The Virtuous Cycle of Illumeo Course Consumption

John Kogan's Profile

Today I wanted to write a bit about how Illumeo works with its instructors so you, dear user or prospective user, can understand the fundamental 'flywheel effect' of Illumeo's course library.

First off, we don't hide our business model. It's remarkably straightforward: companies and individual users buy standalone courses, annual subscriptions and certificate programs, as well as use of our underlying learning management system, and we share all content-related revenue 50/50 with our instructors. 

We love that 50/50 instructor content rev share because it creates a virtuous cycle between our users and our instructors. Fundamentally, the more a course is purchased and consumed, the more the instructor gets paid. The more they get paid, the more likely they are to build more great courses, and the wheel turns round. This is how Illumeo has come from virtually nowhere when we launched just over two years ago to having the leading library for professional development of audit, accounting and corporate finance professionals. A few years ago we had zero courses. Now we have well over one thousand truly good (many great) courses!

Wonderfully, those 1,000+ courses are the ones our users really want. We know that because our users vote with both their time and their money. Few people take a course for the pure, unadulterated fun of it - most of us take courses in order to learn (which can certainly be enjoyable with the right content and teacher). Even if we're forced to take courses due to annual continuing education requirements, we're determing which courses to take based on what we need to survive in our jobs today and best prepare our knowledge base for tomorrow. So there is always a choice. The 50/50 rev share, combined with that 'choice' means that the most in-demand topics, and the most enjoyed instructors, get the most course 'takes' and the most funds, and that means: more great courses in desired topic areas by great instructors. That's a win-win-win for the student, the instructor, and for Illumeo. And that's why we do it this way.

We have a few mechanisms in place to help this virtuous cycle. First and foremost are course ratings. Our one- through five-star ratings help make it clear to 'the next user' whether a course is generally liked or not. I say "generally" because what's five stars to a CFO or Controller might be four stars to a Treasury Manager and only three stars to a Financial Analyst. And vice versa. Everyone brings a unique level of knowledge and their own perspectives and needs into a course. So you are very likely to see a 4.8 star course with 3-star reviews, and a 4.1 star course with lots of 5-star reviews. It just depends on what you're bringing in vs. what the instructor is teaching. Amazingly, about two-thirds of all courses completed are subsequently rated. That gives us lots of statistically significant rating data which helps all users.

Which brings us to our next useful mechanism: written course reviews. Separate from ratings, the course reviews are fewer in number (only about one-third of course raters also write a review) but offer tremendous value to the next prospective 'taker' because they put a title next to the rating, and they explain 'why'. Was a course too high level or too basic? Was it too long or not long enough? Did the taker like the presentation style of the instructor? All of these things are highly personal and yet they give that next person valuable insight and helps them determine whether this course might be worth their while. Critically, this feedback goes to our content team and to the instructor, instantly. That kind of feedback is rarely found in life, and it really helps us and our instructors understand what we're doing well and poorly, and we all act on that to correct issues in real-time or simply to do better next time.

This all results in a lot of great courses. Our average course rating, with well over 50,000 ratings to date, is 4.5 out of 5.0 stars. That's darned good and something we're truly proud of. How do we manage that? It starts with great instructors and great processes, backed by user choice and feedback, and, well, we cheat. What? Yup, we cheat - by removing all sub-four-star courses. When courses are launched we can't be sure how they'll do. We have to wait and see what the users think about them as they are taken and rated. After a few months we typically get a good sampling of data via ratings and reviews and overall number of enrollments. If a course is holding fewer than four stars, we (with rare but thoughtful exceptions) just yank it. We'll work with the instructor to make it better and if it's still low rated after changes, we yank it again and off it stays. So, thanks to a few intrepid early course-takers, we are able to keep quality extremely high across our catalog. So we don't have 1,000+ so-so courses, we have 1,000+ 4.0 or better courses with a 4.5 star average, and as we say around here, "we'd eat at that restaurant!"

So this is all to say that your consumption and feedback directly impact our course library for the better. Each taker makes it better for each other taker, and each enrollment directs us towards more great courses from our top-flight instructors. Thanks to you!