084: Your Student Experience with Online Courses with Rob Balasabas (Thinkific Series #1 of 6)

084: Your Student Experience with Online Courses with Rob Balasabas (Thinkific Series #1 of 6)

This episode has been a long time coming! I am super excited for us to be kicking off the Thinkific mini series here on the podcast. Today we’re speaking with Rob Balasabas who is a Social Media and Community Strategist with Thinkific. He is the first episode in a six part mini series where I’m going to be speaking with more people in the Thinkific network including employees and super users!

I really felt that it would be beneficial to start this series off with a member of the Thinkific team up there in Vancouver. And Rob and I are always in contact because I am so connected with the Thinkific community. I just felt that he was a perfect person to bring on to just kind of talk a lot about what the platform is. And also what the platform can do and how it can help entrepreneurs and business owners deliver their courses.

At its core, Thinkific is an online course platform.

Rob says that Thinkific tries to make it as easy as possible for people of all types of business deliver their online content to their audiences. From solopreneurs to entrepreneurs. From small brands and teams and businesses to enterprise or mid market companies. Thinkific want to helps people in business to build their online courses, their training programs, and then their memberships.

According to Rob, If you dig into it a little bit deeper, you’ll learn that it’s much more than that. There are people behind it. And that’s what Thinkific tries to really focus on. It’s not just the people that are creating the courses. Rob says, “We love them.” They are the ones that are paying for the subscriptions and they keep the lights on.

But Thinkific also really cares about is their students, right? So the people that are purchasing or taking their courses. So Thinkific wants to make sure that the experiences for their students and their members are really good. It’s seamless and smooth. And so then, that in turn, really helps their course creators succeed. If their students are having a really easy time consuming the content, that helps their course creators succeed that much more.

If you go to the Thinkific website, you’ll see a lot of their course creators there. You’ll also meet a lot of their team members there. So Thinkific tries to really humanize this tech company that’s been built.

I think that’s a really good way of describing Thinkific. There is definitely a human side to this tech company.

I’ve had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with a good handful of the Thinkific employees. Those conversations have taken place both in person and over a video call. To me that has been an incredible, incredible thing to help me to help the Tech of Business audience determine if Thinkific is the right platform for them.

There are different levels of how you can use Thinkific, but let’s start kind of at the beginning.

If someone’s brand new and they want to come in at the base level, they’re coming in and they can create a couple of courses. Then they can sell them. It’s all FREE to get started and it’s out of the box. It works. You don’t actually have to use anything else. I wanted to discuss what functionality is built in to that base level.

Thinkific does have a free plan. It literally costs $0 million per month. On this base level, you can create up to three courses, which is plenty for most. Most people create one or two flagship courses. You can also have an unlimited amount of students. So you can have as many students take your course and it’s still free. And the big thing is that you can integrate directly with Stripe or PayPal to accept payments. This means you can make money and sell your courses and not to have to pay us anything.

On this base level, you’ll have all the things that you would need in that free plan to launch your course. It would include all the video hosting. So if you want to upload as many videos as you like, you can do that on this free plan. You can use all of the different lesson types, quizzes, presentations, and audio lessons. THIS IS ALL INCLUDED IN THE FREE PLAN! Thinkific has made it so easy for everyone to get started.

When a business is growing and starting to evolve it’s so important to have a tool that you can use, continue to learn more, and use over time.

I think that that helps lower the barrier to entry to try out Thinkific. And what I also think is very beneficial is when someone signs up as a student in your free school or all the way up at any level, there are some emails that can be automatically sent right on sign up. They can be sent on a weekly basis reminding people of their course that they’ve purchased and that they are signed up for.

There are different things that are kind of built into the system to help that student of yours succeed. That keeps us as course creators, as entrepreneurs, out of the customer service, password reset, those types of functionality. The fact that Thinkific has made it so easy and useful for even base users might be one of the many reasons as to why someone would think this is one of the things that makes Thinkific better and different than other course platforms.

Rob shared there’s all the different features when it comes to course platforms.

Everyone has their own feature that they may want for their course. And everyone’s needs may be a little bit different. But he thinks what really draws people in, and if you go to their Facebook group, you’ll see the support is just outstanding! So that’s something that they as a company really tries to stand behind.

Rob shared that the platform is great. They have a ton of developers working around the clock, launching tons of features. I know this to be true because I’ve spoken to and met a ton of them in person when I had the pleasure of visiting the Thinkific offices in Vancouver. The platform is great, but the people behind it are incredible. Rob shared with me a rule that they have in their office. That rule is that they need to answer every email, every day that comes in. So there’s nothing that goes over to the next day, over 24 hours.

“All of our team members, we do emails, like we'll reply to emails. It's just baked into our culture, baked into our calendar. So there is a portion of my week where I actually dive into customer emails and replying to emails and… Click To Tweet

And their Facebook group is just very supportive. They have a toll free number.

So I think the thing that a lot of people will come to is that they really like that support. So having that support, that’s really like the one main advantage that Thinkific is really very proud about over other platforms out there. If you are an entrepreneur, you know how important it is to have a support system that you can reach out to when you are trying to accomplish a task and something happens.

During this Thinkific series you’re going to get conversations that I’m going to have with course creators who are using the platform effectively. I’ve got some great ones lined up. I’m so excited for you guys to listen to those and to enjoy those stories. But there’s more that the platform can offer! These types of things take place in the next couple of tiers.

Once you’re using a platform, you want to use as much of it as possible. One of the things that oftentimes people come to me for is they want to integrate Thinkific with their email marketing provider that they’re already using. That’s something that happens quite often. Or they want to get update status and they want to be notified in ways or get action information in other ways.

So when I’m talking email marketing integrations, I’m talking Zapier’s integrations. So those are probably the two big things that people come to me for. I asked Rob if those are the ones that he generally sees people wanting to implement first? Or where did people put touch points and interactions between Thinkific and their other online tools?

According to Rob, the Zapier integration is a really key piece with a lot of the course creators because it opens up the doors to whatever they’re already using.

That’s something that as the company and as a platform, as a team, we really are not in the business of trying to build everything for everyone. So we’re not building a CRM. We’re not able to build an email automation tool because there’s already really great ones out there. So what we’ve decided to do instead is make it very easy to integrate with those existing tools that our customers are already using. So a lot of those tools, we have direct integrations with. The ones that we don’t, we leverage with Zapier. (THIS IS WHERE I HELP WITH THINKIFIC!)

Rob shares that he finds that that’s really one of first things that people want to do once they’ve figured out how Thinkific works. So the thought process is deciding that this is the platform you’re going to use. They then learn how to upload and build courses. Then they think, “Now how do I communicate with my customers, my list,my database? How do I an offer later? How do I segment them?”

This is where they start trying to see if Thinkific has direct integrations for the tools they are using. However, they may be using tools or apps in their business that don’t have direct integrations. This is where Zapier can come into play. If you’re very technical and understand how Zapier works, Thinkific has ZAPs that will enroll students and unenroll them and other different zaps that it works really smoothly.

So this is how it works.

In Zapier you’ve got triggers zaps, which means that when something happens on Thinkific, it triggers Zapier to do an action. And you have actions, which means something happens outside of Thinkific and it sends information into Thinkific. So it’s a two way street. That is one of those pieces that you don’t have to know as the entrepreneur how to make that work. You just have to know that that functionality exists. That if you want to do your sales outside of Thinkific, you can get your students enrolled. If you want to enroll people and have them pay inside Thinkific, but you want to update your database, your CRM, your email list, you can do that. It’s a matter of just knowing that those are the options that are available.

Let’s talk course development, course tools, and structuring courses.

There are so many ways that people can deliver their course content and structure their courses with modules and lessons. I want to kind of paint a picture of what it looks like in Thinkific as you’re putting together a course. But also what the student experience is when they are taking that class, when they are taking that course.

The student experience something that Thinkific focuses on a lot. Some of the things that they really look at include how students can progress through the courses as easily as possible. The more the students consume of a particular course, the better for the course creator, right? So that’s a completion rate.

“So the higher the completion rate, the better it is for the course because then the students are getting the most value from that course. This then leads to referrals, which then leads to them purchasing other courses that a course creator is also selling down the road. It improves their community. If they have a community, then there’s good sentiment about the course inside the community.” – Rob Balasabas

So Thinkific looks at that very closely. Because of this they create a ton of different things. Thinkific is ALWAYS updating. They’ve just updated the way that the student experience looks. Then there’s so many different ways to structure a course. Some courses are very long. And some courses are short. Some courses are stand alone courses. And some of them are bundles. It really depends on what that course creator is teaching and who their students are. It depends on what kind of course it is and what space they’re in. But in general, they’ve tried to build in little future features in their course platforms like prerequisites and assignments. These are those little things that will give that experience of almost like being in a classroom.

So inside this Thinkific course, you’re going to give information. You’re going to teach them something maybe through a video, a presentation, or PDF.Then you can use an assignment to make them do something. You are going to make the students take that information they just learned and go and create, for example, that Instagram account. Then put that link to the Instagram account here. Or their assignment may be to optimize their LinkedIn profile. Then they would take a picture of it and upload it to an assignment lesson.

And then the course creator can kind of see these things and evaluate them. They can then give their students feedback and either pass or fail. Then the student can move on to the next lesson. So it’s just like being at school. That feedback is really important. And so that assignments feature has been a really popular one with a lot of Thinkific’s course creators.

So when you’re thinking about creating a course and you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t want to force people to go linear.” Guess what? You don’t have to.

This prerequisite is an option that doesn’t even have to exist. You could just have everything open. And all the work for any one module could be contained in a single lesson. It could be a downloadable PDF, a video, and some questions to ponder. And that could be it for that particular lesson. So it really depends on how you want to structure things. The nice thing is that when you get really good at understanding how your student is going to progress through a course, you can go back and restructure things. You can be like, “I want to move module four to module two because I’m finding that that would be a better progression.”

Course creation in Thinkific is drag and drop. I think everybody at this point in time knows that drag and drop means it’s pretty easy to go in and move things around. And it’s really nice that everything is drag and drop.

When it comes to creating the course content there are so many options. There are:

  • Video modules
  • Text modules
  • The assignment module
  • Audio modules
  • Downloadable modules
  • Quizzes
  • Surveys
  • Multimedia modules (which is an interesting one, but I would say don’t start with that one.)
  • Exams

There’s so much functionality that you can build into this. And what’s more is that Thinkific acts as your video host. Excuse me while I geek out for a minute, but THAT IS HUGE.

When it comes to hosting video, generally speaking, you have an expense associated with hosting video for business. Whether you’re using Vimeo Pro, Wistia, or you’re using some of the other up and coming video hosts that are designed for business videos, you are going to have to pay for those. With Thinkific your videos are included. The videos that you have on your landing pages and the videos that you have inside your course modules, those are available to be hosted at no additional charge. So that is definitely a value add for sure

I love that. I think that this kind of helps complete the experience because there is an aesthetic to having a video that was designed to look right inside this platform. And because I think if Thinkific took the time to host the videos, they’re also taking the time to make sure that those videos that are hosted in a way to look good in your course. And I think that that’s their thought process of keeping it relevant, keeping your students top of mind, keeping your experience top of mind as of course creator, as the entrepreneur who is investing their time, resources, and energy into Thinkific as a tool.

This is something that they’ve spent quite a bit of time on, not just showing up on like desktop, but also on mobile. Those things seem really easy when you are a student and it helps courses fit into your life. It shows up perfectly.They have optimized it for literally every single type of dimension and size.

Then as a course grader, there’s more to it than just uploading your videos. You can also customize the thumbnail if you like. So it looks nice. You can upload your post captions. You can also change the appearance of the play bar. So you can even brand the play bar to the color of your brand or you can remove the bar completely so that people can fast forward. And then if you’d like, you can also see the analytics. This means you can see things like the number of plays and how much of the video has been watched.

Data is something that drives business. We all know this. Anytime that you know more about what’s happening with your content, with your online presence, with your courses, with your students, anytime you know more information, then you’re better off.

It’s not just watching how far have people watch the videos. You can also go in and you can drill down into individual users to see when did they sign up. Also, you can see when they signed up. And how far have they gotten in the course. You can find out what they have done? You have a lot of details that you can drill into so that if somebody paid $1,000 for your course and didn’t get past the intro module, it may be an opportunity to reach out to them and say, “Hey, what’s going on? How can I help you?” So having that data available right inside the dashboard, right inside the users area, is very, very helpful and beneficial.

Data is really important.

This is why Thinkific has already integrated Google Analytics and all those things. If you want to dig even deeper, they have an integration with Mixpanel, which gives you way more data that actually happens inside of your course. This because Google Analytics can’t get data from inside your course because it’s a private space. But Mixpanel can so you can see how much time your student has spent on particular lessons and what they clicked on.

So we’ve got Mixpanel for data. And we’ve got Brillium for the exams. What other integrations does Thinkific have?

Well, Accredible is a for certificates! For payments, there are integrations with Stripe and PayPal directly. Also with payments, if you have a membership site, Thinkific has a direct integration with a tool Stunning. With Stunning, Thinkific will help retrieve any failed payments for any subscriptions you have. So if you’re a membership site owner, this is a really cool integration. Some other integrations include:

Sumo is a pretty interesting marketing tool. It helps you create buttons that pop up on your landing page when somebody’s, for example, going to exit your landing page. This button will pop up and prompt them not to leave yet and then offer that person some type of promo to keep them or at least get them to opt in.

Other than humanizing a tech company, what is it that helps potential Thinkific course creators get over that hurdle and make the decision to go in on the platform?

As far as features, there’s really two types of people. There’s the people that are just starting up and they don’t really know what the potential is yet because they’ve never built a course. So the fact that Thinkific has a free plan and in that free plan they can have unlimited students is key. They can also accept payments. It’s very low barrier. That’s a really big key for people that are just starting up.

Then you have the other type of people who are already quite established. If they’re migrating, say from another platform, then they just love the service. They love the service and the ease of use. Thinkific is able to migrate their tools. They have a team that will help those established business owners migrate all their students as well. So then they’re able to manage even at scale. So Thinkific is able to help people that are just starting out and the people that are scaling because we have features to do so such as groups.

Groups is where they can group together different groups of people or different groups companies or clients. So let’s say that Rob has a course on LinkedIn. And he has a group that he’s working with inside Microsoft and then another group that he’s working with inside Apple, And he puts them all on the same course, but then they are segmented into groups within that course and all of the reporting is all segmented. Established course creators love that. It’s just really easy for them. It doesn’t take them a whole bunch of time to manage their courses. They like that there is higher tier plans.

I think that there is something for everyone with a platform like this.

I mean you don’t have to spend money to get the product that you want. But you have to understand what that product is going to be able to do for you and for your business. In a nutshell, Thinkific is going to help you deliver your courses in a streamlined, organized manner. And it’s as simple as that. There’s a lot of bells and whistles you can add to your Thinkific course. Take it back to being able to deliver and teach so that your students get the success that they are looking for. So that they see you as the expert, as the”Go To”, as the person who is going to help them take that next step in their business journey or in their social space.

Coming up on the series, we’ve got all sorts of different types of industries.

We’ve got someone who’s helping people to a certain type of business. And then we’ve got people who are learning an instrument. How different can you get? One’s totally professional and another one is a passion. It goes to show you can host any kind of course.

Most of the people who listen to the podcast are business owners. You may be listening right now and say, “No, I don’t have a course in me, but I know my neighbor, she makes the best quilts.  And she wants to teach people how to make quilts.” It could be just the perfect thing for you right there.

What advice or recommendations would Rob give to someone who’s saying, “I think I want to create a course. I want to deliver something pretty awesome to my community”?

His advice is really leverage the team that’s in place at Thinkific. They really do try to make sure that they are available. Not just by email, but also like inside our Facebook group and inside their community, and by phone. His advice is just to jump in. Know that when you jump in with Thinkific that you will have support. There’s going to be resources. And there’s going to be a community of other course creators that have gone through or maybe going through exactly what you are going through, trying to understand and learn this platform, and really understand the space of online marketing.

Inside Thinkific’s Facebook group, they don’t just talk about online courses.

They’re talking about other types of tools that you may or may not use or want to use in your business. So Rob says to just jump in. They have a free plan. So they’ve tried to do the work of removing that barrier of cost and finances. They did that so you can just jump in start creating. They even have templates you can use. There’s experts like ME that you can also reach out to. They are in their Facebook group and are there to support you and answer any questions and help out. Know you’re not alone when you come into this.

Thinkific has some incredible success stories.

He’s heard so many awesome ones. And they aren’t just from people selling business knowledge. They are from people who are just sharing what they love to do. And they do it for free! But now they get to do it and they have built a business around it.

Rob shared a story of a friend of his, Mo. Mo loves to draw and so now he’s teaching people how to draw and be hired as a storyboard artist. And there’s another lady in San Francisco who is teaching people how to stitch. She just loves to stitch and make like quilts. She launched and then did like a five figure launch in a matter of a couple of weeks. It’s a really interesting time where somebody can just document what they already love to do and create a step by step, and then get to build a business around it. It’s, it’s really amazing. So

So you may be saying, “Jaime, how do I get to Thinkific?” You are going to go to techofbusiness.com/thinkific. That is my affiliate link. That is how I can let Rob and everybody over at Thinkific know that this series was a success. So be sure to use techofbusiness.com/Thinkific. Using this link also gets you some bonuses

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