We’ve been looking mostly at how to market your courses recently. Let’s take a break from that and look at actual course creation and formatting. The look and feel of your courses is almost as important as the learning content itself. Learners like to feel they are engaging with a quality product. Here are some tips on achieving that and generating customer loyalty. But first, make sure you’re in control of the whole process.
Make sure you’re in control
It’s important to maintain editorial control over your content. If you need to make changes to your materials, you don’t want to be reaching out to a third party to do it for you. You need to be agile and responsive and stay in charge of the whole user experience.
So make sure you have access to all your web content and are able to edit and modify it when you need to. Make sure you know how to upload new audio, video, text and images and that the changes happen straight away.
When supplying documents to your learners, present as professional an image as possible. Brand all your documents with a consistent template. You can use sites like Upwork or Fiverr to find somebody to produce an attractive document template for you. You can usually get good quality work for a small outlay. Convert Word docs into PDF for sending out. This preserves your formatting and branding across the different platforms the documents are likely to be viewed on.
Use a clear, easy to read font. Using a fancy font may seem like a nice touch, but it’s likely to be harder to read. Go for a standard font – they’re popular precisely because they’re easy to read and don’t draw attention to themselves. Don’t be tempted to use different colours for headings, etc. Black and white is what people expect when presented with text, and there’s no good reason to give them anything else. Headings can be a single colour like blue, but keep it consistent. Details like that become part of your brand.
ELearning is a very visual medium. Learners are attracted to content that looks good and makes them feel good about using it. So even if your courses are not all-singing-all-dancing multimedia extravaganzas and are based on simple PDFs and slides, a little effort to make them look good, consistent and professional will go a long way to reassure your learners that they have invested in a well-thought-out learning product.
For images, unless you create your own, you may wish to subscribe to iStockPhoto or similar, or use a service like Freepik or Pixabay. The latter are free but require an image credit wherever they are used, unless you pay a small subscription fee to enable you to use the images without having to credit them. Terms can vary from image to image – be careful to use images according to the terms under which you acquired them. Some stock photo companies scan the web for their images and will write to you with a takedown order and demand payment if their terms have been violated.
Don’t get yourself in that situation. Free images are not necessarily free to use any way you wish. Get to know what terms like Public Domain and Creative Commons Licence mean so you can keep yourself safe when using images in your content. The safest way of all, of course, is to create your own images.
Break it up
Avoid long, unbroken pieces of content. Remember from your own learning experiences that sometimes learners can suffer from information overload and switch off. So chunk your content into bite-sized pieces. Break up long paragraphs into bullet points. Use bold subheadings that clearly categorise the information. The course itself should also be a digestible chunk. A good rule of thumb is: if a course cannot be completed in one sitting (30 minutes or so), split it into a series of courses.
Sell more courses by getting creative with your pricing
Sure, everyone likes to save money. However, you shouldn’t lead with saying that you have the lowest-priced course of its kind or that buyers are going to get a discount – even if it might be true. You can save those things for later, after you have the customer in the mood to buy. Even if you have a low-priced course, the customers aren’t going to buy if it isn’t right for them. Therefore, you need to work hard to show them the benefits of the course. Make them want it … make them need it, before they ever see the price. Then, when they see that they are getting a good deal on the course, it is easier than ever to hit the button to buy.
When it does come to talking business with the customer, you can entice more people to buy if you get creative with your pricing in a few ways. Your ability to do this will depend on the ecommerce gateway you are using. With straightforward PayPal, for example, you can manually alter the prices and manually reset them, but a more sophisticated ecommerce system will allow more flexibility and help generate more sales. Here are some ways to manipulate your pricing to drive sales growth. See which ones you can do with what you’ve got.
Offer course bundles. Bundle a related course in with the purchase to sweeten the deal. It can be free or half price, but make it a quality course, not an afterthought. It’s important to deliver the value you have promised, as this can drive good word-of-mouth and customer loyalty.
Give limited offers. This can be applied to the above as well to create urgency. Limited offers could include early bird discounts for a new course, a Summer Special, or any time period that is appropriate for your course or courses. Stage your own ‘Black Friday’ at a suitable time and generate more income.
Put a timer on it. A fun way of creating urgency is to have a countdown timer on your website course page showing the price going up as the hours tick down. This can be repeated every week or month. It’s interesting how people will bookmark your course page and return when they know the price will be lowest. There are even sites with ‘yo-yo’ timers that go up and down, which are a way of gamifying the buying experience: buyers watch and wait for the optimum time to buy. This style will not suit every type of learning content, but it’s memorable and has been shown to work in internet retail.
Offer group discounts. Sometimes a company will want to buy multiple seats for its employees, or a group of learners might club together to take your course. Offer tiered discounting to encourage large purchases, such as 15% for 5 places, 25% for 10 places, 35% for 20 places and so on. If your ecommerce system can handle this automatically it makes it easier. Otherwise it may be possible manually, or by billing the customer by invoice and doing the enrollments yourself.
Coupons and special offers. If your checkout system can be set to accept coupon codes for discounts, set up a coupon code and send it out in your newsletter (here’s an article on how to create effective newsletters). Or place the code on your website. Offer a fairly generous discount – 5% isn’t that tempting really, so go for 15% or more.
Offer membership discounts. This can be achieved by giving a discount to members of particular organizations likely to use your course, or by building your own membership database. The latter can be as simple as offering a reduced course price to those who sign up to your newsletter.
You should consider the benefits of telling stories rather than overusing adjectives with your copywriting. Describing the course as amazing, excellent, great, high-level and the like is not going to win you many customers. They know that they are essentially reading ad copy so when you use words such as this, they have no effect. Instead, you need to tell stories that help to keep people interested.
Let’s imagine you are selling a course where people can learn to lose weight. You could talk about how you were out of shape and how frustrated you were. Talk about your triumph as you started to shed the pounds and to get stronger. This ties in nicely with making it personal and it’s just one type of story you could tell. You could talk about founding the company, and you could use testimonials from people who have actually used the course and succeeded.
There are countless stories that can help you to sell the course. You need to find the ones that will work the best for your product and the type of customers that you are trying to attract.
In your copy, you will also want to make sure that you are using the right types of words, commonly referred to as ‘power words’ that you may want to sprinkle into your copywriting include:
You – Remember that you are trying to make it personal, so talking to the reader by using “You” is helpful. It gets their attention.
Because – Since people were young, the answer to why they should do something usually started with the word “because”. When they asked why they couldn’t have candy before dinner, their parents said, “Because it will spoil your appetite.” When you use because in your writing, it can have a similar effect.
Instantly – We live in the age of the Internet and fast food restaurants. We want things right now. Using the word instantly, such as, “You will instantly notice a difference in your (insert the subject of your course here) when you start” will make buyers believe that they’ve found a fast solution to their issues.
New – People like things that are new, including new courses and new ways of approaching old problems. When you have a new course or new methods of teaching something, it excites people and they want to try it.
Everything included – Helps to establish that your course is all the customer needs to buy to reach their goal.
There are many other power words. Google around and find ones that will work with your course and customers.
Last week’s article was about selling more courses by making your online copy pop, and getting rid of stagnant online copywriting. Here’s the next bit: Keep it brief, and personalise your online copy to really make it shine.
Be Brief, but Still Make It Enjoyable to Read
When you are writing online marketing copy, you also need to be as concise and as simple as possible since you have limited space and a limited amount of time to catch and keep the interest of the reader. You are not trying to impress someone with flowery prose. You are trying to sell something, and the best way to do that is to get to the point. Why do they need what your course is teaching? What does your course offer? Pose such questions as bullet points, and do not forget adding one for just why should they buy from you.
This does not mean that you can’t be entertaining in your copy. In fact, you should be as entertaining as possible depending on the subject matter. If you can keep people interested and give them compelling reasons as to why they should buy from you, you will be in a good position.
While we mentioned the fact that brevity in copy is usually a good thing, keep in mind that it truly depends on what you are selling. Some courses, for example, do need to have more copy written about them. That’s fine, as long as you are sure to cut out the extra that you don’t really need. The copy should always be as long as it needs to be, no more and no less.
Make It Personal
You should also do your best to make the copy relate to readers on a personal level. If you are selling a course on how to lose weight, for example, you will want to connect with the reader on an emotional and empathetic level. You’ve been there, you know the struggle, and your product will help them to achieve the results they so desperately want.
When you can back up this emotional connection with the actual value points of the course you are providing, it will resonate with the reader. By making them understand what your course can do to better their life or make things easier in some way, you grab their interest. They are far more willing to see what you have to offer.
When you are making the copy personal, it is important that you aren’t writing to a wide audience in general. A good habit to get into when you are creating the text is to think of one person, the perfect potential buyer, and write specifically for him or her. Writing with this imaginary person in mind helps you to make the text come across as more personal and more genuine. Pretend that you are talking with a friend or a family member and you are trying to let them know everything that the course has to offer.
Remember, you should be writing to a feeling that is already in your customer. They found your information because they are interested in losing weight, for example. This means that they are already primed to listen to what you have to say in your copy. You then need to write your copy to reflect the customer’s feelings and to show them how your course, whatever it might be, can make things better.
Have you been having difficulty getting the courses you are promoting to actually get any traction? The copywriting you are using to advertise and promote the course might be the problem. Even when you might have a great course available that you truly believe in, if you don’t have copy that sizzles and really makes someone want to learn more, they are never going to take the plunge.
What you need to do right now is commit to removing all of that old and stagnant copy that is not doing you any favours and to replace it with copy that hits all of the right notes. Doing this will come from your knowledge of the course and the ideal customers you want to reach.
Whether you are selling a course on fitness, how to play the ukulele, or anything else, you have to know what you are talking about and how you can make it interesting and compelling enough to your readers that they will want to learn more about the course and ultimately choose to buy.
Let’s look at some of the most important things that you can (and should) be doing to increase the effectiveness of the copy that you are writing.
How People Read Online
One of the most important things to do when you are writing or rewriting your copy is to think about how people read material online. Few people want to read massive walls of text, especially when it is on their computer screen, their tablet, or their smartphone.
They want things to be broken up into smaller bite-sized chunks that they can skim easily. They want to have the most important things – the benefits that your course offers – outlined for them. Consider what you would want to see when you are looking up information on your course and focus on those important elements when you are creating our online copy.
Make the Reader Need to Choose Your Course
What is it that will make the course you are selling different and better than others that are on the market? What is it about the course that will help the prospective student to improve his or her situation in some way? Knowing what your “ideal customer” is looking for when it comes to the type of course you are offering is the key to getting your talking points for the copy.
Make a list of what your product offers and compare that with a list of the things that your ideal customers want or need the most. Focus your writing on where those points intercede.
Show the reader what they will be taking away from the course. Let them know what type of knowledge they will gain, and as mentioned, you want to do so in smaller blocks of text – even bullet points to highlight the most important information – so they can digest it easily.
It is very important that you are as clear as possible when you are creating your copy. Do not use obscure language when something simpler will suffice. This ties in closely with the next element we’ll discuss – being brief.
Next week: Being brief and concise, and personalisation of copy to your target market.
It’s worth going through five of this respected professional’s points on boosting course sales and relating them to the eCommerce provided by Course Merchant, because there is plenty of synergy there. Without an eCommerce component, you can’t sell courses online. And it seems Course Merchant covers most of the bases John Leh mentions in his blog post.
Sell more content directly to individual learners. Leh recommends promoting courses via email links, blog post links and social media. Course Merchant goes a step further by creating Buy Now links that can be pasted anywhere and take the learner straight to checkout, bypassing your store for an instant purchase. Links to course descriptions can be included alongside a Buy Now link or button so that learners who are not yet close to buying can find out more about the course before they commit.
Provide personalised subject matter expertise as a premium add-on. It’s simple to create bundled products within Course Merchant, in which a premium version of a course comes bundled with a premium add-on course or other supplementary materials you can supply by other means, such as email, face to face, webinar or telephone consulting.
Provide ability to purchase ‘multiple seats’. Course Merchant allows corporate purchasers to buy multiple seats, with discount bands set if required, and then allocate those seats to a cohort of learners automatically via .csv upload of a file containing first name, last name, and email address, or manually. Learners then receive a direct email link to access the LMS and start learning immediately, or at a set date in the future.
Provide private, branded content options. This is principally LMS-side work. If branded content exists within the LMS, Course Merchant can provide any number of branded category pages containing products connected to specific branded areas within the LMS.
Provide a private, branded learning site. For large organisations with diverse audiences who need to experience a unified corporate learning environment, Course Merchant builds stores that are design-matched to the corporate learning portal for a seamless user experience. The rest of the experience is LMS-side, where eLearning content creators can continue the branded design work.
In addition to these course marketing ideas, we would include CourseIndex, our dedicated course marketing site where you can boost your course sales by adding them to its course search engine, have content written about them, place ads, or enter into a revenue partnership.
Talented Learning are a Learning Management Systems consultancy with over 18 years of experience in helping companies plan, buy and deploy LMS and eLearning programs. They provide unbiased consulting on contract negotiation, qualified vendor identification, RFP creation and management, and a suite of further consulting services covering LMS for extended enterprise and internal employees. Course Merchant are in no way affiliated to Talented learning.
Have you ever attended a lecture or class in which the professor, though an expert in his or her field, fails to engage the audience? Probably half of them fell asleep and the other half couldn’t remember much about the experience. It’s the same with e-Learning. Think about how learners will apply what they learn in your course to their real-world lives. That will guide you to create compelling and useful content.
There’s a common problem with experts. Things that occupy the mind of the expert might be of only passing interest to the newcomer. Experts are so entrenched in their subject matter that they can struggle to identify and highlight the value it represents to non-experts.
Try to bear this in mind when creating content and remember that you know so much about your field that fully opening the floodgates of your knowledge might drown your learners. You’ll need to drip-feed them by delivering your expertise in easily-digestible, bite-sized chunks. Good educators have been doing this for millennia, and e-Learning is a medium that helps rather than hinders you in designing measured, well-paced learning. The insights you gained into your target market when researching your learners is invaluable in achieving the right pacing and depth.
Here are some points to help you create engaging content:
Make it clear why they need to learn this. List learning objectives and outcomes.
Make it as interactive as possible. Get learners to do active tasks frequently, like checklists and worksheets.
Prune your materials to get rid of any content that is not essential. This gives it more impact and makes it more memorable.
Split it into chunks that are easily absorbed and roughly equal in length.
Use short paragraphs and bullet points.
Stimulate more than one sense. Use video, audio and images to convey knowledge as well as text.
Make sure key learning points are repeated often. Set quizzes to test their knowledge along the way.
Following on from last week’s article Identify Your Audience, we’d like to present some tips on carving out your niche in the eLearning marketplace by making your courses stand out. You can achieve this by giving them a unique angle, organising them logically, and ‘productising’ them with tempting packaging.
Don’t try to be all things to all people. The most successful businesses often have a limited range of features and offerings, but do them very well. Do a small number of things in a niche, find a unique angle for presenting them, and aim to become the best course provider in that niche.
Let’s take an example at random: Excel training. That might sound dry if you are an artist or a dog trainer, but the principles are the same. Let’s for a moment say you’re an Excel ninja. This is quite a crowded market so you’ll need to differentiate yourself somehow. There are plenty of free Excel tutorials out there already, so you need to offer a special hook. How about little-known Excel shortcuts and time savers? Real-life case studies? Excel for silver surfers? Common Excel mistakes and how to avoid them? Something that piques people’s interest and gets them reading your course’s description. If your first few courses have a unique angle that engages people, you can expand later into more general topics once you have gained some followers.
If you have multiple courses, try to package them in some kind of order. This can be a simple progression, e.g. pastry making 1, pastry making 2 etc. This type of structure suggests that each course builds upon the last one and presents slightly more advanced content. In your field, the course titles might speak for themselves and not need to be numbered. The idea is to tell a story that is logical and leads learners onwards with a sense of progression. Give your courses a clear narrative and the whole package will be more appealing. Present learners with a path to follow and this will add value. Do it really well and this path differentiates you and becomes your brand.
Selling courses online can be much more than just a financial transaction. It’s good when someone buys your course, but building a relationship with them so they will come back for more is even better and will be more profitable in the long term. If you research your potential learners and listen to their needs, over time you can build a brand with a loyal following. They will spread the word about your courses and attract others.
To succeed at selling courses online, you need a vision of who your target customers are, what they need and how they think. That way you have a much greater chance of cultivating a group of fans rather than just one-time customers. You might already have a course or set of courses that have sold well. In that case, the following information is also helpful in planning how to move your project forward and grow your business further.
Rather than thinking about whom you can sell to, it is more productive to think of how your course will give a genuinely valuable and positive result to learners. What is their starting point, what are their problems, issues and needs, how does your course address them, and what is the end result that will open doors for them or change their lives for the better? In other words, make your courses useful.
So who are the people in your target audience, and how do you find and nurture them by giving them a useful learning experience?
You need to home in on a group of people who will gain a direct benefit from what you have to offer. What are their demographics likely to be? Were they born into a digital world or is e-Learning a bit of a stretch for them? Here are four key points to think about:
What are the main challenges and issues they face, and what do I know that can help address them?
What is their likely level of prior knowledge in the subject? This impacts how likely they are to engage with new material. Finding out their level of knowledge in the field will guide you in creating content that is neither too advanced nor too basic.
What is their general level of education likely to be? Try to pitch your offer accordingly.
Perhaps most importantly, what are their key motivations and desires? If you can target these, you will have learners who are motivated from within. If it helps them get ahead and get closer to their dreams and goals, you have found the ideal audience for your learning offer.
Brainstorm everything you can about your target audience. How old do you think they are likely to be? What is their income level? Where do they live? Are they all native speakers or are they a mixed international audience?
Don’t make assumptions or rely on stereotypes. Try to find real evidence for your generalisations by browsing relevant forums and getting familiar with how your target group communicates. Read some publications they read. Put yourself in their shoes. Join their communities and interact. You can even engage them by setting up a survey to gauge their needs, desires, learning goals and pain points. SurveyMonkey is one good free survey tool you can use. If you word them carefully, the data from such surveys should be highly valuable to you as it gives insight about your target audience’s innermost motivations. This information will help you to mould your offer so that it has the best chance of selling.
Google some keywords and phrases that people are likely to use when searching for the kind of content you have to offer. Explore the search results they bring up. This is how people are likely to find your courses, so get a feel for the key words and phrases. Start with broad terms and refine your search gradually. Spend time learning about your market. Any Google ads that pop up in your search results are likely to be from your potential competitors. Check them out, see what they have to offer and plan how to do it better!
It’s crucial to gain a good knowledge of the other courses in your field that are on the market. Think of the price/value ratio. If you can afford it, buy one and work through it. Think like a member of your target audience and ask how well it meets your needs and whether you would be happy having paid the asking price for it. This will help you to find the sweet spot when setting prices for your own material.
As an eLearning content provider, you are also a marketer. Take a leaf out of top marketing companies’ book and get to know your customers inside out. When you know what they want (what they really, really want) , and offer it to them, they will buy.
Beyond the blog: pushing the course marketing envelope
Blogging and writing content are important parts of a marketing strategy, but you can expand your reach further by offering content that appeals to people’s visual and auditory senses as well. Here are three ways of capturing attention in addition to blogging and writing content.
Podcasting. This is like having your own radio show. Recording a regular podcast and putting it on iTunes or having downloadable episodes from your website can further help to establish you as an authority figure in the industry your course is about. Invite guests on the podcast to discuss current issues in your industry or talk about news and products. Keep the tone light and fun, but include useful discussions to keep people tuning in.
Infographics. These are eye-catching illustrated ways of presenting data and facts. They are more engaging than lists of facts and, being images, will appear in Google image searches. Sometimes a correctly-tagged image can trump your written content in search results, so infographics are a great way to provide useful information via the visual medium. There is plenty of software available to make them – some of it even automatically creates an infographic out of data you feed into it. You can then post the infographics on Instagram, Pinterest, your site and other authority sites.
You might think that email marketing is outdated now, but you’d be wrong. It has not been swept away by newer marketing methods, but exists alongside them and remains very effective. Email marketing has a relatively high return on investment, and it’s a great way to directly provide your customers with additional content that supplements the course or convinces them to take it in the first place. You can reach a large number of people in a short period and there are tools for automating your email marketing campaigns. It bypasses the process of placing content on the web and optimising it for search. Your content lands straight in your prospective customers’ inboxes.
Here are some tips for effective email marketing:
Grow your own mailing list. Buying email lists is a complete waste of time because you will just spam people who aren’t interested in buying your course. The right way to grow a mailing lists is to invite people to subscribe to your email newsletter. Then they will have agreed in advance to receive email from you, so they are more likely to actually read your messages and more likely to become a buyer in the future.
Place a newsletter sign-up form on your site (preferably every page) and in your email signature. It should ask for a minimum of information: name, email address and maybe city, but leave it at that. It needs to be quick and easy to sign up. Some of the most effective newsletter sign-up forms simply consist of an email field and a big ‘Sign up’ button next to it. Put the form and button in any other places you can think of online.
Create quality messages to keep people subscribed. What does quality mean in this case? Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective buyer of your course and think what sort of messages you would like to receive. What email headlines would make you open the emails? What headlines would make you send it to the trash folder? Subscribe to some email newsletters from other people and companies, and see what you think is right or wrong with their offerings.
Have a conversion goal for each email. A conversion goal is an action that you want people to take after reading the email. This could be to sign up for your course now, or visit your site to read some further content, or some other action that moves them further along in their buying journey. It’s easier to write effective emails when you have a clear goal in mind. Keep the tone conversational rather than salesy, and write as if you were to receive the email yourself. Communicate value in a human, friendly way and aim to build relationships with the recipients.
Listen to feedback. In the comments section of your blog, in replies to emails and on social media, there will be suggestions about the emails and newsletters you offer. If the requests are reasonable, add what is being asked for to the next newsletter or email. This shows that you listen to your community and you care about what they want.
Consider including audio and video in emails as it can get a better response.
You can manage an email list as simply as pasting your list of subscribers into the ‘To’ field of your email client (but always use BCC!), or it can be as sophisticated as using email campaign software such as MailChimp or sending emails from within a CRM (Customer relationship Management) system, with mail merge to personalise each email to the recipient, and much more. Start simply and build your tools as you progress.
When you bring people to your site, what page will they land on? It might be different based on what you are trying to do with a particular piece of content. In some cases, people might go directly to your blog, and other times, they may go to a landing page where you delve more into your training course and have your buy button.
When you have a pay-per-click campaign or an email campaign, the links will generally send people right to your landing page. The page needs to convert the visitor into a lead, and hopefully make them want to buy your course, or at least get more information.
A good landing page will extol the benefits of the course, why yours is the right course to take, and how it can better the life of the reader in some way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a hard sell, and the reader doesn’t have to buy at the moment. One of the best things to do on a landing page is to offer the reader something without charge. This could be an e-book, for example, or a free module of a course that showcases the quality of your learning content.
You can then request the person’s email and permission to add them to your email list in exchange for the book. Since people will be getting something free on your page, they will be more inclined to give you their email.
They are interested in your course, and you have their email… they are a lead. Now, you simply need to convert them to a buyer. Good content on your site, interaction on social media, and providing something to entice the buyer, such as the aforementioned free e-book or module, can help you to take your leads to the next level. It’s a process, but it can help you to increase the sales of your course.
One of the biggest benefits of being on social media is the fact that you can expand your brand. No matter what type of training course you might be offering, you need to establish a strong brand if you want to be known as a trusted expert. Being active on social media will increase the number of people who know about your brand. This makes it easy to promote your brand to people who are interested in the types of courses you offer.
Since everything on social media is easy to share, the people who find your posts and content can simply click on their share button or re-tweet it. This means your content can go out to more people than you currently have, and that can turn into new fans and followers, which can become leads and eventually customers.
One of the best benefits of using social media is the fact that you can form a community online even easier than you can on your own site. The people who are following your page can not only ask you questions, but they can communicate with one another. This helps to create a sense of community and loyalty. The fast communication also means you can improve your customer service since it gives people another avenue to get in touch with you.
If your engagement is low, consider changing the type of content you are posting. Test that content and measure the success. Keep tweaking the type of posts you make to see which ones get the biggest results.
Many people don’t consider the timing of their posts, and this is a problem. You need to think about the time of day when your fans and followers tend to be the most active online, as this will increase their chance of seeing the content you post. Content posted to social media sites comes in fast and furious. Before you can blink, there are other posts trying to garner your attention.
Your fans and followers are going through the same thing. If you don’t post at the right time, and if you don’t have high quality content that grabs their attention, they might simply miss it. You can use tools like Hootsuite and Buffer that can help you get a better idea of when your users are the most active. This can help to increase engagement and activity on your social sites.
In addition, you should look at the click-through rate on the content that you post. If you have posts that lead back to your website or landing page, you want to know how many people are coming to you through social media. Your analytics tools for your blog, such as Google Analytics, can help you learn where you traffic is coming from, and you can factor that in when measuring the success of your social media efforts.
Go for the Big Three to start with: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If your course is rich in images then use Instagram and Pinterest as well. You can have free accounts set up in minutes and start attracting new customers.
Backlinks are still one of the most important aspects of building a site that gets a good page ranking in Google and other search engines. However, many people do not truly understand what a backlink is and how to tell the difference between quality backlinks and those that could actually hurt your site.
What not to do
Don’t use link exchanges or link farms. They do still exist, and Google penalises their use. The issue with link exchanges comes when people abuse the system. In the past, this was rampant. People would join link exchanges and host hundreds of links on their site, and have those hundreds of sites host their links. This was all in an effort to climb to the top of the page rankings. It worked, but the quality of the sites that rose to the top was often very low. Google and other search engines want their users to have the best possible experience and to find the type of content they are looking for.
Now, they look for this type of activity when they are ranking websites, and they can remove your page ranking if this happens. Link exchanges look like they are an easy way to increase your page ranking, but they are only going to harm your site in the long run.
Avoid most web directories. Adding links to web directories is another old trick that Google is now wise to. You can still use them, but they need to be high quality directories respected by Google. Examples of good ones include Yahoo’s directory, DMOZ and the Best of the Web directory. These are unlikely to hurt your site’s SEO, and are probably worth it.
In the early days of web content marketing, it seemed like a good idea to write content for article directories and include links back to your site. But human nature led to low-quality, often even unintelligible, content being posted just for the backlinks. Google wants people to find high-quality, relevant content through search, so its algorithms have devalued links from these sites as spammy, and using them will hurt your site’s SEO.
Low-quality sites in general
If you add a link to a site that you later regret – on someone else’s blog that itself doesn’t rank well, for example, here’s what to do:
Contact the site owner and request that the link be taken down.
If 1 fails, use the disavow command in Google Webmaster Tools to make Google ignore the unwanted link. Here’s how to do it.
What you should be doing
Write only quality content. Never keyword-stuff or write anything but content that is relevant to what you do. Post quality content on your own site and make sure anything you post elsewhere is of similarly high quality and relevance.
Post it on authority sites. Any site you add your content and links to should be highly relevant to the industry or subject area your courses are about. They should also have a high page authority, which predicts how well a page will rank in search results. Some of that authority will transfer to your site if you have a relevant link from it. Here is some information about page authority.
Build backlinks slowly and gradually. Google smells a rat if there is a sudden influx of links to your site, and may believe that you have somehow manipulated the system. Playing the long game will get better results than having a concentrated frenzy of backlink creation. Like growing vegetables, your site’s SEO will grow organically rather than turning into a hormonally-pumped freak with no flavour. Google will like this and rank you better.
Promote every piece of content you write. It should become second nature to post links to your articles on social media after posting them on the web. If you have an email newsletter, include them in there too.
Your courses will not sell themselves. How nice it would be to put them online and just wait for the sales to start coming in! Sadly, you would be waiting a long time. Nobody will find your courses unless you put a marketing plan into action and maintain it. The following is a guide to using content marketing to raise awareness of your courses and build an online presence that sells them.
Nowadays most people look for their news and information on the Web. So that’s where you need to be. But it’s not enough to place ads. Everybody is besieged by ads and it’s getting harder to generate interest from them. So marketing habits are changing. Customers require multiple points of contact with you before they will buy a course from you. Rather than the old way of placing ads and hoping lots of people will buy, marketing now involves nurturing a relationship with the prospective customer and leading them down the sales funnel towards the sale. Content marketing aims to build awareness, interest and trust, leading to action and finally loyalty.
Hardly anyone is taken in by the hard sell any more. What works best these days is regularly providing information that is genuinely helpful to people, with the aim of building your image as an expert and a source of useful information. Then they are more likely to buy from you when you invite them to. If you devote time to it regularly, it works. That’s why marketers these days like to say ‘Content is King’.
You can post content to your own site and then link back to it on social media, or write for a website or blog that has a lot of readers in the industry your course covers. It can be surprising how receptive website owners are to people offering new material that is more than just a blatant product pitch. You can get a regular guest post slot if you write well enough, with a link to your website. Here are some ideas for content on your site or on somebody else’s that builds your image as a trusted source of knowledge from whom people are willing to buy courses:
Write posts about important events in the industry your course covers.
Write a profile of an important person in your field.
Answer some of the frequently asked questions you get from customers and potential customers.
Make a PowerPoint presentation showcasing your expertise and put it on SlideShare. Or use previous slides you have made for a presentation or lecture and repurpose them for marketing.
Make a video of the slide show with a voiceover by yourself and put it on YouTube and Vimeo. That’s just one way to use video. Video is good for marketing because people engage with video more easily than text.
Curate other people’s content. If you find something of interest, link to it on your blog or site, saying in your own words why it’s of interest. Always credit the author – never pass off somebody else’s content as your own. Alternatively, use that piece as inspiration to write your own post in your own words and with your own ideas. As always, be careful about copyrighted images. If in doubt, use your own.
Find a way to link your course with something that’s happening in popular culture right now and write a post about it.
Write about some of the tools you have used to make your job easier. Try to make the information immediately useful to your potential customers.
Produce content regularly and post it at the same time on the same day of the week if possible. Make a regular appointment with readers and some will eventually bookmark you and check for your next piece.
Moodle 3.2 was released for download on Monday December 5th. The latest release of the world’s most popular learning management system brings several former plugins into the fold of Moodle core, making them available as default and granting them full support by Moodle HQ. Other changes to the core code have been made to bring new possibilities to the table. Here is a rundown of some key new features, with links to fuller information below.
A fresh new appearance designed to unify the desktop and mobile experience. Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas says of Boost: ‘The changes are not too radical, so long-time Moodle users will learn it quickly, but they give Moodle sites a fresh, new appearance that aligns with many websites and apps that you might be familiar with.
‘With that comes better navigation, configuration and more space on your screen for important course content. We really hope the community enjoys it, and help us refine it further in releases to come.’
A much improved, modern media player that offers faster streaming, subtitles and captions, and a wider range of supported file types.
Users of Moodle 3.2 can orientate themselves within the LMS more quickly with a suite of user tours, which were previously plugins. Teachers and Administrators can give walkthroughs of their content to make students feel at home.
Shareable competency frameworks
Import and export competency frameworks as .csv files, and share them between Moodle instances.
Interactive report charts
Interactive and responsive charts now show reports dynamically to course participants.
Blackboard have been thinking about Learning Analytics lately. Learning Analytics are crucial to streamlining and optimizing eLearning programs over time, yet they are a concept many in the eLearning industry struggle to pin down, or over-simplify, or mis-implement. Blackboard Learning Analytics and Research Director John Whitmer has released a white paper in which he outlines ways in which Analytics, when tightly integrated with the LMS, can produce powerful insights that instructors can act upon to fine-tune their courses for maximum effectiveness.
Whitmer stresses the danger of over-using Analytics as a forecasting tool, and focuses on their usefulness in improving learner engagement and long-term success.
'The problems that appear in learning are statistically unique. Add to it the fact that, despite the many advances in science and technology, the box is still pretty black. In learning, we cannot be content with having a vague idea of what makes most students engaged. Unlike a diversified portfolio of stocks, where it’s OK if some investments fail as long as the average yield is positive, a learning intervention must ensure it is beneficial beyond its cost for each of the assets, i.e. the students.'
A beautiful library of expertly designed badges for gamification. Make learning more appealing by using these to tempt your learners to achieve more. The badges are all 180x180 and are PNGs with transparent backgrounds so can be integrated into any design. They work with Mozilla Open Badges and are free to download.
This is a good-looking, modern, clean theme that effectively ‘hides’ the standard Moodle interface and really has an up-to-date feel. It can use Google web fonts to add a modern look and features sliders, cool graphics and customizable look & feel.
This visual overlay plugin show you where learners are clicking in your course so you can see which activities are most popular and which ones aren’t floating their boats. Used in web design for years, this is heatmaps applied to Moodle in a simple and intuitive way. It shows counts of visits and unique users and can be toggled off when not needed.
This plugin parses your Moodle like a web crawler and flags up any broken links that will break your course. It is basically a robot student that checks the structure of your courses for any mishaps that would bring a learner’s path to a halt or create issues. A good plugin for peace of mind, especially if you have migrated a course from another LMS or are putting up a new course.
Transforms your Moodle into a social learning platform by allowing learners to post status updates and respond to each other’s posts, Just like on Facebook. The interface is familiar to social media users, featuring a timeline of posts, sticky posts, attachments to posts, comments and filters.
Moodle vs Totara: a comparison 1 year after the fork
In October 2015 we wrote about the announcement that Totara was to fork away from Moodle. For years Moodle and Totara has marched in lockstep as regarded their core code. The last Moodle version to fully merge core code was 2.9 – since then the two open source LMSs have gone their separate ways.
Here’s what Totara CEO Richard Wyles had to say at the time about the announcement: 'The leadership of Moodle Pty Ltd has made it clear to us that it is their intent to clone recent Totara LMS versions to offer the market Moodle for Workplace.' In contrast to the millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of thousands of lines of code that we've developed to create Totara LMS, cloning in itself does not add further value and does not present a sustainable strategy.
'Conversely, if Moodle HQ forks Totara LMS to create an ongoing Moodle variant for workplace learning, and they invest in that branch and support it, then this provides customers with more options from which to select. It is my view that the team at Totara Learning are more closely focused on the needs of corporate users, and that our partnership and support models are more aligned to successful outcomes for partners and customers alike.'
Moodle has always been aligned to the needs of secondary and higher education, whereas Totara is developed to serve the corporate learning market. Totara were unable to implement functionality such as multi-tenancy without changing Moodle’s core code, so they decided to go it alone to allow independent and more rapid development of the features aimed at workplace learning. One year on from the fork, what has changed? How different are Moodle and Totara now?
Moodlenews have published a report from Totara which highlights the main differences: ‘hierarchy, assignment of courses, competencies, program management and reporting.’ The report includes a PDF comparison table between the two LMSs for easy reference.
It has been announced that Dropbox is now the default sharing and storage option for virtual classroom giant Blackboard’s platform Blackboard Learn. Dropbox is pushing into the education market in its drive for new customers – this announcement comes 6 months on from the launch of Dropbox’s first product aimed specifically at educational institutions, offering 15GB storage per user for educational teams, compliance support, and other special features.
Students will be able to work collaboratively on documents stored in Dropbox and share files with course instructors. Instructors will also be able to use Dropbox as the default sharing space when collating and distributing materials for courses. Other cloud storage services are available, of course, but with over 100 million people using Blackboard Learn, this deal seals a pretty big coup for Dropbox.
"Dropbox is already the collaboration tool of choice for more than 6,000 universities and institutions across the globe," said Jason Katcher, Head of Education for Dropbox. "By enabling existing Dropbox workflows within Blackboard’s LMS, our partnership will make collaboration between the platforms even easier, while providing additional visibility for schools. Dropbox continues to focus on pursuing partnerships and integrations that make it the best place for instructors and students to get work done.”
"At Blackboard, we’re focused on developing technologies and services to help institutions create the most powerful learning environment for their users," said Kathleen Vieira, Vice President of Partnership Solutions at Blackboard. "We are excited to partner with Dropbox to deliver a tailored experience which will enable students and instructors to use our strong learning management technologies alongside their collaboration platform of choice."
From Mark Nelson at Moodle HQ comes a plugin which enables the creation of dynamically generated PDF certificates with complete customization via the web browser. Certificates can include logos or crests, digitized signature of the authorized issuing officer, a digitized stamp of the organization, and more. It provides a rich canvas for creating good-looking, personalized and unique certificates. It assigns a unique code to each certificate and user to verify its authenticity, and permissions can be set for the download, printing and sharing of certificates.
Create a collaborative social space in your Moodle with the SocialWiki plugin. To prevent edit wars, each edit creates a new page, and all pages are available all the time and arranged in a visual tree structure. The pages are sorted by social metrics such as number of likes, the popularity of users who liked the page, or the similarity of users based on their likes and follows. It brings together wiki and social, hence the plugin’s name. If anything embodies Martin Dougiamas’s Social Constructivism, it’s this. SocialWiki is particularly useful for collaborative assignments where each student is allowed to build on other students’ work, without destroying it.
Stash is a gamification plugin that sends learners on a treasure hunt around your Moodle and incentivizes their attention and engagement. Stash allows you to create code snippets for images that you can place anywhere in your course. The snippet includes an image and a collection button for students to add the discovered item to their ‘stash’. The number of times an item is supplied can be controlled to reward fast navigation, and items can be hidden for a certain interval after being discovered to give them rarity. The seek-and-catch dynamic is similar to Pokémon.
LinkedIn has eaten Lynda.com, but can it digest it?
In 2015 we wrote the following about LinkedIn's acquisition of Lynda.com for $1.5 billion:
'LinkedIn acquired Lynda in April, and there has been much speculation about whether and how they are going to integrate it. Could LinkedIn users shortly be receiving Lynda course suggestions based on their education profiles? Might they begin to see analytics linking job success in their sectors with content studied on Lynda? For the moment the 'integration' remains a static link to Lynda.com on everyone’s LinkedIn home page under Interests > Online learning.'
Has this integration come to pass?
Well, firstly it's pretty exciting that a major social media platform has acknowledged that there is a good fit between social media and online education. Some observers are raving about it as a long-awaited validation of SM as an educational platform.
The static link to Lynda.com mentioned above has now morphed into a full-blown tab called ‘Learning’. The Lynda.com brand has disappeared and been assimilated into LinkedIn, but the learning offer still consists of Lynda.com content. Users are invited to a 1-month free trial.
So it's still Lynda.com, really. We haven't yet seen the level of integration we predicted back in 2015, but we’ll be watching LinkedIn closely to see how they capitalise on their acquisition and what it means for their hopefully long-lived foray into the online education market.
LinkedIn state: 'Our goal is to help members and customers discover and develop the skills they need through a highly personalized, data-driven and engaging learning experience.' But how are they going to leverage the huge power of their professional social network to achieve this? What happens to existing Lynda.com subscribers? (Lynda.com is still up and running) What level of integration are we going to see with our LinkedIn accounts?
At this point there are more questions than answers, with users asking forum questions like ‘How is this different from Lynda?’ But we still may see our predictions come true. These things don’t happen overnight.
When a student submits evidence towards achieving a competency, they can request a review of the competency to alert their tutor. After clicking ‘request review’, the student will see ‘waiting for review’ next to the competency in question.
A tutor who has permission to review competencies will see the request in the learning plans block on their dashboard.
When the tutor starts the review, the student will see ‘waiting for review’ change to ‘in review’. The tutor then goes through the steps in the image below in order, finishing with giving a rating for the competency.
The tutor can give a rating from a custom list, typically showing a range of proficiency, e.g. Not competent, Just competent, Competent and Highly competent.
A note on backups
When you back up a course that includes competencies, they will be included in the backup. However, if you restore such a backup to a new site, the competencies will only be restored if they exist with the same ID numbers on the new site.
Here’s a video from MoodleMoot US 2015 in which Gavin Henrick, Moodle Community Projects Manager, looks at how competencies can be used in courses.
The latest Moodle update (3.1) includes features for implementing learning plans, modules and activities geared towards Competency-Based Learning (CBL). In addition to manually awarding course competencies, it is possible to link activities to a competency such that their completion certifiably demonstrates the competency, and have the competency awarded automatically upon successful completion of a pre-defined series of activities.
CBL works well with independent study, with the instructor as facilitator. Its main ethos is to allow a student to learn the individual skills they find challenging at their own pace, going over them as many times as they need to refine their competency in that area, and proceeding more quickly through other skills they find more straightforward. As such, it is learner-focused and offers certain efficiency gains over simple linear module completion.
Here’s an example of how Activity completion can be linked to a Competency from a teacher or admin’s point of view:
A student must demonstrate a skill four times in order to achieve a Competency.
Create four activities. Set activity completion to receiving a grade.
From the assignment setting screen, set a pass grade.
Restrict access to activities 2,3 and 4 until the previous activity has been completed.
In the assignment settings for the fourth activity, select ‘Course Competencies’, choose the required competency and set ‘Upon activity completion’ to ‘Complete the competency’.
The student submits work as normal and the teacher grades it as normal. If the student passes all four activities, the competency is awarded automatically.
CourseIndex.com is a unique and effective place to market your courses. Whether you are a university, college, training company, government department or solo edupreneur, CourseIndex.com offers a level playing field for building interest in your courses.
How do we achieve this? Content! CourseIndex.com is a magazine website where we write quality content about new and interesting courses. Our team of professional in-house content writers take the best courses from the web and write engaging, well-written content about them. This makes the site a genuinely interesting place to be on the web. CourseIndex.com’s Alexa rankings as of late August 2016 are:
Global Rank: 71,912
U.S. Rank: 43,924
UK Rank: 12,657
These rankings reflect the depth and breadth of content on the site about courses and mean high audience engagement. Check out the site here.
We work with course providers to promote, advertise and even build courses. Three course promotion packages are available:
We write articles about your courses, with appropriate backlinks to your sales pages. The articles follow a strict editorial policy that ensures genuinely newsworthy content that is relevant to the learning offer you provide, while highlighting your own offerings in an appropriate manner. We only publish with your approval of the content. You can choose to have one, two or three articles written per month.
This content is also distributed via our social media channels for extra exposure.
Course advertisements on CourseIndex.com get thousands of impressions. We offer two sizes of ad currently: 300x250 and 300x600. The ads are displayed across the full range of the site, including article pages and search results pages.
We have built our own educational technology for delivering courses online. We are able to offer a full in-house content conversion, LMS hosting, website marketing and ecommerce platform designed specifically for those wanting to sell courses as effectively as possible.
You supply the basic course materials and we build it into a fully-fledged online course with its own marketing and sales channels.
A Training Management System (TMS) is an enterprise software platform that manages the entire training process from initial customer enquiry through to training delivery and invoicing. It unifies in a single system what has traditionally been handled by separate software: spreadsheets, logistics and scheduling platforms, and a CRM for sales management and customer retention. A TMS can also handle training catalog management, training center activity monitoring, and compliance and certification management.
This TMS offers budget forecasts and analysis, real-time tracking and rescheduling of classrooms and trainers, live profitability alerts for every training stream you are running, and data sharing across teams. It can all be controlled from a single dashboard.
Course Merchant are experts at providing Education & Training solutions to companies of all sizes. We are now offering a proven Training Management System to enterprise training providers who seek to unify their training processes into a single, purpose-built platform. If your company wants to hear more about increasing customer retention, improving administrative productivity, managing compliance training and certifications, and unifying sales and logistics for classroom training into a streamlined, efficient and highly flexible system, ask for a demo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 1284 277001 (UK), 1-866-879-1285 (USA).
UK-based training services company Connected Shopping Ltd, the firm behind ecommerce platform Course Merchant, have been awarded an ISO 27001 certificate after being assessed by Quality Management Consultants QMS International.
The award is recognition of Connected Shopping Ltd.’s systematic approach to managing sensitive company and customer information so that it remains secure. This assures the data security of people, processes and IT systems by applying a rigorous risk management process.
Connected Shopping Ltd.’s expertise is in the development and supply of e-commerce software and associated services for education providers. Its flagship product, Course Merchant, is an online payment and enrolment system used by training and education companies, universities, museums and government agencies in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. With e-learning stores running on servers in the UK and abroad, it is particularly important to have information security procedures in place to ensure that data is safe. The ISO 27001 award is recognition that Connected Shopping Ltd. has implemented and adheres to these procedures, making it a company customers can trust.
Richard Standen, Managing Director of Connected Shopping Ltd, based on Brunel Way, Thetford, said, ‘We take information security seriously and want to be a company people trust with their data. This certificate goes far beyond shredding documents and not leaving sensitive information in wheelie bins. It is tangible proof that we care about our customers’ data and handle it with sensitivity and care. ISO 27001 is an internationally recognised standard, and it helps to smooth the way with new contracts with institutions and companies who will see it as an assurance that their data is safe with us.’
Blackboard to acquire Campus payments firm Higher One
Blackboard’s parent company, Providence Equity Partners, is to acquire the higher education financial company Higher One for $260 million. Higher One runs CASHnet, a campus payment technology company serving 5 million students in the United States. CASHnet is a leading campus payment services firm used on over 700 higher education campuses for electronic billing, payment acceptance campus-wide, flexible tuition payment plans and online storefronts. It integrates with existing campus portals to provide single sign-on access for students, and maintains their account and payment histories.
The acquisition expands Blackboard’s ability to handle payments, in addition to its having recently strengthened the capabilities of its own financial services provider, Transact. The deal is a complex one involving Blackboard’s creation of a subsidiary, Winchester Acquisition Corp., to complete the acquisition in the form of a share buyout.
"CASHNet is a natural complement to Blackboard's broad portfolio of campus financial solutions," said David Marr, Senior Vice President of Blackboard Transact. "As part of its mission, Blackboard is focused on supporting institutions in their efforts to enable fundamental access to education. Providing students and parents with a comprehensive set of tools that assist them in managing tuition payments is a critical piece of the access equation."
Next Course Merchant webinar: Sell courses the way YOU want. Flexible eCommerce with Course Merchant - Tuesday 19th July - 8am PT, 10am CT, 11am ET & 4pm UK
Our next public demo webinar is on Tuesday 19th July at 8am PT, 10am CT, 11am ET & 4pm UK. This video offers a preview of what is delivered in the webinar. If it whets your appetite, sign up now here for a live tour of the Course Merchant eCommerce platform and we'll be happy to answer your questions as an attendee in the live Q&A.
The webinar is presented by Martin Broughton, Sales Manager at Course Merchant and David Hill, Marketing Manager. In a live demo of the ecommerce system, Martin takes attendees through account creation, single sign-on into your LMS, multiple-seat licence management, coupon codes, other discounting methods, Buy Now buttons, course bundles, and more. David is on hand to field your questions and either answer them himself via chat or pass them to Martin to answer them in broadcast.
This simple webinar format works well and gives you the opportunity to ask questions as well as seeing a live demo of Course Merchant. Register your place now.
What are the advantages of a dedicated eCommerce system for Training?
The need for e-commerce in the e-learning space is growing as more institutions:
Turn from face-to-face training to e-learning
Supplement their traditional classroom training with e-learning (the Blended Learning Model)
Have an e-learning component which is separate from the main body of the training
Have an e-learning component which is an optional addition
Have an e-learning component which has a separate enrollment process
Have an e-learning component which each trainee personalizes to their own needs.
Capabilities needed when delivering fee-based training include:
Gathering trainee data.
Registration and scheduling.
If managed manually, these procedures are costly in terms of human resources, so some degree of automation is desirable.
An eCommerce system built for eLearning is key to automating the process. A single system can display courses in searchable categories, apply any relevant discounts, allow the purchase of multiple courses at once, capture trainee data, process payments, and enroll trainees immediately into a Learning Management System upon successful purchase. To make things even easier, an eCommerce system may include the following capabilities:
On top Moodle blogger and edupreneur expert Penny Mondani’s site is a list of the top gripes and pain points of those using Moodle to sell courses online. Among these pain points are the following:
"I don't want students to have to create their own accounts at my Moodle site."
With Course Merchant, they don't. Course Merchant automatically creates an account in Moodle (and other LMS's) as soon as they sign up. After successful purchase, students are directed to Moodle and do not need to enter any passwords – Course Merchant's single sign on means they arrive at Moodle in a logged-in state, ready to access their courses and begin learning immediately.
"I don’t want students to have to pay for courses at the Moodle site."
With Course Merchant, they don’t. The whole process takes place away from Moodle: browsing the catalog, selecting a course or multiple courses, adding them to the shopping cart, passing through checkout and receiving purchase and enrollment confirmation by email. Course Merchant is a complete ecommerce solution that handles all communications with payment gateways. It presents learners with a proper online store for your courses and takes them through a checkout process everybody is familiar with from using Amazon and other retail sites.
Take the pain out of selling courses online. Request a demo of Course Merchant today, attend our next webinar, or call for a chat with our sales team.
Our next public demo webinar is on Wednesday June 15th at 8am PT, 10am CT, 11am ET & 4pm UK. This video offers a preview of what is delivered in the webinar. If it whets your appetite, sign up now here for a live tour of the Course Merchant eCommerce platform and we'll be happy to answer your questions as an attendee in the live Q&A.
A 7-step method for writing great course descriptions
A course description is a paragraph or two that sits on your course catalog and tells people about your course. If you write bland course descriptions, people might not click on them to read further. Those few words are all people have to work with when deciding whether to read more about your course or pass it by.
But even quite dry subject matter can be made more appealing by using the 7 step method described in an article on Moodlenews. Naturally this method can be applied to your course descriptions no matter which Learning Management System you are using – this article just happened to appear on a Moodle-related website.
The following 7 steps are expanded upon in the article, which uses an example to walk you through constructing a course description that gets across not only the course content, but its immediate benefits, and works to create a desire to take the course that leads to action.
Selling courses online? Here’s a wonderful source of hands-on ecommerce tips.
Practicalecommerce.com is stuffed with ideas on ecommerce best practices to win, convert and retain customers. Much of the advice can be applied to selling courses online. Here are just three of the hot tips we have found via practicalecommerce.com:
Consider making customer retention your new acquisition strategy. Focus sales and marketing expenditures on delivering remarkable experiences worth recommending. That is the secret to sustainable growth.
Conduct an audit of your ecommerce site at least weekly. Purchase a product via a complete checkout. Visit a wide variety of pages. Double check recent promotions to ensure stale links and landing pages are removed. Make sure seasonal items are still appropriate. Do your own quality check to ensure your customer experience is the way you planned.
An incentivized time constraint is when you make an offer that has a time limit on it. There are tools that make this easy, like Time2Buy. It allows you to pop-up an offer based on an action set. So if your user visits three pages or has been on your site for 90 seconds (or whatever criteria you want) you can pop-up a window with a relevant offer that says something like, “Check out within the next 5 minutes and get 10% off.” The window will have a countdown timer. It encourages shoppers to make quick decisions.
There’s advice on conducting audits of your site (buy things and go through the whole checkout flow at least once a week – you will immediately notice any points where your customers are tripped up on their path to making a purchase). Use post-sale videos to increase customer engagement. It’s all there. We recommend bookmarking the site and referring to it often, to check whether your ecommerce store is fulfilling its potential.
Moodle and Blackboard leaders discuss new partnership
A video has surfaced of an interview with Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas and Phil Miller, EdTech giant Blackboard’s Vice President of International Open Source Services. Blackboard is now a Moodle Partner, which extends its Moodle services to clients in more than 40 countries, including Spain where the interview was recorded. Spain is revealed to be the country with the second highest number of registered Moodle installations. The two leaders discuss the partnership and its worldwide joint strategy.
Blackboard recently became the largest single revenue provider to Moodle with its acquisitions of Remote-Learner and Nivel Siete. It already owned Moodlerooms, another Moodle partner, and the further acquisitions have consolidated Blackboard’s position in the open-source market. The creation of its Open Source Services Division, headed by Phil Miller, leaves no doubt as to Blackboard’s intention of dominating the open source LMS market.
Martin Dougiamas shares his views on the future roadmap of Moodle, including an emphasis on the mobile experience (a Moodle user should be able to access the whole Moodle experience and functionality without ever leaving the mobile app), improving overall usability and integration with other systems. He also discusses the impact of the Blackboard partnership on the future development of Moodle.
Phil Miller talks about future plans for open source initiatives and the contributions he wants Blackboard to make towards improving Moodle.
Online training company: 'Course Merchant lets us get some sleep.'
UK safety training firm First4Safety have written a case study article on their website about their Course Merchant implementation process and the benefits the new ecommerce site has given them.
John Pillinger of First4Safety says that in their search for an ecommerce platform for their courses they had two basic questions:
How can we link Moodle with a shopfront?
How can we grant immediate access to a student upon receiving payment?
'We trialed a few choices but could never quite achieve the level of success that we were after.'
Enter Course Merchant. Here are some of the things John says about the Course Merchant implementation process:
‘Martin over at Course Merchant gave us a high level overview of the product, and walked us through their demo platform so we could see CM in action.
Integration – It was pretty clear straight away that CM would perform the integration we really wanted. The ability for an order to produce a new user with the correct course enrolments on our Moodle instance. This was our key requirement.
Shopfront – We hadn’t banked on taking a completely new shopfront, hosted by CM. This actually turned into great news, whilst we had successfully set up our own shop front it felt great to hand it over to the real experts. We could gain a great deal of peace of mind knowing that orders/payments were successful.'
'We kept an eye on the store for the first couple of nights, but it very quickly became obvious it was very happy handling our orders leaving us to go and get some sleep.'
'We see no downtime from our store, no lost orders, no failed emails, no incorrect user details, quite simply it is performing wonderfully well. Simply put we are able to deliver online Health and Safety courses to those that want to study 24/7.'
A gold mine of tips and tricks for eLearning entrepreneurs
Here's a valuable resource for entrepreneurs seeking to set up an online training business. Moodle News, the web's leading resource for all things Moodle, has a new 'Moodlepreneur' section. Every week there's a new article on a different aspect of setting up and running a business selling courses online. Over time this should grow to cover most things you need to know or wish you did before: pitfalls to avoid, best practices, strategy, starting on a shoestring, etc.
And new ones are being added each week. If you're in this business or seeking to enter it, this is a great page to bookmark. It covers all the stages of a Moodlepreneur's business development: accepting the Moodlepreneur challenge, taking the plunge, getting students, and making money. There should be something useful there for Moodlepreneurs whatever their stage of development.
Boost sales of your Moodle courses with Content Marketing
Are you an edupreneur? Do you want to sell courses online as a business? The article linked below explains an effective and free way to spread the word about your courses. Like it or not, you will need to market your courses to raise awareness of your brand. Customers will only enrol on your courses if they are confident there is someone behind them who knows a lot about the subject matter and is a source of useful information on it. Content Marketing is the way to create that confidence.
You’ve probably heard of Content Marketing, but what is it and how can you do it? This article seeks to answer these questions. It’s on Moodlenews.com, a Moodle-based site, but the principles of eLearning Content Marketing apply the same whichever Learning Management System you choose as your course platform.
Check it out if you want a primer on Content Marketing for your eLearning courses, and there’s a bonus – a series of free eBooks on this and other aspects of building a business selling courses online.
At Course Merchant, we've built over 300 web stores for businesses selling courses online, so we've learned a lot about best practices when setting up an online education and training business. We've condensed all this knowledge into a guide which aims to help you set up your own eLearning business. It's a free eBook you can download from this page: www.courseindex.com/content/course-price-chart.
Topics covered include:
Creating valuable course content
Choosing the right Learning Management System
Conforming to SCORM standards
Social Media Marketing
In addition, we've expanded each section of the guide into its own eBook, which we'll send to you for free each week.
Get the guide now and start planning your courses, platforms and marketing strategy.
This question is answered too often with a shrug and something about the length of a piece of string. It can be baffling to try and work out how the costs to your business will pan out over time. There are over 600 Learning Management Systems on the market, each with its own pricing model. Should you go for a perpetual licence and pay more up front but with lower costs later, or a monthly subscription model? What about open source? It’s free, isn’t it? Well, yes - partly.
John Leh of Talented Learning has set out to cut a path through the LMS pricing maze by researching the market to identify current trends in pricing models. He surveyed 74 LMS vendors to tease out some figures on models preferred by LMS vendors and LMS users.
The results are worth reading just to get to know the terms vendors use and see how many different pricing flavors there are. It will help in understanding what LMS vendors are talking about when you inevitably broach the thorny topic of pricing.
38 things nobody thinks of when launching an online course
This article by Nathalie Lussier is a real gold mine of tips and caveats on selling online courses written by an entrepreneur (entrepreneuse?) who has been there at the coal face of this business, made a ton of mistakes, learned from them, and succeeded.
She examines things that aren’t covered in the how-to guides and can trip up even the wariest entrepreneur: how to prioritize, don't model your course launch on someone else's, how to use affiliate marketing wisely, defining your role in the operation, writing copy and email campaigns, branding tips, and a whole lot more.
You can tell she's lived through the highs and lows of selling courses online when she writes things like 'You'll hit refresh on your inbox like a cocaine-addicted rat for hours on end'. It's a well-considered, amusing and valuable series of tips and tricks for anyone entering the business of selling courses online.
Have your say in the future development of Moodle Moodle Users' Association officially opens
In an exciting new initiative for those who use Moodle, registrations are now open to join the Moodle Users' Association. Its mission is to support the growth of the world's most popular open-source Learning Management System by giving a voice to everyday users. Members can even take part on the committee if they stand for election.
The Moodle Users' Association is separate from the Moodle Community at moodle.org and also from the activities of Moodle Partners. This means that users who are not developers or partners now have more of a say in which features to add to Moodle next. The Association plans a collaborative process of proposing and then voting on new features to be added to core Moodle.
There are 4 levels of membership ranging from individuals to large organisations. Do you have an idea for a proposal? If you join the Association you can put it forward as well as vote on other proposals.
John Leh at Talented Learning has written an extremely insightful article on 2016 LMS trends, predictions and observations. Read about culture shifts, the 4 types of LMS in 2016, market disruption by free trial cloud LMSs, the revival of the rogue LMS, and more. An excellent read if you're involved in the eLearning business.
Course Merchant: serving the Healthcare/medical eLearning sector
Course Merchant now delivers the American Nurses’ Association’s education program to its 3.4 million members. As well as the ANA, health training providers using Course Merchant include Cambridge Cancer Medicine Online, AMS4CME and Medcerts. It has proven to be the ideal eCommerce platform for delivering Medical, nursing and veterinary training because of the flexibility it offers for membership database integration, categories and subcategories of courses, advanced search capabilities, sales tax calculations, ability to sell course bundles and integration with some of the most popular Learning Management Systems. Learners get instant access to their training and can start studying straight away rather than waiting to be enrolled.
ELearning in the healthcare industry is growing at its fastest rate ever, perhaps for the reasons outlined in this article:
30 Questions to ask when choosing an eCommerce platform for eLearning
Selling courses online involves making choices about delivery channels, ecommerce and marketing. Whichever LMS you choose – Moodle, Totara, Brightspace™ by D2L, Kallidus, Joule or one of the many others – you will need a shopping cart plugin to sell the courses. When it comes to choosing an online store, catalog and shopping cart for your courses, there are a lot of different features out there to get your head around. Do you need the most basic functionality or something more fully-featured? It’s best to think ahead and try to foresee your needs rather than picking one at random and then discovering its limitations.
To help with this decision-making process, I wrote a checklist for choosing an eCommerce platform for eLearning and sent it to the folks over at elearningindustry.com. They have published it here.
It’s a pretty thorough checklist, so pick the features that you think will relate to you. As your online course-selling business grows, you will probably come across all of them sooner or later. So I hope this checklist makes you better prepared when talking to vendors and helps you to make the right choice for your eLearning business.
Moodle is top of the Learning Management Systems list in this entrepreneur.com article on how to start out creating and selling online courses. It’s free, open source, powerful and simply one of the very best Learning Management Systems around.
Using CourseCRM To Stay Connected To Learners and Boost Revenue
After featuring Course Merchant back in 2012, our other product CourseCRM has now caught the attention of MoodleNews. They have published an article about the CourseCRM learner analytics, reporting and communications software. Check out the article which contains 2 of our videos.
Elearningindustry.com have published my article on the Tin Can API. Read it here if you are confused about what Tin Can API is, how it works, what it can do and what it means for the future of eLearning.
Here’s a year-end rundown of some of the events I found significant in the world of Learning Management Systems during 2015:
Moodle developments include:
Blackboard became the largest single revenue provider for Moodle with its acquisitions of Moodle partners Remote-Learner and Nivel Siete. Moodle development is funded through partner’s contributions of a percentage of their revenue to Moodle. Blackboard already owns Moodlerooms, another partner, and continues to consolidate its rather monolithic position with more mergers and acquisitions.
Partly as a reaction to the increasing takeover of Moodle by Blackboard and to decrease its reliance on partners in general, The Moodle Users’ Association was founded. It is a forum for end users of Moodle, which include many large institutions willing to make financial contributions in exchange for having some input into Moodle’s future development.
2015 was the year that Totara forked from Moodle. Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas played it down, but it does mean potential headaches for developers providing plugins for the two platforms – which until this year always marched in lockstep – as the core code diverges along two separate paths.
LinkedIn acquired Lynda in April, and there has been much speculation about whether and how they are going to integrate it. Could LinkedIn users shortly be receiving Lynda course suggestions based on their education profiles? Might they begin to see analytics linking job success in their sectors with content studied on Lynda? For the moment the ‘integration’ remains a static link to Lynda.com on everyone’s LinkedIn home page under Interests > Online learning.
Instructure went public on the New York Stock Exchange and have continued to grow their LMS, Canvas, with great success. It is now a major open-source player.
There has been continued effort to encourage breaking out of the confines of the LMS by adopting the Experience API (Tin Can API, xAPI). A notable example is the founding of beyondlms.org as a meeting hub for developers and educators to explore ‘teaching in the wild’ as opposed to LMS-centric learning.
There are too many Learning Management Systems out there to keep track of. Casual discussions among industry-watchers show estimates ranging between 300 and 600. Last year elearningindustry.com published a list of 571. As in many other industries, a handful of big players dominate the market by pursuing strategies of acquisition and/or innovation. Yet disruptions do occur, and the LMS market is red hot with vendors hoping to build traction.
The following chart, courtesy of Phil Hill, gives an at-a-glance snapshot of the key players in late 2015 as well as an 18-year overview of how it has all developed. It is focused on higher education rather than the commercial market of training companies and moodlepreneurs, but gives a good impression of the relative oomph of the leading LMSs. It should also be noted that it represents only U.S. institutions’ adoption levels.
Course Merchant wins coveted Brandon Hall Excellence in Technology Award
Course Merchant has won a prestigious Brandon Hall Group Excellence in Technology Bronze Award for Best Advance in Software For Training Companies. A panel of veteran, independent senior industry experts and Brandon Hall Group senior analysts and executives evaluated the entries for breakthrough innovation, unique differentiators, value proposition, measurable results and customer service.
The winners of the 2015 Brandon Hall Excellence in Technology Awards can be found here: www.brandonhall.com
'Everyone here has worked very, very hard for this,' said Richard Standen, Managing Director of Course Merchant. ‘And the excellent testimonials from our customers definitely contributed to the win. We are constantly listening to our customers and tailoring the solution to their needs to enable them to succeed at selling courses online. This award is a testament to all that hard work.’
"Our award winners are the most visionary and innovative developers of technology solutions that move organizations forward in serving employees, customers and investors," said Brandon Hall Group Chief Operating Officer Rachel Cooke, who runs the awards program. "I think everyone can learn from the achievements of our award recipients."
"These award-winning solutions were closely evaluated by our judges for not only their innovation, but the real results they brought to the organizations," Brandon Hall Group Chief Executive Office Mike Cooke said. "That is what makes our technology awards program special – connecting creativity and innovation to direct business results."
With more than 10,000 clients globally and 20 years of delivering world class research and advisory services, Brandon Hall Group is the most well-known and established research organization in the performance improvement industry. It conducts research that drives performance, and provides strategic insights for executives and practitioners responsible for growth and business results.
Moodle 3.0 released today! New features and improvements
Moodle has come a long way since its first release in 2002. By 2009 it had already become the number one LMS worldwide with a 30% share of the market. Since then it has faced stiff competition from Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Instructure in the higher education market and SumTotal Systems, SuccessFactors and Saba Software in corporate training. But it remains resolutely popular for general-purpose e-learning and is still the cheapest way to get a quality LMS up and running. It is the most popular choice for those who wish to start a business selling courses online because it’s free, open-source (hence a wide range of free plugins), simple to set up, robust, and scalable.
As all Moodlers know, Moodle is an open-source e-learning platform which is continuously developed by a team of 30 coders at Moodle HQ in Perth, Australia, and financed by a global network of certified service providers who contribute 10% of their revenue to the Moodle project. It was originally written as part of a Ph.D. by computer scientist and social constructivist Martin Dougiamas, who is still overall head of the project.
So can Moodle please everyone with this new version? Well, they’re trying. Here are some of the improvements that stand out:
Open University-style quiz plugins are to be baked in: select missing words (cloze), drag and drop images into place, drag and drop into text, drag and drop markers. The OU is the world’s biggest Moodle installation and some of the features most appreciated by their students end up making it into the core code of Moodle. This is one example of that.
‘Number of tries left’ indicator in interactive quizzes with multiple tries
Atto text editor: ability to edit tables, math notation now included, new keyboard shortcut to add hyperlinks (ctrl+k)
New web services
Multiple improvements in the plugin installation and update system
Masses of bug fixes
Most commentators agree that although the changes Moodle version 3.0 brings are very welcome, they do not constitute a major new leap but rather an incremental set of improvements. Moodle 2.x had reached 2.9, so the next one had to be 3.0, really. Moodle isn’t like Android, where a jump up to the next number is a major rollout and always brings a revamped user experience. Rather, Moodle 3.0 is a milestone. Its developers are doing what they have always done: quietly improving the LMS, a few steps at a time, towards the ideal.
Proven Tools For Selling, Managing and Marketing Online Courses
Win at Selling, Managing and Marketing Online Courses.
Three Ways to Sell More Online Courses
It stands to reason that to sell courses successfully you need to be selling useful skills that have a positive impact on learners’ lives. Hopefully you’ve got that part covered. But you also need to build your sales pipeline before you release your courses to the public, so that you can hit the ground running at launch.
Course Merchant is an essential part of that pipeline. It hosts your store catalog and allows learners to buy your courses and gain instant access to your LMS. Your students could be on the other side of the world and shouldn’t have to wait for you to wake up and enroll them. With Course Merchant they don’t have to, and they can start studying straight away.
Course Merchant is search engine-friendly. The name of each course appears in its store URL, not just a meaningless product code. Google loves that, and it will bring keyword love from searches by people looking for the courses you provide. So Course Merchant is already doing marketing for you.
The following are all standard features:
multi-seat licence management (enroll a list of students all at once)
pay by invoice
Buy Now buttons to send in emails or tweets
shipping calculations for physical products such as books
If you really want to start things with a bang – and keep them going that way – use digital marketing service CourseIndex.com, which can boost sales a hundredfold. CourseIndex.com is a dedicated search engine for courses linked to an educational marketing network consisting of sites such as Education.com (35m available impressions), TeacherTube.com (26m available impressions), WonderHowTo.com (31m available impressions) and other edu web traffic heavyweights.
We are now capable of delivering course ad impressions running into the hundreds of millions per month.
Course Index and Course Merchant are all you need to build a sales pipeline that keeps the enrollments coming, even while you sleep.
If you want to get started and get selling as quickly as possible, use CourseIndex.com’s Build & Sell service. We’ll host your courses and set up the e-commerce for free, and you take 80% of the revenue from sales. Use this simple form to give us an idea of your needs and we’ll suggest a suitable CourseIndex.com package for you.
As your sales grow and your student list swells, how are you going to manage all those learners? Most LMSs have pretty scant features for doing this. How do you check course attendance and grades across all your courses? How do you reach out to them all to let them know about a new course, or track their progress and help out those who are failing? How do you ensure a level of student retention and loyalty?
CourseCRM. A CRM system specially designed for managing online courses and learners. Manage all your LMS data in one place: searches, reports, email campaigns, progress tracking, and a dedicated support portal for each student.
CourseCRM draws all student and course data from your LMS and allows you to manipulate and query it in ways that you cannot in the LMS alone. Stay in touch with your learners. Manage your cohorts. Keep them coming back. See a list of CourseCRM features here.
3 Takeaways From World of Learning Conference and Exhibition 2015
Totara Forks From Moodle
The most prominent brand name at the WOLCE this year was Totara. The NEC was festooned with Totara sponsorship banners and their logo was on everyone’s badge. This caught my interest since I work at a Moodle-based company. Totara is a distribution of Moodle with lots of added code giving it additional features for corporate and government markets. Totara and Moodle core code have always been the same, though. When Moodle’s core version was updated, so was Totara’s. They were joined at the hip.
Not any more. Totara announced just before WOLCE that it was forking from Moodle, citing the need for deep architectural changes to facilitate innovation and the need for a major UX overhaul. The last version to fully merge core code will be 2.9, due in October. The next Totara release will be 9.0 in 2016, being the 9th release of Totara.
Here’s what Totara CEO Richard Wyles had to say about the announcement: ‘The leadership of Moodle Pty Ltd has made it clear to us that it is their intent to clone recent Totara LMS versions to offer the market ‘Moodle for Workplace.’ In contrast to the millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of thousands of lines of code that we’ve developed to create Totara LMS, cloning in itself does not add further value and does not present a sustainable strategy. Conversely, if Moodle HQ forks Totara LMS to create an ongoing Moodle variant for workplace learning, and they invest in that branch and support it, then this provides customers with more options from which to select. It is my view that the team at Totara Learning are more closely focused on the needs of corporate users, and that our partnership and support models are more aligned to successful outcomes for partners and customers alike.’
Commentators have pounced on the announcement, raising concerns about what it means for the Moodle community. It does, after all, come soon after two other major announcements: Blackboard's acquisition of Nivel Siete, which makes it a majority contributor of Moodle Partner revenue, and Remote Learner leaving the Moodle partner program. The main question is, how is Moodle’s open-source model going to fare in this more aggressively commercial environment? Is Moodle being torn apart by corporate wolves?
Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas is cool about it. Here's what he says in reply to one concerned commentator: ‘This is really not big news. Totara had already practically separated from core Moodle quite some time ago. The way their extensions are written make them impossible to merge back to Moodle core without fully rewriting them. There are a lot of core changes, making it harder for them to track us over time. They always kept their current code private (so it's not really open source in the true sense) - same with their mobile app which also forked from our older one a while back.
The Totara project has never contributed back to Moodle financially, and their code contributions back to Moodle core have been minimal for a long time. So this change in their development policy really has no effect on Moodle at all.’
It will have an effect, though, on those who develop Moodle plugins that have always worked the same with both Moodle and Totara. As the two LMSs gradually diverge, it may become necessary to develop two different versions of a plugin. This will be something of a headache for Moodle integration developers.
Wyver Solutions Reviews CourseCRM
A happy meeting on the Course Merchant stand at WOLCE was with Mark Berthelmy, Managing Director of learning technology specialists Wyver Solutions. He has written a post about our Moodle learner management, reporting and communications software CourseCRM in which he says ‘What CourseCRM does, it does extremely well. So, if you’re looking for a way to efficiently support and track students and their courses, then you should consider CourseCRM.’
Course Merchant partner Training Orchestra also exhibited at WOLCE this year. Their high-end Training Management System for Enterprise customers could be described as CourseCRM on steroids. It’s a complete ERP system for running a training department or training company, with graphical scheduling interfaces, logistics planning, automatic paperwork generation, resource planning and much more. Training Orchestra already has 250 major corporate clients, 500,000 users worldwide and handles 1 billion euros in training budgets annually.
Such systems are fairly new and there’s nothing else quite like Training Orchestra on the market at the moment. It bridges the gap between the Student Information Systems used by large academic institutions, like Unit-E and SITS, and the fragmented range of tools often used by training companies: Excel plus a database plus a CRM, a mix which doesn’t tend to scale well within growing organisations. Training Orchestra unifies the whole process into a real-time, collaborative system that can optimise processes and increase profitability.
Training Orchestra’s stand was buzzing with interest from corporate customers and their CEO, Stéphane Pineau, was delighted with the level of interest generated for the software.
Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouseCoopers don't care about their job candidates' university background or A-Levels any more.
In other news, their HR departments are now being run by unicorns.
Just a few years ago these two statements would have been equally believable. Entire institutions – private and state school systems, higher education – have their foundations in the bedrock expectation that top employers expect top A-Level and University grades.
In a similar move to Ernst & Young's, top law firm Clifford Chance have introduced a ‘CV-blind policy' for graduate recruitment. Recruiting staff are given nothing but the candidate's name before final interviews. This is intended to eliminate any bias surrounding school and university background and allow the candidate to shine on their own merits. Both firms have stated that they place greater trust in their own online assessments and interview processes than they do in institutions attended and grades achieved. Recruiters have long complained that a candidate's degree result is not a reliable indicator of their workplace potential.
Perhaps the whole university model is simply obsolete. There's a parallel with how manufacturing has moved forward. If you needed to make a mockup of a widget a few years ago, you had to send it off to a modeller or have it machined by a third party engineering firm, and wait for it to come back. Now with 3D printing, you can CAD it and print it off yourself. To make an employable knowledge worker a few years ago, you had to send them off to university and wait several years until they were deemed fit for purpose. Now candidates can create their own education profiles and career paths at home rather than buying them off the peg – and at great expense – from the traditional purveyors of the keys to the castle.
Cobbling together their own learning path can itself be seen as an indicator of a candidate's initiative and drive. Suddenly taking a three-or four-year university degree seems like a softer option for those lacking the resourcefulness to tailor their own education to fit their career goals.
So how exactly do you build your own education? By grabbing knowledge when you need it, rather than squirrelling it away for future reference. Online academies like Udemy and Lynda offer digestible chunks of learning, on specific topics, delivered by experts, designed with the aim of improving job-related skills. These mini-courses can be taken at times that are optimal for the learner, rather than learning it at some point during a degree course, forgetting it, and having to re-learn it when it is finally needed.
As anyone who has even glanced at Jeff Cobb's book Leading The Learning Revolution will know, the lifelong learning sector is exploding in popularity. This is good news for anyone planning to sell knowledge online. If your education and training offer is carefully designed to attract and catch people at the point in their career paths when they need it, and if your marketing and ecommerce channels are set up properly, build it and they will come.
Students or Guinea Pigs? The Learning Analytics Debate
As more and more courses are delivered online it has become apparent that the systems which deliver the courses – Learning Management Systems (LMSs) – are generating a lot of data on learner activities and engagement. Course attendance, grades, forum activity, interaction with tutors, progress through courses, modules accessed, and other data, are all stored in some way in the LMS.
In the last few years a realisation has spread across the eLearning community that rather than just sitting there, this data can be pressed into service for the purposes of improving the student experience, designing better courses, increasing retention and achievement, and maybe other purposes nobody has thought of yet. There is a growing market for Learning Analytics software that generates reports on students’ clicks, page views, time spent logged in, and notes. I have been responsible for bringing one such product – CourseCRM – to market.
The trend has sparked a debate about the ethics of Learning analytics, especially in academic circles. Large educational institutions such as universities are generally bound by their own codes of ethics and data security; they can usually be found somewhere underneath the Mission Statement. Yet how exactly to handle Learning Analytics data is largely a chapter yet to be written. Scholarly articles have appeared in journals. Elizabeth Dalton, an LMS Administrator at a North American college, is basing her PhD on Learning Analytics and has more questions than answers on the ethics aspects – watch her fascinating talk at MoodleMoot US 2015 for her take on the topic.
The big question is, do educators have a responsibility to tell students what they are doing with their learning data? Some industry-watchers are promoting the idea of data transparency to foster trust. Just give students access to all the data. Simples.
This might appear to solve the issue, but really it’s just sidestepping it. How many students will have the time to sit down and analyse their analytics? Will they be given raw data without access to the tools administrators are using to generate graphs, reports and statistical models about them?
The Open University, which runs one of the world’s largest installations of Moodle, has been relatively quick to codify its stance on the issue, but due to its distance-learning nature it has been an early adopter of Moodle and has been gathering LMS data for longer than most universities. Maybe this is why it seems ahead of the curve in perceiving the need for an ethical policy.
One laudable effort to construct a framework for Learning analytics ethics is being developed by Jisc, a registered education research charity. Jisc issues prescriptive statements such as the following:
"Students will normally be asked for their consent for personal interventions to be taken based on the learning analytics. This may take place during the enrolment process or subsequently. There may however be legal, safeguarding or other circumstances where students are not permitted to opt out of such interventions. If so these must be clearly stated and justified." [https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/code-of-practice-for-learning-analytics]
The debate is very much a current one, and the extent to which standards such as these are adopted in practice remains to be seen.
Course Merchant will be an exhibitor the 2015 World of Learning Conference and Exhibition at the Birmingham NEC on the 29th and 30th of September. As well as allowing delegates a chance to experience the market-leading ecommerce platform for education and training, Course Merchant, we will be announcing a new pricing model and new website for CourseCRM, a new reporting and learner management system designed to enhance learner retention and achievement.
CourseCRM is an analytics, communications and learner management system designed specifically for the needs of the e-learning industry. It draws learner data from popular Learning Management Systems such as Moodle and Totara and stores it within SuiteCRM, a leading Customer Relationship Management system. LMS data extracted includes gradebook data, quiz scores, course attendance, certificates, contact details, accounts, courses, modules and categories.
Once in CourseCRM, this LMS data can be used to improve retention, for example querying the database for learners with low test scores and emailing them all to offer assistance. Administrators can keep closer to their learners by finding those who have completed a course and inviting them to further study. Automated marketing campaigns can be set up to run overnight. A complete record of such communications, as well as tutor and support feedback, is kept under each learner's contact record and provides both a quick reference and an audit trail.
CourseCRM can generate a wide variety of reports on the learner data imported from an LMS. The number of enrolments by course, quiz marks for particular courses or categories, learners who are not accessing their courses – all of which should be of great interest to course administrators and business executives – can be set to run as reports and be emailed automatically to key stakeholders on a scheduled basis. Bar charts, pie charts and exportable spreadsheets generated by CourseCRM provide at-a-glance overviews of critical business data.
So we're pretty excited and proud to have developed CourseCRM because it can enable eLearning course administrators to be more productive and efficient by improving learner retention and keeping closer tabs on learner communications.
Come and meet us at the World of Learning Event and Conference and we'll give you a CourseCRM demonstration!
Okay, this news is nearly a couple of weeks old now, but it's well worth a mention because it's the latest in Blackboard's ongoing open-source acquisition rampage. As posted here, Blackboard acquired Remote-Learner UK in April this year, and followed it up in July by munching up X-Ray Analytics so as to add its technology to Moodlerooms, which, in turn, it acquired back in 2012.
Nivel Siete is a leading Moodle provider in the Latin American market. Based in Colombia, it provides LMS hosting, consulting and support services to companies in Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
"The addition of Nivel Siete to the Blackboard family testifies to our commitment to open source," said Matthew Small, senior vice president and managing director, international at Blackboard. "We are seeing strong momentum for our open source solutions and in particular for Moodlerooms, with the addition of more than 80 new customers around the world in the last few months and a significant growth in Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Brazil. Our open source solutions play an integral part in our strategy and we will continue to support their growth. I am thrilled to work together with the team at Nivel Siete and improve the educational experience for learners in Latin America."
"We are excited to join forces with Blackboard and help learners and organizations be successful," said José Diáz, CEO at Nivel Siete. "By working together with Blackboard we will be able to enhance the range of solutions and services we provide to institutions and businesses across Latin America. The local Moodle community will benefit from this acquisition, as it will open up new opportunities to share knowledge and best practices." [prnewswire.com]
Blackboard has continued to expand its commitment to the entire educational experience by growing its support of open-source since it launched its open source services group, Blackboard Education Open Source Services, in 2012. It operates these services alongside its proprietary flagship platform, Blackboard Learn.
The spotlessly clean university city of Minneapolis was the venue for MoodleMoot US 2015. Stuffed to the rafters with enthusiastic moodlers, the University of Minnesota buzzed for three days with community spirit and collaboration, with a single aim: to make Moodle the best it can possibly be. To add to the excitement, it was announced that two new Moodle partners are joining the party: Elearning Experts and Moonami.
The first speaker in the Corporate/Govt/Health room was Course Merchant's Martin Broughton with a discussion of Learner Management, Analytics and Communications in CourseCRM, Course Merchant's custom build of SugarCRM / SuiteCRM. Martin's deck was well-received and generated a fair bit of interest among delegates when it became clear that what they were looking at was a happy marriage of two open-source systems – Moodle and SugarCRM – to facilitate gradebook analysis, reporting and learner retention.
A bugbear of Moodle for those at the business end of education and training is the siloed nature of the data: it's hard to gain a bird's-eye view of attendance, grades and learner contact data across all courses and modules in an instance of Moodle, and even more so across multiple instances. Martin's audience heard how CourseCRM provides such an overview by drawing data from Moodle via a web services API integration, allowing the full power of CRM to be unleashed on it for purposes of dropout prediction and prevention, learner support via a dedicated portal, custom report building, account management, advanced search and querying, workflows, and encouragement to further study via email campaigns. The aim is to wring every possible bit of business usefulness out of Moodle data.
Two speakers after Martin, another effort to free Moodle data from its shackles was presented by Rhonda Lundquist of Ashley Furniture Industries. She talked through an implementation of Remote-Learner's Enterprise Learning Intelligence System (ELIS). ELIS is a set of Moodle plugins for data mining, reporting and business intelligence which are really just another way of juggling all that data in Moodle, allowing it to be presented in transformative ways and in new ‘dimensions'. Development in this direction is a hot field. Moodle data needs to be presented in ways that are meaningful to its recipients, be they trainers, tutors, course administrators or executives. Moodle data is slowly acquiring gymnastic abilities in ways as transformative as when Microsoft introduced pivot tables to Excel. CourseCRM is part of that push.
45 minutes before Martin's presentation, Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas was making Moodle disappear. In his keynote speech he asserted that Moodle needs to be invisible, or at least transparent, fading into the background to perform its role as a neutral and efficient piece of infrastructure. Teaching and learning should flow through Moodle unobstructed with a minimum of attention drawn to the delivery system. The main points of the keynote, and major themes of the Moot, were Usability, Templates, Competency-Based Education and improving the Moodle Mobile app. All essential to Moodle's ongoing improvement. But what of Learner Data Management? Well, Elizabeth Dalton's talk on Learner Analytics was a highlight in that field. She delved deeply into Learning Analytics in academic settings, and it was one of the most engaging talks of the whole Moot.
Fast forward to Day Two of MoodleMoot. Already in the past were energetic discussions on gamification, meta-courses, UX and course design. That's what MoodleMoots are all about: scoping out the future of the world's most popular LMS through social collaboration, a core principle of Moodle itself. Martin Dougiamas wandered past the Course Merchant stand and asked Martin Broughton about CourseCRM. Martin B. explained. Martin D. liked it and wanted to know more.
On Day Three Martin D. made time to come back and sit down with Course Merchant to go through a demo of the product.
So, two Martins meet over two open-source systems, and there is some synergy. This bodes well for CourseCRM and for the future of Moodle data business intelligence.
Office Mix, Microsoft's free PowerPoint add-in for creating interactive lessons, now has LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) integration with Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard, Canvas and other leading Learning Management Systems.
PowerPoint plugins for content creation, free and paid, have been available for some time. There's Snap by Lectora, Articulate Presenter and iSpring, to name but three current solutions. Perhaps the two main 'selling' points of Office Mix with LTI are that it's free, and it gives tutors an authoring tool which does not require its own learning curve to become proficient at, providing they have some experience using PowerPoint.
It's natural for Microsoft to have knowledge in elearning authoring. The training and certification community built around their own products is a vast breeding ground for content generation, quizzes, games, assessments, animations, demos and other multimedia. They have developed their own internal Learning Content Development System (LCDS) which uses Silverlight to create ‘Learning Snacks'.
Mixes don't have to be bite-sized, though. You can turn an existing PowerPoint presentation of any length into an interactive lesson by adding quizzes and polls at suitable points, drawing on your slides, recording your screen, adding audio and video. Then Mix will export it all as a SCORM package that you can upload to your LMS of choice.
Office Mix was largely aimed at the education market when it launched in 2014. As such it has been widely adopted in blended learning and flipped-classroom settings as a neat interactive tool, with its built-in slide-by-slide analytics providing highly useful feedback to the tutor. Now that it has LTI integration, Mix has effectively become a free, simple-to-use elearning authoring tool for basic LMS content creation.
Full-blown elearning developed by the likes of Sponge UK will always trump anything created using Office Mix. But for starting out, or creating quick interactive lessons, its price tag of zero may make it an attractive option for some.
Skillsoft, the eLearning and talent management powerhouse, has announced the acquisition of Vodeclic, a French online video training company. Vodeclic specializes in video tutorials on the most commonly used digital productivity applications (Office, Google Apps, Prezi, Evernote, Photoshop, Salesforce, Joomla, etc).
Vodeclic is a cloud-based service with a catalog of 25,000 short videos averaging 5 minutes in length. It publishes in 6 languages (French, English, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and German if you're counting). It uses a proprietary platform developed in-house.
Skillsoft, itself acquired in 2014 by Charterhouse Capital Partners LLP, has 19 million learners. We can probably expect to see Vodeclic disappear as a brand as Skillsoft absorbs its catalog into its own training offer. This represents a now-familiar instance of the continued consolidation of the enterprise e-learning marketplace. Some commentators have expressed concern over the number of such mergers and acquisitions, but how it will pan out for learners themselves remains to be seen.
Vodeclic founder and CEO Xavier Silion underscored his enthusiasm about joining Skillsoft adding, "We look forward to joining the Skillsoft family. I am excited about what we, together, can offer to our customers when we pair our user-friendly multilingual platform with Skillsoft's proven track record of helping organizations meet their performance objectives."
Skillsoft CEO Chuck Moran said in a press release: "Vodeclic is a natural complement to our existing portfolio of proven learning solutions as organizations look to address the daily needs and questions of learners via a seamless, on-demand platform. We know that no two people learn in the same way, and Vodeclic's purpose-built video solution provides yet another option for organizations large and small looking to accelerate higher levels of digital skills proficiency."
About 81% of employers say it's at least somewhat difficult to fill job vacancies, according to a 2014 Career Builder study. 55% claim they cannot find suitable hires due to lack of relevant skills. That's the skills gap right there. This acquisition/merger will expand Skillsoft's capacity to address that gap via the kind of agile just-in-time learning that is required today to keep careers on track.
Skillsoft is a pioneer in the fields of learning and talent management with a long history of innovation. Skillsoft provides cloud-based learning solutions for its customers worldwide, ranging from global enterprises, government, and education to mid-sized and small businesses. Skillsoft's customer support teams draw on a wealth of in-house experience, flexible delivery platforms and a comprehensive learning e-library to develop off-the-shelf and custom learning programs tailored to cost-effectively meet customer needs. Skillsoft's courses, books and videos have been developed by industry leading learning experts to ensure that they maximize business skills, performance, and talent development. Skillsoft currently serves over 6,000 customers and more than 19,000,000 learners around the world.
Vodeclic is an enterprise learning solution for desktop and collaborative skills. With over 25,000 how-to videos in six languages (English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese), Vodeclic is a cloud-based solution designed to help users enhance their digital, internet and collaborative skills. The solution features courses and learning tools for all users, as well as business analytics and APIs for enterprise customers, from SMB to Fortune 500.
Press release Course Merchant Announces Partnership With Training Orchestra
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK and Paris, France, May 12, 2015: Training Management Systems specialist Training Orchestra is extending its global reach by entering a new partnership with Course Merchant, a leading e-commerce platform provider servicing the North American and UK markets.
Course Merchant provides e-commerce solutions to small-to-medium training companies using the hugely popular Moodle and Totara Learning Management Systems (LMS) and is market leader in its sector. The company has also developed CourseCRM, a Learner Management solution sold as an add-on to Course Merchant which offers a full-featured Customer Relationship Management system for managing courses.
Training Orchestra is a separate product that has been developed for the high-end B2B market. Its Enterprise-Level Training Management System gives exceptional data visibility and powerful scheduling and resource management tools to training companies, corporate universities, HR training departments and extended enterprises.
Training Orchestra has over 10 years' experience in the Training Management business and has attracted over 250 major corporate clients including Carrefour, Securitas and Johnson & Johnson.
The new partnership with Training Orchestra allows Course Merchant to extend its Training Management offer to Enterprise-level customers, and helps Training Orchestra increase its penetration into the US and UK markets.
Richard Standen, Managing Director of Course Merchant, said "It was an honour to be selected by Training Orchestra to represent them in their key UK and US markets. This partnership benefits both companies because we can serve the Enterprise Training sector whilst helping Training Orchestra to extend their reach."
Training Orchestra's CEO Stéphane Pineau commented: "We are convinced that Course Merchant's established position as UK brand-leader in the course-sales market will give us the platform we need to make a real impact on the UK and United States."
Course Merchant's knowledge of helping training companies make critical software purchasing decisions comes from its experience in implementing Course Merchant, its e-commerce product for the Moodle and Totara LMS.
Growing training companies tend to use a mixture of systems: Excel, Access, a CRM, and other software products, which do not always scale well within a growing organization. Training Orchestra is squarely aimed at larger training businesses as a proven all-in-one solution for managing these diverse needs.
About Connected Shopping Ltd.
Connected Shopping Ltd is a UK company supplying software and services to support the sale of courses online. With a UK-based development team, the company now has over 300 clients worldwide, including Universities, Museums, Government Agencies and Companies in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and across Europe.
LinkedIn's Acquisition of Lynda.com: Closing The Skills Gap?
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner asserts in a blog post that one of the reasons he went into business was to reform the education system. As well as making business sense, his company's acquisition of Lynda.com, announced on the 9th of April, certainly seems to support that broader political goal. Soon LinkedIn's 350 million members are likely to start seeing prompts to enrol on Lynda.com courses when LindedIn's vast database of professional information matches them up with skills they need to acquire to reach the next level on their career paths. Maybe in time we'll see notifications telling members that others are progressing more quickly than them after getting certification on course X, which you can buy here for only X dollars.
LinkedIn's main value proposition is to connect people with opportunity. Yet until now it has focused on the traditional Alma Mater model of education in which the universities or colleges you went to feature heavily in your profile. What Weiner seems to be envisioning is a democratization of education with the aim of facilitating ongoing professional development that doesn't require people to remortgage their homes. And money aside, as Weiner states, 'The world moves too quickly now to rest on the knowledge we gained earlier in our lives.'
Not that Lynda.com is free – annual subscriptions are around $300 per year – but that's an awful lot less than going back to college. You get access to a substantial library of courses taught by industry experts, which elevates you a long way above the questionable world of YouTube tutorials. The courses are focused on professional skills. Certificates are free; Lynda.com is not based on the free-to-study-but-pay-if-you-want-a-certificate model often encountered online.
The Skills Gap is a real problem in the U.S. Companies are struggling to fill their available posts due to a lack of suitably qualified applicants. With this new marriage of Big Data and educational technology, LinkedIn's stated goal of linking talent with opportunity seems to be a step closer.
We're proud to introduce you to our new YouTube channel, where we've spent a little time putting together a suite of videos which talk you through some of the best and newest features of Course Merchant. Videos include a very quick run-through of the advantages of selling courses online with Course Merchant: One-Minute Overview. Each feature then has its own dedicated introduction video, which we'll quickly outline below.
Corporate customers will appreciate the new Multiseat Licence Management area which gives them their own self-service seat allocation utility. Those using social media in their marketing efforts can use Buy Now buttons to drive sales straight to checkout, bypassing the storefront catalog entirely. If you are interested in discounting you might want to take a look at the suite of options Course Merchant offers in Discount Methods. These are broken down further in three separate videos: Set pricing bands for quantities of products with Multiseat Discounts. Learn how to apply automatic discounts based on a user's profile field in your LMS in Membership Discounts. Take advantage of the flexibility of Course Merchant's Voucher / Coupon Codes. And find out about the Single Sign On feature.
It all adds up to the most specialized, flexible and tightly-integrated e-commerce solution out there for selling courses online. Contact us today to discuss your course selling needs.
We'll be adding more videos soon so please check back regularly.
Everyone in the open-source e-learning community should be interested to hear that Blackboard recently announced its acquisition of Remote-Learner UK, a leading provider of hosting, support and consulting solutions for Moodle. Remote-Learner UK is a subsidiary of US-based Remote-Learner.Net, Inc., a company with roots in educational technology stretching back to 1982. The move will allow Blackboard to offer more services and solutions to businesses and institutions that use Moodle in the UK and Ireland.
This acquisition adds to Blackboard's open-source offering following its 2012 purchases of U.S. company Moodlerooms and Australian company NetSpot. Those two purchases formed the foundation of Blackboard's Open Source Services Division.
Sean Keogh, founder and managing director of Remote-Learner UK, said, "Blackboard has demonstrated their commitment to open source over the past several years and I am confident the UK Moodle community will benefit from this acquisition. Together, we will be able to better serve our customers and offer new solutions and services that will improve their educational experience."
Course Merchant will be attending the MoodleMoot conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the 4th-6th August. MoodleMoot brings together the cream of moodlers from across the States and elsewhere to shape Moodle and educational technology for the future. It's organized by Moodle HQ with keynote speakers including Martin Dougiamas, founder of Moodle, as well as many others giving their visions of the future of e-learning.
Why not come along and meet us? Richard and Martin will be pleased to take you through a demo of Course Merchant and discuss how it can help you reach your e-commerce goals in the course-selling arena. Each Course Merchant build is tailored to the needs of the client and either design-matched to integrate seamlessly with an existing storefront or built from the ground up. Feel free to give us a call before MoodleMoot and arrange to discuss your needs with Richard or Martin over a coffee.