an effective coach needs raises huge questions about how that qualification can be achieved for such a low price! So how do you quantify what you are offering? It helps to already know the results your students will get. But you also need to understand what that result is worth to your audience. What’s the best way to discover this? Ask them!

Core question: What is the value of the results of your online course?

6) Content creepage

Like “Too much content” in #3 above, as you pull together your content, you discover all the added extras that you’d love to include. There’s that video you did a few years ago that talks about a similar topic. And you’ve just remembered an extract from your book that could be helpful. Then there’s a funny meme or an article that you spotted on social media. This is where you get into “content creepage” mode. People are looking for focus. There are huge demands on their time, energy and attention. What may seem like a funny little anecdote may get in the way of true learning or even be an annoyance to a student looking for answers to their problems.

Core question: Is all the content that I am planning to share relevant, applicable and needed to achieve their desired outcome?

7) Unfriendly user interface

Imagine you have just bought an expensive online course. You get your login details and go to the site. You arrive on the first page and have no clue about what to do next. There are no instructions. No menu or navigation. No direction. Just a plethora of content scattered over the page. When people feel uncertain, they disengage. If they have to figure it out, then you’ve missed the mark.  When designing the platform for your online course, your first thought should always be about the user experience. Map out the site and the links you need to have to make it super simple for your students to find their way around. An instructional welcome video showing “how it works” is a really good idea to make your new customers feel instantly at home.

Core question: How can you make your course layout as easy as possible to navigate?

8) Cluttered, chaotic or cheap graphics

It is easy to get to hung up on the design elements of your online course so it is worth mentioning here that no amount of cool or clever design work will make up for a lack of quality content. However, what you use to illustrate your content will set the tone and vibe for your online course. If that look is cluttered, chaotic or cheap, your students will feel it.

We’re advocates of less is more, particularly if you don’t have a huge budget for a graphic designer. Our advice is to keep it simple. Far better to have one or two complimentary fonts in your brand colours to use for emphasis than throwing everything at the page. If you need imagery, go for royalty free stock images or use a design programme like Canva to create stylish graphics in your chosen colours. But whatever you do, stay away from anything that looks like dated clip art, unless you are going for the 90’s throwback! It will immediately devalue your course or site

Core question: What graphics will really enhance the user experience?

9) Lack of community

It is astonishing how many courses we come across where students only signed in on the day they purchased the course and never returned. Lack of engagement is the biggest killer of online course success. How likely are you to tell people about a programme that you only used once? Engagement is key. So how do you get people to engage more fully? Create a sense of community. As part of the planning process, we strongly recommend that clients consider how they want to build community. It could be through forums, an external group (on Facebook or Mighty Networks, for instance) or points of engagement like celebrating milestones and achievements.

Core question: How can you build community in your online course?

10) Broken promises

The last of our top online course mistakes is broken promises. Don’t be the person that over promises and under delivers. For instance, there was an online course that included “free web hosting for life”. However, that promise now seems totally ridiculous, especially given the fast pace of technology. Within a few months, the offer had been retracted, undermining the value originally promised by the course.

Broken promises don’t have to be that drastic. It can be saying that you’ll reply to messages in 24 hours but then taking days to respond. So whatever you say you are going to do, do it. And if you doubt you can stay consistent then don’t promise it. You can still add value while being true to your word. For example, you don’t have to offer “lifetime access” for a course. You can give a time limit or even say “for as long as the course continues to run”. Remember: Promise less, deliver more.

Core question: What promises are you making in your offer and how confident are you that you can sustain those pledges?

Top Online Course Mistakes - Summary

Hopefully these top online course mistakes have offered food for thought. Over the next few posts, we’ll flip these potential pitfalls into actionable steps and share how to set up your online course to maximise the chances of success. 

And, if you feel like you’d benefit from extra help, why not check out our design and development services. We can support you from concept to launch, whether that is with a spotlight coaching session or full design service. Get in touch to find out more. 


Do you want to know how to avoid these potential pitfalls and get your Online Course right from the start? If so, get access to our Starter for 10 Series direct to your inbox.

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