How Generative AI Is Influencing Online Education

How Generative AI Is Influencing Online Education

Interview by Ricardo Esteves
Published: September 29, 2023

Online education has undergone significant evolution since the days of the pandemic. Various platforms now enable a broader audience to create and access courses on a variety of topics.

We sat down with Aaron Morin, senior manager of education & community at Thinkific, to delve into the intricacies of online course creation, the identification of market needs, and the pivotal role of early-stage marketing in course development.

Another prevailing topic is the convergence of online education and generative AI. Aaron emphasizes the criticality of striking a balance between technology and the human touch.


Who Is Aaron Morin?

Aaron Morin is the senior manager of education & community at Thinkific and the mind behind Thinkific Academy. Early in his career, Aaron was a content writer before joining BrowseLab in 2014 as director of support services. His current goal is to “establish Thinkific as the #1 destination for online education and creators looking to start online education businesses.”

Spotlight: As a platform dedicated to online courses, can you share some tips with our readers that may be interested in sharing their experience and knowledge via an online course?

Aaron Morin: If you're considering sharing your expertise and knowledge through an online course, first we would recommend really homing in on your target audience. Determine what they’re trying to achieve and whether there’s even an appetite for a course. Are they reaching out, asking for your expertise? Would it be better shared in a different format, like an e-book or a digital community? Once you’ve confirmed the need, then you can consider content creation.

One major tip we always suggest on course creation: tap into your existing material. If you have an existing business or even just a hobby/job that you’re passionate about, there are probably files, processes, or documents that already exist that you can reuse or modify to suit your course. You don’t need to start from zero.

Finally, we always recommend that aspiring course creators consider distribution and marketing from the get-go. Don’t forget that course creators aren’t just teachers; for your course to succeed you need to be (or hire) a marketer and salesperson as well.

Some people may have a sea of knowledge to share but lack technical expertise or equipment. How can Thinkific help in these scenarios?

Thinkific is really built to support individuals with abundant knowledge but lacking technical expertise or equipment. Thinkific simplifies the entire process, making it effortless for course creators. The platform handles tasks like website creation, product setup, sales page creation, and payment processing. This allows creators to focus exclusively on content creation and marketing.

It's important to note that Thinkific differs from other platforms in that it empowers creators to manage their branding, course descriptions, and pricing without revenue-sharing constraints. While Thinkific provides technical support, course creators can also use user-friendly editors for text, upload slides for narration, and incorporate video content.

Thinkific streamlines various aspects of the student experience, including quizzes, assignments, discussion forums, and quick certificate generation with personalized student names, automating much of the technology-related workload for educators. We’re also firm believers that the growth you provide matters much more than the equipment you used to provide it. Incredible courses can be (and have been) created with just a cell phone.

Can you share Thinkific’s approach to online course certificates and what’s their value to the users who obtain them?

Thinkific provides educators with the opportunity to award certificates upon course completion. Online course certificates serve multiple purposes. First and foremost, they provide official recognition of completion, which is often a requirement of certifying bodies or accrediting organizations. These certificates are crucial for students seeking formal recognition for their educational achievements.

Beyond this technical aspect, course certificates hold intrinsic value. They serve as badges of honor, highlighting an individual's commitment to learning and skill acquisition. For some, these certificates can enhance their resumes and demonstrate specific job skills or accomplishments. We've observed instances where institutions and students proudly shared their completion certificates on social media platforms, for example. Hootsuite Academy is a great example of this.

Regarding scalability, what is Thinkific's approach when courses gain a sudden influx of users?

Thinkific is well-prepared for scalability. The platform is designed to handle rapid increases in student enrollment. However, it's essential to consider any non-scalable elements within your online course.

For instance, Thinkific course creators often include one-on-one coaching, which can become unsustainable with an influx of new users. You may need to temporarily pause or increase your availability or consider hiring additional moderators for your community space. These are positive challenges to have.

Nevertheless, Thinkific efficiently manages the technical aspects, ensuring students can access content on-demand, anytime, and from anywhere. Thinkific is well-equipped to handle significant traffic to sales pages and checkouts without experiencing disruptions, even during million-dollar course launches, which we've successfully supported in the past.

Can you tell us more about what Thinkific Plus is and how it benefits users?

Thinkific Plus is a specialized offering tailored for larger businesses or those with specific, extensive requirements. Thinkific's standard plans cater to smaller teams and businesses, even if they have a substantial number of students. Thinkific Plus, on the other hand, addresses the needs of organizations with more advanced demands.

This premium service provides several key benefits. First, it offers one-on-one support from dedicated customer success managers, ensuring a seamless onboarding process and assisting with implementation into larger business tech ecosystems.

Thinkific Plus also enables users to manage multiple Thinkific websites from a single dashboard. This feature is particularly valuable for businesses with various branches, language-specific schools, or distinct business segments. Thinkific Plus simplifies complex setups, offering expert guidance at every step to facilitate growth and scalability.

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Thinkific offers a Partner Program. What are the requirements, and can you share some of the companies you have partnered with?

Thinkific's Partner Program encompasses three primary categories of partnerships. First, we collaborate with Thinkific app development partners. These partners, whether individuals or companies, create apps and technologies that seamlessly integrate with Thinkific. For instance, we work with Zoom to enable live lessons within Thinkific courses and with major email marketing services to facilitate student communication. Additionally, partners like Omnisearch enhance the search capabilities within Thinkific's platform. Pointagram introduces gamification elements, and PowerUps by Rob Galvin extends features like SiteBuilder for enhanced customization.

Second, we engage with marketing partners who co-create content with us, including Thinkific Academy courses, YouTube videos, and blog posts. Lastly, we have affiliate partners who incorporate Thinkific into their services, such as coaching or marketing agencies. We’re also very proud of our Thinkific Experts, a network of vetted service providers who excel in areas like marketing, course creation, and content development. These experts can be found on our Thinkific Experts Marketplace and on Fiverr.

We have thousands of B2B industry leaders among our audience. What kinds of courses would you recommend them?

I recommend B2B industry leaders explore Thinkific Academy courses as a valuable resource to understand the potential content they can create on Thinkific. Our Thinkific Academy offers a wide range of courses, including those focused on marketing, selling, and content creation. These courses provide practical insights and actionable strategies for business leaders looking to enhance their knowledge and skills.

Additionally, I suggest checking out success stories from our Thinkific customers. Visit our customers' page to discover inspiring stories from organizations like Corporate Finance Institute, which has successfully provided top-quality financial education, or Hootsuite, a leading social media marketing company offering certification courses. These examples can serve as excellent references for B2B industry leaders looking to leverage online education.

What types of courses are trending on Thinkific in 2023?

Over the years, we've noticed certain categories consistently popular on Thinkific. Business and marketing, along with personal development courses, tend to be perennial favorites. While Thinkific is not a marketplace and doesn't display trending data, niche categories have also thrived.

Software training, test preparation, language education, and health and wellness courses have all seen growing success. These categories often cater to underserved audiences, offering unique educational opportunities. Online art instruction is another category that has really seen an uptick in popularity recently and represents some of our most successful creators. While business and marketing courses remain popular, niche categories continue to flourish on Thinkific, providing a diverse range of educational options.

Thinkific has a marketplace where businesses can reach experts from several digital categories. Can you tell us about the benefits of outsourcing expertise rather than developing an in-house team, and when businesses should consider that option?

Outsourcing expertise through Thinkific's marketplace offers several advantages for businesses. Initially, it provides a flexible and scalable solution. Instead of committing to building an in-house team, businesses can access specialized services as needed. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for tasks like content creation, marketing, and course development, where workloads may fluctuate.

Moreover, outsourcing allows businesses to tap into a network of experienced professionals with proven track records in their respective fields. These experts bring a wealth of knowledge and best practices, accelerating project timelines and ensuring high-quality results. For businesses looking to test the waters or manage specific projects, outsourcing is a cost-effective approach. It allows them to gauge the impact of external support before considering the establishment of an in-house team.

Finally, many course creators are solopreneurs and don’t have experience hiring or managing teams. In those cases, outsourcing is a natural fit. In essence, outsourcing expertise offers efficiency, expertise, and adaptability, making it a compelling option for businesses.

How do you see online education evolving in the future powered by generative AI, and how is Thinkific making sure it remains future-proof?

Thinkific is actively preparing for the evolving landscape of online education powered by generative AI. To remain future-proof, we are integrating generative AI into various aspects of the course creation process.

While AI can aggregate data and generate generic content, it's crucial to recognize that course creators bring unique perspectives and lived experiences that AI cannot replicate. We believe that successful course creation will always require the personal touch of the creator, infused with their insights and understanding of their audience. Therefore, Thinkific is developing tools like the Thinkific course outline generator to assist course creators in building their curricula efficiently. We aim to simplify the course creation process, making it more accessible to individuals without instructional design backgrounds.

Additionally, we are enhancing marketing and sales tools to streamline the selling process, leveraging AI to optimize marketing funnels. However, it's essential to emphasize that course creators' perspectives and knowledge will remain the critical factors in creating engaging and effective content. Thinkific's approach is to combine the efficiency of AI with the creativity and expertise of course creators, ensuring a bright future for online education that delivers meaningful and impactful learning experiences.

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