Everyone loves free. Free coffee, free Wi-Fi, just about anything “free” is good, right? Not necessarily. And if your association has plans to sell your next online course or webinar, you might not be too excited to hear your competitor is offering a similar product for free. How can you possibly compete with free? Who is going to pay for your education products when someone else is giving it away? More people than you might think…Competing with Free Online Learning Courses

Everyday 10,465,000 people wait in line to pay Starbucks a minimum of $3 for their famous brewed coffee. Are these people crazy!? Don’t they know they can get FREE coffee in their hotel room, at their office, or a handful of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants? Sure they do. But they don’t want just any coffee; they want premium brewed coffee, made just for them. They are also paying for the experience. So, how can you apply the same principles used at Starbucks to your association’s online learning?

Step 1. Take your customer’s order. Don’t just produce an introductory level general education course, add it to your course catalog and expect members to swarm to it. Ask them what they want. Never assume you know what types of professional development and training your members want. Survey your members to determine their needs and strategize internally to access how you can best meet those needs. Many associations make the mistake of creating “one-size fits all” education products. The problem with very general offerings is that they offer little value to your members and chances are, similar content may already exist, perhaps it’s even available for free from another association or education provider. The most valuable content consists of specialized training that takes into account the member’s professional experience, continuing education requirements and personal goals.

Step 2. Make their lives better. The most valuable education products go beyond informing the learner, they enable the learner to better perform their job or even transform the learner – helping them to advance their skill-set. Required training, such as a professional certification course or continuing education, provides members with real value, value you can and should charge for. If you do not already offer continuing education or credentialing programs at your association, research possibilities for entering into this market. If you are a trade association or professional society, determine if an industry certification already exists. If so, can your association become an accredited provider of this training? If not, there is still an opportunity to CREATE a professional certificate program. You can learn more about how the Metal Treating Institute did just that, in this recorded webinar presented by Tom Morrison, CEO at MTI and Jack McGrath, President & Creative Director at Digitec Interactive.

Step 3. Give them a premium product. When differentiating your online education products from the “bargain basics,” it’s important to offer a premium experience for your members. Well-produced content has a much higher perceived value than poorly produced products. The design and aesthetics of the course can have a major impact on the overall learning experience. Start with strong subject matter, invest in sound instructional design and opt for professional photography, graphic design, and audio narration whenever possible. When it comes to online learning, the little details bring life to your content, encourage engagement, and increase member satisfaction.

Bonus tip! While it sounds simple, take the time to ensure title and body text placement is standardized across the course. Good eLearning should have a consistent design from screen-to-screen and not vary in font type, size or placement. Create a template before you begin and apply the style to each screen for a more polished, professional looking eLearning course.

As you can see, just because your competitor is offering free eLearning, it doesn’t mean you need to lower your price to remain competitive. Instead, focus on what adds value to your offering. Whenever possible, offer specialized training that goes beyond simply informing learners and invest in a well-designed course that provides learners with real value.

Have additional tips for competing with free eLearning providers? I’d love to hear them!

For more great information, check out our resources page. 

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