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Using Reviews to Optimize your Course

Student reviews are crucial to understand what students love about your course (so you can do more of it) and what could use some more attention (so you can continually improve). It’s not always easy to understand how to update your course using your student reviews. To help out, we interviewed instructor Teresa Greenway – use her insights to help you create an action plan for your own courses, so you can provide an ever-improving student experience.

The Review Mindset

Teresa: Reviews are really valuable. For every student who leaves a suggestion, or a critical review, there are many more students who are thinking the same thing. It’s like gold when I get a helpful review.

My first reaction when I get a review is to hope the student liked my course. My second reaction is to see what I can learn from the review, whether the review is good or not so good. What did the student like, what did they dislike? If a lot of students say they like something in particular, I need to keep that in mind for my future courses, and make sure to improve my existing courses.

(If you’ve been receiving low reviews with no comments, jump to the “Quick Win” section later on in this article”)

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Teresa: There have been a few reviews that have helped me improve my courses quite a bit. The first one star review I received was devastating, as I think it is for most new instructors. But then I decided to figure out how I could improve. The student was disappointed that I didn’t have the baking formulas written out in text so they could be downloaded and printed. I got to work right away and wrote all of the formulas out as text lectures and made them downloadable resources as well.

Downloadable baking formulas are an integral part of my course and for some reason I didn’t realize it. The student who brought it to my attention (and gave me a low rating) helped make my courses much better for everyone else. I thanked her and she later went back and changed the one star review to three stars!

Here’s how Teresa recommends reaching out to students to better understand their feedback:

  1. Read the review! Many reviews have detailed, thoughtful feedback from students that clearly explain where courses can be improved.
  2. Follow up with the student for more information. You can message the student to better understand their feedback, or to get more insights (note that if a student leaves only a rating, it’s worth reaching out to them to ask if they have any additional feedback).
  3. Don’t get defensive – take constructive criticism as a gift. It will help you make your courses better!
  4. Once you’ve updated the course, let the student know by replying to their initial review. A typical reply might be: “Thank you so much for this feedback. I’ve taken your suggestion seriously and updated the transitions/audio quality/downloads/etc based on your insights! If you’d like to see the updated information, you can check out Lectures #4, #10, etc.”

If the student does not respond to your message with more feedback, Teresa has insight into that too:

Teresa: One other student said my transitions were annoying because of the noise. I asked for further explanation, but it wasn’t forthcoming. So I am looking at my transitions to see what I can do to make them easier to view. Even without understanding exactly what they meant, I can see the course through a new set of eyes using the student’s initial feedback. I lowered the audio for the intro and outros in my recent videos to improve the student’s experience, just by looking at the course with a new perspective.

Quick Wins are Crucial

If you take one thing away from this article, we hope it is the importance of delivering a “quick win” in the first 3 lectures of your course. A quick win is something that immediately delivers value in your course, and helps the student learn a brand new concept that is relevant to their life. A quick win is practical, not theoretical. Early on in the course, instead of focusing exclusively on introducing yourself, going over “set-up”, or laying broad theoretical foundations, give students a practical exercise they can do.

Teresa: I think a “quick win” at the beginning of the course is a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that when you watch any video, or read any book, you follow through with the ones that hook you from the start. The more “boring” foundational work can be introduced later, after you’ve hooked your student’s interest and gotten them excited about learning your subject.

To learn more about adding in a “quick win” to your first section, see our resource here. If you’ve been receiving reviews with low ratings and no comments, we strongly suggest adding in a quick win to your first 3 lectures.

Remember that your course is a living product and needs to be updated to remain fresh. Use your reviews and this article to help create yourself an action plan.