Should You Offer a Membership or an Online Course?


When you’re creating a new online offering, it’s awfully tempting to stick to a format you know well and try to wedge your content into it.

But that can lead to watering down your best ideas, or presenting them in a way that feels awkward or unnatural to your community. You’re be better off by focusing on the end-goal: What do you want this content to accomplish? What should it DO for your clients? Those questions should guide your product design choices, even if they drive you toward a delivery setup that’s a tiny bit outside your comfort zone.

Two of the structures that Namastream teachers gravitate toward are memberships and online courses. Both have their strong points and drawbacks, and each is suited to a very different type of content delivery. Let’s look at the ways these frameworks can support your work as a wellness practitioner, and explore which one will be the best fit for your next offering!

Memberships: Create Support & Accountability

A membership is a subscription model where your students pay you a fee each month (or year) for access to an ever-growing pool of content. This format doesn’t aim to help the client cope with a single problem or reach a single milestone.

Instead, members form a loose community that moves toward a set of goals at their own pace, supporting each other along the way.

It’s a slow-burn, long-term framework that often centers around a library of content, but can be augmented by worksheets, group live-streams, short tutorials, and other learning tools. And, of course, there’s a social interactivity element to all thriving wellness membership communities; They draw like-minded people together to coach and advise each other as they work toward a large or lofty goal.

The advantage of a membership is that it will provide you with a steady and (somewhat) predictable income, since students are typically paying you each and every month.

Although membership fees are usually low by design—a tactic that encourages participants to stick around for the long haul—it is recurring. Also, since you are adding new content on a regular basis, you can quickly adapt to new trends and the demands of your customers.Memberships are fantastic if you’ve spent years building a media library of resources that don’t need to be consumed in any specific order.

Everything is on-demand, and members can view videos or listen to audio recordings any time they want. They’re also a stellar setup for those of you with larger social media followings or existing email lists.

Online Courses: Solve a Problem

Online courses are run over a set amount of time—usually between 3 and 12 weeks—and students can either work through them together, or at their own pace. They often include both live and pre-recorded modules, and all content is best consumed in a specific order that builds logically upon itself.

This structure is ideal for helping students tackle a defined problem or set of problems. It’s a curriculum with a specific structure, scope, and end date, which means that by the time clients have completed it, they’ll want to have learned or achieved something definable.Examples would be a 21-day handstand challenge, or a 3-month holiday boot camp, or a "How to Write Your First Book” e-course.

Not surprisingly, a course is the framework you’ll want to use if your teaching is best divided into smaller lessons or modules, and if the order in which your students watch or listen to your content is important. The course format works well for challenges, bootcamps, mastering a certain skill, or any structure that is effective when you spread the teaching out over time and dictate what students watch (or listen to) and when.

Online courses are also fantastic for anyone hoping to carve out a niche in a particular topic. If your expertise is specific and you love diving deep into it, courses are a great way to share your knowledge in a finite, focused way.

How to Choose Between a Membership or Online Course?

As you can see, memberships are ideal for wellness experts with big, existing libraries of content and communities with far-reaching, long-term goals. Online courses are better for teachers who want to help students reach a single goal or solve a specific problem.

The main factor in choosing between these two formats is how you wish to serve your community.

But there’s more!

A few other components need careful consideration before you dive into either framework. The most important one being the size of your audience.

If you’re considering a membership structure, a higher number of subscribers is required to build a solid revenue base. This is in part because the recurring fee is low, and in part because in launching a membership you are asserting a certain level of experience and expertise. This format is typically more successful for teachers with bigger audiences. Online courses, on the other hand, are a great way to disseminate your expertise, even if you’re still getting established and building your following. You can position yourself as a subject matter expert and demand a set fee more easily if that fee is paid one time, and one time only.

If you decide to offer a membership, you must commit to continually producing content each month. (Most of our studio-based clients add new classes weekly to their membership products.) Think seriously about whether you can maintain this type of rigorous content creation schedule, and whether you’ve got enough compelling content lined up to fill it out. An online course will take a bigger investment of time and work up front, but you will have a hard end-date for content creation.

Finally, ask your audience about their preferences! Don’t make the mistake of creating what you THINK your students want. Instead, interact, ask, poll, and explore. Get the direct input of the people for whom you’ll be creating this product, and build it around their needs. Doing so gives you a much better chance at long-term success!


If you found this post helpful, check out our free, on-demand masterclass: Become an Online Teacher.