Should You Create an Online Course or a Membership Site?

December 19, 2021

Depending on the topic you want to teach people and on your business, you can create an online course or a membership site to share your knowledge and charge a fee for it.

Online courses are finite and planned out. They help learners achieve a specific goal whether that’s to learn how to take better photos with an iPhone or how to clear the BMAT.

Membership sites give learners access to content and added benefits with their membership plan. This can be an online forum, discussion board, bonus guides, or downloadables. Learners get access to fresh content as long as they continue to pay for the membership.

However, deciding between the two can be difficult as both seem like great options for reaching out to people and showcasing your knowledge. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into some factors you should consider when deciding between creating an online course or a membership site for your business.

5 Factors to consider when deciding between creating an online course or a membership site

Here are some factors that you need to think about before choosing between creating an online course or a membership website.

#1. Time


Creating and managing either an online course or a membership site will require time on your part. Membership websites tend to eat up more of your time as you have to give more attention to things like members registration, feedback, and creating content regularly.

Creating fresh content regularly is a big reason why membership sites require much more time and effort as compared to creating an online course once and forgetting about it. You have to constantly make sure you’re posting unique high-quality content regularly so subscribed members stay engaged with your membership site.


On the other hand, if you look at online courses, you will notice that they take much less time in the long run. You only have to create content once and not worry about creating it every day in order to provide value to subscribers.

However, it’s still important to consider the time it will take you to go through support queries and help customers solve their problems. For instance, users might reach out to you and ask questions based on the topic of your online course as a way to better understand it. It’s also common for users to ask you questions before they can fully commit to subscribing to your membership program.

#2. Content


Depending on the type of content you want to create and offer to your audience, both options could work out great for you. In addition to this, it’s also important to consider the topics you’re covering.

If you’re looking to offer shooter style, brief lessons, or discussions about a topic, creating an online course might be the better option for you. This way, you can cover a topic briefly or in detail through multiple video lessons and compile all of them, in a single online course. An online course is particularly perfect for goal-oriented topics.

However, if your content is more detailed and you constantly need to update your audience on the topic then creating a membership site might be the better idea. This is because learners can go through your lessons in detail and discuss the topic with each other later. It’s a great way to cover very detailed topics that require much more focus and attention from you as well as topics that are evolving. This not only helps improve the learning experience for your audience but also helps create a sense of community around your brand.

It’s also important that you consider the type of content you’re looking to create. For instance, membership websites require you to create content regularly, so you need to make sure you can create a specific type of content every day or every week to keep members engaged.

#3. Your audience

Your audience

When deciding between creating a membership website or an online course, you also need to consider your brand and what your audience expects from your brand. This means that you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • Is building a community important for you?
  • If so, how will community members interact with one another?
  • Or are you looking to share your knowledge through quick, one-time online courses?

Answering these questions will help you determine your business goals and how you can cater to your audience better.

Creating and managing a membership site involves building a community around your brand. This means you need to offer members high-quality content and offer them a place where they can engage with like-minded people. On the other hand, creating online courses does not require you to build a community to help members understand topics better or engage with each other and your content. However, you can create an online forum on your online course website to let users discuss topics and talk about your content. This helps enhance the learning experience for your online course and keeps learners engaged with your content.

You can also ask your audience about their likings and preferences before making the final decision. This gives you a better sense of what your audience wants and how your brand can help solve their problems. For example, you can create quizzes to let your audience answer specific questions about the type of content they prefer, the length of the content, and which topics are they interested in the most. This sort of information can help you enhance your marketing campaigns and make it easier for you to decide between the two options.

#4. Business goals

Business goals

Your business goals also play an essential role in deciding whether creating an online course or a membership site is your best option. You need to ask yourself if you want to do this part-time or generate a full-time income from this.

Creating a membership site is excellent if you’re looking to put in the time and effort daily and expect to generate recurring income from subscribers. In exchange for daily premium content, you can charge members a monthly or yearly fee based on what works best for your business.

On the other hand, creating an online course is a more “hands-off” approach. This essentially means that you create content once and then offer it for purchase to customers forever. For instance, you can create an online course for “creating SEO-friendly blog posts” and let learners keep it forever after paying a one-time fee. This can be done as a side-project and running other essential business operations as you don’t have to constantly worry about updating your content.

Some membership site owners produce an online course as a minimum viable product (MVP). This is a great way to test out the demand for their offering. If the online course gets lots of steady sales, they create a membership program around it

#5. Costs

Before you decide to create a membership website or offer online courses on your website, you also need to consider your budget. There can be many costs involved in creating online courses and running membership sites.

It’s pretty evident that with a membership website, you must keep creating and promoting content regularly. This means you must spend money hiring experts to help create content and then spend more to promote it.

It’s also possible that after spending so much time and money creating a membership program, you won’t receive the expected number of registrations, and people may not like your content. This can be a huge setback for your budget and may harm your business’s future growth.

Creating an online course also involves some costs but not recurring costs. For instance, it could cost you some money to produce the content once and hire an expert to promote it. But you don’t have to keep repeating the process unless you create a new online course or want to run a new marketing campaign.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the difference between an online course and a membership site?

A: An online course is a structured program with specific modules and lessons students can complete independently. On the other hand, a membership site offers ongoing access to content, resources, and a community for members.

Q: Should I create an online course or a membership site?

A: The answer depends on your goals and the content you want to offer. If you have a specific curriculum or skills you want to teach, an online course might be the right choice. If you wish to provide ongoing support, resources, and a community for your audience, a membership site could be a better fit.

Q: What are the pros and cons of creating an online course?

A: The pros of creating an online course include reaching a wider audience, the potential for passive income, and the ability to share your expertise. The cons include the time and effort required to create high-quality content and the need for marketing and promotion to attract students.

Q: What are the pros and cons of creating a membership site?

A: The pros of creating a membership site include the potential for recurring revenue, the ability to build a loyal community, and the opportunity to provide ongoing value to your members. The cons include the need for consistent content creation and member retention, and engagement management.

Q: Can I have both an online course and a membership site?

A: You can have both an online course and a membership site. Many entrepreneurs offer an online course as a standalone product and a membership site as an upsell or additional resource for their students.

Q: What should I consider when choosing a course platform?

A: When choosing a course platform, consider factors such as ease of use, customization options, pricing, marketing features, and integrations with other tools. Choosing a platform that aligns with your business objectives and technical capabilities is essential.

Q: What should I consider when choosing a membership site platform?

A: When choosing a membership site platform, you should consider factors such as membership management features, payment gateways, content protection options, community-building tools, and integrations with other platforms. Choosing a platform that meets the specific needs of your membership site.

Q: How can I create and sell online courses?

A: To create and sell online courses, you can start by outlining your course content, recording video lessons, and creating any accompanying materials. Then, you can choose a course platform to host and deliver your content, set a price for your course, and market it to your target audience.

Q: How can I create a membership site?

A: To create a membership site, you can start by defining your membership tiers and what content or resources you will offer at each level. Then, you can choose a membership site platform that supports your desired features, set up your membership structure, and market your site to attract members.

Q: What is the best platform for online courses?

A: The best platform for online courses depends on your specific needs and preferences. Some popular options include Teachable, Thinkific, and LearnDash. Researching and comparing different platforms is important to determine which one aligns with your goals and budget.


Deciding between creating a membership site or an online course is challenging, especially if this is your first time. You can start by narrowing down your brand’s strong points and determining the best option. You should consider the time commitment, the type of content you can conveniently create, your audience, your business goals, and your budget before choosing to create an online course or build a membership website.

Creating an online course is also easier because it doesn’t require you to completely change the design and layout of your website compared to membership websites. For a better understanding of creating a membership site, check out our post on building membership websites yourself vs. hiring an expert to do it for you.

Do you know of other factors to consider when creating an online course or a membership website? Let us know in the comments box below!

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