How to Automate Onboarding in Your Online Course

If you’ve ever worked a 9 - 5, you’re probably familiar with the term onboarding. Here's how Wikipedia defines it:

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.

In simpler terms, onboarding means providing the necessary information for your new employees to navigate your organization.

Without onboarding, your employees are stuck trying to figure out where to go for information, how to do their job, who to contact for questions, etc. Trust me, it sucks.

Onboarding applies to online courses too. It’s how your learners know how to navigate your course

Why is Onboarding Important?

Having an onboarding system means you’ve thought about the learner experience after they’ve given you money. Which, you know, is a good thing to consider.

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

“How do I use this course platform? Is there something I should do before I begin? Where do I go for help if I get stuck?”
— Confused Learner

You can answer each of these questions in your onboarding sequence.

In this article, you’ll learn how to use email to setup your onboarding and make your learners feel welcome and prepared for your course. (Feel free to swipe all these tactics for your course!)

The Essential Steps of Any Onboarding System

Onboarding is really two phases of orientation:

  1. what learners should get before starting your course and

  2. what learners should get after starting your course 

If you’re wondering what learners should get in each phase, here’s how it breaks down:

What learners should get before starting:

  • Order Confirmation/ Receipt (not really onboarding, but important)

  • Welcome and thank you

  • What to expect in the course

  • Login details for accessing the course

  • Access links to any discussion forums, Slack channels, Facebook groups, etc.

  • Delivery of any bonus materials (for example, specific price tier bonuses)

  • Reminder of action items or pre-requisites before beginning the course/ Invitation to begin the first lesson

  • How to contact you or your team for support

here’s what they should get after STARTING: 

  • Orientation/ Getting Started module

  • Course walkthrough video: how to use the platform, where to find things, etc.

  • What to expect from the course (learning outcomes and assignments)

  • Icebreaker assignment (For example, ask learners to introduce themselves to their classmates.)

  • Regular check-in emails at specific intervals

When Should You Check-In?

It's a good idea to set up checkpoints within your course emails to see how students are doing. Here's some examples:

day 0 - Welcome Email

  • This is the first email your students will get after their order confirmation. In this email, welcome your learners and thank them for purchasing the course.

  • Next, tell them how to access the course and what they can expect to learn.

  • If you have a live component (i.e. office hours) this is where you give them the skinny on dates and how to access.

  • Don't forget to tell them how to contact you if they have questions or support needs. (For instance, if they can’t log in!)

day 1 - 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.

  • In this email, ask your learners what they want to get out of your course. You can also ask what challenges they're having with the topic that motivated them to purchase.

1 week Check-in

  • Check-in to see how students are doing, get feedback, and notify them of any new changes or content 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 students. Transparency is always the way to go.

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 self-paced course . 

Luckily, you can maintain your sanity 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 course platform or plugin, you can use Zapier to make them play nice together.

Step 1 - Link your course platform with your email service

You’ll probably find this under ‘Integrations’ regardless of which platform or LMS plugin you use.

The idea is to make your course delivery platform and email service provider (ESP) talk to each other so that when a sale triggers the onboarding email sequence.

You should be able to setup the integration either from your ESP or from within your course platform.

Integrations panel within ConvertKit

Integrations panel within ConvertKit

Integrations panel within Thinkific

Integrations panel within Thinkific

Step 2 - Setup A New Sequence

Screenshot 2019-01-14 21.19.24.png

Step 3 - Add emails to your new Sequence

  • (Day 0) Welcome (access instructions, course materials, etc)

  • (Day 1) Relationship building email

  • (Five days after Day 1) Week 1 Check-In

  • (7 days after Week 1) Week 2 Check-In

  • (~30 days after Day 0) 30-Day Check-In

Be sure to turn the sequence on, i.e. make sure it’s not in ‘Draft’ mode. 🙃

Be sure to turn the sequence on, i.e. make sure it’s not in ‘Draft’ mode. 🙃

Step 4 - Setup your Automation

  • Automation creates an action based on a trigger. Automation is good.

  • In this case, the trigger is successful enrollment in your course. The action is to subscribe students to the sequence you just setup.

  • Once subscribed, students will get your emails automatically.

Step 5 - Automate DELIVERY 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.

  • Setup a separate sequence to deliver the bonuses.

  • Make sure the automation only triggers after customers purchase a specific package. (You don’t want everyone to get the bonuses.) This may require some workarounds. Reach out to support if you need some help.

  • Send this out on Day 1 or 2 after enrollment. (In your welcome email, be sure to tell students when to expect bonuses.)

Notice the action subscribes the customer to a different sequence.

Notice the action subscribes the customer to a different sequence.

Summary

Done! 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 interaction. Now you’ve got a primer on how to setup a smooth and personal experience for your new students.

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