Online Course Vs Membership Site (Pros and Cons)

Online Course Vs Membership Site (Pros and Cons)

Are you split between creating an online course or a membership site? Or may you’re not sure of the difference between the two kinds of platforms.

Both are excellent options depending on what you want to teach, your needs and the expectations of students. A membership site is better to transfer ongoing content and for generating recurring revenue as well as a strong community.

An online course is better for creating content around specific topics and for creating a large number of lessons that have to be put up online.

I am going to share the difference between online courses as well as membership sites for you to get an idea which one would work for you.

Should You Make An Online Course Or A Membership Site?

Getting information and knowledge out there to an audience is simpler than before.

You can create a blog, a YouTube channel and work with people one on one over the internet.

These are two passive ways to gain money by sharing your knowledge and expertise online. An online course facilitates this.

The terms online course and membership site may be used interchangeably and can be confusing. What’s the difference?

The truth is there’s some overlap and some similarities between online courses and membership sites.

These two are built around providing access to online learning sresourcses in the form of videos and downloadable files.

The difference with a membership site is that students can pay a recurring monthly or yearly fee and you get new content to provide them in the learning area.

The difference with a membership site is the recurring fee you generate with them.

With an online course you can make different modules, share lessons, resources and students only need to pay a one-time fee to access and learn from these without the expectation that there’s more things to come.

There are some big advantages and disadvantages with this approach and it depends on the kind of information you are willing to share and the time you want to spend creating new content.

What Is A Membership Site?

A membership site includes these features:

1) Access is granted on payment. You can either pay monthly or annual fee to get this content.

2) The membership of this annual fee continues until you decide to cancel the same.

3) A community is not necessary but a big draw for membership sites. There can be forum or discussion board as well for members or a weekly mastermind for members to share tips.

Creating such a community can be a big asset for online businesses.

4) Regular content: Membership sites are not static. They’re constantly updated with latest information on the topic. New content is regularly added and this provides incentive for people to pay ongoing membership fee as well.

A membership fee can contain a list of courses behind the paywall as benefits of joining.

Most membership sites will let you join during any point and then you can access the material at a pace you choose and new people can join only at a certain time of the year.

This can create a certain sense of urgency when signing up and use the site some more exclusively. It can also be a way for you to work through the program with a specific group of students at the same time.

What Is An Online Course?

1) One time fee: Usually you pay for an online course once and then you get lifetime access for the content. There’s no annual pay to keep access to the information.


2) More structured: The online course is broken down to lessons and modules and then there’s a specific way for you to work through the info. Usually there’s an introduction laying out the starting steps and then take from beginning to the end.

3) An online course can be available from start to end at one go. Or it can be drip fed.

The latteris more popular for academic style courses.

4) Quizzes and assignments: Online courses often give students assignments or quizzes as a way to understand what they learn. These tests can be graded or can be used by the student.

An alternative to quizzes is called action steps where a student might be asked to go and apply what they learned in real-lfie.

) Progress tracking: The ability to see the amount of course completed and opening the course to where the student last left off.

6)Unlike membership sites online course gives step by step steps in a process from start to end. At teh end you should have a skill or the course or site, won’t be updated. The finite duration is 5 to 10 weeks or a certain number of modules.

Create An Online Course vs Membership Site

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re having trouble deciding between creating an online course and a membership site.

– Can you create ongoing content on the topic?

Think about all the possible items you want to cover. Do you have enough that you could add a new module to your site each month for a year or more? Are there always new learnings to share or will your audience need a lot of long term ongoing support? Then you might want to make a membership site.

– Do you want to commit to an ongoing site?

A membership puts on a tight commitment much more what a course will put you through. You need extra effort to produce content regularly. But know this: the effort pays off in added revenue. If you don’t have good content they might simply cancel out the subscription.

Comparatively an online course is great for someone who wants to produce passive income. However there’s still customer queries to handle and you need to both market and sell the course to get new customers.

– Does your topic follow a logical and set sequence?

Specific topics broken down into actionable steps with a clear result at the end are ideal for online courses. If you’re teaching students how to do a specific activity you should cover everything into a set amount of lessons for which people tend to keep coming back for.

That doesn’t generally mean online courses are true for samller topics alone. You can find comprehensive courses that include 50 or more video lessons covering lots of topic indepth. But the point is that there’s always an end goal around what’s being taught.

There’s no need for more content added over time.

–  Do you want an online community?

A strong online community is part of a membership site. If you have a strong community members will want you to participate and reply to questions and comments. If you enjoy helping others this can mean more and more work each week.

Online communities demand some sort of moderation by keeping a number of rules as well as expectations from members so that’s something you need to keep in mind as well.

Communities aren’t simply for membership sites alone though. Most online courses also offer a community as part of the overall sales package but less expectation for teachers to be truly active.

A membership site is a large and integral part of the community is run and how so your members are going to look at you for being inspired and learning things.

– Do you want a recurring income?

Membership sites can provide steady recurring income that you can get either monthly or yearly. You need an eye on the churn rate that shows the rate at which members cancel relative to the rate at which new members are joining.

If they don’t get enough value they might just cancel.

If you’re keeping members happy, adding loads of new content, then you can build out recurring revenue fast. Income from online courses fluctuate a great deal and you need to tie that to marketing efforts as well.

There’s no right or wrong in either choosing a membership site or an online course. Decide what’s key for you and the best approach for the audience and for the topic.

Online Courses vs. Membership Sites: Pros and Cons

Each option comes with a set number of advantages as well as disadvantages.

Online Course Pros

1) Higher sales price

An online course comes with lifetime access to big amount of information and that opens up possibilities to charge a high price at the start itself.

2) Less effort

An online course is a one time effort and can be outsourced. A membership requires consistent efforts spread over a long time period.

3) Big market

There are a number of people who want to learn new things. And that meansplenty of customers.

You can pre-launch

Prelaunching helps you understand the interest around the course before putting in the work to create the course. You want to test the market for the product.

If people are signing up to your email list and looking for more information there will be more paying customers. If nobody’s interested then you waste their time and put your pre-launch materials in place together.

5) Great for well defined topics

Some things people pay $100 or more to learn in a single day. They may not wnat to follow the topic consistently. An online course is great for absolute topics like tutorials and step by step guides.

6) Don’t need to worry about retention

Once someone buys the course you don’t want to worry about getting new content and keeping them engaged. You made the content and they paid for the same. Sit back and enjoy the course and joining without making more and more things. You already made the content once. Now sit back and relax so that those who paid for the content can understand what’s going on.

Online Course Cons

1) Your revenue is potentially more limited

You only make money when someone new buys a copy of your course. There’s no kind of monthly income you get from your course, and unless you’ve got an upsell for other products, the only way you’ll make more income is by finding new customers.

2) Harder to separate yourself from the competition

There are probably already a dozen beginner guitar, keto diet, or dog training online courses out there. It can be hard to set yourself apart from your competition and make it clear why they should buy your course instead of theirs. Doing this is not impossible, but you do need to choose a good angle on your course topic to ensure you offer something unique.

3) Harder to estimate future revenue

With a membership site your number of students should stay fairly steady from month to month. With an online course you might go from selling 100 copies one month to 0 the next if you don’t have a good marketing plan in place.

Now let’s take a look at membership sites.

Membership Site Pro

1) Great for big projects

If you’ve got a hugely ambitious idea that doesn’t seem possible to fit into an online course, a membership site would be perfect for you.

2) Lower price point

In some ways a lower price might seem like it would earn you less money. But a lower price tag can be a strong motivator for customers to buy access to your membership site. Over the lifetime of a membership, you might even gain more money than you would have from a one-off course sale, but having a lower price point can make it easier for people to just join and see what you have to offer.

3) Easier to estimate revenue growth

It’s easier to see how your course is growing, stagnating, or declining over time. Any decrease in membership will happen gradually unless you make a huge mistake, giving time to correct it.

4) Easier to engage your audience

Having a forum, discussion board, private Facebook group or some other kind of built-in community makes it easy to communicate with your audience and to make them feel as if they’re able to connect with you personally.

This is especially important for internet personalities and brands. Being in touch with your community gives you a better idea of what their preferences and wants are and allow you to tailor your membership site and future products to that. A membership site also has a sense of exclusivity associated with it and creates an “us” group.

Membership sites are also better at creating more loyal followers.

5) Less work to make some of your content

Your members will expect a less polished product than what they’d want to see from an online course. Especially if you’re frequently producing smaller pieces of content.

Membership Site Cons

1) Takes longer to build income

Since membership sites are usually sold at a lower price point than an online course, it can take longer to start building a consistent monthly revenue.

2) More time commitment

Running a membership site takes a lot more time and effort. Like 10x more commitment. You need to be constantly providing new content and proving to members that it’s worth their while to not cancel their membership. Producing enough content to mitigate membership churn can be difficult.

3) You need authority to run one

Nobody wants to join some random guy’s membership site if they’ve never heard of him before. You either need to have a proven track record of success or be a well-known authority figure, such as someone with a big Youtube following. People will expect you to be an expert in your field.

Who Is An Online Course A Better Option For?

If these sound like you, then an online course might be your best option.

  • If you’re beginner and not an expert in your field an online course might bemore suitable for you.
  • If you’re new to online marketing and to content creation.
  • You have a specific topic in mind to teach that doesn’t change as time goes on.
  • You’re interested in part-time hustle than full time job.
  • You don’t wish to add new content or expand product on monthly or quarterly basis.
  • You lack time or resources to create active community.

Who Is A Membership Site A Better Option For?

If you meet these requirements you might want to consider starting a membership site.

  • A broad niche or topic where you can choose to create plenty of content.
  • You want to invest both time and effort to make community for members.
  • You have sold digital products and run an online business before. You provide constant value to members.
  • You want long-term income instead of a big launch.

FAQs Related Questions

How do I create a membership site?

The chief feature is to have an area where to host content and restrict access to just members only.

Create a membership site or course platform like Teachable or Kajabi.

You can build your course website with a WordPress plugin. This gives you more flexibility and don’t need technical input.

Don’t use solutions like clickfunnels or Wix.

Does a membership site or online course require more time and effort?

An online course over time requires much less effort than a membership site. But, it’s hard comparing both.

For online course, work is put in upfront and then the benefits come later on. You need to work hard for months to see the benefits but then it’s more hands off now.

A membership site requires a less initial setup. You can put in work and create new content week by week or month by month for the site’s running duration/

You need to add new content and engage the community.

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