How To Monetize Online Courses? 9 eLearning Pricing Models You Must Know

Before you create your course online you need to decide how you will monetize your training from once off payment to reaccuring subscriptions and more. Let me walk you through all the different ways you can make money from your training courses and tutorials.

Here are the pricing models you can use to make money on your online course:

  1. Free
  2. Monetized with Ads
  3. Monetized with Affiliates
  4. Once Off Membership
  5. Recurring Membership
  6. Pay Per Course
  7. Pay Per Registered User
  8. Concurrent Licensing
  9. Monthly Subscription
  10. Payment Plans

Now that you know what ways you can monetize your training let’s dig into these and get more specific on exactly how you might set those up with your course.

1. Free

If you are running a non-profit or you are running community service training or just don’t want to charge for a course you can give it away for free. You may also just give the training away for free to generate traffic to monitise later through one of the other pricing models below later. There is plenty of free training on different subjects out there on the internet.

Here are some example of free training available on the web:

Are free online courses actually free? You may be surprised though that while some seem free it is monetized with ads and/or affiliates.  So therefore the person making the training still earns an income from creating the course while you get the training at no cost other than seeing a few ads.

We will discuss the ad and affiliate pricing models in the next two sections.

Ways to host free trianing content are: Courses on YouTube, Courses on Content Management Systems (CMS) (like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress), On your custom website, Or a Learning Management System (A specialist form of CMS like Moodle).

Advantages:  Cheap to set up for the cost of cheap hosting and a domain name or getting a free WordPress website or free website from other website hosting companies. Great way to build an online audience to then change to a monetization model later when you have traffic to your site.

Disadvantages: You will pay the small costs for the ongoing maintenance. The time creating and maintaining your training content will be where the major effort is.

2. Monetize with Ads

How do you monetize learning? The simpliest way is to put ads into your training content. Most people start with Google Ads which pays the least of the ad networks but will let you start with very little traffic and then when your traffic grows you can go to professional ad networks for better income.

Here are some ad networks you can use:

  • 0 to 10,000 – Google Adsense – $1 to $5 / 1000 page views
  • 10,000 to 100,000 – Ezoic – $10 to $50 / 1000 page views
  • 100,000 and up – Mediavine – $20 to $100 / 1000 page views

There are heaps of ad networks out there these days and be careful to test them before committing as they will slow your website down and that will affect you website traffic growth.  So getting decent traffic is always the best advice before including ads and you are aiming for over 5,000 page views per month.  The second thing is that not all ad networks are as honest in reporting or commissions as they may seem.  The ones recommended above have good industry standing and can definately be trusted.

IMPORTANT: There are certain topics in the YMYL (Your money or your life) that the ad networks won’t go near like sex, guns, finance, medical. If you are a certified expert in Finance or a Doctor they will put ads on your website or otherwise you are likely to be rejected. This is a google adsense restriction where all the ad networks as well as having their own network of advertisers also big on google adsense as well.

NOTE: The amounts above are only indicative of what you may get and depending on your training course category you may get way more or way less depending on the supply and demand of advertisers and how much they are willing to pay.  You can browse these in Google AdSense and see how much you would be charged for each category as a minimal ad revenue guide.  Keep in mind it won’t show you the competition in that area.

3. Monetize with Affiliates

An Affiliate sale is where you recommend a product or service in your training material that you generally use and suggest for the people taking your training or in your industry.  If someone clicks on that link and purchases that product or services then you get a kickback just like if you were a salesperson selling that product for the company themselves.  This is very common and there are heaps of companies that offer affiliate programs directly or through an affiliate network.

You will often see Affiliates used in conjunction with Ads on most websites where the ads provides the base income and affiliates adds the extra mostly bigger income if marketed correctly. It is easy to get a conversion of around 3% to 5% of traffic to purchase through an affiliate link and more depending on whether you create a product page and even training around their products or service.

How do I affiliate an online course? To add affiliates to your online course simply integrate their link into your training in an appropriate place and sell the link. If you want to be more advance make it a link to a product or servcies page on your website and sell it even better by adding value like a training video on how to use and and explain what value it has to your customers.

Here are some Affiliate Networks you can check out:

NOTE: Amazon Associates used to be a popular affiliate but with them scalping sales and lowering commisions all the time there are much better affiliate networks to be part of to get higher percentages.

4. Once Off Membership

There are lots of websites that will charge you a normally high price once-off membership payment for access to all the training and resources on the website.  This style of payment is where they get access to a set amount of content like a training course and a community of peers. You will put in a lot of effort upfront to create the content and then you will just do basic maintenance and admin of the website.

How do I start a membership course? You can use one of the many platforms like Kantra, Uscreen, MemberPress or Memberspace. My advice is to own your site by buying a domain name, getting wordpress hosting and adding the memberpress wordpress plugin. This way you can fully customise your costs and course without restriction.

PRO TIP: You can use someone on Fiverr to set this all up for you and my recommended person to use is Ygor Silva as he does great work and has helped me personally with many websites before getting on fiverr.

Advantages: This is simple to manage and with the higher price membership you can add more value for your members.  You will have to make sure the training and resources you provide are of the same value as the membership for people to value it.  Once you have created the content you will generally go low maintenance and just update this material.  Your members won’t expect more content as it is a single payment for access.

Disadvantages: You need to keep marketing your website as your revenue only comes from new sign-ups. So it is good to know your Customer Acquisition Cost on this one that is a lot less than your membership fee. Especially if you are using Google Ads to market.

5. Recurring Membership

This method of payment is similar to the payment method above but with one slight change.  You will be charging normally a yearly or monthly membership fee.  This will change the expectations of the customers.  Firstly you are not charging for access to a set amount of content like above you are charging access for the initial and extra content you will add each month or year. Creating and being active in a members only forum is critical so have value for these types of sites normally.

Advantages: This means you have a steady income with yearly renewals happening every month and to increase your income you just need to attract new members.  For this one you are looking at the new signups vs leaving members and as long as you are gaining more than you are loosing this is a great model.

Disadvantages: Every year for members to stay you will have to show you are providing more value to them.  You will have to engage with your members and make sure they are feeling they are getting real value from your products and/or services.

6. Pay Per Course

This has to be the most popular model for training delivery online due to its simple nature.  You pay for a course and you get access to that course.  With so much competition though and normally hosting your content on eLearning platforms you lose the ability to price and discount your training. 

You also are at the whim of the website you put your content on.  Websites like Udemy and Skillshare own your audience.  This is great if you want them to do your marketing for you, but they will charge you for it and strictly control your pricing and how you deliver your content.

The alternative is for you to set up a similar website like this of your own where you can get people to pay per course as well. This will mean however that you will have to market the website yourself and build your audience. You could simply do this on an LMS like Moodle or with any of the CMS products like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.

Very few people create a custom website anymore because it adds a layer of complexity to when you want to sell your business as well the initial and ongoing maintence costs.  It means they have to hire a web developer for changes or to have those skills themselves.

Advantages: Students only pay for the courses they want.  You can keep creating courses to build a library of them to sell to students and if you host them yourself you can set the value of the training course yourself.  It is a lot easier if you use Udemy or Skillshare if you just want to concentrate on content and students but you give up pricing and they own the students.

Disadvantages: There will be a lot more marketing if you are selling multiple courses and you won’t be able to charge as much with the current expectations for most online training being at $10 to $20 USD per course.  To get a hirer price per course you need to add more perceived or real value to the equation.

7. Pay Per User

This is common with big companies or whole educational institutions like universities where they will register all of their staff for access to the training material and pay per head regardless of whether they access the material or not. 

You will see this as enterprise licensing on websites like PluralSight or Udemy as well as many other websites.  This style of access is normally in line with corporate requirements to provide staff with opportunities to add courses to their Professional Development Plans (PDP).

If a single-user access to the website is $30 a month for instance then corporate get a bulk discount for enrolling all of their staff and may only pay $100 per year for each staff member.  This wholesale pricing in this model is normally based on large student or staff numbers.  Another website that is well known for doing this is LinkedIn Learning (formally

Advantages: This means you will be aiming at the big fish and a few customers with many enrolments will be a huge amount of revenue for you. You can still have another payment model for single users coming directly to the site.

Disadvantages: You will have to have a lot of training courses to entice those big fish and this is normally done only when a website gets to a large enough size with a reasonable amount of content.  Losing a single large customer can mean a huge change in revenue.

8. Concurrent Users

This is not a pricing model seen much in the educational sphere but more by software licensing and still worth a quick discussion.  Instead of having huge amounts of enrolments to manage you could give a company access to your training with only 10 users at a time for instance.

They may have 1000 employees but only the first 10 get access for example, and until one of them signs out another user can not log in.  You can see why this is not as popular as you could earn much more with the pay per user model above.

You have to think of how you manage the concurrent users and why go to that effort when a simplier more profitable model exists. The only reason I can think for this one is high priced per user access costs for specialised training.

There are specialist scenarios where you may only have 10 real-world physical training kits they can use so you are limited to 10 concurrent users. If they wanted more users at a time you may have to buy more equipment. You could manage this scenario with an access schedule or a little custom code that gave people set time frame access like an hour before kicking them out for the next person to have a go.

Advantages:  Great for specialist training scenarios.

Disadvantages: Limits your income so you would have to charge more.

9. Payment Plans

If you have a high priced course that is a large up front payment normally like vocational or university courses this is a great option for your students.  It is also great for private training companies that are teaching someone how to be a specific job role like the many online programming bootcamps.

These types of large cost courses need to have a big outcome for the student and it is not just an impulse buy like you might do with a low-cost pay per course scenario.  They often come with an employment guarantee or skill set that matches a real-world job. They often give a government or industry certification or qualification.

You can pick a payment plan that suits the income of your students to make the payments more palatable so as to increase your enrolments.  You can even get paid upfront for this style payment by handing the management on the debt over to the payment plan provider. These are different in each country but if you just search for “credit card payment plan provider” you will find them.

They pay you the course fee minus their fee and will look after the debt from there with the student.  Or alternately they will manage the installment payments and just let you know if they don’t pay.  For small training businesses, this gets rid of the headache of chasing debt and managing payments this can have.

There are also plugins for Content Management Systems (CMS) and Learning Management Systems (LMS) that will handle this for you as well like in the WooCommerce plugin.

Advantages: Great for large courses where there is real-world job value or training value for the students and it allows you to even out your income over many months rather than having huge payment months and some with no income at all.

Disadvantages: Managing the payment plan and what you do with students that complete the training but fail to pay the rest of the payments.  Or never start and want refunds.  You need to be very careful about your refund policy on these styles of payments as they are large sums and can be effected by each countries local laws.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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