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 important role in deciding whether creating an online course or a membership site is the better option for you. You need to ask yourself if you’re looking to do this part-time or want to generate a full-time income from this.

Choosing to create a membership site is great if you’re looking to put in the time and effort on a daily basis and expect to generate a recurring income from subscribers. You can charge members a monthly or yearly fee based on what works best for your business in exchange for premium content every day.

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 along with running other important operations of your business 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 both creating online courses and running membership sites.

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

It’s also a possibility that after spending so much time and money into 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 the growth of your business in the future.

Creating an online course also involves some costs too 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.


Deciding between creating a membership site or creating an online course is tough, especially if this is your first time. You can start by narrowing down your brand’s strong points and determining what’s the best option for you. You should consider the time commitment, the type of content you can conveniently create, the type of audience you have, 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 to do 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 the process 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 any other factors to consider when deciding between creating an online course or a membership website? Let us know in the comments box below!

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