It’s tough deciding whether you need a membership system or learning management system.
- Both offer private content only to “members”, locked behind a paywall.
- Both help you monetize off a subscription model.
But that’s about where the similarities end. Once you look carefully into them, you’ll find that they are extremely different businesses to run. Different workflow, different mentality, and different business model entirely.
Let’s go over the nitty gritty!
1. What are you selling? (INFO vs LEARNING EXPERIENCE)
The main difference is deciding whether you’re selling INFO vs a LEARNING EXPERIENCE. And of course, there are many pros and cons to each. And also how they compliment other products and services you might have. How do you envision users enjoying your content? What is the experience you want to give them?
Membership systems favor info-based products:
- Users see a list of downloadable content (ebooks/videos), and download it to their personal device to consume later.
- Users get quick solutions, and move on with their lives.
- Users skipping to only the content parts they really want/need.
- You tend to sell access to all content, or even different levels or types of content.
- Works well if text and videos is all you need to provide value.
Learning management systems (LMS) favor experience-based products:
- Users are lead through a screen-by-screen visualization of an “online classroom”. Some lecturing, and slideshows, screens, then maybe even quizzes, tests, rewards, and certificates afterwards.
- Users handheld every step of the way through a challenging process.
- Much more engaged content system.
- No skipping, they must consume the content in its entirety.
- Users love the accomplishment of finishing courses.
- You can sell access to all content, or sell as individual courses.
- Works well if you only have text and need to dress it up with an “experience” to make it more engaging. But of course, having videos would be great as well.
In my personal experience. It really depends on the type of product you’re selling and what the customer’s motivation is for buying it. If you’re selling solutions to a deep pain problem, you should absolutely be doing a membership. It’s much faster and easier to do, and gets straight to the point. I would only recommend LMS if the learning experience is the main product in itself. In that your customers love learning and love clicking through stuff, and that the learning process for them is just as valuable as the material itself. Perhaps you’re in an industry where there’s tons of learning methods out there but all of them but yours is much more effective, then sure…in that case, you’re selling a straight-to-the-point educational service!
2. Your workflow style (CONTENT CREATION vs CONTENT ORGANIZATION)
Knowing your preferred workflow style really helps to make life so much easier for you later down the line. I’m assuming this is going to be a longterm business for you and while profitability should be a priority, so should sustainability!
CONTENT CREATION workflow:
- You write some content and/or record some videos. This can be weekly, monthly, or even less frequent interval.
- You post your instructional materials online.
- You notify your members of new content via email or social media.
- Members then immediately jump onto your site and check out the new content.
- Content can be consumed all at once but more likely in small chunks.
CONTENT ORGANIZATION workflow:
- You’re designing instructional courses. Basically a giant slideshow presentation.
- Lots of name and careful writing and phrasing involved.
- Less content to create but lots of attention to the organization of content. (Design, order, sectioning, etc.)
- Courses can take lots of time to create. You might create new ones no more than one per month. One per 3 months might be more realistic.
- Each course is usually consumed all at once (in one sitting).
I think for most people who have never done any of this in the real world before, it’s going to be MUCH easier to do a membership site. You write some stuff, make some videos, post online, and you’re ready to sell. Doing an LMS is so much more involved. There is so much prepping and organization involved.
Heck, just think of it like being an actual teacher trying to prepare your class for students. What sounds easier to you?…being a student and just reading your essay allowed and doing a presentation? Or being a teacher and having to not only do a presentation, but making it educational and entertaining. Being the teacher is SOOOO much harder. But again…if that’s part of the fun for you and that learning experience truly adds value to your customer, then by all means do it. The worst case scenario is if you spend so much time making such a comprehensive course that customers never get through it and never buy any of your other courses.
So think about it? How much time do you really want to spend creating new products? Would it be easier for you to release smaller bits of text and video? Or do you not mind the lengthy process of creating a whole course?
3. How you engage users (CONTENT FEEDBACK vs PROGRESS-TRACKING)
Are you simply creating content and then waiting for user comments? And then what do you with the user comments…do you adjust your product or do you simply use that to create more content? Or are you tracking users’ progress? Are you constantly guiding them through a difficult journey?
- Simple commenting system or maybe not much feedback required at all.
- Not much tracking involved to know which content and which specific sections have been viewed.
- Classroom-style notes and comments on very specific parts of content.
- Progress tracking and milestones available for each user.
4. How your business is marketed (CONTENT LIBRARY vs PREMIUM COURSES)
The first question to ask is how many different types of content do you plan to have?
- Text and video are the most common.
- But what about live engagements like personal phone/video consultations, or livestream?
- What about forums, directories, or other community areas?
- Any other type of specialized content? (Charts, calculators, lists, discounts, etc.)
The second question to ask is how specialized is your content?
- Does it cover your industry/niche comprehensively?
- Or is it very specific for a smaller more-targeted demographic?
The third question is how do you want people to pay?
- Regular subscription access to everything? (Monthly, semi-annual, annual.)
- One-time cost for each component? And/or mixed in a with a subscription model to access everything?
The fourth question is how do you want upsell customers?
- Have them do a trial membership and then keep paying, or buy a year’s access upfront?
- Have them take a free course and then pay for a more advanced once?
Other important questions about your content:
- Do you think your customers will want to have ALL of your content or even most of it? Or they pick and choose only for what they want? (You have to balance carefully between offering options vs forcing people to pay for things they’re not interesting in.)
- Is your content uber-professional or more of a personal/casual vibe?
It’s totally ok if you realize that you
5. How do you expect users to engage your content? (DISTRACTED vs FOCUSED)
Knowing how users engage with your content is a big part of creating and marketing content successfully for them.
- Think social media. Small bits of text, images, video, all mixed in to give an immersive fun experience. Look at Youtube, a lot of candy to pass time with no specific order or direction.
- Easily consumed throughout the day, not much focus required. Can be done at work, on public transportation, in the car, waiting in line at the store, etc. Feels more like entertainment than education.
- Easily consumed throughout the week in small chunks.
- Have to be sitting alone with no other distractions.
- Requires quiet environment and strong personal motivation to stay focused and retain information (LEARN).
- Requires some schedule planning. Have to set aside the perfect day and time to go through the content.
Picking MEMBERSHIP SYSTEM or LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (LMS)
It ultimately comes down to how you envision your business. What you need. What you like. How you like to create content. How you like to engage with users.
Personally, I love the idea of memberships and hate messing with LMS. I only want to write some text and shoot some videos. I’m not interested in creating lengthy checklists, quizzes, certificates and all that extra material. Maybe it’s great for a super professional industry that needs lots of handholding and feels very “official”.
I like quick-and-easy content creation so I can get provide new content faster for users. Selling access is easy. With LMS, which I never tried, it feels like you’ll take forever to get even one course out. And then if you have any success, it’ll be quite a while longer before the second course ever makes it out. It’s great if you’ve got lots of time and know for sure that’s exactly what your industry needs but I definitely feel membership should be your first choice if you’ve never done it before.
The nightmare would be for someone to buy your course, and then be too busy to ever use it. They never see the value and never come back to buy anything else. Think of how many people buy books and courses and never read them. I look at LMS in the same way. They require lots of personal investment on the part of the content-creator (you) and the user. For sure, if you’re selling courses via LMS, it better be a topic that your customers are 100% passionate about and heavily-involved in everyday of their lives.
Just remember that you have to plan for some degree of scaling. How many customers do you plan to have? Will 100 give you enough profit to be worthwhile? Or is it more like 1,000 or 10,000? Your system and mentality changes when you go from 10 customers to 100 to 1000.
Anyway, just try something and have fun!!!!
- feels easy
- feels cheap
- great for selling access to all content
- less involvement with users than LSM
- My favorite membership plugin – MemberPress
- feels more involved, more time-consuming both for content-creation and engaging with users
- great for selling all access as well as for single courses
- My favorite membership plugins – LifterLMS or Learndash
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