No One Finishes Online Courses – Now What?

Most people who register for online courses do not finish them.

I know. It’s frustrating.

Authors dedicate a lot of time to create real transformation for students. They hustle to market their courses and get people registered. That takes something. If you have done that, good job.

One thing that makes it easier to create courses is that there are tons of resources about making them.  I would argue there are too many. 

What’s missing are resources about helping students complete courses.

But first, why does it matter? Why should you care if students aren’t completing your course? It should matter to you because when your students get results, they share about those results from your course with others. That helps grow your business, and it improves the impact of what you are teaching. It matters for students because they get to feel accomplished. Their follow through builds their self-confidence. And they will remember you for that.


For the course creators, it may feel like your marketing flows seamlessly into your course, and your content will motivate students. It should right? But in fact, the only thing you got them to do is sign up.

If you pay attention to the masters, there’s a pattern you’ll notice.

The masters not only got you to buy their book or course. But at the beginning of the course, they herald you onto a heroic journey.

They describe what’s ahead like a guide or trainer that’s been on the journey you are about to take.

And they tell you that it’s a journey that’s going to take grit and character. And they ask for you to pause and clearly commit to the journey.

At the beginning of his book, Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith writes:

“If I do my job properly here and you do your part, two things will happen : 1) you will move closer to becoming the person you want to be and 2) you’ll have less regret. Shall we get started?”

And at the beginning of Seth Godin’s marketing course on Skillshare, he says:

“So before we get into this I want to talk about this class. I want to talk about what you are going to get out of it, and I want to talk about how you are going to get the most out of it.… If you are here to watch the video to see if I’m going to be humorous as usual… you will not get the most out of it… where you will really learn something is by doing the exercises….”

“The second thing I’m going to encourage you to do, is find someone to do this with. Instead of doing this on your own, find someone, whether its online or offline, who will look at what you are doing, you will look at what they are doing. Reach out to somebody, bring them in. There’s a lot to learn here, and I am hoping I can guide you through the steps, but most of all I am counting on you to dig in and answer some hard questions.”

Seth Godin is awesome.

A great teacher always addresses the map. The map includes “my part” and “your part.” My part is to inform and inspire you into action. Your part is to take action.

But I think Seth could improve upon this too. His call to action is not thought out as well as his informative content. “Your part” is to just go do it…

“Find someone” he says. Sure, there are lots of ways to find someone. You could ask a friend, start a meetup, launch a Facebook page, pitch a mastermind group. That sounds pretty easy.

But the truth is, it’s not easy finding someone to join you on a hard journey. And if you find them, then you have to figure out how to work together.

Online courses have such a low bar to clear to get started. But building a team that aligns to work together is a very high bar to clear.

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Most people who sign up for a course are not signing up to learn how to build a team to support one another through the course. (Don’t worry we’ll cover the “how” in Part II). It would almost be better if Seth asked you to not start until you have found someone, and even offer a little mini lesson with suggestions how to work together, like set start and end dates for working together.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel so hard to build a team. Like when you attend a live conference for example. Often a speaker or presenter will pitch out a challenge or a small workshop session. Your table is instantly a small breakout team. There’s a good chance you will feel some momentum right away. Why?

It’s like you are like a group of climbers who all showed up at the base of the same mountain with your gear on, at the same moment. You have each already committed resources to get in shape and get to the base of the mountain. As a group, you can recognize one another for what it took just to get started. Here, the barrier to ‘find someone’ is low. The group just needs to agree to do the whole climb together.

The bonds from conferences are strong. So how can you create a similar environment with an online course?

How can you setup a base camp so dedicated people show up and find each other?

More in the next installment.

Josh Race is a writer and community leader, technologist, husband, and father. He writes about learning and innovation, especially the impact of structured group experiences on personal performance. He is also the founder of the Heroic teaching platform. More at