A reader wrote in not too long ago concerned about news that online course revenue is in decline globally. The news, unfortunately, is true – at least for self-paced courses. A recent report from Ambient Insight Research projects a 6.4 percent, or $13.4 billion (!), drop in self-paced online course revenue globally over the next 5 years.
Obviously, if selling self-paced online courses is something you do or plan to do, a decline in online course revenue definitely does not sound like good news. But should you really worried?
Yes, and no.
As the report notes, in the U.S., the issue is mainly one of “commoditization and product substitution.” This means that e-learning courses are increasingly viewed as commodities. Between the number of free options out there and massive downward price pressure, most learners expect self-paced to cost little or nothing and think little of jumping from one course to another.
That should worry you.
In the other biggest market for e-learning, China, the main issue is that the big Internet companies have come in and taken over the market from a highly fragmented market of small suppliers. The result is pretty much the same as above – and, this trend is knocking many entrepreneurs out of the race.
That, also, should worry you.
So, what is to be done?
First, recognize that all of this points to a maturing in the market. The “wild west” days of everyone and her mother launching an online course are likely drawing to a close. This means that the online course business will increasingly be subject to the same rules that apply in every other mature market. Namely, those who hope to compete will have to work hard, create a high quality offering, provide excellent customer service, and above all, differentiate themselves from the competition.
In other words, welcome to the real world.
To stop worrying and succeed in this emerging real world, you need to (in addition to the points just noted):
- Make sure you invest heavily in building an audience that values what you do. This means not just collecting e-mail addresses (as important as that is), but constantly interacting with your followers and incorporating their feedback into what you offer.
- As part of the above, recognize that a course alone is not enough to pull people to you. You need to be constantly producing a variety of high quality, free content – for example, through blogging – that clearly demonstrates the value you have to offer and builds your brand.
- Finally, if you have not already, diversify your portfolio! Yes, self-paced online courses can be a fantastic business model, but don’t put all of your eggs in that basket. At a minimum, layer in some “real-time” components like coaching sessions and live Webinars, Better yet, take a hard look at your entire Value Ramp and figure out the range of ways in which you could be serving your audience and generating revenue.
Keep in mind that courses can often be combined with community as well as with coaching or consulting – indeed that’s almost certainly the approach anyone who wants to sell above a commodity price level will need to do with courses going forward.
None of this is rocket science, of course. I’ve said it all before as have many others. The “trick,” of course, is that you have to do it. Consistently. Day in and day out, week in and week out year in and year out.
And if you do, there’s no need to worry about the decline in online course revenue.