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Why Online Courses Fail – 5 Reasons You Should Know

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Surveys show that online courses (nonacademic) fail people most of the time. We’ve sifted out five main reasons. Knowlege of these will help you to make the best decisions about which courses to take and which ones to avoid.

These are the top five reasons why online courses fail their students.

I’ve been exposed to online learning courses for over a decade. I can see how all five of these reasons keep reoccurring no matter the course, the time, or the subject.

Now by “failure”, I mean the inability to complete the course and achieve the promises offered by the creator. For example, in the promotion of Tai Lopez’s social media marketing course, he talks about how easy it is to earn six figures using his program. However, just a very small number of people who buy his course can realistically expect to reach six figures. Most will never even finish the course, making it an expensive failure.

If you’re interested in buying a course, this post may help you avoid being one of those failed buyers. If your desire is to sell a course, it’s also helpful to know the biggest reasons online courses fail so you can head these off and provide outstanding value to your students.

I don’t want to be totally negative though. If you buy and complete a course, you’re going to learn something you didn’t know before. It may not help you reach your goal, but at least you learned something.

But let’s be honest here. You don’t just purchase an online course to learn a few things. You buy it to get results. I don’t want to be harsh, but if the results don’t manifest, the failure is either in the course, your unrealistic expectations for it, or both.

Let’s take a look at the first reason on our list. This often has to do with both the buyer and the course creator.


Expectations For The Course Are Too High


Most courses claim amazing results. This is in part because the creator of the course wants to sell more courses. It’s easy to make promises in videos and ad content. Creative marketers can imply all sorts of things that they can’t be held legally responsible for.

Most people don’t realize it requires a certain amount of focus, talent, and discipline to learn something new and apply it. They often get taken in by the over-blown claims and promises made by the course creator.

How often have you seen Stefan James, Tai Lopez, or Alex Becker, sitting in a sleek, beautiful sports car while preaching their courses? It’s a way to make you feel as if you could achieve the same lifestyle if you buy their course.

So you buy their course and realize there’s a lot of work involved. All the meantime, you’re stuck in your squalid existence wondering how you’re going to succeed.

I’ll give you an example. Around 2016, Tai Lopez began promoting a new program – his social media marketing agency course. In the promotion on his youtube channel, he talked about how businesses are in desperate need of digital marketers.

He said old-school brick and mortar business types typically know nothing of digital marketing. They’d literally be willing to pay you $1000, $2000 and even $5000 per month to run their digital marketing efforts. Really?

Do you know how difficult it is to get a business to even sit down and talk with you about digital marketing? Furthermore, even if you could convince a business owner to pay you for doing their digital marketing, how likely is it to work?

Could you generate more in profit for the business than your cost using only social media? Honestly, it’s very doubtful. Yet Lopez paints a very rosy picture that persuades naïve people to whip out their credit cards for his course.

Often these course creators are hoping you buy their course and don’t ask for a refund. While some people request a refund, there are always people that don’t.

You can see how expectations can easily get out of hand. Often it’s a combination of the course creator’s inflated hype and the gullibility of the person buying it.

If you want to avoid having your expectations not met, look for courses where the creators give you realistic figures. As an example, I recently bought The Project 24 Blog course from incomeschool.com and they go to great lengths to set realistic expectations.



The course creators are named Jimmy and Ricky. Project 24 is a course designed to teach you blogging, from where you can ultimately make a full time living.

Right off the bat, Jimmy and Ricky tell you the course is not easy and requires a lot of hard work. They also tell you to expect to make no more than $5 total after six months of work. And after a year’s worth of work, you can expect to earn a total of less than three thousand dollars

Doesn’t exactly sound like a full-time paycheck to me. But if you continue working hard, and only after two years, Jimmy and Ricky say you can expect to reach a full-time income.

I felt Jimmy and Ricky were being truthful and realistic in their predictions. Due to their honesty, I bought the course, which is good. I’ve been following it for three months now and will be writing a review on it soon.

My point is, just make sure you research the claims of the creator and do some homework on the subject first. This could save you much frustration and lost dollars down the road.


The Information In The Course Is Incomplete

Incomplete information.


It sometimes happens that the course you were so excited about just doesn’t deliver. The information may be too vague to be actionable, too disorganized to be useful or its simply missing essential elements.

This happens more often than you might think. When we as buyers purchase a course, we have a certain set of expectations in our head of what we’ll expect.

When we purchase a course for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, we expect a top-notch product. However, our expectations are rarely met.

This is because most courses are not put together with a great amount of thought. I personally find most courses are either too vague, not sequenced well, or lacking essential information of the subject.

For a course to be truly effective, the creator must be an expert on the subject who has poured all his knowledge and time into the course. The course can’t be something put together in a few days or a week. It needs to be like a beautiful work of art, covering all the bases in a logical and sequential manner.

Very few courses I come across are like this though. Another thing that really irks me about online courses is fluff. You know that hairy stuff on sheep? Just kidding. Except I find it all too often in the courses I buy and review.

What is fluff? It’s unnecessary words or banter in the text or videos of the course. For instance, the Tai Lopez social media marketing course has copious supplies of it.

This is mostly a result of Lopez’s style, but also because it looks like he put the course together in a few minutes using his phone as an afterthought. I don’t think he even knows what the word “script” means.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I like Tai and I think he gives great information in his free material. However, his courses can be put together much better.

When I buy a course, I want it to be coherent, right to the point and supply only the information I need to reach my goal. Sure, an occasional story here or there to entertain and inspire is welcome, but the operative word in this sentence is “occasional”.

I feel that books are the same way. I used to be a voracious reader, but I’ve cut down in recent years. I find most books are 80-90 percent fluff, while courses come in around 60-70 percent fluff.

Again, not all books and courses are like that. You just need to find the ones that aren’t. They exist. That’s one of the reasons I created this blog. To help readers weed out the bad courses and take advantage of the good ones.

When considering purchasing an online course, make sure to read the syllabus or table of contents. It’s also a wise idea to make sure a refund policy is in place. Most good courses offer one.

That concludes the second reason. Let’s look at the third, which happens more frequently than you would think.


The Information In The Course Is Not Engaging, Dynamic, and Entertaining

Boring course work.


These days it’s not enough to just put out educational and informative content. Today’s online courses need to be entertaining, engaging, and dynamic.

The entertainment factor is a huge component of courses nowadays. With information and stimulation around us 24/7, it’s difficult to maintain people’s attention spans.

That’s one reason why people like Tai Lopez, Sam Ovens, and Kevin David are so successful with their courses. People love listening to entertaining personalities. As a presenter, I’m afraid you either have it or you don’t.

Of course, hundreds of creators who don’t have that “it” factor put out courses. Some of these courses contain hours of video or audio. For the buyers of these courses, the stimulation is just not there to make it all the way through. I speak from experience on this.

Perhaps that’s why less than 15% of people who buy online courses complete them. This is one major reason why courses aren’t effective for most people. Would you want to listen to a lecture 20 hours long from someone with a monotone voice?

Today’s most successful course creators are people that entertain, as well as educate. If a creator can keep the attention of his audience, there’s a good chance that audience will make it all the way through the program.

However, such creators and such courses are few and far between. In my own experience, I can vouch for what I am saying here. Show me a boring presenter, and you can show me the exit.

I’m not implying a presenter need be a standup comic to make a course. What that presenter needs is that “it” factor. If they have that, it’s enough.

For example, Tom Cruise isn’t the best-looking guy in the world. There are many other male actors with better features. But Cruise has that “it” factor that makes him such a hit on screen.

For me, I personally favor the material of Sam Ovens. Although Sam is subdued compared to most other speakers, he has a unique speaking style with his New Zealand accent. I can listen to him speak for hour after hour about business.

By the same token, there are other speakers who I can’t listen to for more than a few minutes. I won’t mention names.

Another engaging speaker I like is Charles Ngo. I think Dan Lok is good too. All these guys have an entertaining speaking style, which is so important in today’s world.

Finally, the content has to be dynamic. It’s not enough to put out a course and never update the information. Technology is constantly evolving. For that reason, course creators need to update their information at least once annually.

Imagine buying a course from four years ago with outdated information? You wouldn’t feel very confident in the course and you would likely stop following it.

For this reason, creators need to be aware of continually updating the information in their courses. If you’re thinking about buying a course, check to see the date it was released. Ask yourself how old or relevant the information is. This is especially true when it comes to content based around technology.


The Course Is Only A Primer For A More Expensive Course That Has The Information The Buyer Really Needs


This one is a big pet peeve of mine regarding bad online courses. I immediately get turned off to the creator forever if the information promised is not delivered and instead inside an upsell product promoted in the course.

This often happens in programs or applications (such as those on JV Zoo) and less so in online courses, but it does happen. You can imagine the scenario.

You read the ad copy, start to feel jazzed over the promises, fantasize about the great results, and then you pull out your credit card. You think to yourself, “Wow, what a deal, just $99.95!”

So you but the course and log into it with high hopes. You go through the modules and eventually discover that the information you were promised is in an upsell product selling for $499.95. WTF!?

While this is an extreme example, things like this do happen. Often creators lure prospective buyers into their courses by offering them at low rates and making outrageous promises.

The buyer takes the bait and makes a small financial plunge only to find out he got himself in deep water. This happened to me recently on a JV Zoo product I bought.

It was a program (Vranker Pro) promising to rank videos number one on youtube and the first page of google. I bought the product for around $60. However, after logging into the program, I discovered that I needed to buy another program to make the claims work.

If you’re thinking of buying an online course, be sure it provides the content promised. Reading honest reviews of the product is a good way to find out.

While some content creators see nothing wrong with doing things like this, nobody who buys these types of courses is smiling. All courses should offer the full information promised in the claims.

Sometimes creators skirt around that by providing only partial information. At least they can tell you it was in the program. But for the entire piece of information, you’ll need to purchase their upsell product.

Just be careful with this. Again, always look for a money back guarantee before purchasing an online course. That’s your best defense against crummy courses.


The Buyer does not have the talent or abilities to carry out the information in the course.

Course not fit to student


Or similarly, the buyer does not have the attention span or focus to go through the entire course or apply the information

How many times have you heard a course creator say, “If I can do it, anyone can do it”? That’s a common cliché thrown around by creators like cheap beer to increase buying desire.

The truth is that few people (10-20%) who buy courses actually have the talent, skills, focus, and discipline to succeed. Of course, this will vary depending on the level of complexity of the course.

For the most part, people are unfocused, lazy, and lack discipline. They may be motivated during the time they sign up for the course, but motivation is like clouds moving through the sky. They’re here one minute and gone the next.

In today’s hyper-stimulated world where information floods people constantly, it can be difficult to sit down, listen to a two-hour video, take notes, and retain the information.

In fact, most people can’t concentrate for more than five minutes before checking their phone, thinking of other things, or reacting to whatever sudden urge manifests.

This is a big reason why people never complete the courses they buy and don’t succeed with them.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I frequently listen to Sam Oven’s Consulting Accelerator Live Calls on his youtube channel (at that point they’re recorded).

The people that buy his courses have an opportunity to ask him questions live through chat, in which he responds on video. The one question that’s most common goes something like this, “Sam, which books would you recommend I read now?”

Sam will then see how much of the course that person completed (he can do that with his interface). Almost every time this question is asked, the student is less than halfway through the course – and most of the time only in the first week or two.

Sam harkens back that there’s no need to read books, look at other youtube channels, or find information elsewhere. He stresses that the person needs to “do the work” and complete the course.

In fact, I hear him say it so much that it almost sounds like his mantra. Sam believes this is the number one reason people fail with his course – because they don’t complete it and don’t do the work lessons he provides.

In terms of my own experience, I bought the Project 24 Blog course earlier this year and have been making great progress with it. I know that to achieve success in any course requires you to first complete it.

It also requires you to do all the steps and persist over the long run, even if it doesn’t show immediate or short-term results. I know that Jim and Ricky’s course will mean a full-time effort for a year before I see even a trickle of money.

But most people who buy courses are not thinking long term. They want an answer to their problems now and are not willing to wait. Often, when they see how much work is involved, they jump ship and go to the next course they believe offers that magic bullet or solution.

To get back to my example of the Project 24 Blog, I really believe achieving success with it does require knowledge of writing, editing, building websites, making and editing videos and graphic design, to say the least. Jim and Ricky stress anyone (even people with none of these skills) can take and succeed at their course.

But what they don’t tell you is that the success rate of such people will be a lot lower than people who have those skills already. I have a full-stack operation, meaning my team can do everything. We don’t outsource anything, which is why we’re much more likely to succeed.

However, most people who take Jim and Ricky’s course will need to either acquire new skills or outsource to succeed at it. The same can be said for many other online courses. This is something that buyers don’t often take into account when they purchase an online course.




Before you buy your next online course, consider the reasons in this post before buying. I truly believe you should work on your focus and discipline before embarking on a course, especially if it requires weeks or months to complete and succeed.

For sure, you should have realistic expectations going into the course. See what other people say about their results. I know this part can be difficult, as it’s hard to find honest reviews and testimonials. Do the best you can.

Additionally, be certain the content is engaging, dynamic, and somewhat entertaining. This will ensure you are getting the latest information, will continue to stay with it, and follow through on the material.

Also, try to be aware if you are getting all that’s promised in a course. If it seems too good to be true for the price, it usually is. Make sure the course is not a primer for a much more expensive one.

Lastly, be certain you can carry out a course to completion before buying it. Look at the syllabus (if available) and find out how long it will take to complete. If it’s a money-making course, find out how long and how much you’ll need to work before earning your first dollars.

I hate seeing people buy a course, go through only a small portion of it, and then give up. Know what you’re getting into before jumping in.

If you do these things, you’ll give yourself the best chance of completing and succeeding at an online course. Good luck. If you have any questions about this material, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

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