Thinkific CEO Greg Smith on the rise of the creator-educator

On January 9, 2023, course creation platform Thinkific released its 2023 Digital Learning Trends Report. The report surveyed more than 2,000 Americans and in-depth surveyed more than 10 creative educators to understand current trends in digital learning, side hustles and the creative economy.

Thinkific offers a flexible, scalable pricing model. Users can sign up for a limited version of Thinkific for free. The paid versions cost $36, $74, or $149 per month. Paid features include unlimited course creation, custom domains, live classes, affiliate selling, and 24/7 live customer support.

In an interview with Passionfruit, Greg Smith, Thinkific’s co-founder and CEO, along with several developers familiar with the platform, shared insights into Thinkific’s latest report and what developers need to know about its findings.

Preparation of courses to hedge against inflation

Thinkific saw layoffs and struggles in 2022 amid an economic slowdown — similar to other online developer learning platforms like Skillshare, Masterclass, and Coursera. Still, Thinkific’s 2023 report points to the key growth areas of digital learning for developers.

As marketers try to cut budgets amid a looming recession, developers are looking for other ways to monetize alongside branded deals. Thinkific’s 2023 Digital Learning Trends Report found that 71% of people are considering finding additional sources of income as a result of the current economic climate.

According to Smith, online courses can be an excellent way to diversify income streams to provide security in uncertain times.

“Education has a certain anti-cyclical effect when the economy slows down. It’s got some drivers pushing it up because you have people who either want to move out of a job or move up in a job. They’re looking for a promotion, a raise, an opportunity, or they have more time on their hands, so they’re looking for education to move up the ladder.”

Creators as educators and community leaders – not just entertainers

Thinkific’s research also concluded that the tide is shifting from creator-entertainers to creator-teachers as creators focus on impact and education, rather than just entertainment. In fact, the report found that more than twice as many people are interested in creators creating digital content for education than for entertainment — whether it’s about pursuing their biggest dreams, how to invest money, how to knit, and all between.

Thinkific’s report also found that 53% of people say they’re more likely to buy a product if it’s recommended to them by another member of a community they belong to. According to Smith, creators find the secret to selling content is to encourage more engaged followers.

“There was a time when people wanted to buy and consume content,” Smith said. “But now they are looking for connection.”

Educator, creator, and CEO Jill Koziol (@jillkoziol) founded the online mom empowerment community, Motherly, which engages women through online education, content, social community, and podcasts. As of January 19, 2023, Motherly has over 4.3 million total followers across Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and more Twitter.

Koziol said that providing education to her audience via online courses is an important part of building a close-knit educational community. Additionally, she recommended YouTubers serve their audience through multiple distribution channels.

“Don’t be put off if digital education isn’t right for some people. Some want to read. Some want to listen. There are many different ways to engage your audience, so be flexible here too,” Koziol said.

Intrusion into the creator-educator sphere

One of the biggest hurdles for people eager to learn is time. People don’t want to drive somewhere, carry a computer and have to sit for hours. Instead, they want to reach into their pockets, pull out their phones, and learn in quick microdoses.

Thinkific found that 57% of respondents said they were more likely to learn something online if they could do it on a mobile device rather than a computer. For developers looking to capitalize on the “golden era of e-learning,” Smith emphasizes the importance of e-learning content that can be consumed on the go.

“Microlearning makes it easier for developers to get started [creating educational content] because you can produce small bite-sized pieces,” he said. “Move fast. Get out there and learn from it. One of the big hurdles for people starting out in this field is the ‘why me?’ sort of imposter syndrome mental game.”

Creator and educator Debbie Rosas (@debbierosas), who has over 10,000 followers on Instagram and LinkedIn, has been a pioneer in the fitness industry since 1976. Now she is bringing her expertise to a new generation on the Thinkific platform through mobile-friendly and digital courses she is developing.

“The advice I would give to anyone looking to go from creative entertainer to creative educator is to remember that everything we do online is to meet people’s needs and wants, and in a way the hope of providing the tools and education to address their challenges and pain points,” Rosas said. “What we offer must clarify [a person’s] Body, mind, emotional feelings and a unique mind.”

Koziol’s advice for creative educators, especially in a health-related field like hers, is to stand out from the crowd with certifications that prove your credibility.

“Enter into the fact that being an educator, being a creator, and being an expert are all different things that can coexist,” she said. “But I think it’s really important to be transparent and authentic when you’re really an expert. If there are certifications from recognized bodies for your work, get certified in something you’re passionate about and make sure you’re a leader in it.”

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Jaclyn Diaz

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