How to Automate Onboarding in Your Online Course (Part 1)

If you’ve ever worked a "regular job," you’ve probably heard the term onboarding. Here's how Wikipedia defines onboarding:

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Let’s simplify that, shall we? Essentially onboarding means taking steps to make sure your new employees have the knowledge and skills to navigate your organization.

So what does onboarding have to do with online courses?

Well, it turns out that online learners also benefit from onboarding as much as employees. When it comes to online courses, onboarding is how you make sure your learners know how to access and navigate your course. It helps set them up for a successful start.

Why is Onboarding Important?

Without an onboarding system, your learners would simply log into your course and have to figure things out on their own. 

Have you ever had this experience?

Creating a better experience doesn’t have to be complicated. Onboarding can be a simple series of emails or a mix of email and media to make your learners feel welcome and prepared for your course.

Now, I'm no expert at this, but I've been working to improve the onboarding experience in my newest course, Jumpstart Your Course.

In this article, you’ll learn the steps I've taken to setup a simple email series to onboard new students. Feel free to swipe all these tactics for your course!

The Essential Steps of Any Onboarding System

Onboarding is really two phases of orientation: steps taken before starting your course and steps taken after starting your course. If you’re wondering what learners should get in each phase, here’s how it breaks down:

What they should get before logging in:

  • Welcome and thank you
  • What to expect in the course
  • How to access and use the course
  • How to contact you or your team for support 
  • Access to any course materials
  • Delivery of any bonus materials (for specific price tiers)
  • Action items before beginning the course/ Invitation to begin the first lesson

And here’s what they should get after logging in: 

  • Orientation/ Getting Started module
  • Course tour: how to use the platform, where to find things, etc.
  • What to expect from the course (outcomes and assignments)
  • First assignment: Ask learners to introduce themselves

Just like a job, there may be some areas where your learners get stuck in your course. When that happens, it’s helpful to have resources available to get them unstuck. 

How Long Should Your Onboarding Be?

In my opinion, anything that happens in the first month of a new student’s engagement with your course is considered onboarding. It's a good idea to set up checkpoints within your course emails to see how students are doing. Here's some examples:

Welcome Email

  • This is the first email your students will see. Start by welcoming and thanking your students for purchasing.
  • Next, tell them how to access the course, what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Don't forget to tell them how to contact you if they have questions or support needs.

Relationship Building Email

  • This is my favorite email because it creates a personal dialogue between you and your students. It also gives you tons of data on what your students want out of your course. You can use that later to make tweaks to your content.
  • Simply ask your learners what they want to get out of your course. You can also ask what challenges they're having with the topic.

1 week Check-in

  • This check-in is to see how students are doing, get feedback, notify them of any new changes in the course.
  • This is one of the most important check-ins because students often forget to login during the first week.
  • If you're finalizing course material--e.g. finishing a couple videos--this is a good time to communicate that to your class.

2 week Check-in

  • Simple check-in to see how things are going and get feedback
  • Share resources for getting unstuck; announce office hours if you're getting a lot of questions.
  • If you've added anything new, this is a good time to announce it.

30-Day Check-in

  • This is a great opportunity to probe for sticking points and share resources for getting unstuck, especially for students who've stopped participating.
  • You can also use this email to highlight an all-star student's progress, which helps encourage students to keep going.

How to Setup Automated Onboarding emails

Sending out onboarding emails manually isn’t a big deal when you only have a handful of students. But it becomes a major PITA when you have hundreds or thousands of students, or an evergreen course. 

Don’t worry. You can get your sanity back by automating the process. Here’s how.

PSA: I’m using ConvertKit in my examples, but you can do this with other email providers like Mailchimp and Drip too. If your email provider doesn’t have a direct integration with your coruse course platform or plugin, you can use Zapier to make them play nice together.

Step 1 - Link your course platform with your email service

Step 2 - Setup A New Sequence

Step 3 - Add emails to your new Sequence

  • (Day 0) Welcome (access instructions, course materials, etc)
  • (1 Day after) Relationship building email
  • (Five days after Day 1) Week 1 Check-In
  • (7 days after Week 1) Week 2 Check-In
  • (14 days after Week 2) 30-Day Check-In

Step 4 - Setup Automation

  • Automation creates an action based on a trigger.
  • In this case, enrollment in your course will be the trigger. The action will be to subscribe students to the sequence you just setup.
  • Once subscribed, students will get your emails automatically. 

Step 5 - Setup Automation of Bonuses

  • One of the best ways to create pricing options for all budgets while maximizing profit is to create pricing tiers, or packages, with special bonuses in each tier. 
  • Create an automation for delivery of bonus materials for people who’ve purchased a specific pricing package.
  • Send this out on Day 1 or 2 after enrollment. (In your welcome email, be sure to tell students when to expect bonuses.)


First impressions are important. In my experience, one of the contributing factors to low-completion rates in online courses is a lack of onboarding and orientation. Now you’ve got a primer on how to setup a smooth and personal experience for your new students.

Next Steps

In Part 2 of this article I'll share how to setup an orientation module in your course. Want to know when the article goes live? Sign up below.

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