Business With Content: E-Learning

This is the third article of the series “Business with content”. Read the second one here.

You may call it online university. Or virtual classroom. Or interactive learning environment. Online coaching. Whatever. It does not matter. This is a business where you or your team are teaching your customer some stuff. On a topic you know better than them.

E-Learning Chalkboard

This is in essence a subscription / membership site with slightly different operational logic.

What are the main differences to the typical subscription sites?

  • E-learning sites usually have some linear structure. A given course will have some kind of start and end, not necessarily time-restricted. The start would be some introduction to the topic, the end – some wrap-up. And between them you will gradually teach your users the topic. The typical membership sites are usually not that linear – they just give the user access to the protected content and the user can choose the order of reading it.
  • Homework / assignments. Most e-learning sites include some kind of assignments and exercises to help the users study the matter. This is not a hard requirement, and often typical premium content sites may also have them.
  • Test / exams. Usually you will want to assess users or let them self-assess themselves to figure out how well they learned the material. Some (most) LMS-es will let you tie-up the completion of a course or lesson to successfully completing a quiz.
  • Certification. Although not a requirement, most e-learning sites will issue some kind of certification or badges to let others know that you have completed a course. The certificates can be issued in internal format or for example as Open badges etc.
  • Charging is typically per course or per module rather than recurring (per month). But you can sometimes combine both approaches.

So in general, e-learning has a bit of more formal structure and puts some emphasis over assessing users and confirming they have learned the subject they have to learn.

Based on how linear your premium content is and how much of an authority you are in the subject you are teaching you may choose to create an e-learning site rather than a typical subscription content site.

But there are other things to consider: the advantages and disadvantages from business point of view.

Advantages of e-learning

Or why would you want to start an e-learning site rather than a recurring subscription site? One reason said above is the structure of your content, but it is a reason, not an advantage. Why would you want, from a business point of view, choose this option if your content does not require it?

Believe me, there are reasons:

  • Higher one-time revenue. While subscription sites are typical priced under $50 per month, it’s not an exception to have online course priced at $99, $199 or even $999. Yes, it’s one time fee but you can then offer more courses to the same person and earn even more.
  • People are more inclined to sign-up. Because typical e-learning sites charge per course and not recurring, your customers are not afraid of long time commitment and recurring costs. So often it could be easier to get sign-ups than for a subscriptions site.
  • Higher authority. Of course this is just perceived authority (usually). An e-learning site with tests, badges and certificates is usually perceived as higher authority than just some site with protected content. Even if it’s just a single person behind it. Of course, as with all membership sites, your content must be really good.
  • You can start with less content. With typical subscription sites you really need a lot of content to start charging a monthly fee. On the other hand, you can start an LMS with a single course, get some revenue and then gradually add more courses or modules.
  • You can upsell. Customers who have completed a given course and liked it are very likely to buy another more advanced course on the topic, or a course on a related topic. As long as you can produce great content the opportunity to grow is nearly unlimited.

The downsides

  • No recurring revenue. In a typical e-learning site you sell a course and once completed, the user does not need to pay more. Compared to a subscription site that charges per month this *might* mean less revenue from a single customer.
  • You need authoritative and focused content. Subscription sites can go with less organized, less focused content, a few tools here and there. If you are selling a course on the other hand you need to have clear objective: what are you going to teach and what will the customer will learn when they finish the course.
  • More complicated to organize. Related to the above, a typical course site is more complicated technically and organizationally. You have to plan the course structure, you have to create assignments, tests, certificates etc. Or at least some of this.

The technical side

As already said in the previous articles, we are a company focused on WordPress development so it’s natural for me to recommend building your e-learning site on WordPress. But this article won’t be objective if I don’t mention Moodle as the de-facto standard in e-learning. My opinion on Moodle vs WordPress has already been stated here. Which does not mean you have to agree. If you have a very complex e-learning site in mind and can manage Moodle’s complexity, and know for sure you’ll need features that only Moodle has – go ahead with it.

In most cases, the 99% probably, WordPress and a good LMS like our free Namaste! LMS or Sensei (just to name a few) will do the work very well.

You may also want to add (if not already included):

  • A plugin for tests / quizzes
  • A plugin for email marketing
  • Some interactive content plugins depending on what you are going to teach
  • A community / forum plugin like bbPress or BuddyPress

You may want to prepare some kind of certificates, become an Open Badges issuer, or even integrate your e-learning system with SCORM or Tin Can (this really depends on how official and technical your subject is).

One important problem with both subscription sites and premium courses (e-learning) is that all your content is private and not visible to visitors and search engines. This means you need a sound way to attract traffic (visitors) and make them sign up for your site. This may involve paid ads, affiliate programs and what not.

But there is also another way to sell content. Read on in the next article.