Best Practices when you have to cancel a class
February 14, 2017 7:27 AM   Subscribe

(A friend asks): I teach an evening class for adults who signed up and pay their own money to attend (a price that’s a non-insignificant expenditure for many of them). It is a series of six weekly classes. At the last minute, I had to cancel the sixth session. I want to figure out best practices for how to make this up to them.

This is a class I teach independently, as a self-employed small businessperson. It is a class in communication skills and negotiation. I cancelled the class because, for the first time in over fifteen years of teaching, I got a bad cold/flu and was too sick to teach.

I’m curious - if you are someone who teaches classes in this sort of context, what would you do in this situation? (And, I suppose, also, if you were someone who took a class like this, what would you see as a reasonable solution).

There are 20 people in the class. I’ve surveyed them about possible dates for a make-up session, sending out five possible dates in the next couple of weeks. (My initial thinking was that I didn’t want to schedule the make-up session too far in advance)

Not everyone has replied. From what I can tell so far: There is definitely no one date that all 20 people can make. I could schedule two separate dates, in which case, it looks like there would still be, I think, 3 to 5 people who could not make it to either session. At least one person is unavailable on all five dates I sent (because he’s going out of town for a few weeks).

I want to offer the best possible solution to the students in the class. At the same time, I want to make my own commitment reasonable. (ie – to me, scheduling two make-up classes seems totally reasonable. Scheduling three feels like maybe a little more than I’d like to do, though maybe that’s the best/fairest solution)

If I do end up not being able to accommodate everyone in the make-up classes, I figure I could offer a partial refund to those who could not make it (is 1/6th the price of the class fair?). Or I thought I could offer some private instruction – like a half-hour on the phone to answer any questions they have? Or I could just try and find a date for a third make-up class, when that one wayward student gets back, and try and find a date that works for the three or four or five who can’t make it. And I can ask students what they prefer.

What would you do? Are there other solutions I have not thought about?
posted by Mayma Hosey to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say that scheduling two makeup classes, offering a 1/6 refund if they can't make those, and being available for follow-up discussions via phone would more than satisfy me.
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 AM on February 14, 2017 [13 favorites]

Keep in mind that some of your students will have incurred real and/or opportunity costs for the cancelled session (scheduling work shifts, paying a babysitter, etc.). So if you can afford it, and if repeat business and/or referrals are important to your business, it's not overkill to offer both a refund and a makeup session. (But in that case I think you could reasonably schedule just one makeup. Send any written materials out and videotape the session for anyone who can't attend.)
posted by cogitron at 7:43 AM on February 14, 2017 [15 favorites]

I'd be happy with the offer of a rescheduled class..Pick a date that the majority can attend. Email out the detailed notes (more detailed than just an agenda) and the offer of call/email to clarify. People get sick, I wouldn't expect a refund if the instructor took the time to try and rectify
posted by Ftsqg at 7:50 AM on February 14, 2017

Yes, I totally agree with cogitron. I would want a 1/6 refund, the opportunity to attend a make up session, and access to any materials/lectures if I couldn't attend the make up session.

Keep in mind that many students are probably taking this class to improve their career prospects. It's not quite the same as having to cancel something like a mostly-for-fun adult music class or dog training class or something. For that reason, I think it's extra important to take this very seriously.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:51 AM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is it possible for you to record your class and offer the online link to students?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

Do one class on the date the maximum number of people can make it; video it and put the video up for all the other attendees. You can do this ultra-simply but putting it in YouTube unlisted. Only people to whom you email the link will be able to see it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would suggest one make-up date + recording/detailed notes and handouts posted online + make an offer to refund anyone who is not satisfied 1/6 of the cost. And, next time around, it might be wise to line up a back up instructor/guest instructor who might be able to fill in if you get sick or have another scheduling issue.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:52 AM on February 14, 2017

I used to teach classes as part of my (former) consulting business. I don't recall ever having to cancel a class, but here were my contingency plans:
1) always have a cancellation policy. It's probably too late for you for this round of classes, but since it sounds like teaching is something you do often, add this in to your registration process.
2) offer a makeup/make-good option that is in line with the type of class. If it was an in-person or online lecture/presentation with Q&A, schedule another of the same, record it, and offer the recording and additional limited Q&A time out of sync with the class (usually via email). If it was more of a group discussion/mastermind type class, offer a group makeup if possible, and if not offer to schedule one-on-one or smaller group sessions with them to accomplish the same result.
3) offer a refund if the type of class lends itself to that sort of thing, and outline that process in the cancellation policy.
posted by okayokayigive at 9:03 AM on February 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

(from friend):

This is all great, thanks!

- Recording the class is intersting as one part of the options. Not sure if it's possible to record the class and make available. It involves a lot of group discussion that would be hard to capture, and that some people might be uncomfortable recording. But I'll look into it.

- schroedingersgirl and cogtitron: Are you suggesting you would want to get a 1/6 refund *and* also get to to attend a make-up class? Or is the idea that the 1/6 refund is just for people who can't make it to the make-up?
posted by Mayma Hosey at 9:23 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you suggesting you would want to get a 1/6 refund *and* also get to to attend a make-up class? Or is the idea that the 1/6 refund is just for people who can't make it to the make-up?

I would want both. Because I may have already arranged to leave work early and/or to have someone walk my dog. Some students may have already passed on a shift at work or arranged for a babysitter. The make-up class, even if I could attend it, doesn't undo those opportunity costs.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:20 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your classes have a bit more structure than mine, but I thought I'd add what I'd do and what seems fair to me. It has worked out well in the past and I think you will find most people pretty reasonable.

Offer a 1/6 refund or a make up, not both unless you really need to ingratiate yourself or have messed up something entirely within your control. You are a small business, not Walmart. It is, in both my experience and opinion, wildly unreasonable to think that a small business person would be able to do that kind of double refund, although I concede the points about opportunity costs that schroedingersgirl makes.

So when this has happens to me I send out three or four days and times that may be available for people and let them fill in as they want. I think three different days and times are reasonable, four is generous, and five is almost an excess of generosity.

Only offer refunds to those who can't make any of them. Get everybody sorted with make-ups first.

People generally tend to be very understanding about an actual problem that popped up out of your control if they've otherwise enjoyed the class and think highly of you.
posted by Tchad at 2:27 PM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for thinking of this! I've taken classes, including evening/weekend classes, where the professor just cancels without any acknowledgement of the logistics the adult students are going through to make happen.

If I were your student, I would feel that the offer of attending a makeup class or getting a 1/6th refund is fair. I get the comment about opportunity cost, but getting sick/having to cancel wasn't your fault. Those who can't make the class should still have access to notes, if possible (even if a video/audio recording isn't an option), and discussion by phone. Actually, since it sounds like this class has a fair amount of in-class discussion, is there any way that people who can't physically come to the makeup could call in by phone or Skype? That way they at least get close to a real in-class experience.
posted by basalganglia at 3:23 PM on February 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

As your friend's student, I wouldn't feel entitled to both a refund and an opportunity to make up the class -- I'd just appreciate it if offered, and perhaps be more likely to recommend the class to others given this example of professionalism. After all, the original understanding wasn't that I'd be able to complete these six classes at some point, pending some additional scheduling -- it was that I'd be able to take these six classes at these particular times.

While having to cancel this particular class obviously wasn't the instructor's *fault*, getting sick is a forseeable risk that professionals plan and budget for. As a self-employed businessman, he has the opportunity to factor in this cost, and students can reasonably expect that some of their tuition is going towards such "self-insurance."

If offering a refund is a financial hardship, it's worth considering either raising the cost of the class in the future or including an explicit cancellation policy that makes scheduling easier (e.g., here are the six sessions, here's the one makeup session, and here's what we'd do in the very unlikely event multiple classes were cancelled). In any event, this is a good time to think about how he'd handle cancelling due to weather!

But this is very much an answer about "best practices." I still think all of the solutions discussed here constitute acceptable practices.
posted by cogitron at 5:51 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

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