Am I Making a Membership Site, Online Course, or Learning Management System?

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In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett tells why you need to ask yourself this one question before you build your eLearning site: Am I making a membership site, online course, or learning management system? You may be thinking they’re all pretty much the same thing, but there are differences that become significant as you decide what you want your site to do. So let’s start by defining each kind of site.

A membership site is an online content resource that users pay a fee to access. It may include an email newsletter, media files, interactive groups, or other features and materials. There may be online courses included in the membership as well.

An online course is an educational or training class that’s delivered over the internet instead of in a classroom. Many universities are offering some classes as MOOCs (massive open online course), but online courses can also be developed by individuals who have knowledge and skills they want to share. These courses employ text, audio, video, and other content in an engaging learning package.

A learning management system, or LMS, is the next level up from a simple online course. This is where you want to offer tests and quizzes, grading and analytics, and tracking and certification, possibly for multiple courses and levels in one or more subject areas.

You can see the importance of knowing what you want to build before you start putting it together. It’s also a good idea to think ahead from what you want to start with to where you might want to scale to in the future.

Whether you want to make one or a blend of these site formats, our LifterLMS course development plugin for WordPress will help you build it. We’ve designed LifterLMS with engagement at the core, so whatever you create will attract an audience and hold their attention with elements like attractive themes, multimedia, gamification, easy integration with other tools, and personalized interaction with students.

Before you even think about software, web hosting, or technology, make sure you’re clear on this question: Am I making a membership site, online course, or learning management system? Then try a demo of LifterLMS to see how this course development platform can help you build the site you really want.

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Episode Transcript

Chris: Hello. We’re back with another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett. In this episode we’re going to be answering a question you should be asking yourself, which is am I creating a membership, and online course, or a learning management system? This is a big question that comes down to semantics, and people are often confused. What I mean by that is somebody may be trying to build a membership site, or they at least think they are, but they actually are trying to build a learning management system. Or somebody might be trying to build a learning management system, but all they really need is a simple online course site or online course delivery system for their material.

Let’s break this up and explain what all these different approaches to what seem like the same thing but actually aren’t and help you understand the landscape around membership sites, online courses, and learning management systems and how they’re different. First I’d like to give a shout out and just thank a good friend, mentor, colleague, industry thought leader, and fellow person in the online course learning management system space, and that’s Chris Lema. He wrote a post about asking this question am I building an online course, a learning management system, or a membership site, and depending upon your answer to that question you’re going to need different tools. So thank you to Chris for inspiring some of the ideas behind this episode.

To start off, we’ve always said at LifterLMS we’re kind of the next evolution of the membership site. What we like to see is we like to see people not just trying to create a membership and put stuff a bunch of content behind a pay wall, but actually create an engaging learning experience for the people that come to this system. That’s always been our angle at LifterLMS and why we’ve focused on creating an engagement system that makes courses more gamified, fun, engaging, and really help scale the human touch of the instructor in the online course.

Let’s just back up for a second and talk about a membership site. A membership site is for having content behind a membership level where you’re basically blocked unless you pay the membership for a one-time or recurring fee in order to access that material. That’s a membership site put simply. Another membership might just be some kind of access to an email newsletter that’s not free. It’s a paid membership. A membership is a very basic thing and you can put different types of content behind it. Online courses and engaging learning experience is just one example of what could be included in the membership, or a membership could just be really simple, like I said, and just be a premium email newsletter that has a monthly fee or a one-time fee. That’s a membership.

An online course, or if you look at something called a MOOC, the acronym or that is M-O-O-C, massive open online course, these are where universities put their courses online for the world to see on a platform like Udemy, which brings courses to the masses, these systems are essentially just delivering an online training of some kind. They’re full of oftentimes video or audio content, perhaps some other multimedia, like PDF downloads or lists of resources and links to external sites and stuff. That’s basically an online course.

The thing I really want to focus on here is what’s the difference between an online course and a learning management system, or LMS? Before I get into that, I just want to say with LifterLMS, the online course software that we create, you can actually use it to create a membership site. You can use it to create an online course. If you started using a lot of the features in there and really getting into it, you’re really getting into using a learning management system and doing more than just creating an online course delivery system or a membership delivery system.

The difference between an online course, or shall I say the evolution beyond an online course to a learning management system, is where you get into fancier elements where you may need to have quizzing to reinforce the learning, the gamification like we have with LifterLMS with achievements and certificates. Looking at student analytics, now we’re really starting to get into the management system part of it all. You can add and remove students from courses. It’s not simply just an online video course with a bunch of videos put in a certain order.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and perhaps your material caters to that just simple online course format, but when you want to get into more advanced things with your online courses and perhaps you want to start blending in memberships too, which you can do with LifterLMS, then you want to be able to drill down and look at what is this one particular student doing, where are they at, where are they stuck, what’s the last lesson completed, how many days has it been since they last logged in, these are all things you can do with LifterLMS and these are examples of a learning management system in action.

I just want to ask you to take a step back and ask yourself are you really building a membership site or are you trying to build an online course or do you need a learning management system? The truth is here at LifterLMS our software can really cater to all that, depending upon what you’re trying to do, especially in terms of creating and delivering an online course. You can do a simple online course with LifterLMS, but you can also do a more complete, robust learning management system that includes online courses with LifterLMS as well, so take a step back and before you start selecting your software tools and the website materials and all the technology stack that you’re going to need for your education project think about it for a second. Do you need a membership site plug-in? Do you need an online courses plug-in? Do you need a learning management system plug-in? Which one of those are you?

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