What’s an Online Learning Experience Worth?

Two contradictory tropes come to mind when I think about the worth of an online learning experience:

“You get what you pay for.”

“You get out what you put in.”

Which is correct?

The distinction that I find interesting here is between the worth of an experience and the price of it.

When talking about education, worth isn’t easily quantifiable, but the price has to be.

As someone who makes and sells online learning experiences, I can tell you that determining the price is not easy.

Neither is completely changing your pricing model, which is what I’ve just done.

I run an online education business called Verbal to Visual, where I teach sketchnoting skills.

Over the past seven years I’ve built seven online courses. I also run a community where I share weekly prompts and host two live webinars each month.

What are my courses and community worth?

I’ve had to ask myself that question regularly. I’ve never enjoyed it, and I’ve always guessed at the answer.

Up until today, I chose to price my courses using a one-time fee for lifetime access model.

Today I’m moving to a different model, one that I think is better for me and for my customers.

I’m shifting what I’m charging, and in the process I might also be changing what the experience is worth.

Over the years, my pricing has become cluttered.

Most of my courses cost $49, one cost $99 (because it can earn you money), and the latest cost $29 (because it’s still in development).

I also offered five different course bundles — packages of three to seven courses, priced at a discount that increased with the number of courses it contained. Those course bundles ranged in price from $89 to $249.

And then there’s the community, which was available at a $19 per month or $99 per year.

When you looked at all of the plans available on Mighty Networks (the platform I use to host my courses and community), you’d have to scroll over four times to see them all:

Not the best purchasing experience, right?

And I should have seen that coming.

I was very clearly committing one of the common mistakes that I learned about in Community Design Masterclass, a course that Mighty Networks offers for new course creators and community hosts (and which I highly recommend): too many choices.

Some of my sketchnotes from the Community Design Masterclass offered by Mighty Networks.

Those fourteen options above are too many.

Let’s try three instead.

Here are the new options that I share with folks who might want to learn sketchnoting from me:

No need to scroll over to see any additional plans. It’s just three: access to all of my sketchnoting courses, access to the ongoing community activities, or access to both.

That gets at the first reason for the shift from an à la carte to a subscription model: simplicity.

Fewer options makes for a cleaner experience and an easier decision.

The Community Design Masterclass taught me another important lesson: as a community host you’re charging for the transformation that you help your community members achieve.

I found it really helpful to think about the transformation I could support over the course of a year, as opposed to just a few weeks.

When that transformation is clearly defined, the worth of the experience is much easier to see, which makes it less scary to put a specific price on it.

That brings me to the second reason that I think the three-option subscription model is a better fit: depth.

With a monthly rate that provides access to all of the sketchnoting courses that I offer, members are encouraged to spend more time developing their sketchnoting skills than they might otherwise.

Because of the wide applications of sketchnoting, each time you increase your skill level or get comfortable with a new set of tools, you’re increasing the positive impact that skill can have on your life and work.

Of course, some people might work through a single course and then leave, and that’s fine too. It’s even cheaper now, if they complete the course within two months.

But when folks see what they could learn in those other courses, they might decide to keep exploring.

One of the reasons that I decided to use Mighty Networks as my course and community platform is because of how they encourage members to share their work while going through a course.

It’s not built for passive course delivery, but instead for active student engagement. Student work is highlighted in the Activity Feed, where members get to see the latest posts shared within a given course.

A limitation of the previous model was that students would only see posts within the courses that they were enrolled in.

That prevented what is now more easily available with the new model: the cross-pollination of ideas.

What gets shared in one course might trigger an exciting idea within someone currently working through a different course.

For example, someone working through An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking might see some new work posted to Digital Sketchnoting. Even if that person isn’t interested in digital tools, they might see an approach to sketchnoting that they can apply to their analog work.

Similarly, when one person shares the curriculum they’ve designed within Build an Online Course with Sketchnotes, that might spark the thought “wait a minute, I’ve got something that I’d like to teach too! And sketchnoting can help me do that…”

All of those posts, all of that work shared, lives within the overarching theme of sketchnoting, so there’s still that level of focus, but by seeing the work that comes out of every course as opposed to just one or two, you get to see that skill applied in different ways to different areas of life.

And that diversity might spark your next great idea.

Finally, let’s talk about community.

My personal goal in building a Mighty Network, sharing sketchnoting resources there, and facilitating conversations between sketchnoting enthusiasts, is to create a learning community.

Mini-communities have already sprouted up within each of the individual courses that I offer, and I imagine that will continue.

There’s also the capital “C” Community, the group that gathers in those two live webinars each month and participates in the weekly activities that I share.

In both of those cases, I think that a subscription model implies a different kind of buy-in, one that leads to a different kind of participation.

It’s a deeper commitment, one that says, “Okay, I’m going to spend some time here, for a least a few months, and I want to make that time meaningful.”

Your active participation, be it through posting your sketchnoting work or commenting on the work of others, will deepen both your learning experience as well as those who see your work and with whom you interact.

That’s what building a learning community means to me — creating a space where the connections made between students are as impactful (if not more so) than the connection between student and teacher.

Wrestling with worth and price is an ongoing journey.

When it comes down to it, I don’t know what the online learning experience I’ve created is worth.

But this is the best I’ve ever felt about what I’m charging for it.

Sketchnoter, solopreneur, twin dad. Founder of Verbal to Visual, where I teach sketchnoting skills: www.verbaltovisual.com.

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