Online courses are having a moment as millions pay for endless e-learning content


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Online business courses are having a moment as millions pay for endless e-learning content. But ridiculously low completion rates actually reveal an underlying fatal flaw

Why do more than 8 out of 10 people bail on online courses?


I've been thinking a lot about online business courses lately.

They seem to be everywhere.

And it’s clear why the people that create online marketing or strategy courses are doing so: it’s a scalable business, that should provide income long after the main work is done.

It’s also clear why students like them: they’re an opportunity to professionally upskill, without leaving the comfort of your own home or office.

What’s less clear is why the completion rate for online business courses is so low: a quick Google search reveals that somewhere between 5-15% of students actually end up finishing them.


What gives?


The answer lies somewhere inside the complex relationship between education, entertainment, technology, and the modern economy.

Let’s unpack, shall we?

First off, online business classes promise anyone, anywhere unprecedented access to serious skills development and knowledge. This, of course, fuels the demand side of the equation, and is why we’re seeing soaring enrollments.

But there’s a supply side boom as well. User-friendlier-than-ever hardware and software tools, coupled with the boom in social media, means that it’s never been easier for professional experts (whether legitimate, or self described) to share their finely-tuned corporate skills and battle-tested market knowledge with so many other people —and get paid for doing so.

Then there’s this huge, macro level force pushing both students and teachers: In case you haven’t noticed, the world is moving pretty quickly these days. And professionals can feel that. Entrepreneurs can smell opportunity in the air, while employees understand need to keep their skills (and CVs) fresh.

It all equals a boom in online business classes.

So why are people struggling to complete them?


The culprits here include good ol’ fashioned social media/information overload, which have made us accustomed to skimming content in bite-sized bursts and strained our attention spans, making it less likely we’ll complete that 9 module coding bootcamp, or data science deep dive.

At the same time, multiple economic pressures mean that more people than ever are multi-tasking, side hustling, or caring for family —further fragmenting our time and focus.

But I think there’s another reason people are giving up these business courses midway through, and it’s ridiculously simple.


The real point of education has never been the information in and of itself. For generations, the true value in a degree from an elite institution has come from the social bonds —and subsequent opportunities— that that education has fostered.

In other words, it’s the networking, stupid. 

That’s where the value is.

At its core, professional education has always about connection and connections, plural. This was as true in the halls of the Platonic Academy in ancient Athens, as it is across the grassy expanse of Harvard Yard or beneath Stanford’s palm trees today.

Completion rates are low because, deep down, most people buying online courses know that connections are what will really help them, not mere information. It’s just that a lot of people tend to figure this out after buying the course.

Bottom line: it might be time to start judging online business classes by how well they help you cultivate meaningful professional networks, instead of focusing on mere information conveyance.

The real point of business education is networking. The students who recognize that, and the platforms —whether online or off— that can deliver that, are the ones that will succeed.

Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Simply reply.

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