Why people don’t finish online courses

I’ve heard, from various sources, that online courses have anywhere between a 2-8% completion rate. Given my interest in education, learning, and online education, today I’m going to speculate as to why.


Here’s four reasons to explore:

  1. Most of us are bad at coming back to things
  2. People realise it’s not for them
  3. Inspiration is not sustainable.
  4. Often, people are not looking to learn.


1) Most of us are bad at coming back to things


Don’t try to motivate yourself to go to an early morning gym session. Just get up and put your gym shorts on β€” then you’ll find yourself triggering the sequence of behaviours that gets you to the gym.


The online course, much alike the book, often gets lost or discarded for this reason β€” the right routine and schedule is not built around it. I read everyday after an afternoon gym session or bike ride, not just ‘when I feel like it’. That’s what locks in the consistency for me.


2) People realise it’s not for them


It’s important to think Without-the-Box for a moment here… we need to rule out the assumption that completing a course is always the best outcome, or that a course fails when it is not completed. I heard a story about 50 Cent, who, when reading Robert Greene’s book The 48 Laws of Power, only remembered the first law (never outshine the master) and said it helped him become incredibly wealthy.


Completion is not necessarily success β€” it’s just an easy metric to observe. What does it matter if someone gets some value before moving on, or, better yet, realises that something is not for them?


3) Inspiration is not sustainable


Most purchasing decisions are aspirational. They’re not critically assessed and weighed up. Once you buy a car, house or microwave, you have them. Because you need the car to get to work, you use it everyday.


When I was twelve, I begged my mother to buy me a guitar. I was in a musical phase, she obliged, and then ten years later I used it for the first time (sorry Mum!). I didn’t have to do anything to get the guitar, but I did love the idea of having one.


A window of inspiration will always close at some point. Winter comes, it starts raining… the window can’t stay open all year round. It’s not sustainable. And so, inspiration, like a candle, will eventually burn out.


4) People are not looking to learn (well, not really)


This is a biggy, and a bit of a surprising one. Online courses are to action as pornography is to sex.


People love consuming information instead of taking action because taking action is… scary! You have the chance to find out you’re not good enough, or that you’re not the hotshot you thought you were or wanted to be.


Reading and watching videos, on the other hand, is giving you cheap and easy knowledge, that gives you a sense of momentum (which is why learning is so fun) but without the real world negative feedback. To use the pornography example, you don’t have to go through putting yourself out there, dating, getting turned down, left on read, exposing your naked to someone else… but you still get to get off πŸ˜‰


So, online courses, more than books, are entrepreneurial pornography. Because they cost more, but not too much, they give you the signal that you’re doing something without you actually having to do something real. Real learning comes through experience, but experience is scary, it involves risk. Online courses do not.


I can show you Youtube videos of me laying out a very reasonable business plan for a young person, and that young person getting scared shitless after having been given a clear roadmap to stepping up their project.

People actually want the excuses sometimes. The excuses maintain a convenient reality.


Going to get an education is convenient. As I indicated in this piece, there is not better learning than doing projects. Going somewhere where you can get educated without really doing anything is the most convenient excuse in the world. It’s more about a lack of confidence than anything else.


How to show people


My personal struggle and challenge is getting people to turn down the volume of their own hero story. In a world awash with social media, social comparison and ‘personal brand’ building, people are too sensitive to their image. The project they want to do is often a story of them being ‘successful’ in their eyes.


A real, honest project is a service to others whilst doing something we love. Love is that thing which transcends these barriers, such as fear. Would you be afraid to stand up for your brother? Your girlfriend? Your father? Perhaps.


But you would not let that fear stop you from serving those you love. So, I say, go and do the things you love that make the world better in some way.


When that is your commitment, learning will come via the experience, without you consciously noticing it at all.

Would this open a Door For Someone You Know?

Remember to share it with them, after all, the best way to Open a Thousand Doors for you is to concentrate on Opening Doors for Others.

With Joe Wehbe – The Podcast

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