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In pursuit of the best online education – What does it take to be the best?

There are thousands of websites on the internet that claim to offer “the best online education” but there are only a few that qualify and have earned that accolade. This article focuses on what it takes to be the best online education provider and more specifically as it pertains to a-synchronous “distance learning”.

This article is written by Jeff Weiss, one of the founders of Keep Me Certified, a new learning management platform. Keep Me Certified was developed by two Boston based real estate agents and entrepreneurs who were fed up with all of the “less than satisfying” online continuing education courses available to them, specifically in the real estate industry. With some research we determined that this a widespread problem across many different industries. Keep Me Certified (keepmecertified.com) is currently focused on improving real estate education for Massachusetts real estate professionals and has plans to expand in to different states across numerous industries in the near future.

In response to the question, “How can a website offer the best educational yet enjoyable online education”, many of you reading this article might say “well, that’s easy”. We couldn’t agree with you more. Talking amongst your educated peers you can probably come up with a relatively simple list of criteria that any online education site must meet to be successful, but what separates the successful sites from, well, “the less fortunate” is how they implement and meet these criteria. Let’s take a moment to create and discuss these criteria:

1. User Interface- First impressions are everything and if the site looks sloppy, old or unprofessional your users are already in the wrong mindset and have subsequently lowered their standards of expectation. Websites aren’t only viewable from Planet Fitness locations where their slogan is “the judgment free zone”.
2. Site functionality- Every website has a skeletal system and like humans, they’re all pretty similar. Generally you’ll find the login button in the top right corner of the homepage, the important content will jump out at you from somewhere in or near the center of the page and other relevant info will be scattered around it. Not only is it important for that info to be there but it’s even more important that your site works like your users expect it to. Buttons should take your users to their intended pages, signup forms should be simple and easy to fill out and your core product (generally video based) should be as simple as youtube. Page load speed is also important.
3. Text on pages- There is a fine line between tailoring a sites content to its users and to search engines. If you’ve ever been on an education website that has an unusually large amount of text on it, there’s a good chance you’ve probably never read most of it. If you do take the time to read it, you’ll probably notice that after the first few lines, every sentence pretty much says the same thing using different keywords and phrases. This helps with improving search engine rankings but it certainly doesn’t get the site any bonus points with their users. High search rankings will drive more traffic to a website but unless there is concise relevant content when the user gets there conversion rates will suffer. What’s more valuable, more traffic or higher conversion rates? In a profit seeking educational website, that answer seems clear.
4. Educational content- Most education websites use their homepage as a dynamic billboard, a place to put their marketing message and some other important administrative information. Once the user converts to a student by signing up and logging in, sites need to focus on switching gears from sales to content delivery. Generally continuing education has a negative stigma to it so sites need to win over their users by making their educational content interesting. Depending on the topic being lectured, it is important to give real life examples, things that students can relate to. Stay focused, keep the pace moving and give the user something nice/relevant to watch while they’re listening. Remember they’re watching a video and not listening to a tape.
5. Instructors- The instructors are the riskiest variable in this equation. They need to be vetted with intense scrutiny before settling on the right one. The instructor only needs to perform once in front of the camera and until the videos are reshot with someone else, the instructor will be the only person that students remember after the course. A good instructor should be articulate, engaging, upbeat and being easy to look at always helps.
6. Support- Websites usually don’t make mistakes but sometimes humans do when they’re making them. Be available to offer prompt help and support to every student when and if they need it. We hate it as much as the next person when we call a support number for some corporation and end up talking to someone over in the mid/far east. It’s not hard to wow your students with good support by showing that you care about their issue and are being attentive by following up with them in a timely manner. Do a little more than what’s expected by the student and it’ll go a long way.

If someone asked about your educational (not social) experience at the university you attended, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? It’s probably a favorite course or professor that you had. What I’m getting at is that the instructor sets the foundation for the overall user experience. You may not remember every fact and detail that professor taught during the semester but you do remember the relevance of the material and whether or not it was delivered in an engaging way.

Take a look at industry leading companies like Becker and Kaplan. What has earned them the title as industry leaders is that they’re really good at delivering the right content to their students in a way that meets the six criteria discussed above.

The criteria are clear and fairly intuitive to most which makes us wonder why there are so many websites and applications out there that think they can get away with anything less. A website earns the accolade of “best online education” not just by delivering the right content but creating an overall enjoyable user experience by meeting the criteria discussed in this article.

It’s time that professionals start acting like professionals and stop accepting and supporting these inferior courses that are offered. If you work in an industry that has this problem, send us a note to support [at] keepmecertified.com and our next course may be designed for you and your industry.