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One of the things that many people struggle with are not just creating the course material, but how to put it online for their students to access it. While some people have the technical expertise to create their own website and sell the course through it, others want an easy solution, and that’s what Ruzuku does. Abe Crystal talks about this platform, how it got started and why you may want to consider using it.
Abe offers some solid advice on how to best market your online course and recommends similar strategies as to what I recommend, so pay attention to those in the interview.
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Abe Crystal Bio:
Abe Crystal, Ph.D. is a co-founder of Ruzuku. Ruzuku’s online platform makes it ridiculously easy for you to create your own online course or coaching program. Ruzuku has hosted over 10,000 courses serving over 80,000 students around the world. Abe specializes in learning design and user experience research, and earned his Ph.D. in human-computer interaction at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Podcast questions I asked Abe Crystal:
- what is your background in eLearning?
- why did you create Ruzuku?
- why do your users choose Ruzuku over your competitors?
- what are some trends you’ve seen in eLearning?
- where do you see eLearning going in the future?
- what are some of the best marketing strategies?
- If someone wants to get started with Ruzuku, where can they go?
Podcast Show Notes:
- His background isn’t originally in eLearning but in user experience
- He wants to help learn and grow
- Ruzuku is a platform that pulls all the technical aspects together and makes it easy
- http://pcosdiva.com/ is a good example of a good online course that has a niche audience and is able to serve the community with an online course, which is built on the Ruzuku platform
- Build an audience, find a need, listen to what they want to learn and then build the course
- Create a pilot or beta phase of the course where people can test out the course
- Use LinkedIn to promote the course
- If you have an audience, it’s much easier
- Start by building a fan base of 1000 fans, as outlined by Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine. http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/
- A 4 week live-course with is easier to run versus an evergreen course and it gets more engagement and sales (generally speaking)
- Ruzuku allows the teacher to add text, video and audio and let’s the teacher not have to worry about the technology side of building a course
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Transcript From This Episode of The Online Course Coach Podcast
Jeff: In this episode, I talk with Abe Crystal about the Ruzuku LMS platform.
Jeff: Welcome back to another episode of the Online Course Coach, and today, I have with me Abe Crystal, and he is one of the founders of the Ruzuku LMS platform. Several of you have emailed asking “Hey, what’s the best platform to use? Should I do a membership site or a single, one-of course? What are the best for my situation?” I always ask the question “What are you trying to provide? What is your course content?” And even “What is your technical level?” The answer depends on some of those questions. And so, today, we get to talk with Abe Crystal of Ruzuku and what the Ruzuku platform is—and what Ruzuku means—but also what are some of the benefits of it? But also Abe gives some really good insights on trends in eLearning, where eLearning is going in the future and even some really good marketing strategies to help you market your online courses.
But before we get into that, I want to talk about this free ticket I’m giving away for FinCon 2016. Now, FinCon is a conference primary for people in the financial world. Financial bloggers and podcasters and content creators—but I went this year, just a couple weeks ago, and it was amazing. And while I’m not in that space, I love the conference, I love the people, and I have already booked my tickets for next year. And I have two small kids, so I don’t go to a lot of conferences, but this one was worth it. So I’m going to be giving away a free ticket for FinCon 2016 for anybody that has not attended. So if you want to go to a conference and learn from people like Pat Flynn and Jeff Goines and Noah Kagan of AppSumo. Chase Reeves of Fizzle. Grant Baldwin was there—did the closing keynote. So those are some of the people that were here this year, 2015, and I’m guessing similar people will be there in 2016.
So I love the tagline of FinCon, and it says “Where Money and Media Meet.” So if you’re looking to either learn from others, network with others, I highly recommend checking out FinCon.
So if you want to register for this free ticket, you can go to onlinecoursecoach.com/finconticket—that’s one word—and you can register. It’s free and it’s easy to register. And FinCon is F as in Frank—F-I-N-C-O-N—ticket. So onlinecoursecoach.com/finconticket. I’ve even created a full thing where if you share this one social media platforms, you actually get ten more entries. So you increase your odds by ten or more if you share this. For every friend that signs up, you get ten additional entries. So check that out.
Now, if you’re not interested, that’s fine. This giveaway is not for you. Don’t worry about that. I just wanted to throw that out there, that free ticket that I’m giving away. And this will only be going on probably until the month of November. So if you’re listening to this after November, sorry, it’s closed. But I wanted to let you know, for those of you that are listening to this before the deadline happens.
You know, one of these most common questions I get is talking about an LMS service. “Should I use an LMS service? Should I build it myself?” And while we’ll talk about maybe the pros, the cons, all the angles of using an existing platform verses building your own platform—in another episode, we’ll talk about that, we’ll give both sides, the pros and cons. I do know that there is lots of value with suing an existing LMS service. So if you’re somebody who is not technical, if you don’t have the time to build something yourself, to manage it, using an existing LMS service—a learning management service—is a great option. And Ruzuku is a great platform.
One of the things that I like about Ruzuku is they help with iteration and growing your course based one what your students need, not what you think they need to know. And this is one of the biggest
shortcomings, shortfalls in creating courses. In fact, some of my earlier courses, I struggled with this. I had a need—because I had the need myself—I saw that there was nothing out there that I could find in this particular software training. So I went to my office and I spend a good chuck of the summer creating several courses that would target specific audiences.
And what I should have done is I should have asked potential students or members what they thought of this course. Did they need this course? Would it be valuable? What do they want to learn? What would be pointless to learn? What would increase the value of that course?
And so, Ruzuku does a lot of that with you. It’s a community. It helps you not only just build a platform, but it gives you the tools to building a better course.
Well, a little bit about Abe Crystal. He is actually a PhD and co-founder of Ruzuku. And Ruzuku’s online platform makes it ridiculously easy for you to create your own online course or coaching program. Ruzuku has actually hosted over ten thousand courses and has served over eighty thousand students around the world. Abe specializes in learning design, user experience research. He’s earned his PhD in human-computer interaction at UNC Chapel Hill.
So, Abe, thanks so much for being on the Online Course Coach podcast today!
Abe: Yeah, delighted to be with you.
Jeff: So, Abe, you have this amazing platform that allows users to post their own courses. But I want to go back, just a little bit, to how and why you created this—and, actually, even before that, what’s your background in eLearning in this whole big eLearning space?
Abe: Well, thanks for asking! Truthfully, I would say my background is not in eLearning. It’s something that I’ve come to become interested in from a different perspective. My background is in what, in the industry, they call user experience design. Making software easier to use, effective for people. Software that actually helps people get their work done. And some of my research was around how students, specifically, managed to get information in technology, although that’s pretty different than what we do with Ruzuku today. But for a long time, I’ve been really, really interested in how do we make software better and easier to use.
I’ve also been really interested in how do we give people better tools to learn and grow and develop in areas outside of formal education. So the kind of things we read about on the business bookshelf or the creativity bookshelf or the self-help bookshelf or the kind of things we would go to a conference to get inspired by or learn about—and helping people scale those ideas online and help people learn them more effectively online.
So that’s what’s been driving me and interesting me in this field. And the road by which that actually led to Ruzuku was, in a nutshell, we got really interested in could we create software that would make it easier for people to set goals and learn and make progress towards those goals, and that didn’t work at all. And what we realized from why that didn’t work was that the experts who could help—coaches and consultants and speakers and bloggers and other kinds of experts—they really wanted it to be grounded in their expertise and how they facilitate people to learn and change. And so we refocused on the expert and how to we provide tools that help experts create using online learning experiences and that’s our mission today.
Jeff: I like your story because you said you don’t have this background in eLearning—there’s multiple terms for that whole thing—and that’s kind of my story too. My parents are professors and lifelong educators, but I love learning, I love teaching, and more importantly I love technology. And it sounds like that’s exactly where you are too with this user experience. “How can we create a better system to help the subject matter experts better teach and train?” So I think that’s great.
Now, little interesting question: What does Ruzuku mean? Or how did you come up with that name?
Abe: Yeah, so the name dates back several years, and we started with the goal that we wanted a short easy to—well, relatively easy to pronounce, I should say, before I hear people mispronounce it a million times—domain name, and we—this was far enough back that we felt like we had to have a dot-com. Now people are more creative with their domain names. But to get a six later domain name, in English, that was completely impossible. So we started creatively looking at other languages. And started exploring Swahili because it had some cool sounds and meaning in it and found this word “ruzuku,” which means to provide structure or support in Swahili.
Jeff: Oh, nice. Very nice. So we could talk about a lot of the ins and outs of Ruzuku and I encourage the listener, go check it out and we’ll talk about some of the benefits here in a second. But why would you say this platform of Ruzuku—why does it need to exist?
Abe: Well, if you’ve worked with people who are trying to create and sell and teach an online course, you know that they can completely tie themselves in knots. I would actually do that technologically. For someone who’s never done this, if you [think] about the technical challenges you’ve perhaps had when you first started thinking about setting up a blog or an email list. This is actually even more complex than that. And what people did in the past was they would put together five, seven, eight, ten, or even more different tools and use all these different tools to provide pieces of what you need to deliver an effective online course. Which is not just content, even though being able to deliver content securely is really critical, but it’s being able to engage people in an online community to monitor their progress through the course, to have live sessions with them to where you’re able to present to them or coach them, and to do all that in a seamless way that feels good to the participant.
And sadly, what happens is many experts just kind of look at that problem and they just feel too intimidated. They walk away because they don’t even know where to start.
Jeff: So how does Ruzuku make that easy for the content creators or course creators?
Abe: We do it essentially through a design philosophy of simplicity. Just trying to focus on giving you tools that allow you to do enough to create really effective courses, but not so much they you’re overwhelmed. And we do it through iteration, watching how people are creating courses and improving it based on what they’re actually doing. And one of the big things that that has led us to over time is putting everything in one place. Again, this idea that people are really frustrated by having to create a bunch of password protected pages on their blog and then have an email list specifically for their course, and then have a video host that would host their videos, and then have a webinar tool that would do their videos, and then have a forum or some kind of group or community tool that would provide a community for their course—and on and on and on. And so essentially, the simplicity and the stress relief comes from having that integrated into one place. You log into Ruzuku and everything is there.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s good. And I like that you guys integrate with different payment gateways, different email capture services and things like that. That’s really good. So, when somebody’s looking for an LMS or a platform to use—there’s a lot of options out there. We don’t have to name all the names, but there’s a do it yourself option—whether it’s Moodle or WordPress or whatever—and then there’s more of the self-hosted things. What are some success stories of people that have found your platform, built their course and sold it and taught a lot of people?
Abe: Yeah, gosh, I could go on for a long time. Just look at our site if you want to see many, many examples. One I personally think is kind of good is Amy Medling. She’s right at the top of our homepage, and I think she’s a nice example because her topic is not obvious. It’s a very specific niche that most people would never have heard of, but the teaching she does in that area has a huge impact on people’s health in their lives. So, her site is PCOS Diva, and her teaching is all around this specific health condition called PCOS—P-C-O-S—that affects like millions of women around the world, I think. It’s very difficult to deal with medically, so she teaches people how to deal with it through nutrition, lifestyle changes, exercise, stress reduction—so more of like a health coaching model.
What’s exciting about that to me is that this is the kind of thing that would have been very difficult to get their in-depth help with before online courses. To work with Amy one on one as a coach over the phone would have been really expensive. So travel to go to a seminar about this would have been impossible for most people. And, potentially, you could have gotten a book, but there’s limitation on what you can convey in a book as opposed to with video and other media.
Jeff: Yeah, and that’s what I love about online courses, online training. It flattens the world. It’s one of the many reasons why they’re so successful—if you have an expertise, even if you just know a little bit more than most of your audience, you can still teach. And, yeah, it saves everybody on time, on cost, and that’s fantastic.
Abe: And when you read about it in the media, I think the focus is backwards. There’s the focus on—like what you would read about in the New York Times on online courses is “What are the most famous a prestigious universities doing?” Like, what course is Harvard offering online or what is some famous author or celebrity doing with online courses. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Oprah’s gonna do her courses and I’m sure they’re good. But, to me, what’s exciting is the ability of people with these tiny, little, very specific focus areas to help people who could never have really been helped before.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up, Abe, because—I love that too, and when I hear those stories—and that’s the fun of this podcast, meeting new people or going to conferences. Yeah, I get those people who say “Yeah, I have this course” and they mention this, to me, obscure thing or thing that I’ve never even heard of—which, there’s probably a lot of those—they’re very successful in what they’re teaching and they’re impacting lives. And, to me, that’s more important than some people that are more in the internet marketing side, they’re just trying to make a buck or trying to market something, and it’s a little more fluff than content.
Abe: I really like the idea that Kevin Kelly wrote about several years ago in his posts about 1000 True Fans. Was really a visionary idea, and still is—is even true that when we wrote it. That you don’t have to go after some grandiose mainstream vision of success. Instead, you focus on building a community, a group of people with a strong commonality. You can build a group of a thousand true fans, people who really benefit deeply from your work, like the example we just gave of Amy Medling and PCOS Diva. She doesn’t have a huge audience, but the people in that audience are so impacted by her work and so grateful for what she has done for them. She’s creating huge value for them.
There’s such a great opportunity to create a really meaningful business around a tiny focused audience like that rather than getting caught up in false ideas around scale.
Jeff: Yeah. And that’s so good, because a lot of times, when people come to me with a course idea, they don’t have a platform, they don’t have any followers or fans, whatever, that’s something I say you might want to think about developing that relationship with your audience first, or building your audience, because that audience is gonna tell you want they want. Some of my unsuccessful courses early on that I made and sold were the ones that I assumed I knew what the audience wanted and I just made that course, put my head down in the sand, and got to work. And then when I went to sell it, it wasn’t having successful as I thought it would because I didn’t ask my fan base or I didn’t even have as large of a platform as I would have liked at that time. So I’m glad you brought that up.
What are some other ways somebody can find success in selling their course? Whether it’s marketing strategies or things like that, what are some things that you’ve seen or done in your company that have helped sell courses?
Abe: Well, I think the fundamental issue is just want you’ve pointed out. It’s starting at the right place. So if you already have an audience—and it can be a tiny one. You could do really well selling a course to two hundred people if you deeply understand and have a great relationship with those two hundred people, and that course is super, super targeted for them. You could do incredibly well. But if you’re just kind of creating a course with the hope that someone you know might be interested, that’s a bit hopeless. That’s not gonna work. You need a strategy. I mean, I think the strategy in that case is you—there’s two ways to do it. One is take a step back and build the audience first. And there are lots of resources on how to do that. And you can bootstrap that by doing coaching or consulting on the way, because you can get cash flow from offering those services faster.
Or you can also look at doing more of a pilot approach to your course. Where you say “Okay, I’m gonna use my personal network, emailing people, using LinkedIn, going to meet ups to get ten people who are gonna do a pilot version of my course and I don’t have to spend a ton of time talking to each of those ten people as they go through it—and learning in turn from them, getting incredible feedback from them, and using it to shape a course that’s gonna be really valuable, and then continue to bootstrap by audience from there.”
So that’s sort of category one, if you’re in that position. You need to build this up. The second class of people are you actually do have a bit of traction. You have started building an audience, maybe you’ve even done some pilot courses or different types of courses already, and you’re looking to grow it. Then I think it’s just about having a better strategy around how you launch courses. And from what we’ve seen, it’s much easier to generate meaningful revenue from courses that you run on a schedule. So say, like a four-week course that you’re taking a group of people through and you’re facilitating it and having some interaction with those people, verses a passive or evergreen course that just sits on your website and is always available. It’s a lot easier to market the live course, because that interaction with you is so valuable, and also it gives people a timeline in which they have to consider the course and make a decision.
Jeff: That’s really good. Yeah, and I’ve seen that too where people that do create these evergreen courses that are just out there, they create them and they might get some interaction, but when they add that live interaction or live component, their course—I don’t want to say explodes, but it just does so much better. So whether that’s integrating webinars or video or phone call or whatever it just makes it easier for the student. They feel like they’re part of something verses just kind of on their own kind of hanging out and taking the course.
Abe: Yeah. The truth is self-study online learning often isn’t that great a learning experience, unless it’s just such a burning problem that the person has such a high motivation to go through the material and apply it that nothing is gonna stop them. But those courses aren’t in that category.
Jeff: Yeah. So let’s get back to your platform, Ruzuku platform. What are some of the things that it has, as far as can a teacher add videos or webinars or what are some of the things that you can do when you’re building a course?
Abe: Right, so the last example we talked about, running kind of a four week course with a group or a couple people going through it together, that’s kind of a nice example of how a typical course on Ruzuku might be structured. Usually the way people would set that up is you would have tiers of modules. So, in the four week course example, you might have a new module released each week, and so an email would go out to students saying “Here are your lessons for the week,” and that might be a variety of different content. People certainly include video and we host and stream that for you, but it could also be things like a PDF of a worksheet, a short article with a quick summary of ideas or takeaways. Could be an audio recording of an interview of someone that’s related to the course topic.
So that’s the typical structure of content, and then you want to have interaction and engagement around that. And so I think that by creating certain discussion questions and prompts—so you might create a discussion question on one of your videos or after one of your worksheets in which you ask people to share what they’re learning or to share a specific challenge they’re having, perhaps to share something they got out of doing a worksheet and what they need help with. Giving people ways to share their learning experiences.
And then, finally, you can do that live as well. So you could go live on a video screen, present from your webcam to presence or you could host a teleconference where everyone dials in and you’re hosting like a group Q&A call where you’re taking people’s questions and giving them assistance live over the phone.
Jeff: That’s great. And I love that—almost that critical thinking part of your courses where the student can give their thoughts. Because we want them to think, that’s the whole point. I see a lot of courses that—yeah—it’s just a video of the teacher and we just sit back and somehow absorb it and many times we don’t. and so, to have that piece where the student can interact, ask questions, or write down their thoughts, that’s fantastic.
Abe: Well, traditionally, this is done to the extent people did it all by have your content in one place and then it’s like “Okay, when you’re ready to engage, click over here and go to our separate forum!” And the problem with that is there’s no structure. There’s no clear connect between the content that you’re spending time-whether it’s a video or other types of content—and linking that to how people would actually discuss about it. If you just give people an open forum, what you tend to get are very general open questions that don’t really spark deep sharing, or you get just chatter. Whereas if you create really focused questions or prompts that are directly related and presented in the context of your content, then people can actually engage with them because they have that natural flow from the learning through the content to learning through sharing and response in the discussion.
Jeff: That’s great. So, as we close up here, if somebody wants to learn more about Ruzuku, or even get started with building their own course or taking a test drive, where can they go?
Abe: Yeah, it’s all on our site, ruzuku.com. R-U-Z-U-K-U-dot-com. And there’s lots of information, as well as a fourteen-day free trial. If anyone on the podcast is listening and would like a longer trial, just shoot me a note and let me know that you heard about us on this podcast and we can extend your free trail to a month.
Jeff: Very cool—wow, awesome. Thank you. I’ve gone through that trial and it’s been fun just to play around with it and see what’s all available and some different things. So it’s a really good idea to let somebody test drive it, and from what I can tell, it was a fully featured trial, there wasn’t anything held back or nay light version or anything like that.
Abe: Yeah, I actually get excited when I see people launch a course and start generating revenue inside of their free trial. I think that’s pretty amazing. You have to be pretty on the ball to do that, but you absolutely can.
Jeff: Abe, thanks so much for coming on the show, giving us your time, and maybe we’ll have you back on to kind of get more in depth. But I just wanted to just kind of get an overview on what Ruzuku is, how it can help our listeners, and you’ve given a lot of great tips and tricks and advice—I appreciate all that you’ve been providing on the show today.
Abe: I’m so grateful for the opportunity. This was really fun and I’m available to help anyone in your audience who has questions of online courses.
Jeff: Well, there you go. What did you take away from Abe’s advice, Abe’s wisdom? I know there a lot of things, as I wrote in my notes, that I thought were really cool. Some of them that stood out to me are the marketing strategies he talked there at the end. So what marketing strategies to you use—or if you don’t use any or if you don’t use the ones Abe mentioned, what do you plan on implementing?
Shoot me an email, [email protected]. Let me know what you think about those marketing strategies. Do you use these ones specifically, or do you plan on implementing some of these? Like creating a pilot or a beta phase of the course or using LinkedIn, some of the different things that he talked about. So let me know what you thought of the show and some of Abe’s marketing strategies.
A couple things as we close with this podcast are I want to read two of the most recent comments that people have left on the podcast—or iTunes specifically—and comments are an easy way, a free way, to give me a little thank you, a little pat on the back, and, to be honest, a little encouragement. So I would encourage you, go to onlinecoursecoach.com/reviews to leave a review. And I’ll even read it here on the podcast.
So ComedianDrinker12 recently said this that “I found and love—I recently found this surfing, it’s very solid, and taught me a lot. I highly suggest it.” So thanks for sending that. And then YorktownDad, and he actually shot me an email, so I appreciate that interaction with him. He said “I’m a new listener to the Online Course Coach podcast, and I’ve already gleaned valuable information that I can readily apply. Jeff is an excellent host and is genuinely interested in bringing value to his listeners. Highly recommended.” So thank you so much for that review, I really appreciate that. Again, you can leave a review at onlinecoursecoach.com/reviews to leave your own review.
Also, if you want to register for that free FinCon ticket, check out onlinecoursecoach.com/finconticket. Gonna highly recommend you check that out. Had a blast going, I look forward to meeting you there if you win the free ticket, or if you don’t and you choose to go yourself, it would be great to meet up.
Now, lastly, it would be a huge honor if you were to share this podcast. in your phone, on your web browser, put it in—share on your Facebook, your Twitter… Do we use Google+ anymore? I can’t remember, I never really used it. I know some people did, but I never did. Anyway, share it on your different social media accounts. Get the word out, and that’s why I want to read these reviews, is because, yes, it helps me, pats me on the back, makes me feel all good and warm inside, but it brings these interviews and this content to more people.
And that’s really my goal. I really want to build this community of online course creators like you and me. This isn’t a podcast where every episode, I have people on and I’m trying to set up affiliate links and sell you stuff and make money. That’s definitely not the case. In fact, you’ve bene listening for a while to this show, you know that I don’t really sell anything, which is kind of a funny thing for most podcasts. This is just a change for me to give back and, like you, learn from the guests on the show as well as teach you what I’ve learned. So the more people that can listen to this podcast would be fantastic. Hey, maybe in the future, maybe we’ll have a meetup, a conference, or something like that where we can all connect.
But share out this episode, hit that share button, send it out, and let other people know about the episode.
Well, hey, keep coming back to the Online Course Coach podcast, where it’s truly my goal to help you teach many to impact millions.