The role of online classes

At the start of lockdown, many class providers made the switch directly to online classes and were able to smoothly transfer existing customers over to Zoom or other online video platforms. Parents were grateful for the continuity of their routines, and the opportunity to do something for their kids that entertained and enriched, at a time when there was little else to do!

However, the demand for online classes has changed substantially as lockdown has eased. Zoom fatigue began to set in, as the warm summer weather took us all exploring outdoors. The public is keen for in-person classes to return now, though class providers still face significant challenges in how to do this safely. So is there a long-term future for online classes? And if so, what form will this take?

Online classes are here to stay

Innovations in online provision earlier this year helped to address a previously unmet need. Happity, the UK’s leading baby & toddler classes platform, surveyed parents on their experience of online classes in late-May.

A surprisingly high number of parents wished to continue with online classes in the long-term, with a number of reasons why they felt there was a continuing role, even if there was a fully lifted lockdown and return to normality. This included parents who lived in places where there was less availability of classes generally, as well as those with mobility or health issues affecting themselves or their children.

For a number of parents, particularly those with younger children, the convenience of being able to access content online immediately without the travelling distance, was also attractive.

Nevertheless, there are likely to be covid-related reasons for parents to turn to online provision and create demand for these classes in the short to medium term. There is still the possibility of local lockdowns, or quarantine or isolation periods for individuals. And whilst class providers are still grappling with guidelines, and unable to return to many schools, there is limited availability of in-person classes.

For class providers who otherwise intend to run in-person only, they may also lean on online delivery as a back-up plan, using it as a way to keep customers on board during temporary periods where in-person classes may not be possible.

Which online format is the ‘right’ format?

Online provision can take a number of forms, and during lockdown we saw a great deal of experimentation in terms of both delivery formats and business model.

Live-stream, or pre-record? Interactive video or one-way broadcast? Free or paid? One-off fee or subscription? The possibilities are endless!

What class providers chose to deliver was in many ways dependent on personal circumstances, as well as the type of class. Some sessions clearly lend themselves better to being live and interactive, whereas others may be best delivered as pre-recorded guided sessions or courses. And whilst different families have differing needs, some craving live interaction, and others wanting the convenience of on-demand, there is simply no single ‘right’ silver-bullet answer on this.

What is clear however, is that those intending to offer a long-term online service do need to adapt significantly from in-person classes. Online content is borderless, with unlimited potential audiences – but also, unlimited competition. They will need to consider how to provide genuine value to their target market, and find ways to differentiate and stand out from other screen-based services – especially where there’s vast quantities of (mostly free) pre-recorded content available.

Nevertheless, we are likely to continue seeing a variety of models in the market for now, with the majority of class providers using online live interactive sessions as a way to complement their in-person classes, and maintain their services in an ever-changing world.

Author: Sara Tateno,

Happity is the UK’s leading platform dedicated to baby & toddler classes, reaching over 200,000 new parents last year. Continually innovating to support the sector, Happity helped hundreds of class providers transition to online classes within days of lockdown. They now offer booking and marketing services for both online and in-person classes.

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Pip Wilkins

Pip Wilkins is the Chief Executive of the British Franchise Association (bfa). With 25 years’ experience in the franchise sector, Pip has worked her way up within the Association, gaining insight from all areas of the business and the franchise industry. She is well-known and highly regarded in franchising for her dedication and depth of knowledge. Pip regularly speaks at conferences and seminars both domestically and internationally, as well as writing on franchising matters for national, local and franchising trade press. Pip is also a regular judge for the annual bfa HSBC Franchise Awards, the Franchise Marketing Awards and Global Franchise Awards. Pip represents the UK at both the European Franchise Federation (EFF) and World Franchise Council (WFC). The bfa has grown to be one of the largest franchise associations in Europe, and one of the most successful associations in the world.

Theo Millward

Theo Millward is a graduate of Lancaster University with a BBA in Management. In 2016 Theo purchased UK swim school, Swimtime from the founders which teaches 20,000 children a week. Following a multi-award- winning digital transformation, during the global pandemic, Theo and his team founded Franscape, a saas that digitally transforms Franchise brands. FranScape won New Business of the Year at the UK Business Awards.

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Andy is the Founder of ICAP and a leading UK Franchise Business Consultant. He is fiercely committed to helping children’s activity providers build successful and profitable businesses. With qualifications in Business Management, Digital Media and Marketing, he has helped build, advise and grow leading 6 and 7 fiqure children’s education, sports and activity brands in the past 17 years.

Frank Sahlein

Frank has been active in the Children’s Activity Center industry as an athlete, coach, business owner, consultant and business broker. He is a native of San Mateo, California and graduated from San Jose State University in California (USA).
Frank was a pioneer of the Children’s Learning Opportunity Center concept from 1976 – 2016 at the Wings Center in Boise, Idaho (USA) – a blend of Sports Instruction, Arts, Education, Entertainment and Outreach programs.
As a business management innovator, Frank has delivered over 1,000 presentations for a variety of Children’s Activity Center industries such as gymnastics, swimming, cheerleading, dance, martial arts/ninja and child care/education.
3rd Level Consulting is a Business Development and Service Provider Partner for private industry companies, associations, and organizations in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Panama.
Two-time recipient of the National Business Leader Award from USA Gymnastics, Frank is the author of “Building Your Business Potential” and “Designing Your Empowered Life”. He is the creator of the SmartEDGE™ Business Applications and Management Certification Courses. He is the co-founder of LEAP Learning and the MetaSpheres Corp, and is the founder and Executive Director of the International Association of Child Development Programs.
His passions include his beautiful wife Lourdes Gonzalez, family, friends, fitness training, transformational reading and travel.