coming soon

Content Monetization Platform

Turn your knowledge into a revenue stream – join the waitlist to get the tools with exclusive early‑bird pricing!

Online course vs. membership site: Which monetization method is better?

15 min

When monetizing your expertise online, there’s no shortage of options to consider. 

If you’ve narrowed your choices to courses and membership sites, you may wonder which model suits your needs. After all, the two business models demand different levels of commitment, technology, and content.

This article aims to help you make an informed decision. 

We’ll compare and contrast an online course vs. a membership site to show you the pros and cons of each monetization method.

Are you in a rush? We’ve summarized our findings in the table below:

Online CourseMembership Site
Help students acquire skills quickly, with minimal intervention and less community focus.Retain members for recurring income, focusing on community support and ongoing engagement.
One-time payment for lifetime access, often with a higher upfront cost.Recurring income with monthly/yearly fees, usually priced lower to accommodate the subscription model.
It can become a passive income stream after spending time on content production & Marketing.Ongoing commitment with time spent maintaining the community and producing new content regularly.
One-time content production: once the course is created, no further content is needed.Continuous production of diverse content (videos, articles, eBooks, etc.) tailored to member needs.
Microphone, camera, editing software, landing page builder, course platform, and possibly keyword research tools.Membership platforms with private forums, chat, and video-conferencing require robust payment and email subscription systems.
Transactional relationship with students; community building is optional and usually off-platform.Community-oriented members benefit from continuous interaction, networking, and shared experiences.
Possible but more challenging to attract sponsors due to the one-time nature of student engagement.Better for sponsorships due to the recurring nature of engagement and evidence of an active, engaged audience.
Table comparing the key differences between online course & membership sites

The pros and cons of online courses

There are several pros and cons to creating and selling online courses. If you’re thinking of exploring this online business model, here’s what to expect:


  • Less effort: Aside from the occasional update, you don’t have to keep churning out content when you create an online course. You create the course once, and your work, as it relates to content creation, is over. This pro is one of the biggest draws of starting an online course business.
  • Decent price potential: As an online course creator, you decide the value of the skill you’re helping your students develop. Depending on the skill, you can charge a premium price for your course, letting you earn a decent income at launch.
  • You don’t need a large audience: Building on the above pro, you don’t need a large audience to make decent money. You can adjust the price of your course upwards to earn more money from fewer students. 

For example, if you price your online course at $500, you’ll only need two people to buy it to make your first $1000 online. But of course, the online course must deliver enough value to justify the high price tag.

  • You can sell complementary products: When you create an online course, you create a digital asset. This digital asset can provide other money-making opportunities and directly make you money. You can offer coaching, sell your products, or promote affiliate products related to your online course. You can even build a membership site that serves as an online community for your students.


  • One-time payments: Standalone online courses don’t provide opportunities for recurring revenue. Once the student pays for the course, that one-time payment marks the end of the financial relationship. Even updating your online course won’t provide new opportunities to make money, as the students who’ve paid have lifetime access to it.
  • Never-ending marketing: Since your customers pay a one-time fee to access your online course, you must keep marketing it to bring in new students. 

That’s true even if you’re using one of the best online course platforms, and its algorithm ranks your course high in the search results. You’ll still be competing with other course creators and will have to keep sending traffic to your course’s page.

Overall, online courses may be the way to go if you want a low-effort online business model. 

The pros and cons of membership sites

A membership site is a website with gated members-only content. The site’s members have to subscribe for continued access to it. Think websites like 7 Figure Flipping (pictured below):

Homepage section of the 7 Figure Flipping website, discussing the 'Runway' mastermind group for real estate investing. It includes a video thumbnail with a play button and a progress bar, with text outlining the program's aim to remove 'guesswork' and provide a 'PROVEN PATH' in various real estate ventures.


Like online courses, the factor that motivates people to part with their cash (and subscribe) is the desire to improve themselves. But there are a few differences. 


  • Easily nurture brand loyalty: Unlike an online course, membership sites give members more reasons to stick with your brand– yes, long after they’ve achieved self-improvement. We’ll reveal these reasons further in the article. The main takeaway is that this sustained commitment on the member’s part makes it easy for you to nurture brand loyalty.
  • Recurring income per member: The membership model lets you earn recurrent income from a single student/member. That’s because your customers have to keep paying to access your membership community and its resources. This quality means your customers can have a higher lifetime value than online course students.
  • Predictable income: Membership sites offer predictable income. The business model involves customers paying a monthly or yearly fee to access your membership site. When you know how many members you have at a given time, you can forecast the expected income over months or a year.
  • Greater content flexibility: Membership websites let you gather feedback directly from your customers. This characteristic helps you release content tailored to your members’ needs and adapts to changing times.


  • Higher effort: Membership sites require more effort to get off the ground than other models. You also have to create content on an ongoing basis to give your customers a reason to keep paying their membership fees. When coupled with the lower price point (in fees), all the work involved can seem like too much effort.
  • Member churn: Even though a membership website lets you earn recurrent income from each member, you must also worry about churn. Your customers can cancel their subscriptions anytime, meaning you’ll lose that revenue source forever if they aren’t replaced with new members.

As we’ll see later, membership sites are excellent for building customer relationships. 

Difference between an online course vs. a membership site business

We’ve established that both online courses and membership sites have their pros and cons. Now, let’s find out how the two business models stack up next to one another. 

1. The Objective

The first notable difference between online courses and membership sites is their end goals.

When creating an online course, the goal is typically to help students acquire a skill as quickly as possible. Thus, as a course creator, you’ll focus on:

  • splitting your course into digestible bites
  • providing as much helpful information as possible 
  • emphasizing self-study through homework

The points above make sure your students grasp the course materials with minimal intervention on your part. 

Also, while you may direct your students to collaborate and learn from one another, your online course places less emphasis on the community aspect of learning.

In contrast, the end goal of your membership site is to retain your members. This goal determines whether or not you can rely on the predictable cash flow characteristic of this business model. 

Thus, in addition to placing a strong emphasis on your supportive community, you’ll also encourage your members to keep returning through:

  • exclusive content released on a predictable schedule
  • member-only events
  • constant interaction with your members to help them through the obstacles they face when chasing their goals
  • discussion boards they can use to chat with fellow members

Giving your members reasons to keep paying the recurring subscription fee and remain in your membership program will take the bulk of your focus. 

2. Payment model

Another major difference between online courses and memberships is their respective payment models.

When you create an online course, you’re selling access to a few videos and information materials. 

Unless you set up a payment structure that lets your students pay in installments, you’ll collect a lump sum upfront. In exchange, your students gain lifetime access to your course, including any updates you make.

The image below is an example of a course with an upfront fee:

Homepage section of the 7 Figure Flipping website, discussing the 'Runway' mastermind group for real estate investing. It includes a video thumbnail with a play button and a progress bar, with text outlining the program's aim to remove 'guesswork' and provide a 'PROVEN PATH' in various real estate ventures.


Due to their one-time nature, courses typically sell between a few hundred to thousands of dollars. 

The rationale behind the steeper price is to make as much money as possible from one-time customers. Factors like the course’s length and the skills taught usually affect the course’s price point. 

Meanwhile, a membership course operates on a recurring membership dues model. 

You rely on your audience to pay for access to a community and an ongoing stream of new content. These members typically lose access when they stop paying.

Here’s an example of a membership site with monthly and yearly subscriptions:

Homepage section of the 7 Figure Flipping website, discussing the 'Runway' mastermind group for real estate investing. It includes a video thumbnail with a play button and a progress bar, with text outlining the program's aim to remove 'guesswork' and provide a 'PROVEN PATH' in various real estate ventures.


Since you’ll earn recurrent income from each member, you should price your membership fees affordably. 

According to a 2022 Industry Report by Membership Geeks, 47.4% of B2C (business to consumer) memberships charge between $25 and $49 monthly. 

The same report states that higher-priced memberships ($50 and above) make less per year than their lower-priced counterparts. 

3. Time consumption

Both online courses and sites for online memberships can be time-consuming pursuits. However, you’ll spend more time on membership management than creating and selling course content.

With an online course, most of your time will be spent on content production and marketing. 

Depending on your teaching skills, the course-creation stage can take several weeks to a few months.

During the course-creation process, you’ll handle tasks like:

  • brainstorming and creating a course outline
  • organizing your course into modules
  • recording and editing your course content
  • making downloadable course materials
  • researching keywords you’ll use to optimize your course on your chosen platform, and so on.

Once you’ve completed the tasks mentioned above and uploaded your course, you won’t have much else left to do. Maybe you’ll update the course regularly and spend a little time answering customer support emails. But if you’ve automated your marketing, a course can be a passive income-generating asset.

Meanwhile, membership sites are an ongoing commitment. 

In addition to the time spent creating the site, you’ll need to maintain the community element by interacting with your members. Also, you’ll need to keep releasing new content to keep existing members returning. 

GetResponse offers integrations with Membermouse and Memberpress to speed up the membership site-building process. You get access to website themes and the ability to synchronize the contacts in your list. 

The integrations also let you sell exclusive content you can use to maintain a subscription revenue model when offering membership online.

4. Content production

The amount of content you need to produce for an online course vs a membership site differs greatly.

With an online course, you’re only working on one piece of content: your course. It may comprise videos you split into modules and downloadable items like worksheets. But once the course is complete, content production ends there.

Not so with a membership site. 

In line with your goal (explained in the first difference), you’ll need to produce fresh content constantly to keep your members engaged. 

This content isn’t limited to tutorial videos and articles either. 

Depending on the nature of your business, you’ll likely produce content that takes many forms, including:

  • eBooks
  • announcements
  • webinar content
  • templates
  • email copy
  • social media posts

Also, where your content ends up will differ when creating a course versus a membership site. 

When producing content for an online course, you have only one place to publish it: the course-creation platform you choose. You’ll upload all the course files there for your students to access. 

In contrast, the content you produce for a membership site will end up in multiple places. 

Typical destinations include your members’ email inboxes, your business’s social media handles, and, in some cases, your members’ mobile devices (as a notification). 

That means you’ll have to learn multiple content distribution channels when creating content for membership sites. If you’re unfamiliar with their features and limitations, you might struggle to adapt your content for each channel.

Speaking of which, GetResponse’s WishList Member integration makes sending automated emails to your members a breeze. The plugin works with WordPress sites and lets you automate email marketing tasks for each member level. 

As mentioned above, running a membership site can be very time-consuming and resource-intensive. This can take a toll on anyone. You need these automation tools to streamline processes like email communications.

5. Technology requirements

The two business models rely heavily on technology to work. However, membership sites demand robust technological infrastructure.

When creating an online course, at the minimum, you’ll need:

  • a microphone
  • a video camera (or webcam)
  • video editing software
  • audio recording software
  • screen sharing software (where applicable)
  • a landing page builder
  • an online course platform

You may also need a keyword research tool to optimize your course and ensure its visibility on your chosen platform. Once you have the above-mentioned tools, you can start selling digital products (i.e., courses). 

In addition to the tools listed above, you’ll need more technology when making a membership site. 

You’ll have to choose a membership platform that can create a private forum, has chat and video-conferencing features, and so on. Kajabi (pictured below) is an example of one such platform:

Screenshot of Kajabi's website dashboard under 'Site Settings,' showing various configuration categories like Site Details, Marketing Settings, and Payment Integrations. It also includes Account Settings with options for account details, password, and users. 'Online course vs Membership site' is a keyword relevant to this platform that caters to both models.

Also, unlike a course platform, which collects payments on behalf of creators, you’ll need payment infrastructure. Aside from these tools, you’ll need email subscription software like GetResponse to collect emails for your sales funnel.

These requirements make membership sites the more expensive pursuit of the two models. 

If you use a course-creation platform like Kajabi, you can seamlessly integrate it with GetResponse. The Kajabi integration lets you sync your Kajabi sales and form data with our software. It’ll add every new purchase and form submission made through Kajabi to your GetResponse contacts, saving you time and effort.

6. Community fellowship

The main difference between online courses and membership courses is the amount of community involved in each.

At its core, an online course is a product. 

So, your relationship with your students is mostly transactional. Once they pay for access to your educational resource, that relationship ends, and you market to other potential students to keep revenue coming in.

By association, the tools available for creating online courses provide few features for community development (if any). If you’re inclined to build a community alongside your course, you’ll have to do it off-platform (through a Facebook group or similar channel). 

Even then, outside of group admins, you’re unlikely to offer your students the community level they’d enjoy if they paid for membership.

In contrast, membership sites are community-oriented from the get-go. 

In other words, you’re creating and maintaining an experience. Since you’ll aim to keep your members in the program, you’ll work towards creating a digital space they can return to indefinitely. Your program may offer perks like one-on-one video calls, private coaching, or virtual conferences.

You can even arrange offline events, like in-person group meetups or international summits, in exotic locations. 

You’ll encourage member-to-member interactions because your members want to interact with like-minded individuals. This will allow your community members to benefit from your expertise and the experiences of their fellow members.

7. Sponsorships

Membership sites and online courses differ in the area of sponsorship opportunities as well. 

While either business model can attract sponsors, a membership website is better. 

Potential sponsors will need to see evidence of your large, engaged audience before deciding to back you. That’s much easier to provide when members return to your site every month.

In the case of an online course, your one-time customers may need to inspire more confidence. There’s also the issue of your students’ focus. The ones who see your course through to completion may focus more on learning new skills than listening to sponsor shoutouts. That’s assuming you can attract sponsors before creating and publishing the course. 

Moreover, if you seek sponsors for an online course, you’ll need to consider hosting a live event at some point. 

Sponsors want visibility for their brands, something an event is more likely to deliver in spades. Of course, if you’re only interested in creating a course and no more, hosting an event will be a no-go.

In summary, you’ll have an easier time inking sponsorship deals with a membership site. The additional income associated with such deals is the business benefit of getting sponsors onboard. Your members will also benefit from the exclusive offers your sponsors will provide.

Final verdict

Should you create memberships or courses? The answer to that question will depend on factors like your goals (revenue and otherwise) and the amount of effort you’d like to put into your business.

Online courses will work best if you’re not interested in building a community or spending the time necessary to maintain one. Also, if you don’t mind the unpredictability of revenue that comes with one-time payments, create online courses.

Meanwhile, create a membership site if you prefer a recurring revenue stream you can forecast. This option is also excellent for attracting sponsors because you can easily point to your active members as proof of your brand’s followership.

If you have the time and resources, you should do both! On the one hand, you’ll have a passive revenue stream; on the other, you’ll have a community of loyal members with recurring subscriptions and an opportunity to market new courses.

Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli
Nael Chhaytli is a Digital Marketing Expert and a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at GetResponse with a diverse background in marketing specializations. He has used his expertise to drive success and growth for businesses in the service, SaaS, and e-commerce sectors.