First, MIT came out with a study that said—to their dismay—that online courses were proving just as effective learning as in-person classes. “I would hope that because [students] went to our classes, they would learn a lot more,” said David Pritchard, an MIT physics professor and leader of team that analyzed results of an MIT course.
Next, The Wall Street Journal reported that MOOCs—massive online open courses—are now being offered by companies like edX, Udemy Inc and Coursera for office and corporate training at like $1,249 a person. “This goes to our sustainability story,” said edX CEO Anant Agarwal. The company grossed $1.75 million by enrolling about 3,500 people from prominent companies for a pilot on big data.
The article said that companies now want “inexpensive, easy-to-scale and convenient instruction, all of which MOOCs can offer.” Enter SIPA member Coleman. I spoke with Bob Coleman and his son Joseph yesterday, and here are 12 reasons why their Coleman Certified Training is doing incredible business.
1. The Foster school. “[Starting] this was something on my to-do list for a year and a half.” Bob Coleman said. “July was a bad month for us, so it was time. I’m a disciple of the [BVR CEO] David Foster school of product releases. ‘Don’t do any new product unless you get cash within 30 days.’” This qualified.
2. Not much to lose. “Closing loans is very critical, and companies are paying worker bees maybe $25 or $30 grand a year,” Coleman said. Given this is a multimillion dollar business, he saw the benefits of exposure to an 8-week certification course. “We launched it without the talent. I just wanted to see if it would sell. I figured I could do it myself if I had to. I used the Coursera model, except I put in a specific date the course would start and launched with an early bird [deadline] in a week-and-a-half. It didn’t cost anything to set up the email blast. I wrote the marketing copy, and people responded.
3. Certification component. “We’ve been in the [small business banking and loan] space for 20 years,” Coleman said. “I struggled with [what to call it] but we are perceived as the experts in the space—people understand our brand. Do we want institute of professionals or Coleman certified? Let’s try Coleman Certified Training. Not one person has questioned it.
4. Very watchable content. Each week the Colemans and the instructor develop the video content. The course model offers 5-6 modules of 8-12 minutes each week. “It’s not as daunting as an hour straight,” Bob told me. Participants are told that the videos will be released on Tuesday, but they are actually uploaded on Monday. There is also some assigned reading and coursework to do each week.
5. Rewards for talent. Coleman uses retired government officials as instructors. (Some retire relatively young.) They are experts and know their stuff, he said, and have been adjunct professors so know how to teach. Coleman turns the content over to them after the first week. He said it’s a win-win situation. “Because I offer a percentage of the gross, I’m writing some pretty good checks. Maybe I’m giving away too much [but it’s working]. They’re not going anywhere. Nobody is hiring them away. I’m branding them as experts. I’m also fully transparent. I email them the registrations every day so they know what I’m grossing. This gives them some ownership—the more people who sign up, the more money” everyone makes.
6. Fair price points. The courses list at $1,295, and there’s a $995 early bird. As soon as Coleman sent the original email out, the orders started pouring in—in the middle of summer! The second seat costs just $895, and if you buy 4 seats, you get the 5th for free. “For a flat $995, [the participant] gets trained and certified and can put it on a resume,” he said. “Managers get their people trained—maybe a whole department for $4500 bucks. ‘My people need to know how to close a loan,’ a manager might say.” Coleman shows them.
7. Extra value. Each Friday of the course, Coleman offers participants “office hours,” 15 minutes of live Q&A. Of the 60 people in a course, 20 might “attend.” They ask questions online—Joseph Coleman said it’s rare that they use the open lines and actually speak a question. Bob and the instructor for that week answer on live video, taking about 10 questions and bantering about next week’s modules
8. Measurements and rewards for participants. There is a short quiz after each module and then an end-of-course, multiple-choice exam to obtain certification. Participants can take it any time and as many times as they want. When they pass, they are sent a certification plaque.
9. A simple structure. Joseph Coleman, who delivered an excellent presentation on video at last year’s SIPA Marketing Conference, takes the video that the instructor records, cuts it in Camtasia and uploads it to Litmos ($400 a month for up to 200 users). Participants go on GoToWebinar—at the time they want—to see the talking head in action and a PowerPoint.
10. A good model. “I love Coursera,” Coleman said. “I’ve taken courses on archaeology, ancient Greece. They’re doing innovative stuff—for free. But B2B is commanding big dollars. Like in Coursera, it’s important to tie everything to a weekly class. Having the official start dates also is important.
11. The on-demand nature. Coleman got a $4,500 company sign-up after one of the courses ended. He did talk to the group personally a few times to give them that live component, but otherwise all the modules were good to watch. “We never had that kind of success before,” Coleman said. “These are far more green than webinars.”
12. An About face. “[In reality] we are no longer a publishing company,” Coleman said. “We’re now a training company. [The courses are] moving us from dues and subscription to training. There’s no way for me to launch a new subscription product” that could do what these courses can do. “We’re very fortunate. Sure, we may look back 3 years from now [at how not perfect this is] production-wise. But we get it out there. I’m about to release 2 more with new guys teaching.”
To subscribe to the SIPAlert Daily, go to the SIIA website.
Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.