036: Where to start with online course creation for your organization

podcast whaleThe world of elearning and online courses is growing by the day, so how can your nonprofit begin to play with this growing tech? Hear how Julie Leary, the Digital Strategy Whaler at Whole Whale, has created an online course that has trained over 200 students about the Google Ad Grant (formerly known as AdWords Grant)  in 3 months.

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Online Course Resources

Here is the Whole Whale University – Ad Grant course this episode was about. The following is a list of different learning management software (LMS) options that you can check out.

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Episode 36
George: This is using the whole whale. A podcast that brings you stories of data and technology in the non-profit world. This is George Weiner your host and the chief whaler of WholeWhale.com. Thank you for joining us.

George: It’s episode thirty-six and we’re doing things a little differently today. We are actually interviewing one of the whalers. Somebody who works at Whole Whale, Julie Larry. She manages digital strategy but also has helped launch one of the products at whole whale this year called Whole Whale-U, whale university. And it’s an online course system starting off with our first course Google Adwords. And it’s part of a bigger vision that whole whale has to (similar to this podcast) really reach and train as many non-profits as possible helping them leverage their own data and technology to increase their impact. So I thought it’d be fun for you all to hear how we approach online learning and see if it might fit for, you know, even a small experiment. Honestly, we’re not sure if this is gonna work but it’s a product that we’re putting out there in the world. We’re measuring results. And so far it’s been very interesting. So we’re gonna learn how Julie has been approaching this product.

George: And I’m here with Whole Whale’s very own Julie Larry. Julie welcome to the podcast.

Julie: Thank you I feel so honored to be here.

George: So for those who don’t study the whole whale staff page can you tell us who you are and what you do.

Julie: Yes so I am digital strategy whaler at Whole Whale and I am the provost of Whole Whale University which is our online course series for non-profits.

George: I love that you named yourself provost.

Julie: Yeah I had to come up with something.

George: You wanted to be provost for a long time.

Julie: Yeah I’ve been thinking about provost.

George: So really it’s a resume play.

Julie: Oh yeah bucket list.

George: Whole Whale-U. Can you explain a little bit more about what the thinking was and with regard to creating like Whole Whale U as a brand versus like let’s just create an online course

Julie: Yes absolutely, so Whole Whale U came out of the idea that we can only reach so many non-profits with our consulting services so Whole Whale’s mission is to reach as many non-profits as possible and we could get to go a mile deep with a lot of non-profits, but we don’t get to work with everyone and for that reason we have a lot of free content which reaches a lot more people, but when they read free content people don’t get to go as deep into a subject. So Whole Whale U really falls somewhere in between where we get to engage you know more than just the dozen or so non-profits we can work with at a certain time, but go a little bit deeper than the content we have here.

George: So we’re able to you know reach non-profits and offer this training and it doesn’t take any of our time. I’m curious, what are some of the metrics you’ve been looking at with regard to like, is this working? What do we want to do?

Julie: Yeah so the big one is how many people are enrolling and right now we’re at 205 students which I’m very happy with. That’s above our goals for the moment. And ultimately if we can make that number go up it means we’re reaching more people. So that’s definitely a good thing. Especially unique organizations, so how many unique organizations are signed on to the training. In addition to that though, I care about people completing the course. So just signing up, not really good enough. It doesn’t mean you’re really learning from us. Doesn’t mean you’re really able to apply anything. So the big thing I look at is completion rates and how many people have completed the course or have actively participated in some amount of the course.

George: So for those who are not familiar you’re talking about completion rates in students. Like are people showing up on our doorstep? How does this actually look online?

Julie: Right, so the great thing about it is people can, it’s completely self-serve. People can sign up for the course whenever they want. They can take it as quickly or you know over time as they want. And we do active participation in the comments section and people can leave questions for us that we can answer. So they do get a little bit of one to one contact with us, but ultimately it’s a self-serve model. So we do get to just create the course and then kind of forget about it and let people sign up as they want.

George: So the course, if there’s one course, what is it you had to come up with the course that Whole Whale currently offers?

Julie: Yeah, so we really spend a lot of time thinking about, okay if we’re going to invest our time building a course we want to make it something that is really needed by the community. Something that we think is important and something where we’re filling a niche that might not already be filled with someone else. So you know being a data driven company as we are we took a look at the data and we did some research on different platforms to see what else is out there. And it looks like right now if you search non-profit on Udemy you only see five courses that come up. So of the thousands of courses that Udemy has, only five are made for non-profits. So we looked at that and we really saw, okay there’s a need for non-profit Udemy where it doesn’t really exist yet. And in addition to that we took a look at our Whole Whale t.v series. So we have a series of free online trainings for non-profits on a range of different topics. So analytics, videos, adwords-videos, co-content marketing, email strategy. And using that data we could figure out what’s the most popular and what has the best engagement. So we took a look at which of those videos have the highest percent watched. And we could see that our adwords-videos were doing really well. So not only were they getting the most views and were some of the most popular videos, but they also had the best engagement. So those were the two metrics that really told us, okay people are looking for trainings on the adwords and this is a niche we really feel we have expertise in.

George: So what is the exact course about?

Julie: Yeah so the course is the ultimate Google adwords training guide for non-profits. And it’s all about how to use the Google brand to spend Google’s dollars for good.

George: Nice. So ultimately Whole Whale’s trying to reach a whole bunch of non-profits and help them with leveraging data and technology so adwords is a free way of doing that. Why not just throw more videos up on Youtube? What is the, why the heck did we go through the pain and strife of throwing things up on Udemy?

Julie: Yeah so there are a few reasons for that. People can read blog posts passively, watch videos passively, but there’s no- we have no data about those people. We don’t know how they’re applying what they’re learning at their non-profit. We don’t get to collect their email unless they sign up for our newsletter. So one thing is that we then get more data on the impact Whole Whale is having as an organization. So if we know someone takes the course, we then have the name and the organization and not that we’re trying to be creepy or anything, but then we know which non-profits we’re affecting with the stuff we’re creating, which is really good for us to know. And then in addition to that, if people pay for something they’re more likely to really engage with it and really see it through. So we actually, we’re doing you a favor by charging you all for this course because the research shows that it means that you’ll take it more seriously. You’ll sit down, you’ll finish it because you’re invested in it.

George: So almost as a commitment device.

Julie: Exactly.

George: And what kind of completion rates does Whole Whale currently see on it?

Julie: Yeah so this is something we’re always trying to improve. We’re experimenting with different ways of following up with people, incentivizing people, and I definitely want to do more work on this but right now we’re seeing about a 13% completion rate and 36% of active students have at least started on the lectures. So a lot of times you’ll see people will watch maybe 75% of a lecture and not necessarily finish it so that can make some, these numbers are a little bit hard to read into. But that 36% number I’m pretty happy with. Those are the percentage of active students who have started all of the different lectures. And that compares to industry standards are you know 10-20% depending on the course so I’m pretty happy with that yeah.

George: Nice job us. Why did you choose Udemy? What went into your thinking behind that?

Julie: Yeah so there are a number of different platforms out there. Udemy, Lynda, Coursera, Skill Share, general assembly, Udasity. These are all the ones that we looked into. And we really just did some competitive analysis, which is the best fit for what we need right now. So a lot of those platforms create their own courses. There was no real option for someone like us to come in and create our own course and host it there. And then the other ones, some didn’t seem like the right fit for our content. So some were more design focused. Some were more development focused and we wanted to be sort of more in the marketing side. So we wanted a platform that already had marketing courses. So we knew they already had that audience, a captive audience for marketing related course. And the great thing about Udemy is it’s really simple to set up. It’s a really quick approval process. And it can totally range from really professionally shot videos to people in their home with a webcam so it’s a big range. I think if anyone’s looking for a place to host a course that has probably the best fit.

George: Yeah so you mentioned at home with your webcam. This is a little bit of a step above that. Can you talk to us about the budget you had for this and just the execution. How hard is it to create one of these courses?

Julie: Yeah. It’s hard. It’s not easy. I thought that it was gonna be like a piece of cake, this is something we already know about. Let’s just get in front of the camera. But it really does take a lot of time to think about all the different aspects of the topic. Flushing it out, especially with having two different instructors. Making sure you’re not stepping on each others toes with the content you’re relaying. Luckily, we already had a bit of a system set up because we have Whole Whale t.v so we already had a videographer. We already knew our editing style. We had a bit of a process there. But we basically just mapped out the course, mapped out the outline. Figured out which videos should fall where. What’s the best way to tell this story? What’s the best way to capture people’s attention? And build in some instructions, some walk-through’s and mix it up a little bit.

George: Yeah, so a little bit more work than you originally thought. Which I guess can move into pricing. You know certainly a partial commitment device, but you chose a very specific price for this. Can you tell us what it is and what went into your thinking for how to price this?

Julie: Yeah absolutely. So in that same vain of what we were talking about before, the commitment device. We really wanted to make sure not to price it too low so it was to not get that commitment device element from it. So we thought it was important that you know it shows value in the course. It’s the same reason people buy 200 dollar bottles of wine you know, perceived value. So I’m not afraid to admit that we chose to price it high because we thought that people would find it more valuable then and we could see, we did some competitive analysis and we could see that what we were producing was much higher quality than what was out there at similar price ranges. So we felt comfortable pricing it at $249 which is what it’s at right now. Knowing also that Udemy makes it really easy to make coupons and offer deals and we definitely planned on doing a lot of sales and flash-sales and coupons and things like that. So pricing it a little high also gave us room to then do some discounts which we know also people love.

George: Okay can I negotiate a discount for anybody listening right now?

Julie: Absolutely!

George: Yeah what would the discount be?

Julie: How about 50% off?

George: Oh wow!

Julie: Yeah! I think if you are sitting through this whole podcast then you really deserve quite a discount because you understand all the ins and outs. So yeah. 50% off for your podcast listeners!

George: What is the code?

Julie: WholeWhale podcast

George: And WholeWhale podcast is the code, alright. Alrighty, well I just negotiated that for the listeners. Nice job me. Having my back. And you know as you’re looking back if you could go back let’s say into the hot tub time machine and start off day one, what would your advice be to the Julie who started the Whole Whale U project with the adwords course?

Julie: Yeah I think with all the moving parts you know we did as good a job we could at keeping it all straight and organized. But one thing I would love to revisit is a little more interaction between the filming and the editing of the videos. We have a great video guy I think he did an amazing job, but video’s are really hard to edit once they are uploaded, they’re huge. They’re just, they took up so much data that it’s really hard to be sending videos back and forth. So the best solution I think is really just sitting in person and doing more feedback and doing more rounds of feedback on videos in person. Because there are a few things in the videos that things didn’t get put exactly where they should have been and that’s inevitable, but with a few more rounds of feedback I think we could of made them a little closer to what we imagined.

George: Mhm. It seems pretty clear that you know, you take this course and suddenly you’re able to leverage the adwords brand which is 10,000 dollars in kind. Spending it’s use it or lose it from Google for non-profits so you’re like unlocking a ton of money for someone who’s taking the course and understands it. You know as you think about the broader application to other non-profits what sort of advice would you offer to maybe a non-profit out there thinking about using this for training or for maybe even sorts of revenue?

Julie: Yeah absolutely. I would not say everyone should rush out and build any learning course. It’s a lot of work, but I do think there could be huge upside in the right situation for U-learning. We know U-learning is not going away, just look at Google trends and you can see U-learning is on the rise especially in the U.S but it is worldwide. I just read a stat recently that 70% of colleges think that online learning is critical to their long term strategy. And 25% of college students are enrolled in online learning so this is not something that’s going away. It’s totally becoming embedded in the way we learn in this world. And I think even more than that beyond college and universities people are really looking non-profits can use it. I think there definitely is upside. Actually I just read that Udemy has a social innovation grant to help fund non-profits in creating their own Ulearning courses. So I encourage people to check that out if they think that they have an application that makes sense. I think non-profits are all about raising awareness often and educating people and U-learning can be a way to do that. It certainly doesn’t fit every cause, but it might fit some causes. And there are organizations that are already doing this really well. So at John Hopkins University, they have a program with U.S Aid called Global Health U-learning and they run online programs that are free for people who are on the ground running health related programs and help train them on women’s health and reproductive health and things like that. And it’s really amazing. They’ve got thousand of people in these courses learning on the ground tools and tactics and tons of resources for them. So that’s just one case of a really effective use of U-learning in the non-profit world.

George: It’s amazing they can be tracked like you said with course completion you get actual data as opposed to some of the passive content we put out there. You know those different organizations which you think can help we get things like page views or average time on site. You get a course completion, you can do certifications and all of this is new. How much did Udemy charge you to do this?

Julie: Yeah they charged absolutely nothing.

George: Zero dollars, so free technology in order to do this and ultimately. You know I definitely think there’s upside, but it’s important to note that it’s fantastic. Whole Whale’s got this access now, you said there’s 205 students. What is coming in the future? Are you thinking about a new course? Are you thinking about trying to drive in more students? What are you goals with regard to Whole Whale U?

Julie: Yeah my biggest goal right now is to break even with this project so right now we’re about breaking even. We have a little bit more in our marketing budget so hopefully we can use that to get even more students enrolled and get that course completion number up. So I don’t wanna make any moves until we’re you know successful there. But definitely a new course is in the back of our minds. We’re thinking about what we could do next. We’ll probably start doing some market research, some surveys, talking to our clients, talking to our networks about what type of course people might want next.

George: Yeah it’s fantastic though because this asset really like our 206th student isn’t going to take any more of our time and will contribute to creating potentially the next resource that will help even more non-profits figure out how to leverage data and technology. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time.

Julie: Yeah thanks for having me! I hope you all go now and sign up for Whole Whale U.

George: Yeah where do they find it?

Julie: Wholewhale.com/university.

George: I hope this conversation has got you thinking about how you might, with your own organization experiment with an online course or a M.O.O.C which stands for massive open online course, take some of the internal knowledge that you have, divide it up into digestible units, grab a camera, and when I say camera I know it’s not cheap, but I’ll say for our work we spent less than 800 dollars on all the necessary camera equipment and SLR camera. We used the canon T50 I. It was the t5i. There’s no 50 in there. Again, you can look these things up. Get the equipment and experiment with it. I mean gosh, put something out there. Especially if you have volunteers in the field or people working in more remote areas. You can really scale the potential impact by increasing the effective work of the people that are trying to help your organization. So hopefully we’ve rallied you up, we’ve given you some options on where to start they’ll be of course a bunch more in the course show notes giving you pointers and tips on how we do it at least. And good luck. And if you do create an online course as result of this, send it our way, we’d be happy to promote it. wholewhale.com/podcast.

This has been Using the Whole Whale. For more resources on today’s show, please visit, wholewhale.com/podcast. And consider following us on twitter at wholewhale and thanks for joining us. Our intro and outro music by the ever effervescent Greg Thomas. And the interlude music, as brought to you by an artist called Broke For Free. Maybe also their business model, I hope now, I enjoyed their music.