Catch the Online Learning Wave

Many works or learns on a laptop at the beach next to a surf board
By Tim McAlpine

10 minutes

Online learing is growing exponentionally. How can credit unions get involved?

Online learning, also known as e-learning, is booming. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects the industry will reach more than $125 billion this year.

More traditional methods of training or education are not yet going away, but organizations of all types, from public schools to corporations, are opting to train and inform via the web. And this isn’t just a company trend—experts of all types are building online courses to grow their audience and make money at the same time.

Free courses are also growing in popularity. And offering free financial education courses to members and staff is something credit unions are uniquely positioned to do. In fact, many credit unions have financial education experts on staff already involved in real-world seminars and training. Translating this expertise to an online setting offers real potential.

Plus, the e-learning opportunity aligns perfectly with principle five of the seven cooperative principles that credit unions were founded on. “Education, Training and Information: Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives.”

The Evolution of Learning

Traditionally, credit unions have offered education and learning opportunities to members and potential members in person either one-on-one or in a seminar setting in the credit union boardroom, local classroom or community hall.

In addition, many credit unions have internal trainers for educating employees. The move towards e-learning is a natural evolution for both purposes.

Providing an online financial education course or series of courses is a great way to deliver on the promise of offering financial education and training to members, potential members and staff. With the advent of e-learning systems, credit unions can scale up their reach and impact externally and internally.

Creating Content Yourself

At the core of any great e-learning strategy is great content. Creating compelling course content is not an easy task. It can be a little daunting for the uninitiated. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you work through the process.

Work from data, not intuition. When creating a financial education course, try to understand what your members, potential members and staff will be interested in learning. Put your assumptions to the test by conducting simple surveys and asking questions like, “Which of the following topics are you interested in learning more about?” By doing some research up front, you can identify your audience’s pain points and also identify the language they use to describe their struggles. This will help ensure that you have a solution that meets the real needs of your membership.

Focus on completing a course outline before you get started creating any content. Break your course down into digestible and actionable learning modules or lessons. Think through how your course content answers the questions that you identified in your initial research phase.

Look at what type of content you and your team are capable of creating. Will it all be text-based? How about adding some infographics or supporting illustrations? Consider delivering some of your lessons through video. Is there someone on staff who is a natural on camera? Do you have in-house motion graphic or animation capabilities? The more visually appealing and interactive your content is, the more likely your users will complete your lessons and retain what you are attempting to teach.

Keep the content simple and engaging and aim to help your learners transform. Your goal with your course content should be to help your members, potential members and staff move through something that they either cannot, or will not, achieve without your help.

Delivery Platforms

If you Google “online learning platforms,” “online course platforms” or “learning management systems,” you’ll be overwhelmed by all the results.

With so many choices, how do you even begin? You can narrow down your choices by first choosing the type of online learning platform and later zeroing in on a specific platform. The three main types of online learning platforms are self-hosted WordPress platforms, third-party hosted platforms and online learning marketplaces.

You can turn a WordPress site into an online course by using either a membership site plugin or an online course plugin. This approach is the right choice if you want the platform to be hosted on your own website and you prefer to not be tied to an ongoing subscription.

You’ll have complete control of your course and you can modify the branding and design to look any way you want it to. However, this approach will have a longer setup time and require very specialized technical skills to make everything work properly.

WordPress plugins to consider include:

In contrast, when you use a third-party hosted platforms, your course is hosted by a vendor’s website.

This approach is ideal for you if you want a feature-rich, easy-to-use platform with the different components built-in and working together.

Picking a third-party hosted platform will allow you to work on only one dashboard to do everything related to your course, from building lessons and modules to creating a sales page to interacting with your users.

However, this approach will require an ongoing subscription with a third-party and may not offer as much customization to fully match your brand.

Vendors include:

The third type of online course platform is the online learning marketplace. This is a large e-commerce site that sells many courses. Imagine an online Walmart for courses.

However, if your credit union is planning to offer a free financial education course, this option likely won’t work as these online learning marketplaces only offer paid courses with the marketplace taking a cut of sales.

Marketplaces include:

Even though your credit union will likely not use this option, it’s good to be aware of these marketplaces to see what’s out there and to draw inspiration and insights from the course creators using these platforms.

Choosing the platform where you will create and offer your course is a challenging part of being an online course creator. There are so many options—even within the same type of learning platforms—and all of them look great.

The best way to find the platform that’s most suitable to your needs is to actually using them to create a mock course and test them on a few students.

Consider a Turnkey Third-Party Solution

Another option to consider is licensing the platform and course content from one of numerous third-parties that offer solutions for member and employee education. Here are three member-focused options worth looking at:

EverFi, a Washington, D.C.-based technology firm, offers its content and e-learning platform to credit unions across the United States.

EverFi@Work is a turnkey tool for credit unions to empower their members and community with the skills to manage their finances and plan for the future.

The platform features a series of interactive three- to five-minute learning modules that can be private-labeled for your credit union.

The nonprofit American Student Assistance has recently partnered with Glatt Consulting to offer a financial education platform to credit unions called Salt. It is a co-branded platform that your credit union can deploy to connect young members to unbiased financial advice, interactive money management lessons, college debt counselling and more.

Members have access to 13 in-depth, self-paced online courses in English and Spanish. Topics include credit and debt management, budgeting, saving and investing. The courses contain multiple modules and include a testing component.

My company, Currency Marketing, has recently introduced an online e-learning tool called the It’s a Money Thing Academy. This is a premium offering based on our popular It’s a Money Thing financial education content program.

The Academy features eight online courses that follow the National Standards for Financial Literacy by the Council for Economic Education.

The more than two dozen lessons feature engaging animated videos, infographics and interactive quizzes. It’s a great way to increase young people’s financial capability while putting your credit union front and center.

Launching Your Course

Once you’ve got your course ready, the even harder work comes: getting people to sign up.

The first step is to build an internal audience with your credit union staff. Let them know that you have a new offering and that you would like them to sign up and view the content.

Depending on how internal communications works at your credit union, you could send personalized email invitations to each staff member, send an all-staff email bulletin encouraging everyone to sign up or post an article on your employee intranet that encourages staff to sign up.

Once your staff members have had a chance to experience your course, encourage them to share with family, friends and your credit union members. Be confident—your course is a valuable free resource that staff can be proud to share and recommend.

Build Your Audience

Now you’ll need to build an external audience—when offering courses, it all comes down to having an audience who trusts your organization.

It’s critical to convince your audience that your credit union has useful knowledge to share. How do you create this kind of reputation and build that audience? In a nutshell, you start sharing your knowledge for free and positioning your credit union as a leader in the financial services industry.

Here are four tried-and-true steps to begin building an online brand and providing value to your future audience:

Start a blog for your credit union. Fill your blog with quality content that educates (and ideally also entertains) readers. Get involved with your credit union community. Interview local experts in the communities that your credit union serves and share news. Do you want to go beyond just articles? Consider starting a podcast or video channel as well.

Create and maintain social media accounts for your credit union. Make posts of your own and share others’ posts. Once you’ve built a following, these are great channels for sharing your course offering.

Network with your local education community. Build connections with your local school district administrators and educators and local literacy groups. Let them know that you have a robust, free financial education resource. Encourage teachers to use your course in the classroom.

Network with your community newspaper. Build a relationship with your local newspapers by writing and issuing a press release. Offering financial education to community members is newsworthy, and while there’s no guarantee they’ll devote space to your press release, you’ll be building a relationship by promoting your credit union as a source of information about educational content.

If you haven’t done so already, create an opt-in email list for your credit union. An email list allows your credit union to maintain a connection with your members and potential members that’s otherwise hard to sustain.

When you periodically send emails to your list, you (a) remind them that your credit union exists, (b) can update them on your latest posts, events and offers and (c) can invite questions and replies to start one-on-one interactions. Don’t forget to also include staff on your communications.

However, most people won’t just enter their address in any pop-up box they see. You will need to give them an incentive to give you their email. One option is to create a lead magnet. Basically, you’ll offer the reader a special, irresistible piece of content in exchange for their email address.

This could be an ebook or an exclusive offer from your credit union. Another option is to host a free workshop or webinar that people can sign up for by providing their emails.  

I recommend using a third-party email platform. Two of my favorites are MailChimp and Campaign Monitor. For webinars, GoToWebinar is my preferred platform.

Now that you have an email list full of people who value and trust your credit union, it’s time to let them know about your new financial education course. Warm up your audience by getting them thinking about the problem that your course solves. Then, introduce your course and explain what it’s about and how it can help them. You should build a landing page on your credit union website that shows the benefits of signing up for your free educational content.

It’s Hard Work, But Worth It

Obviously, none of this will happen overnight. Producing an e-learning course or series of courses plus building authority and gaining a following takes time.

If you have a head start on the process, great! If not, there’s no better time to start than now. By adding e-learning capabilities to your credit union, you’ll further your reputation as a forward-thinking, technology-driven community organization with heart.

Tim McAlpine is president and creative director of CUES Supplier member Currency Marketing, Chilliwack, British Columbia. He is a credit union advocate best known for developing CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec and the Young & Free and It’s a Money Thing programs that credit unions from around North America are using to connect with new young adult members. Make sure  to subscribe to his blog at and to follow him on Twitter @CurrencyTim.

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