In this blog series, “Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution,” we spoke to some of the founders and leaders here at LearnLaunch who are filling the gaps in workforce and continuing education, while redefining learning beyond traditional degree programs.
One of the biggest hurdles informal education providers face is getting the word out about their offerings and enrolling students.
That’s what prompted Brian Rahill to found CourseStorm. CourseStorm is a web-based platform for small-to-midsize informal education providers that gives them all the marketing and transactional support they need to grow.
In this interview, Brian discussed the common issues informal education providers experience, how flexible payments helps him scale, and how he came to build an all-in-one platform.
This is part 4 of the Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution series. Tune in each Tuesday for a new installment of the series. Check out part 1 (LearnBolt), part 2 (TeachersConnect), and part 3 (Authess).
What does CourseStorm do?
We are a course registration and marketing platform for informal education providers. We help informal education providers get their courses online, market them, and enroll students in them all in one platform.
We serve customers across the spectrum of informal education. For children, there’s after school programs, summer classes, STEM education, fitness/recreation, and more. For adults, there’s continuing education and enrichment and workforce e-training offered by companies and continuing education departments for community colleges.
Why do you think there has been such rapid growth in alternative/accelerated post-secondary education programs?
I can’t speak to accelerated programs specifically. What’s happening is that people need to learn over a lifetime. As the economy remains in flux, people change jobs quickly and they need to learn and retrain for new skills. It’s constant training and retraining. There’s few stable jobs with a pension anymore.
I think people today just want on-demand education through online or physical classrooms. They want to learn in bite-sized chunks.
Why do you think startups are filling the gap in the market for continuing education rather than traditional colleges and universities?
Who can be more nimble? The traditional higher education model is about a student matriculating and staying for two to four years. Those institutions aren’t particularly organized to do bite-sized learning. Community colleges can do it to an extent, but four-year programs have a hard time.
Most community colleges doing continuing education are forced to use the typical for-credit registration system. They need SAT scores, financial aid, and so on. It’s still too cumbersome. If they just want to teach a specific thing, it forces students to do a lot of work just to finish an application. It’s not as convenient.
How are you overcoming the challenges of personalizing/customizing your platform for each user at scale?
We find there’s a ton of demand at the low end of the market – those relatively small organizations doing anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000 in revenue each year. The needs for this market are very consistent regardless of which kind of classes they offer, so we’ve been able to carve a niche.
The key for CourseStorm is to help informal education providers save time and enroll more students. That’s what these programs need most. We’ve solved that by making a simple platform with automated marketing tools built in. We’ve specifically tried to keep the features pretty reined in because there is so much demand for simplicity at the lower end.
We’re flexible and we can personalize some aspects of the platform easily, such as the payment model. If there’s an institution that offers free classes, they see the simplicity in having a quick and easy way to enroll students in a cost-effective way.
Our payment model is transaction-based, so the customer pays per enrollment transaction. We also have a subscription model for organizations that do free classes where there’s no actual transaction. That includes corporate training, job training, etc. If an organization does a mix of both free and paid classes, we run those free ones at no charge.
What strategies are you using to attract new customers?
We’re using digital marketing extensively – PPC campaigns, SEM, SEO and content marketing, optimizing our site, and bringing people back through retargeting.
It’s a lot of classic digital/inbound marketing techniques. We get a lot of leads through these channels. Our product is also very powerful and web-based, so it’s easy to get up and running and using the platform in a short time. You can click on an ad, come to the site, sign up, and start posting your courses and driving enrollments that day.
Can you share some of the results your clients are seeing?
What we’re seeing is after the first full year with us, our customers grow on average about 33% in enrollments in the second year. We focus on enrolling more students by automating marketing. We build best marketing practices right into the software so users can do some fairly sophisticated things very quickly and easily. We found our customers go to conferences and they try typical marketing tactics, but they simply don’t have time to do that. We try to automate as much as possible.
For example, we’ve built in email marketing. It’s not necessarily a competitor to MailChimp or other dedicated email marketing platforms, but it does what our users need it to. These people don’t have time to segment their lists, so we automate that.
One use case for email marketing is for a course where the enrollment doesn’t reach the required amount, so the class gets canceled. If a class is in danger of being canceled because of low enrollments, we let students and teachers know by email that the class has not yet reached minimum enrollment. We see that if that’s the case, students and teachers do a push to recruit more students to fill the class.
We also do abandoned cart notifications. If people forget to finish registering for a class, we prompt them to finish.
Historically, why have community education, adult education and other non-university programs struggled to drive enrollment?
In general, they just don’t often think of themselves as businesses. Many are a small part of a more formal organization. In this case, they aren’t always a priority for their parent organization, whether that’s a school district, a municipal organization, or a corporation. They don’t always get a lot of resources, and they’re often understaffed. That’s the challenge. It’s hard to get the word out. There are some notable exceptions to this though.
You’ve indicated that CourseStorm is targeting small-to-medium-sized informal education providers because there is no competition there. Why has this market been so underserved?
What we’ve seen is that the upper end of the market is pretty well served. What’s happening now is that we have the tools to automate a lot of marketing and course shopping cart solutions and tie it all into one platform. Before CourseStorm, that wasn’t available where it was all stitched together – most marketing and enrollment solutions came as standalone products and required users to find a way to make them work together.
We’re essentially taking transaction-based solutions like Airbnb and Uber, using that same sort of technology, and applying it to these markets that didn’t have access before.
Can you share some insight on how you identified this target market?
I used to run a web development firm focused on education and education software. We did a project for the Maine Adult Education Association. We built custom software for them that helped them drive enrollments. It drove a lot of statewide registrations and we realized we had an idea we could expand all over the country.
This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audiences, fuel their pipelines, and drive real success.
In the middle of a campaign and need some support? Want to build something awesome from scratch? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.