107 – Multiple avenues to support your students throughout your course

Supporting your students as their online course instructor is part of why you’re creating your online course, right? So in today’s episode we’re getting into how that support manifests itself and how you can create the best experience for your students.

In my opinion, it’s not enough to provide content access, we must provide other classroom experiences even for virtual classrooms.

A formal classroom comes with expectations; students know what is expected of them when they arrive, how they should act and processes for when they leave. We need to create that same level of expectation online. It’s something that separates your course from lesser courses online.

We accomplish this with a multi-pronged approach.

The first approach I’m going to discuss is your Facebook group ~ I bet you thought I was going to jump into email or the intro unit inside your course material, didn’t you?

But the warmth and clear guidelines of your Facebook group (or other online discussion forum) is both easier to understand and relate back to the physical classroom or studio and easier to implement.

When someone signs up for your classes, be it online or offline, holding the door open for them and welcoming them inside is an important gesture. In the online space this means that it needs to be super easy for them to access and interact in your Facebook group.

The privacy settings of a Facebook group is really what I’m talking about here.

Your group Privacy should be set to Private, which means that the posts are only visible to members of the group. The Hide Group setting should be set to Visible so that your students can request access to the group. If this setting is set to Hidden, then it’s not going to be easy for people to be granted access to the group.

To keep member approval issues to a minimum, Facebook gives you the ability to upload a file of users to automatically approve via email address and ask membership questions. I love the file upload but it doesn’t work 100% because it’s a manual process and sometimes people use different email addresses for courses than they do for their Facebook profile. And I also love membership questions because they are a super easy way to quickly validate purchase. The questions can be checkboxes, radio buttons or written answers. So I usually just give a keyword in the welcome email that they select from a set of options via the radio buttons.

And I set expectations. I let my students know that Facebook Group membership approval is performed periodically throughout the day and guaranteed to be done at 8pm Pacific each evening (or whatever cadence feels right to you.) This has worked out the best all around for my clients and also what I personally do.

So at 8pm, I upload the csv of everyone who has purchased and then go through the pending requests to validate the rest of the people who are requesting access. For another time, I can go into addressing requests from non-purchasers. But I think we should leave this side of things here.

If you would like support for this part of your course, book a strategy session with me at https://techofbusiness.com/strategy/ and we can get everything setup including the process for creating that csv for automatic approvals.

Next up… let’s chat about the rules of your Facebook group. This includes posting rules, group expectations and repercussions for violations.

It sucks to have to include repercussions since we’re all adults, but it needs to be said. Nobody wants to continuously police or monitor students’ activities and we definitely do not want to see students being disrespected or made to feel uncomfortable by other students in our community.

So, that’s what rules are for… We’re going to want to include things like:

  • How the group posts are structured
  • What types of posts are allowed
    • Text only
    • Images
    • Videos
  • Can a student go live in the group
  • Is self-promotion allowed
  • Are there daily or weekly group comment threads
  • Whether or not vulgar language is allowed
  • Off-topic threads
  • How to ask for feedback from instructor, moderator and/or peers
  • Private messaging rules
  • How to report abuse or violations

Rules aren’t designed to be don’t don’t don’t and I think the best method for creating group rules is to have 2 or 3 do’s or positive rules for every don’t or negative one.

Another thing to always include is the support contact form link. I prefer this over an email address (which you can use if you really want) because you can provide structure to the support message. And, if you have multiple people who take care of support, it’s super helpful to either have a group inbox for these messages or use system routing to send messages to the appropriate person based on the nature of the message. What’s more, this is the perfect way to help yourself not get inundated with Facebook messages for course support.

We want our Facebook group to be active and vibrant ~ if you see a question get asked multiple times, throw it into an FAQ that is accessible both in the group and in the course content platform. Your FAQ is going to be a living document.

And while we’re at it, I know that it’s much easier to create the active and vibrant atmosphere in a course focused Facebook group when everyone starts at the same time. Your group might sustain that vibrancy on its own, or more likely, the activity level will start to dwindle as the course progresses because of student distraction or priority shifts. So, as the course creator and group facilitator it’s crucial that we remain seen and visible inside the group.

I recommend:

  • Going live on a schedule
  • Going live spontaneously
  • Post Ask Me Anything threads
  • Post Kudos threads
  • Post Feedback threads
  • Like and comment on every post from your students
  • Invite your students to be accountable to one another through accountability partner matching or accountability threads

And with that, you’re going to be well on your way to helping your students feel personally and collectively supported. Let’s move onto, dum, dum, dum… emails!

There is actually only one email that needs to be sent to our students, but I recommend, depending on the exact style and structure of your course, 2 – 4 emails per module or chapter or week or other logical breakpoint.

The one required email includes content access – so Thinkific of MemberVault for most of my clients, expectations and best practices, Facebook group information and how to get more support.

Yes, we are using our welcome email as an upsell into a mentorship, cohort, one-on-one or other method of helping our students succeed. I’m going to talk more about pricing and course value next week, so just like before, this is mostly a high level conversation here on the podcast, but for your unique situation, I would love to help craft a unique strategy that makes sense for you, your business, your lifestyle and that of your students. A strategy call is the best way to do that: https://techofbusiness.com/strategy/

So, other than using the welcome email for selling, we really want to help our new student start the program that they have just paid for. And to do this, our welcome email needs to come out right after the payment is received… and this is where we’re going to make sure that we have ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit integrated with our payment system.

That way, the payment system can trigger the welcome to the course sequence of emails… and don’t worry, I set this up for clients all the time!

Seriously, I love being the techie behind your online product successes — which is one of the main reasons I started this podcast nearly two years ago — so that I could showcase all the ways that you can and others have had success online and then help you get there.

Now, the 2-4 emails per week or chapter or module, what do I want you to include in those?

The more that we can create the feeling of one-to-one conversation with our students, the more they will feel connected to us which in turn helps them make progress on the course material and reach out when they need help.

When there is a strong connection between the course delivery platform and the email marketing platform, we can have automated emails go out to our students.

  • Automated emails can be triggered when modules and chapters and units are completed.
  • Automated emails can also be setup to go out if a student hasn’t made progress in a certain amount of time.
  • Automated emails can go out every Sunday or Thursday or whatever day you want.
  • Automated emails can go out a certain number of hours or days after a unit is completed.

The reason why tying emails to course progress is so important is because we are reaching our students in a second location on their computers. They are not going to always be on our course website, but they are going to regularly check their emails.

When you’re just getting started on tying your course with email, I would recommend just setting up two email automations — the first for when someone has completed a chapter or module to introduce them to the next one and the second for when someone hasn’t made progress on the course in 4 – 7 days.

In these emails we’re inviting conversation. We want them to reply back to the email or to post in the Facebook group or to complete the contact form that we talked about earlier. We want our students to know that we’re wanting them to find success through our course.

There are 3 more ways that we can support our students:

  • Inside our course
  • Virtual online office hours
  • Public praise through social media, your weekly newsletter, posters in your studio or otherwise

Inside our course, this will be done with quizzes, surveys and assignments. When a student participates in these, they are essentially opening the door for a deeper conversation. When it comes to assignments, we should always provide feedback, not just a pass/fail. And the same for quizzes, we can address their incorrect responses with positive feedback and invite conversation.

The responses to survey questions are invaluable. We gain insight into how students perceive and use the information we present in the lessons and can adapt and respond as necessary. Survey responses also help us iterate our courses so that the next cohort or set of students has an even better experience.

Virtual office hours will take place in a zoom meeting room. You’ll setup the date and time and communicate the link to your students. They can submit their questions in advance or hop on and ask them live. The recording from office hours can then be uploaded into your course platform and into your Facebook group. This is another opportunity to email your students.

Once an office hours session is complete, I also go the extra step of pulling out each question and answer into written and succinct form so that you can build a catalog of Q&A and also see what additional training or bonuses you can deliver.

Oh my, we didn’t even talk about bonuses as a way to support our students… but that can be huge too. Surprising them with a personal note, personal outreach, alternative methods and other tangential or complimentary content will help them find success!

And the last one ~ everyone likes to be acknowledged for their hard work. It’s easy for an elementary school art teacher to hang their students’ creations on the wall but we can’t do that with your students who are all over the country or around the world. Instead, we use the virtual walls of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Our Blogs, Our Newsletters, Pinterest and whatever other fancy tools we have at our disposal.

I recommend getting students’ permission before sharing their name and work or tagging them. I generally do this at the outset of the course so that they can truly be surprised and delighted when it happens. Usually asking for this permission is in the second or third email that I send them after they purchase, not the welcome email because it’s a nice to have, not a must have!

The success of your course lies in the success of your students. Supporting them, encouraging them and rewarding them are going to have ongoing benefits for you, your business, your students and their newfound skill.

I would love to know your biggest takeaway and what you’re going to do next for your online course. Send me a DM on Instagram, I’m @jaimeslutzky, and let me know or tag me in you Instagram Stories!

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