Email strategies for online education: 5 proven ways to boost your course completion rates!


In the world of email marketing, scenarios in our daily lives sometimes run parallel to our work issues. But this helps us to look at the problem from a different perspective and come up with creative solutions.

I had one of these epiphanies recently...

I had gone to a nearby mall to meet a friend over a coffee. Post-meeting and having a hot beverage, we headed out to check out some retail stores.

We zoomed around several luxury clothes shops and homeware decor stores but never really bought anything.

My friend kept on looking at an amazing pair of sneakers in a high-end retail store. But after looking through what I thought were hundreds of them, we came out – not buying a single pair!

When I asked my friend why he didn't get a pair he was checking out, he just shrugged and said,

“I am not in the mood to buy anything, I was just curious to see what's available. “

And then it just hit me...


See 2 days ago, there was a marketer from a popular Online Education (OE) brand, who had sought us for email strategy consulting. She had a peculiar problem with her platform.

The core of the company's issues was the lack of expected ROI on their email efforts and an overall decrease in new course sign ups.

There were some sticking points for the marketer:

  • Out of the learners who took up the courses, only a small percentage actually finished them.
  • The majority of the users were just platform lurkers and inconsistent.
  • The email engagement was average and needed improvement.
  • There was a sizable reduction in the number signing up for a second course.
  • There was an issue of lack of learner motivation.

To compound the problem further, the low amount of course sign-ups were resulting in low revenues for the platform. They were not able to convert those users via their email program to sign up for a second course. This was affecting the credibility of one of their major revenue channels. These were worrying signs and they wanted us to fix the issues before it turns into a full-blown crisis. They had to answer their management on continuing to use email marketing as one of their primary channels.

I thought that similarly 'we' were the lurkers in the retail stores with no intention of buying anything, which was similar to the users of this e-learning platform.

That made our team go deeper into Online Education (OE) platforms and their challenges. We realized that this seemed to be a strategic problem.

In this post, we will look at some of those challenges facing OE platforms. I will also provide you some tested strategies on how to get the attention of the learners and keep them hooked till the end of their course.

Positive trend for online education industry during uncertain times:

During a challenging year like 2020, online education was one of the positively affected industries due to the pandemic. Home isolation for students and WFH professionals meant an increased spike in online presence. An unpredictable economy and layoffs meant more takers for online courses to upskill and stay relevant in the job market. 

If you have been following the news, the OE industry has grown during the pandemic:

  • Udemy released their consumer data post-COVID-19, reporting a 425% increase in enrollments since the pandemic started.
  • OE platforms like Upgrad have doubled their hiring to meet demand when thousands have been laid off in other industries.
  • According to industry reports, OE platforms will triple their workforce by 2021.

Despite the healthy outlook, OE platforms are struggling with their course completion rates, user engagement and learner motivation. 

Challenges faced by online education platforms:

Let's look at some of these challenges which the marketers have to face:

1. Early user drop-offs

According to research done on online course consumers, over 50% of the users were found to be 'lurkers' who subscribe to the course but then do nothing about it.

35% of the users were found to be inconsistent learners who don't stick to designated career paths but jump, back and forth. So, this means around 85% of the users were not completing the courses. Only 5-7% of the learners are able to follow the course path and complete it.

The probability of these users completing the current course or taking up a new course is pretty low. Some of the users were found to lack the necessary motivation to complete their course work.

According to the research, the most vulnerable point for a user to feel disengaged with the course work seems to be after the first week of enrollment.

The challenge of keeping the interest levels of the learners starts from the beginning of the course.

2. User needs for guided learning

It’s natural that all the course takers won’t have the same learning capacity. Some learners may require 1:1 guided learning. It's a general misconception about e-learning platforms among the people that they don't offer support services.

According to a study on online education, the slowest student takes 5 times as long to learn as the fastest student.

90% of these learners will successfully reach higher levels, but only if given enough attention.

Face-to-face instruction is the best approach to providing these levels of attention.

Therefore, users will still have some doubts on deciding to take online courses.


You just watched a video lecture on a math problem, but you have certain doubts about it. Can you send your question to the instructor via email or some chat feature on the platform? Can the instructor look at your question and address it right away?

So, without meaningful feedback to the users, they would be hesitant to go for online courses.

If you have learner support features, then you should make the users aware of them.

3. Low perceived brand value

Your brand equity depends on how you are positioned in the market. Your brand's perceived value depends on the niche, benefits, features, and costs associated with your courses. There are startups now for teaching coding to kids between 5-10 years and there are start-ups to provide business and technology degrees to college folks.

Where do you figure? What is the unique value you are providing in the market?

All these factors are evaluated by the users before deciding on what platform to choose for a course.


I recently wanted to do an online copywriting course. I checked for course pricing, reviews, ratings, and course curriculum. I would consider all these factors before I made a decision on which website/app that I need to use to take the course. 

Word of mouth about a good or bad experience with an e-learning platform travels like wildfire. Nowadays, social media feedback posts are quite common based on consumer issues.

Your brand's low perceived value in the market can impact the demand from learners.

4. Lack of relevant and timely nudges

There is an age-old debate on how many emails to send to your users to engage with them. If the frequency is too much to handle, you can risk disinterest and ignorance. If it is too little, you risk losing the interest and the brand connection.

In my opinion, in scenarios where a user is inconsistent in completing their course or takes long breaks in between courses, they need to be engaged to lure them back to the platform. These users need to be segmented by your platform analytics as those requiring an extra push. Sometimes the learners who are procrastinating on starting a course need to be nudged with the right content to help them start it.

User memory is not that long. The messaging needs to be done timely so that the learner can return to the course and finish it in a shorter time. A conversion may not happen soon, but without the timely nudges, you risk losing the interest levels of the learners altogether.

Now let’s look at some solutions to solve these issues.


5 winning strategies to uplift your course conversions:

1. Share learner stories to build brand equity.

The quality and messaging tone of your campaigns defines how the consumers view and think about your brand inside their inbox. Offer educational or informational content about your popular courses. Check the most highly reviewed courses on your platform and promote them with your campaigns.

Present the testimonials provided by the reviews like learner stories through your emails. These will accomplish 2 outcomes:

  • The testimonials will educate other users on the benefits of the platform, instruction, and other features.
  • Reading about the positive user experience will motivate others to take up the course.

In addition to this, invite participation from your end-users by presenting an open-ended discussion question at the end of the email. This will provide you a measure of their interest levels. Building your brand equity inside the user's inbox is crucial to getting website/app visits. The users need to find your content informative and not just salesy in nature.

Testimonials are a great way to engage your audience and provide reasons to choose your platform over others. 

This campaign by Udemy shows the feedback provided by past learners to their courses. Great learner stories are like ambassadors for the platform to acquire new users and persuade them to get the same benefits.

Tejas 2

Source: Inbox

2. Treat your email campaigns like a product newsletter

One of the things we always advise marketers is to increase the brand value in the consumer’s eyes. An excellent way is to adopt a persona of a product marketer treating your email campaign like a newsletter.

Did your platform come out with new features in the last 1 month?

Why not talk about it with your users? Every time there is a new course offering or a new product feature, send an email explaining to your users, how it will benefit them.


You have a new course on Python coding offered on your platform which provides a certificate on taking an exam at the end. You have a feature that lets users submit their coding assignments live through the UI. Now devise ways to show how users can learn the language effectively by submitting their coding errors and how the system can correct them right away.  

Make the content interesting with catchy subject lines which will attract the opens.

Finding better offers for courses and explaining the benefits of them to your users will ensure a dramatic improvement in your course completion rates.

3. Stress on the real-world applicability of your courses

Especially with the current economic scenario, your offered courses need to fill up the gap of your learners' professional skills. They should also stand important on their resume and not be just another badge that they acquired. Your course certificates need to be respected by organizations.

This extends to non-professional courses as well where you need to highlight how the learner can use those skills in their daily lives.

A course taker needs to know if the certificate can:

  • Add value to their resume.
  • Add another skill which they can't acquire at work.
  • If the certificate will be relevant to employers.

Answer all these questions through your campaigns. Stress on the professional applicability of your courses.

This will make the decision easy for your users to choose from a large number of options available to them.

4. Nudge the inconsistent learners with automated drips

Automated drip campaigns are a great way to keep engaging with your audience. Based on the activity or a lack of activity of the learner, these drip campaigns can be used to engage with them and push them forward in the conversion cycle.

As stated earlier the most vulnerable point for a learner to drop off seems to be after week 1 of enrollment. Hence, you need to monitor the behaviour of the new subscribers on the website along with their navigation touch points. The data analytics will provide you numerous clues on what they are interested in and the type of content you require to engage with them.


You can plan an entire “This is what you missed” email series.

Some content ideas around this series:

  • Your free trial expires in 7 days or Make the best of your free trial.
  • While you were gone...
  • 500,000+ users have attended our free courses, when do you start yours?
  • It's time to return to your course...

You can plan some quality campaigns based on the above lines. These email drips should give a FOMO feeling and a sense of urgency to get back to the course.

This automated campaign from Udemy offers an update on the progress of the course I am taking and leaves a positive message to continue the work. Regular drip messages will get noticed by learners and will lure them back to the platform for their professional development.

Tejas 3

Source: Inbox

5. Reward the users with each winning milestone

You need to gratify your users with a sense of achievement on their path to course completion. Offer an incremental reward system for the learners in order to keep them motivated for completing the courses.

A momentum update, on how far they have come in completing the course every week helps them to stay on track. If skill progression is not motivating enough, then you can complement their automated campaigns with an average salary that a person can earn based on those new-found skills in the job market.

Completing the course should get them on an upward curve of progress on the platform. Some indicators of career path progression should be visible on your website. You can include the same information in your weekly emails to the user, to remind them of the same.

Build motivation in the learner to achieve their goals and become proficient in a new skill. This will sky-rocket your course completion rates.


On successful completion of a course, offer a discount on the next course for the learner. Alternatively, you can also offer reward points for learners to accumulate and use it as a currency for taking a course.


A campaign by Pluralsight provides the learning statistics for the month to each user. It provides some insights on how much time you have spent learning in the past 30 days and will motivate them to improve on those numbers in the next month.

Tejas 4

Source: Reallygoodemails


Wrapping up

The online education industry has entered a golden period. The adoption of online learning has just been accelerated due to the pandemic. There are countless courses for learners to choose from, regardless of what field they wish to be educated. With the pandemic it has accelerated the need to use these platforms in the absence of physical institutions.

But the struggle for OE brand marketers is to grip the attention of the course takers till the end and increase conversions. Of course, the quality of your teaching instruction and the course content needs to be top-notch for increasing your perceived value with the end-users.

They need to solve the issue of learner motivation, engagement and some of the above strategies should help in doing that. They should help you improve your email engagement and dramatically increase your conversions.

Read our email benchmark report 2020: A study of 50bn+ emails and compare your email metrics for your industry with global standards.