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Promoting Learning and Online Course Completion Through In-Person Workshops

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

By: Armaan Somani, Sara Mah

Pairing public speaking-themed online courses with an in-person workshop effectively promotes learning and boosts completion rates.

Despite public speaking skills being important to students’ academic, career, and social success, a large proportion of the population reports being afraid of it (Bader). Over the past three years, SpeechDojo has implemented a 15-week, in-school program to teach public speaking skills to elementary school children. To reach older students, however, we knew that we needed to devise a program that would be both shorter and more targeted to the specific needs of a high school audience.

To accomplish this, we initially created and launched three self-paced online courses. However, when the courses were launched for students to take them voluntarily, we faced low completion rates. For example, users only viewed an average of 14% of the content on our “Acing The Job Search” course. We soon realized that low completion rates are a problem ubiquitous to the self-paced online course format. For instance, a 2020 study found that only around 20% of registered students completed massive open online courses (MOOCs) published by Harvard, MIT, and Stanford (Kizilcec). Given the limitations of the online course medium, we decided to find a more effective approach to engage students while they took our courses in order to both maximize completion rates and promote public speaking learning.

To accomplish this, our team held a job search-themed workshop with 27 students at a local public library that paired our “Acing the Job Search” online course with engaging activities for students to practice their career-related communication skills. The workshop was six hours long and consisted of 2 interactive breakout sessions (at the beginning and end of the event), time to work on the online course, and personalized resume editing by SpeechDojo instructors. The breakout sessions were deliberately designed to complement the online course, with the first session priming participants for the content and the second allowing students to apply their learnings in mock interview sessions. Students received 45-minute work blocks to complete chapters of the online course, which consisted of videos, quizzes, and short individual assignments. Students were then asked to complete a post-event survey to enable us to evaluate the event’s effectiveness.

The results of the post-event surveys lead us to two conclusions:

First, that short, in-person workshops can significantly boost online course completion rates. 45.5% of event attendees completed the entire online course during the workshop, in contrast to only 2% of users who took the same course on their own time (without a workshop). This significant difference indicates that providing a designated group environment to complete online learning content can effectively stimulate greater course completion rates.

Second, that one’s self-rated public speaking ability can be improved through a single event that combines an in-person workshop with time to complete an online course. In the post-event survey, students were asked to rate the extent to which the event met their learning expectations using the following 5-star rating system:

1 star: “I strongly disliked this event, and it did not at all live up to my expectations about what I thought I’d learn.”

2 stars: “I disliked this event, and it only kind of lived up to my expectations about what I thought I’d learn.”

3 stars: “Meh, this event was what I thought it’d be.”

4 stars: “I liked this event, and it surpassed my expectations about what I thought I’d learn.”

5 stars: “I loved this event, and it by far surpassed my expectations about what I thought I’d learn.”

Students, on average, rated the event 4.4 out of 5 stars, indicating that the event surpassed student expectations of what they would learn. This quantitative evidence was supplemented by several qualitative comments from students who reported that the event “taught me a significant amount about the job searching process and provided me with the opportunity to receive valuable tips and recommendations to improve my resume.” Put together, the results of the survey indicate that in-person workshops, combined with time to complete relevant online learning content, can effectively promote public speaking learning.

It can therefore be concluded that the workshop-course combined event model can successfully increase online course completion rates and measurably improve self-rated public speaking skills, especially relative to a model solely reliant on self-paced online courses. One area for further exploration would be to quantify the benefits of the combined workshop-course model relative to an event consisting solely of a workshop. While student comments from the event provide us anecdotal evidence of there being a benefit to supplementing workshop activities with access to digital resources (both during and after the event), it would be useful to fully understand the extent of this benefit to better design future programs. This type of data could be used, for example, to inform decisions on how to allocate time between workshop and online learning components of the event.

Following the completion of this initial event, SpeechDojo has since worked to scale this program through partnerships with schools and non-profit partners. We will continue to collect feedback after workshops to refine our model with the goal of maximizing public speaking improvement, while also maintaining a cost-effective and scalable approach.

Armaan Somani is SpeechDojo’s President. Sara Mah is SpeechDojo’s Vice-President, Online.


Bader, Christopher, et al. The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Wave 5. Earl Babbie Research Center, 2020. Kizilcec, René F., et al. “Scaling up Behavioral Science Interventions in Online Education.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 117, no. 26, 2020, pp. 14900–14905.,

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