Educator stories: Create class funnels to keep learners coming back
One educator on Outschool shares how she stays alert to family needs and current trends to keep developing classes that encourage learners to take the next one.

Does the idea of strategizing all the time to build your teaching business seem overwhelming? Perhaps you’re someone who just wants to teach what you’re passionate about and enjoy your learners.

You can do that, and with some simple planning and tweaks to your classes, keep doing what you love (teaching!) by offering classes that learners want to sign up for next.

Alaina Bell Gao, who teaches literature, art, and social studies (with a focus on Asian history) on Outschool, retains learners year over year with intentional class funnels. The key to her success? She uses family requests and Outschool trends to frequently update her class catalog and always have a “next step” for learners.

How does she create organic class funnels? Let’s dive into Alaina’s top 6 strategies for retaining learners using class funnels, including:

  • How to grow with your long-term learners
  • How to vary topics for a popular class theme
  • How to use seasonal themes to bring in new learners

#1 Add classes for more age ranges

Before starting on Outschool, Alaina had taught students in junior high and high school.

“However, when I first started on Outschool, I found that the 8-to-12 group was signing up the most,” she says. “So I started with them. They’ve grown up with me, so I’ve moved into the junior high range now.” She anticipates offering high-school level classes soon too.

She also sometimes gets requests to teach a class to learners in an older age range. For instance, a parent asked her to teach a series on world cultures in mythology to learners ages 14 and older. (The original course is designed for 8- to 11-year-olds.)

Alaina decided to say “yes” since the series features some high-interest books and she can adjust the classes to offer more explicit strategies for older learners who may need extra help with reading and writing.

“Since they’re a series of three, then I’m guessing that once someone signs up for the first class, they’ll go through the three of them,” she says. “It’s worth putting that work in to meet these learners where they are.”

#2 Create a part 2, and 3, and 4…

One of Alaina’s most popular classes in 2020 during the pandemic was called “Journaling 2020.” Each week learners read poetry and brainstormed about how it connected to their lives. Although it wasn’t a class focused on mental health, Alaina says it was a good fit for the times because everyone had a chance to reflect on and process what was happening in their lives. Sessions ended with each person creating art or poetry.

The class had 15 topics, but eventually some learners had taken them all.

“That was a nice start, but then there were learners who took all of them and they were like, ‘we want more,’ “ she says. “So I developed Journaling #2. So that was really my first funneling series.”

Since the first class had focused on children’s poetry, Alaina thought learners were ready now for classic poetry. “It was a little bit of a step up, and yet other learners could easily join in too,” Alaina says. She created 34 new topics for Journaling #2.

With a set of learners now finishing her second journaling class, Alaina is ready to release Journaling #3, which will highlight multicultural and international poetry. “This time I’m going big,” she says. “It’s going to be a year-and-a-half, but it’s ongoing so learners can join whenever they’re free.”

#3 Develop a variety of topics for different versions of one class

Alaina also offers different flavors of some of her multi-day semester classes, although she doesn’t sequence these numerically because learners can take them in any order. One example is her literature and writing classes focused on genres, which include fantasy, mystery, and gothic.

She generally keeps these classes at similar times on the same days so that learners who are used to attending at a particular time can easily move into another class in the series.

I send messages to the parents after they’re done with one of these courses with an update on their learners but also to inform them that, ‘Oh, there’s a similar course, and it’s this one. Would you be interested?’ And that encourages them to sign up as well,” she says.

Another tip is to use the same name in all the classes in a series and add each unique topic to the title. For instance, Alaina has an exploring history series that includes “Exploring History: Celebrating the Chinese New Year from Ancient Times to Now” and “Exploring History: Warring States Period & Qin Dynasty.”

“I found after doing that there were more families who took all of the courses…” Alaina says, “because they were able to realize ‘Oh, these all connect together.’ ”

#4 Have group classes with varying time commitments

Alaina’s semester and ongoing literature genre classes meet three times a week. Sometimes she’ll have learners move from these to the less time intensive and flexible journaling course.

“Let’s say someone gets busy, but they still want to stay connected with me,” she says. “Then they’ll join the poetry class or the journaling class because it’s ongoing, it’s flexible, but they still keep going with me.”

Other times, learners will step from the journaling into the language and literature courses that are three times a week. Alaina also thinks that starting with the more informal journaling class may give families the confidence that their child will learn a lot with her.

“It’s the idea of just seeing evidence of, ‘Wow! My learner has learned to appreciate poetry or is growing in their writing skills… Well, let’s see more of that,’ “ she says.

#5 Offer 1-on-1 classes

Another type of funnel that Alaina has in her class portfolio is the opportunity to move from group classes to private classes. Sometimes Alaina will have learners in group classes who want individual support, maybe with a special project or with their in-person school courses.

“There’s a learner who’s writing her own books to be published,” Alaina says. “So I help with that” in 1-on-1 classes.

#6 Weave seasonal classes into a longer series

Alaina had offered a seasonal book club focused on the book “A Christmas Carol,” and she marketed it as a stand-alone class. “The class wasn’t doing well because it was very long,” she says, “and usually when people are looking for holiday classes, it’s just before Christmas.”

So she added “genres” in front of the title—the genre is classic Victorian ghost story—to connect it to her genres series. The strategy worked! “There was a learner who signed up for that class, and they’re now in my ‘genres’ mystery class,” she says.

Keep adjusting to grab learner interest

The key really is regularly adjusting to meet current needs, Alaina says. After living in China for 10 years and teaching everyone from preschoolers to adults, Alaina knows how to do that.

And, she’s a master of repurposing. She described how she is thinking of renaming a book club that focuses on a book set in ancient Korea and adding that class to her ancient Asian history series.

“As I’m teaching that novel, I also introduce the history,” she says. “If I adjust that (class) title, then maybe that would get more views.”

It’s important to play with and potentially rebrand class titles to align with trends as well as current family needs, Alaina says. You have to have the mindset: “How can I help families to notice this class and sign up?”

That’s what Alaina wants—to keep teaching topics she loves to learners she cares about.

To learn more about Alaina’s journey on Outschool, check out the full interview in the video below.

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