Welcoming students to your online course helps you build lasting relationships with them, and increases their loyalty.
Most of us don't know the first thing about welcoming new students to an online course.
We're pretty good at it in real life.
But when it comes to the virtual world, we tend to forget our table manners.
If you've forgotten yours, this post will help you give your online students a warm welcome, so they're in the mood to learn right from the start.
Why Welcome Students to Your Online Course?
Robert Rose gave a great piece of advice at Social Media Marketing World this year:
“After the purchase is the time for the course creator to say to the student: trust us, we’re here for you.”
Students need to feel welcome right from the start of your course.
You’re basically their Yoda. They can’t use the force without you, and greeting them with the right student welcome message starts the relationship on the right foot.
Without it, they’re less likely to engage with you or the course, they won’t tell their friends about it, and your relationship starts on the wrong foot.
Below, we’ve highlighted four ways to welcome students to your online course.
#1 Use Video to Welcome Students to Your Online Course
Course welcome videos are great for keeping your students engaged and opening up the dialogue between you and your students.
It’s a great way to say hello, introduce yourself, and let students know what they can expect.
(And believe me when I say, students expect to know what they can expect.)
Your welcome video should achieve the following objectives:
- Help students become familiar with both you and the course.
- Ease any anxiety about taking an online course.
- Show students you are accessible and approachable.
- Set the stage for continued, positive interactions between you and the student.
Showing your students how easy it is to communicate with you is how you’re going to welcome and build relationships with them.
We all want to feel welcomed – especially when you’ve just shelled out money for an online course.
Now you may be wondering, great, but how do I actually record my welcome video? Here are some helpful steps from Navitas:
- Write a Script – Write a script for your course welcome video. Make sure to set all of your ideas down, but don’t go into too much detail. You do not want to bore your viewers from the beginning!
- Ask Someone to Read your Script – The buddy system is your friend. Another set of eyes can give you a fresh perspective. Listen to their feedback, then re-edit it. (If you need your video script proofread, get a quote from us here.)
- Practice Reading the Script – Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Make sure you are comfortable and eloquent in your speech. You want your students’ first impression of you to be confident and natural.
- Record – Make sure you are using a high-quality camera. Your phone is fine, just as long as it’s not outdated.
Lastly, be sure to keep your welcome video 5-7 minutes in length.
In his free online course, Course Clinic, Dr. Terry Hadaway mentions that any videos longer than 20 minutes put students into the “snooze zone”.
And you definitely don’t want students snoozing right off the bat!
#2 Welcome Students to Your Online Course with a Welcome Letter
Not everyone is going to want to watch your course introduction welcome video, so we suggest creating a welcome letter, too.
Keep in mind this should not be a transcript of your welcome video. It’s simply another way students can digest the information you’ve included in your video.
The outline of your welcome letter should look like this:
- Greeting/Introduction – Welcome your students and tell them a little bit about yourself.
- How to Access the Course – Include information about the Learning Management System and how to access it.
- Support – List your office hours and ways your students can get in touch with you (email address, phone number, etc.).
Be sure to keep your tone light and friendly. Remember, people read text in a negative tone more often than in a positive one.
You should also take note that a welcome letter is not a course syllabus.
A course syllabus contains more detailed information about learning objectives, due dates, assignments, and assessment information. If you repeat too much information from the syllabus, your students may not think it’s worth reading.
#3 Welcome Students By Offering Online Office Hours
One of the most attractive qualities in a traditional educational environment is the constant one-on-one communication.
Your online students need to know that when they reach out to you, you’ll be able to answer them in a timely manner. Thinkific points out that the role of the instructor is critical in pushing students to excel and engage in material. That’s you!
We suggest welcoming students with information about your office hours. Try offering them at least twice a week if you can.
That way there’s more than one opportunity for students to reach out. Your office hours should be posted in your welcome letter, mentioned in your welcome video, or added to your syllabus. That way your students will see it one way or another!
And if you do set office hours, just make sure you’re available during these hours. Your students need to be able to trust that you will be there when you say you will.
This is also a common complaint I’ve heard from students who take online courses – a lack of online instructor availability.
If something comes up when you’re supposed to be in-office, send out a memo so your bases are covered.
Here are a few ways you can offer to communicate with your students during office hours:
- Online Discussion Forum
- Phone Calls
- Video Messaging
While video messaging may seem extreme and time consuming, it’ll make you stand out as a course creator and show how much you care about your students.
#4 Welcome Students with an Online Discussion Forum
An online discussion forum is a great way for students to interact with you and with each other.
Research from the Minnesota Online Quality Initiative suggests that an introduction forum is the best way to get the ball rolling.
Start the forum by introducing yourself and encouraging others to do the same. Point out that the purpose of the discussion forum is to meet other students enrolled in the course, so they know they’re not alone.
For example, in their month-long accelerator programs for entrepreneurs, Growth Tools asks new students to introduce themselves a few days before each program begins.
This gives students something to do in anticipation of their start date, and lets them engage with other students even before the program begins.
It sets the stage for further engagement going forward.
This gives students a way to communicate with you! Try posting at least once a week on the forum to encourage participation. Not everyone is going to want to participate – and that’s okay. So long as the option is there.
The Bottom Line – Go the Extra Mile to Welcome Students to Your Course
Making your students feel welcome right off the bat will allow your relationship to start strong, and set your students up for success. To recap, four great ways to give your students that warm, fuzzy welcome are to:
- Create a Welcome Video: Ease student anxiety, set the stage for continued, positive interactions.
- Post a Welcome Letter: Include a greeting, how to access the course, and a way for students to reach you.
- Offer Online Office Hours: Offer office hours twice a week if possible, via email, video, discussion forum, or phone.
- Create an Online Discussion Forum: Engage with students and encourage participation.
If your students don’t feel the line of communication is open, they won’t reach out. You want that communication in order to build a relationship with them. Once the relationship is there, there’s no excuse for not taking more of your online courses!
Now tell me…
What’s the best welcome method for you and your students? Drop your comment below, I *always* respond.