10 Ways to Measure the Success of Your Online Course


10 Ways to Measure the Success of Your Online Course

Wondering how you can demonstrate the effectiveness of your course? You have a few options.


After going through all the work of researching, planning, and creating content for a course, the last thing an educator wants to find out is that it’s not working.

This can take some course creators by surprise, because many of us grew up in education systems where, if a course “didn’t work,” it was assumed to be the fault of the student.

However, adult learners—especially those who sign up for a voluntary course—tend to have a different opinion on the matter. They have busy schedules, and despite their own motivations, they may feel like some parts of the course don’t work well, and may be putting them off. If they are struggling to see the results they were hoping, they’re more likely to find fault with your course rather than with themselves.

The problem is that many of these learners won’t necessarily tell you what’s going wrong. They’ll simply drop out, or cancel their subscription, and you won’t ever know why. Meanwhile, as an educator, you would very much like to be able to share learners success stories as part of your social proof. Satisfied learners are a great way to demonstrate the value of your course.

So how can you measure how well your course is doing, fix any flaws, and show that your course delivers what you say it does? Here are a few options.

Traditional evaluations.

Let’s start with the ones you probably have experience with yourself: Traditional evaluations. Many schools measure course success on the strength of trackable metrics, and since these are often numbers you can track quietly, without disrupting the learner’s experience, they’re good ones to keep an eye on regardless of any other success measures you follow.

1. Quiz scores.

Quizzes are learning tools. They provide a way for learners to check their progress and make sure they have properly understanding material in their course. If your learners are struggling with a quiz, you may need to go back to the lesson and see if you’ve covered the material thoroughly enough.

2. Couse progress.

How long does it take a learner to complete a lesson? How quickly do they advance through a course? If learners consistently lag in part of a course, consider creating some kind of moral boost or intervention to help them keep going.

3. Course completion.

Course completion rates don’t paint a full picture. No course will have perfect completion—life intervenes, a learner’s motivations or circumstances change, the course wasn’t what the learner was looking for, etc. However, if seemingly interested learners who were a good match for the course at the start struggle to reach the end, it may be time to re-evaluate the course structure.

4. Follow-up quizzes.

After a learner completes a course, they may not have a reason to sign back into their account for a while. But you can give them a reason by prompting them with a review quiz. Offer them a way to refresh their knowledge and see how much they can still remember one month, three months, or even a year after they finish.

Application of knowledge.

An indirect, but perhaps more comprehensive, way to measure how well a learner has absorbed the lessons of a course is to look at how well they apply that knowledge in more open-ended situations which require more problem solving and critical thinking.

5. Scenario-based learning.

Scenario-based learning places learners in a situation where they can practice what they have learned. It’s a way to see how learners respond in the moment, when they don’t have the luxury of looking up an answer, and it requires them to exercise judgement as they apply their knowledge in a practical setting.

6. Community discussion.

Group discussions, whether in virtual class or on a forum, are a great way for learners to work through material with other learners. Engaging with the material through group discussion can help learners gain a sense of mastery over the material, which increases their confidence and satisfaction.

7. Student-to-mentor programs.

In some courses, such as in a leadership training course, it may be appropriate to have more advanced learners take on a teaching or coaching role for newer learners. This works particularly well in a business setting, where learners will already know each other and have an association outside of the course.

Learner satisfaction.

The final—and perhaps most important—measure of a course’s success has to do with learner satisfaction. Learners tend to be happiest with a course when they feel it achieved what they wanted it to achieve, and are often the best judges of their own learning.

8. Exit surveys or satisfaction polls.

Checking in with learners during the course or after they’ve completed it is a good way to keep tabs on how well learners are doing. When learners are still taking the course, it’s best to keep satisfaction check-ins as brief as possible—maybe even just a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or a few emoticons, that will help you understand how they feel at that moment in time. After they complete a course you can ask for more feedback.

9. Reviews and recommendations.

Learners may not want to tell you how they’re feeling, but they may leave a review (especially if you ask them to!). You can also ask them how likely they would be to recommend your course to a friend.

10. Ongoing enrollment or return students.

How long do learners stay enrolled in your course, and do they come back for more? A strong enrollment rate is the best indication that your course is doing well, and it’s a statistic you can track without needing your learners to give you an explicit review.

Use the feedback you receive to make your course better.

Feedback is an opportunity for improvement. If you’re hearing from your learners that the lessons are too long, you can break them down into smaller segments. If learners are struggling to pass quizzes, you can offer shorter, more frequent review quizzes as you go. If learners are dropping out at the same point in your course, you can use that as a time to check in with them personally and see what support they need to finish.

And if you are getting fantastic feedback, then you should listen to what your learners love and double down on what works. There’s always more for you to learn, too.

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