To drip or not to drip?

If you've been creating (or taking) online courses for a while, you're probably familiar with the drip vs self-paced conversation: are drip courses more effective than self-paced courses for learning?

The motivation for this age-old question comes from self-paced courses: they have notoriously low completion rates.

Only 10% of your students completing your self-paced course? Yep, that's not unusual.

But do completion results improve with a drip course? 🤔

I'm working on a longer, follow-up article about this, but for now here's what I've found with my own courses: why yes, yes they do.

Delivery Should Be Learner-Driven

In fact, one reason some self-paced courses have low completion rates is because they shouldn't be self-paced at all. When it comes to learning, delivery format is learner-driven just like everything else in your course.

For example, in a recent Twitter poll, I asked, "Which type of course is more effective for you as a learner? Self-paced or drip?"

Results were an exact 50/50 split.

I was almost ready to call the survey off when my Twitter buddy Elaine Luther shared her perspective as a student. Here's what she had to say:

Self-paced is more effective when I need to act on the information quickly;
Drip is better for managing overwhelm when the content is complex.
— Elaine Luther (

A-ha! So it depends on your content and how your learners engage with it.

It also depends on how much work--physical and emotional--that your students need to do in each lesson. Drip can help learners manage the workload. 

Because the last thing you want to do is overwhelm your students.

(There's also the question of which delivery format your customers prefer to buy, which is something the folks over at Podia dive into here.)  

2 Questions to Help You Decide

Here's two simple questions to ask if you're struggling to decide if your course should be self-paced or dripped out:

  • Does your course contain complex material that your students need time to digest and complete? Go with dripped content.

  • Does your course have simpler content that students need full access to in order to apply? Make it self-paced.

Of course, like everything in life, there are exceptions.

For example, my friend and designer Jarrod Drysdale has a pretty complex Visual Design course called Theory Sprints that's completely self-paced.

However, he also has an uber-motivated audience. That's something you want to factor into your decision too.

Are your students self-driven and organized enough to manage their workload on their own? 

If so, you can probably make either format work.

Back to You

Do you have experience with both course delivery formats?

If so, have you noticed any differences in success and completion rates as a teacher or student of online courses?

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