Memberships and Online Courses – where to start

By far the most common question I get asked, and that I see being asked, in groups is “what tools should I be using to setup my site for a membership or online courses”.

This is a very deep conversation simply because there are so many variables to consider and there are many great tools available to choose from.

Having said this, and since my specialty leans more towards beginners or those who are tech-challenged, I’ve put together this post of my recommendations.


The first consideration before choosing the right tools for you is to know what it is that you plan to build and where you’re likely wanting it go in the future. Which can be difficult to know when just getting started.

Some of the components to be considering whether or not you want to have them as part of your system (now or in the future) include:

  • blog
  • courses (one-time purchases)
  • membership (recurring fees)
  • email marketing
  • lead capture
  • lead magnets with automated delivery
  • forum
  • dripped content
  • affiliates
  • upsells
  • coupons
  • gamification
  • eCommerce
  • digital downloads

Basically, you need to know if you’re going to offer any content marketing, with free resources, and free downloads that you use to attract prospects and to then capture their email addresses so that you can then nurture them through email sequences.

You need to know if you’re going to be offering courses that follow a structured path and whether or not you need any means of tracking and rewarding student progress.

You need to know if you’re looking to sell individual courses for a set price or if you’re looking to structure it as a membership that they pay an ongoing monthly or annual fee to access.

You need to know if you’ll be providing additional content and features and services that should be a part of your site.

These components aren’t all inclusive, but they should give you a taste of the various factors that you should be considering.

TIP:If you know of an existing site that has a general structure that you like, send us the link and we can tell you which tools they’re using and which tools would achieve a similar end result. Complete the form below:

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The most common setup that I recommend to beginners, or anyone creating their first online course, is Teachable. There are other similar platforms available, but I have hands on experience with Teachable and have found them to be excellent to work with on many levels.

Even if you’re planning to do a membership approach and not just individual courses, Teachable has you covered.

If none of your content is going to be in the form of actual courses with modules and lessons, then Teachable may not be a perfect fit. You can absolutely think outside the box and make adjustments to have it work for you. But it is natively structured to work well for presenting courses.

You can however, easily combine different courses into a bundled package that you can then charge a monthly membership fee for. You can also offer payment plans.

I recommend starting out with the free plan and becoming familiar with the system. There will be some limitations on the free plan – for example, you won’t be able to schedule your content to drip out to members, that’s a paid plan feature. But you’ve got lots of work to do before you’re even ready for that feature, if it’s something that you want. So that’s why I recommend starting with the free plan and getting familiar with how it works.

Below are links to some Teachable schools that may give you some inspiration:


My second most common recommendation is a recipe of tools configured within a self-hosted WordPress site. These tools aren’t the cheapest, nor are they the most expensive. But they are all tools that I have personally tested and the companies have proven to provide excellent customer service and support.

Domain Name: Hover

Hosting: WP Engine

Analytics: Google

Thrive Themes – on their membership plan. This will give you the theme (look and feel) to work with, landing pages, opt-in forms, email integration, a visual builder, quizzes and much more.

LearnDash LMS – this is only necessary if any courses will be a part of your site.

WishList Member – this is your membership platform that will manage content protection, membership levels and access, payments and more.

Additional plugins that I recommend:

  • bbPress (for a forum if desired)
  • Content Aware Sidebars
  • Duplicate Post
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
  • JetPack
  • LearnDash & BBPress Integration
  • LearnDash Course Grid
  • LearnDash ProPanel
  • Simple 301 Redirects
  • Theme My Login
  • Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit
  • Under Construction
  • WP Achievements
  • WP Edit
  • Yoast SEO

You’re Not Alone

While you can certainly jump into these tools and work through figuring them all out on your own, I want you to know that you don’t have to.

Panoptic Foundations is all about providing you with the consultations, the strategic planning, the help to get setup and the training to move things forward and keep them moving.

If you’re ready to get serious about launching your online membership or courses and you want to remain in control of the driver’s seat – then check out the custom package we offer that will get you to where you want to be sooner rather than later – click the button below:

Tech Consulting/Training Package

If you’re interested in seeing more of a comparison between some of the other tools that are available, grab my free PDF of Membership Site Tool Comparison here.

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