Why People Aren’t Registering for Educational Programs—and What You Can Do About It

Work is constantly in the news these days with stories about The Great Resignation, returning to the office vs. staying remote, and short-staffed businesses. In an uncertain job market, you’d think everyone would be doing something about their career path, like taking online courses or attending conferences. But if you’re not seeing an increase in the number of people registering for educational programs, figure out why and come up with strategies for overcoming their resistance.

Why people aren’t registering for educational programs

When identifying reasons for resistance, it’s helpful to probe beyond the first answer you get. Keep asking “Why” to uncover the real problem.

The real competition: psychological factors

Value and time are valid reasons for resistance, but something else is going on. When Wes Kao, the co-founder with Seth Godin of the altMBA program, was asked to identify their competitors, she didn’t name names. Instead, she said, “Inertia, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear/dislike of hard work.” These roadblocks are more impassable if you factor in what many people are feeling: exhausted, burnt out, and at the limit of their capacity.  

The human brain loves routines—the shortcuts of living—which is why we dislike and fear changes to those routines, to how we’re used to going through our day. It feels like a huge effort to commit to an online course or certificate program because it will disrupt life as we know it. Wanting to avoid yet another disruption in life is understandable, given all the change we’ve experienced during the pandemic. Your prospective customers might just want to stay still for a bit and breathe while waiting for a new normal to arrive.

Fear of change also presents itself as ignoring reality—the ostrich head in the sand syndrome. “I’ve been doing this job for years. I already know what I need to know. People at my level don’t take training.”

They’re not willing to see a need for growth, even though everyone knows the wheel of time is turning—what’s relevant today may be obsolete a few years from now. They’re dug into their positions, not willing to be vulnerable and accept what’s going on all around them.

The big concern: value for time

Many people accept the need for professional development, but they wonder if the course will really deliver the change they seek. Will it deliver on its promise? They can’t afford to waste their time and money on something that won’t make an obvious impact in their life—changing how they work or what kind of work they do.

Considering all their other responsibilities, they’re worried they won’t have enough time for the course. They’re already stretched thin. Or they’re worried they won’t be disciplined enough to dedicate the appropriate time to the course.

They think the program won’t make an impact because they’re going to be lame or the course is going to be lame.

How to overcome the resistance to registration

Talk with members who haven’t taken a course to find out what’s holding them back and what would convince them to take a chance. You might also ask yourself those same questions if you’ve never paid for an online course with your own money. Why not? What’s the real reason? What would convince you to commit the time and money?

Make people aware of their problem

If people don’t know they have a problem, they won’t do anything about it. Keep drumming it into your audience: the world is changing with or without them. They must sharpen and acquire skills if they want to remain employable and promotable or if they want to stay and thrive in business.

Conduct research on the skills in demand now and in the near future. Build this messaging into a year-round awareness campaign that triggers emotions but is supported by facts.

Motivate your audience past their fears and inertia

Tap into the three drivers of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

•    Autonomy: With new skills and knowledge, they can call the shots, take charge of their career, and take control of their future.
•    Mastery: They can earn certificates and digital badges that prove their mastery, but the best reward is how they’ll feel inside.

•    Purpose: Prepare people for growth with goal-setting workshops and coaching sessions. Promote learning pathways that lead to digital badges and certificates.

Nothing is more self-limiting than internal resistance

Remind them, inaction is a choice. Inaction is a choice to not grow, to keep doing what you’re doing, and to stay where you are. Is that really the choice they want to make? Resistance has long-term consequences.

Overcome negative self-image

Many adults have a difficult relationship with education based on past experiences. They may believe they’re not the professional development type or they’re not disciplined enough to succeed. They don’t want the responsibility of being a student again or spending their employer’s or family’s money.

Describe the support and accountability assistance your program can provide. Tell them why accepting the challenge will be worth it and how they’ll feel differently about themselves afterwards.

Appeal to your audience’s ideal self-image

Ask prospects to imagine themselves on the other side of this good decision: future-ready, resilient, and competent. Sprinkle testimonials throughout your marketing campaigns so they can imagine having the same type of success.

Offer connection and community

Promise to deliver what is difficult for many people to find these days: connection and community. Many programs only offer passive experiences. Differentiate yours by offering opportunities for conversations and connections with their peers.

Remove uncertainty about the time required

People are afraid of committing to something that will stress them out or overwhelm their schedule. Take away the uncertainty. What will be expected of them? How many hours a week?

It’s never the perfect time to take a course. Expect life to get in the way. It won’t be the end of the world. Remind them that we can always find time for the important things we value. If you value growth, you must make time for it. If you really want a raise, a new position, better projects, more customers, or more revenue, you must make time for professional development.

Address the value question

How will the program change them and the way they work or the way they do business? What impact will it have on their career or their business?

What if the program ends up not being worth their time and money? That’s the fear behind the resistance to register. Your marketing messages must poke holes in that resistance. Push their emotional buttons, but also provide supporting evidence for their logical brain.

You have to constantly share these messages online and in person so it becomes part of the culture of your membership and industry. Your audience must start imagining what work will be like, what they will be like, on the other side of the course—a change well worth the time and money invested.

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