8 Alternative Formats to Traditional Online Courses

Kyler Nixon
March 28, 2022
5 min read

As technology advances, online courses are becoming a popular way for people to learn new digital skills. However, there are some alternatives to traditional online courses that can be more beneficial for digital brands. These include memberships, ebooks, workshops, webinars, paid newsletters, premium podcasts, templates, or even paid communities.

Each of these options has its own advantages and disadvantages, and one might be a better fit for your brand.

What's an online course?

Let's back up just a little bit and make sure we're speaking the same language.

For the purposes of this blog, an online course is a video-based product (typically pre-recorded) that shares your knowledge about a particular topic with customers and students. They can go through a course at their own pace and might include bonus resources.

Now, I want to be clear: an online course is a great option for a lot of brands. Many of our clients sell online courses in this format and they crush it! There's nothing wrong with this format, but that doesn't mean it's the best solution for every brand.

Here are some reasons an online course might not be the best for your brand:

  1. You're terrible on camera or have no desire to grow this skill.
  2. You don't have the time or budget to film your content.
  3. Your content is highly technical with lots of charts, graphics, or other things that wouldn't come across well on video.
  4. Your content is frequently changing.
  5. Your content shouldn't be self-paced (ie, users need to learn it over a set period of time).
  6. You don't want a one-time purchase from your customer. You want to create recurring revenue.
  7. Your content doesn't justify the (typically) higher price of a course.
  8. You need more live or ongoing interaction than a course allows.

So, if an online course wouldn't be the best solution for your brand, what are some alternatives?

Other Ways to Sell Your Content

The good news is, there are other ways to sell your content! You don't have to stick with the online course format just because that's what everyone else is doing... or worse yet, just because you think that's what you should do.

Here are a few alternatives to traditional online courses.

1. Memberships

Of this list, memberships are most like online courses. They're typically video-based and students can learn at their own pace.

The big difference is that with memberships, students pay on a recurring basis (typically monthly, quarterly, or yearly) rather than one time, and they expect new content to be added.

Memberships are great if:

  • You have a plethora of content you can put out over time.
  • You want to count on the recurring revenue.
  • You have a decent-sized audience and can get members right away.

2. Ebooks

You might also see ebooks referred to as digital books, downloadable PDFs, or premium/paid workbooks.

These are simply a way to deliver your content in written format.

Ebooks are great because they can be a low-cost entry point for customers. They're easy and cheap to make and you can sell them at a low price point.

Ebooks are great if:

  1. You have a small amount of content you want to share.
  2. You have zero desire to be on camera.
  3. Your content is highly technical and students need to be able to come back and see it.

3. Webinars

Webinars (a combination of the words “web” and “seminar”) are live, virtual events. Your students have to tune in at a specific time to see the content.

Webinars are great because they're interactive. You can take questions from your students in real-time, which allows you to cater your content to the audience you have right in front of you.

Lastly, webinars typically serve one specific topic. When the student leaves the webinar, you should have helped them solve that problem (or know how to solve it when the time comes).

Webinars are great if:

  1. You want to create a more intimate experience for your students.
  2. You're comfortable speaking live (or are willing to get comfortable with it).
  3. You have a specific problem you want to help your students solve.

4. Workshops

Workshops are a bit of a hybrid between a webinar and an online course. They're pre-recorded so students can access them at any time, but they're typically shorter than an online course (while still solving one, specific problem like a webinar).

You can also have several workshops on your site at once and they can be accessed whenever your students needs them. Workshops are generally offered at a lower price point than a course.

Workshops are great if:

  1. You want to solve your audience's problem without creating an entire course.
  2. You want to offer your content at a lower price point and lower production value.
  3. You don't need live interaction.

5. Paid Newsletters

Paid newsletters are a fairly new concept, but they're becoming quite popular.

With a paid newsletter, you send your students consistent, high-value emails. The student pays a monthly fee (usually pretty low, like $4-$19) and gets your emails for as long as they're subscribed.

Paid newsletters allow you to send trendy/new content, keep your production value super low, and provide a lot of value to your audience.

Paid newsletters are great if:

  1. You want to send your students timely, relevant content on a regular basis without having to worry about production value.
  2. You have no desire to be on camera or record video content.
  3. You're a good writer and proficient at email.

6. Premium Podcasts

Premium podcasts are a great way to reach your audience if they're already engaged in listening to podcasts.

With premium podcasts, listeners pay to hear extra, bonus content that isn't available on the regular podcast feed. This could be more in-depth interviews, longer episodes, or simply ad-free content.

Premium podcasts are great if:

  1. Your audience is already listening to regular podcasts.
  2. You want to release regular and consistent audio-based content.
  3. You have a lot of content you can release over time.

7. Templates

Maybe your content is best suited for a template. You can package up a framework, software, or another template you're already using and sell it to your audience.

For example, say you help your audience keep their house tidy and organized. Maybe you can sell the checklist you use for organizing your kitchen, printable labels, or something else the customer can implement right away. You get the idea.

Templates are great if:

  1. Your content can be boiled down to one specific framework or tool.
  2. You have an engaged audience who is looking for a way to implement your content right away.
  3. Your content can be exported, packaged up, and/or printed easily.

8. Paid Communities

Last but not least, you can start a paid community. This could be done through Slack, a Facebook group, or some other forum where people can engage with each other and ask you questions.

With a paid community, you're essentially selling access to you (and other like-minded individuals). This is a great way to get more personal with your audience and provide one-on-one support.

Paid communities are great if:

  1. You want to engage with your audience on a personal level.
  2. You have the time to commit to being active in the community forum.
  3. You only want to create content as students ask for it.

Do any of these stand out to you? While we love a good online course, the options presented on this list might a better replacement (or supplement) to the traditional course model.

Don't be afraid to try new things and see what resonates the best with your audience!

Kyler Nixon