Thinkific Reveals: How to Create a Successful Online Learning Experience in 2019

It’s no surprise that course creators are more focused on marketing than on creating successful online learning experiences. But long-term business growth in the online education industry requires better student experiences over shiny new marketing tactics. Read on to learn why.


There's no doubt about it — the most successful online course is one that keeps the learner in mind.

You can have the best marketing in the world and enroll 100 students a day in your online course, but if your goal isn’t to get existing students to the finish line, you won’t see the long-term results you’re looking for.

This is because quality courses = more sales and raving fans for your online education business long-term.

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And Thinkific, like me, aims to drive this home to budding course creators everywhere.

In a recent webinar, Thinkific outlined the best way to create a successful online learning experience for your students in 2019. (You can still catch the replay.) 

And while I’m going to dive into everything they said in this post, here’s the message at its most distilled:

You can’t scale your online course business without creating awesome learning experiences for your students.

It’s just that simple.

Ryan Howard from The Office put it pretty plainly to Michael Scott in one of my favorite episodes.

He said:

It’s easier to sell to an existing customer than it is to a new customer.

Why? Because an existing customer already knows and loves you. They trust you and they’re familiar with what you bring to the table.

A new customer knows nothing about you and it’s harder to convince them to buy.

So why wouldn’t you create a stellar learning experience for your existing students, who stand a higher chance of buying from you again in the future?

In this post, we’re diving into how Thinkific recommends creating awesome learning experiences for your students in 2019.

To research this, Thinkific looked at 8,000 course creators in their platform with a 70% or more completion rate. They studied how those course creators were getting students to the finish line, and we're sharing their discoveries today.

A Successful Online Learning Experience Means More Than You Think


Here’s an eye-opening industry fact: The average online course completion rate is 3%.

That means 97% of online learners who buy a course are setting and forgetting about it.

If you got into the business of course creation to help people transform, it’s time to focus more on helping them get to Transformation Town than anything else.

Shiny new marketing strategies are sexy, but raving fans are sexier — and you only get that by delivering quality online learning experiences for your students.

The benefits of an awesome online learning experience are:

  • More word-of-mouth about your course
  • Glowing testimonials
  • Rave reviews
  • Repeat buyers

If you plan on scaling your online course business with additional products, you need to make sure your existing customer base loves you enough to buy from you again and again.

The best way to do this is through creating a student journey, per Thinkific. This is a method they suggest using instead of creating a traditional sales funnel.

And I’ve heard whispers about the traditional sales funnel being replaced with the flywheel, which is something similar to what Thinkific is describing, so it wasn’t a surprise to hear them say this.

Here's an example of the Thinkific student journey below:

Thinkific_flywheel for student journey

In a traditional sales funnel, you entice a bunch of people to enter, use automations to convince them to buy, and dump them out on the other end.

In a student journey, you keep the momentum going after a customer finishes going through the funnel (like in a flywheel). It comprises of three steps:

  1. Inspire trust
  2. Deliver results
  3. Leverage success

Let’s discuss each of these steps in depth so we can create a more engaging and successful learning experience for our students, and a more profitable online education business long-term.

Creating the Student Journey


The goal with a student journey is similar to a traditional sales funnel, where you’re leading students from awareness, to consideration, to decision.

Except in a student journey, Thinkific emphasizes that the momentum doesn’t stop after the sale.

You’re no longer putting people through a sales funnel, only to leave them high and dry with a product they have no idea how to use, and a link to contact you for support.

In the student journey, the students at the bottom of your funnel are your starting point for success. They have the biggest impact on whether your course business is going to be successful, and it all comes down to whether they are satisfied.

So let’s dive into the three steps in Thinkific’s student journey: how to inspire trust, deliver results, and leverage success for a better online learning experience for your students.

How to Inspire Trust in Your Course Before the Sale

Thinkific emphasizes that trust is in short supply these days. People need more than just a checkout page before pulling the trigger.

In fact, Thinkific shared that over 90% of consumers look for online reviews before purchasing.

And that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as friend recommendations.  

This means if your course doesn’t have any online reviews, or even anyone recommending it, people will be less likely to buy.

But there are a lot of great ways we can build trust into our sales pages without having a ton of reviews or being an authority figure.

In their webinar, Thinkific recommended a few ways to inspire trust in your potential course buyers

#1 Make sure your course website is relevant.

Make sure your website is relevant and targets the right people. If you serve first-time pet owners, make sure to emphasize that in your course landing page copy.

Because when you’re more relevant, it makes you appear more empathetic. People feel like you’re speaking directly to them, and they feel like you understand their problem.

And when that happens, it puts them in a prime position to buy.

#2 Deliver delightful experiences that are secure and mobile-friendly.


Make sure your course landing page looks decent on mobile. Fifty-seven percent of all US traffic comes from mobile — being mobile-friendly is non-negotiable nowadays. If your mobile landing page is hard to use, students will bounce before they’re even halfway through it.

Also, make sure your course landing page is secure, meaning, it has “https” in the URL.

It seems like a small thing, but people are hesitant to give their information over to non-secure sites. And that one thing could be the deciding factor on whether to enroll in your course.

#3 Have cohesive branding.

Make sure your online course font, colors, and logos are all consistent. Make sure they show up the same way on your checkout page as they do on your course sales page and even inside your course.

This puts potential (and existing!) students at ease because they recognize your business throughout the entire student journey. And you come off as organized and authoritative.

#4 Use social proof in whatever way you can.


Use positive ratings, reviews, and comments from Facebook on your course website to instill trust. You especially want to use testimonials from past clients, or ask followers/subscribers what they think about your service/brand for some intel.

Also, make sure to add your own instructor profile so people can hear about your story. Talk about your struggles before you started the transformation you’re teaching, as well as your a-ha moment, your results, and the long-term benefit or transformation you experienced.

How to Deliver Results for Your Students


The goal in this part of the student journey is to satisfy your students. Thinkific recommends a few ways you can spruce up your online course in order to create a truly successful learning experience.

#1 Create a milestone structure.

First, create a milestone structure where every chapter (or module) in your course achieves a milestone.

Give students something to walk away with in each unit.

A colleague of mine mentioned this exact thing when we were on the phone recently.

He said, if people aren’t completing online courses, how can we get online learners to walk away with something in the modules they do finish?

It’s almost like each module in your course has to be so informative and helpful that it could be its own mini-course within your course.

Make that your goal with each module. Imagine your students consuming only one module in your course — what major thing can you leave them with in any given module?


#2 Prevent binge-watching with “stop signs”.

When you tell students to “stop here” and “go do this” after each module, you give students a chance to learn and apply the information.

You can say something like “if you don’t complete this outline before moving on, you’re not going to understand or be able to complete the next lesson.”

Try to make sure they’re actually learning something before they move on. Your course shouldn't be a Netflix binge, but a catalyst for action

#3 Structure your content clearly.

Thinkific recommends using a “what/why/how” method to structure the content of your lessons.

In other words: what do students need to know, why do they need to care, and how can they do whatever it is you’re teaching?

I’d also recommend adding a short lesson on what they’re going to learn before all of that (aka, a learning objective), just so everyone’s on the same page. So it should be, in my opinion, 4 lessons minimum per module: “what/what/why/how”.

When Thinkific went through those 8,000 successful courses in their platform, they found that 80% of course creators structured their video lessons this way. So it's something to pay attention to.

#4 Use reinforced learning.

This means adding quizzes or practice resources to your course. For example, a practice resource could be a pattern, a template, or specific settings that can help students speed up their practice of what you’re teaching them.

In fact, Thinkific says students will complete 10% more of your course if you include quizzes.

They’re a great way to help facilitate understanding.

#5 Include opportunities for discussion.


Include areas in your course where you can ask questions about the lesson to get students thinking about what they’re learning. This area should let all students see what other students are contributing to the discussion, and add to it.

This helps boost engagement and community, both of which can help your course completion rates and improve the overall learning experience. Here’s an example of what a discussion element looks like in Thinkific:

Thinkific Discussion Screenshot

#6 Create rewards for their achievements.

Create gamification, certificates, bonus packages, or coupons if students complete certain areas in your course. You can even consider including a surprise gift for them if they complete the course.

How to Leverage Success

In this part of the student journey, you want to learn how to leverage the success of your existing students to encourage future students to trust your authority and credibility as an online teacher.

Below, I’ve listed a few ways Thinkific recommends for leveraging success.

#1 Use reviews.

Reviews for your course can indicate both the good and the bad. Either students loved it, and you can plaster their praise all over your course site, or they hated it, and you have the perfect intel you need to make your course better.

Either way, reviews are a win-win because you’re either getting more course buyers to trust you (from positive reviews) or improving your course based on negative feedback.

Offer a way for students to review your course either at the end of every module, or at the end of the entire course.

Similarly, Udemy allows you to leave a review as you’re going through the course, and Thinkific lets you do this too.

The only downside is that some people may not really start enjoying the course until much later on, so early reviews can be poor indicators of how they like the overall course. But at least you'll know how students are feeling early on.

#2 Use your completion rates and survey responses.

More ways to leverage success in your course are to study your completion rates and survey responses.

If you have a high completion rate, be sure to include that in your marketing material — it’s a great indicator of engagement, and it makes prospective students excited to start a course that other people have finished.

Also, if you add short entry/exit surveys to your course, you can get a really great idea of how students feel about your course and use those to leverage success, too.

Here’s what an exit survey looks like in Thinkific:


Use those survey responses to share how students are feeling about your course on your sales page — some of those are bound to be gold.

#3 Create case studies.

Create case studies you can use everywhere, like on your YouTube channel, podcast, or affiliate content.

When creating case studies, invite students to record success stories in an interview setting.

  • Talk about the problem they faced
  • Discuss attempted solutions
  • Ask why they chose you for help
  • Ask how the problem was solved
  • Discuss immediate results
  • Talk about the long-term transformations

Structuring your case studies in this way gives prospective students a narrative to follow — almost like a story. They can clearly see how your students got from point A to point B.

They’ll be more likely to buy and be inspired to actually get through your course, because they’ll have seen the outcomes of other students.


Enrolling 100 students a day sounds great — but the way to long-term, sustainable success in the online education industry is through the mouths of your existing students.

Get your students to Transformation Town with awesome online learning experiences, and you’ll get more students wanting to spread the word about your course.

Today, we gave you a rundown of how Thinkific recommends creating a killer online learning experience in 2019. Here’s what we covered:

  • A successful online learning experience means more word-of-mouth about your course, more glowing testimonials, more rave reviews, and more repeat buyers.
  • Create a student journey, which comprises of three steps: inspiring trust, delivering results, and leveraging success.
  • In order to inspire trust, make sure your branding is cohesive, your course website is mobile-friendly and secure, your website is relevant, and that you have social proof.
  • If you want to deliver results for your students, try creating a milestone structure using “stop signs” to prevent binge-watching, including areas for discussion, and adding reinforced learning (like quizzes).
  • To leverage results, create case studies that tell a story, add your completion rates and survey responses to marketing material, and utilize positive reviews from existing students.

What are you doing to create awesome learning experiences for your students, if anything? Have you thought about it at all? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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Monique is an online course proofreader from sunny Los Angeles. She creates info products related to writing course copy, like her flagship course, Course Copy Essentials. And she loves helping course creators look good in copy. You can find her curled up with coffee and a good book when she's not proofreading course content and absorbing everything related to online learning.