So you’ve designed an online course, but how to get people to actually complete it? It’s not enough to have great content and learning design – you need to think about the incentives that course participants have. If you can’t force people to do a course, then you need to be creative. 

That is the main takeaway from a wide-ranging interview with learning designer Professor Parama Chaudhury, Pro-Vice Provost for Education at University College London, who has designed many professional development courses for public sector institutions, both independently and with UCL. In many cases the courses were not mandatory nor linked to any promotion – and yet she managed to increase completion rates from 10-15% up to 70-80%. She shared some of her tips with us.

  • Make the online course hybrid if at all possible. Even if the majority of the course is self-paced or asynchronous (that is, people do it in their own time), by having online sessions at the start that everyone joins and regular sessions throughout the course, participants feel part of a community and can share their experience with others. This will keep them motivated. 
  • Keep the course interactive. One course instructor for every 20-25 students for just a few hours a week to answer frequently asked questions on a notice board, host a weekly ‘office hour’, meant the course felt interactive – even if much of the content was pre-existing. 
  • Give regular feedback. Adding in small assessments after every 20-minute session meant that learners could receive feedback. This allowed allowed the course instructor to see any common mistakes and give group feedback. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed participants to see their progress and that they were getting a lot out of the course, which helped encourage them to keep going.
  • Ask for feedback. By gathering regular feedback from the participants you can understand what is working and what isn’t. In one project for a government department, the feedback clearly showed that, for an online course, 20 minutes is the ideal length for a lesson and 8-12 weeks is the best length for a course.
  • Give incentives for completion. This is the key. While Parama and colleagues couldn’t link career development to many of the courses, they could be creative with other incentives. As an example, one course was linked to an in-demand conference, which included several days in an exciting city and meeting leaders in the field. Parama and colleagues made entry to the conference conditional on completing the course. 
  • Set reminders. Even if the course structure and incentives are there, professionals have busy lives and need reminding. Just adding these reminders increased interaction and completion rates dramatically.

You can watch the full interview below: