wonderful world of websites WWW

Online Course Vs Membership

A lot of people get confused about the differences between an online course vs a membership.

The biggest reason is the pricing factor. People view an online course as a one off payment and a membership is a recurring payment.

But there is so much more to it.

So, let’s get into it…

online course vs membership

Online Course Vs Membership – What exactly are they?

Online Courses

OK so let’s look at online courses first. An online course is a structured way of teaching a student something on your website. It can be one lesson or a whole host of lessons and topics, depending on what is needed to teach them everything you want them to know.

A lesson/top/module (different platforms call them different things) can consits of anything from a bit of text to images, videos, transcripts, MP3s, PDF downloads and more.

Once the student has completed the lesson they can click complete lesson and move onto the next. They can also move backwards and forwards and lessons can be linear (you need to complete the previous lesson) or free form (complete in any order).

You can also add things like certificates and gamification in the forms of leaderboards etc. You can also track what students have completed what lessons and add a quiz or an assignment. tomake sure they have understood everything they have learnt.

An online course can be a one off payment or students can pay over. aperiod of time that the course lasts for. So for example, if the course lasts for 6 months then you can offer a 6 month payment plan. Please note: that if the course is self-study and they get access to everything straight away check your legal position on offering a payment plan as it can sometimes be seen as buy now pay later, of which you need to be a registered creditor to offer.

You can also add the option of extra support on your course, by adding them to a social media group, Slack channel or by having one to one sessions.

You do also need to check VAT Moss rules for offering self study courses without any extra support as they can incur an extra VAT charge.


Memberships are usually run on a recurring payment basis (monthly or annually) and can include a variety of different things, including online courses and support. You don’t really need any special software to run a membership it could simply be a Paypal button and an email list that sends out what you want your members to know/learn. You can also add support such as a Slack channel or Facebook group etc. Please note that you cannot just charge for members to be in a Facebook group (it’s against Facebooks rules) so you will need to offer emails, Zoom calls etc. as part of the package.

When it comes to membership software or plugins there is not usually a structured approach (unlike online courses). You usually have a number of pages that you protect and they can only be seen by members who have access.

You can kind of create a structure yourself by creating pages that have links to other pages but it can sometimes be a long drawn out process. 

Memberships are ideal for having a page of videos that you can just add to or content you want to protect. So for example if you have a Facebook group and have a Zoom once. amonth and the recordings are placed on a page protected by a login form.


As mentioned at the start people often confuse having a membership with a recurring or monthly payment and. acourse a one off payment. But as you can see there is much more to it than that. 

It depends on the structure and what you are offering. My membership, The Tech Tavern, you get added to a Facebook group, get sent emails, have a weekly tech support call via Zoom and have access to a number of online courses as part of your recurring monthly fee.

When it comes to online courses vs membership it does not really matter which you choose, but if you are using WordPress and are choosing between an online course and membership plugin, they differ greatly in the options they offer. Most membership plugins just offer the option to take recurring payments and protect certain pages whilst some online course plugins offer both stuctured courses and protected pages (as well as recurring payments).

But that’s a whole new topic for another blog!

The best way to choose is to revist your plans, look at your audience and decide what materials and support you are going to offer in what type of medium.

Stay tuned and to make sure you don’t miss a blog post sign up to our newsletter to be emailed the rest of the blogs in the online course series.

Related Blogs:

Create an Online Course with WordPress

Create an Online Course with WordPress

As mentioned in previous blogs having your online courses on your website can improve your SEO, be a lot easier to set up (as you don't need to learn yet another system), can be much easier for your clients/students to remain in one place and can be far more budget...

read more
How to create online course content

How to create online course content

So it's all well and good having an idea for a course and choosing a platform that suits you but how do you create online course content? This is an area course creators find really difficult as they have a general idea but then worry they are not going to have enough...

read more
Which online course platform is best?

Which online course platform is best?

There are so many options out there for creating online courses it's often overwhelming and confusing to figure out which online course platform is best. They range from low cost or a one off fee to hundreds of pounds a month so it would not only depend on the...

read more
What online course can I create?

What online course can I create?

"What online course can I create" is a question I am often asked. The online world is full of business owners making money by creating online courses. It's the dream isn't it, spend some time creating a course and then you make money repeatedly in your sleep. Well so...

read more