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What's the difference between an online course and a program?

The ultimate online question- that no one has the answer for (until now).

Laptop open with multiple video participants and a green mug
What's the difference between an online course and program?

You're fully booked with 1:1 clients, you've got more people booking in calls to work together- which means you're doing a great job! This is exactly what you hoped for when you set out on your online business journey.

And now your business is all consuming. It's taking over your life. Then a business coach suggests its

time to scale- by creating a program or course- because you can help more people in less time (whoop!). But how do you decide which is better for you to go with? By the end of this article, I'm hoping you'll be clear on exactly which is the best to choose for you.

Program or course? What does this even mean?

Both a program and course are a way to learn- to consume information for a specific purpose.

You probably have a good idea between course and program if you went to college or university. A program is generally a collection of courses or modules that contribute to learning a particular subject. Eg a Business program might include modules or courses on marketing, sales, operations, products etc. A course could therefore be focused on a specific skill eg: how to use Instagram as part of a marketing strategy.

In a UK University setting your degree would be classed as a degree programme, comprised of a number of modules/courses.

This doesn't REALLY help us decide which is the better option lets dive deeper

In the online space there are people who will help you create both courses and programs but again its not very clear. As I like to say, this gives us OPPORTUNITY to do things differently and create our own NEW ideas on what these mean. Having both a background in education and experience in the online space- these are my ideas.

An online program VS course when it comes to lesson content

This is where we can use the university definition as a basis. Think about the content that you want to share- if you have a large amount of content that cover different subjects within a broader subject (eg business) and for your clients to get results they need to have access to it all- then you are looking at creating a program.

However, if you want to teach people ONE subject eg: Instagram for business and it won't be LOTS of content, then you are more likely to look at creating a course.

An online program VS course when it comes to support

This is where experience comes to play- where that frustration of being booked out right now pays off. Think about how your clients get results when working with you 1:1 and this will give you a good idea of which may work for you.

If you do the work for them and you are looking to teach clients how to do it themselves with very little support then a course is most likely the best option because this can again be a shorter learning experience.

However, if your clients need more coaching or mentoring OR what you do NEEDS contact with you (or another human) then a program is probably the direction you need to go in: as they are likely to need LONGER to get the results you promise.

An online program VS course when it comes to your business vision

Your business vision is incredibly important when it comes to creating a program or course. Yes, putting your client at the heart of your experience is important however, YOU are putting your heart into the program or course. If you aren't invested in how it will serve YOU in your business then you will struggle to market and sell it.

So, when we think about your vision this is not forever. It's more about what will work in the next few years- 3 max. And its more about HOW you work and what will fit.

For example, if you want to have a learning experience as a form of passive income- maybe because you want to have less hours in your business or because your business is a side hustle, then a course may be the best option, as you can eventually make it DIY (without any involvement from you or very little). A good example of this is Denise Duffield Thomas's Money Bootcamp- where the direct support is a monthly Q&A. You can also see how this ticks the boxes for the above course options as well.

If you're looking for your learning experience to be the core offer in your business, than a more coherent program works well. Your clients will get to know you and your expertise and by getting them results you will start to build a reputation in your industry. You can then develop your own methodology which will help you stand out further and make the impact you want. There are a lot of good examples of this online.

In summary, if you are looking at teaching one course, your students will need little direct contact and you are looking for an option with very little involvement from you- then a signature course would be your best option.

However, if you have are looking to teach a large amount of content, your students will need specific human contact to get the best results and you are looking for this to be your core offer/at the heart of your business than a program would be your best bet.

So, now you know which option to go for you have no reason not to get started.


Looking to start the next online obsession with your group program? Get my free guide to help you make more impact and profit by getting your clients results here.

Rachel Aiken helps experts create obsessive online programs for more impact and profit. Her skills are a combination of online business strategy, instructional design and client experience from 20 years in the UK Education Sector.


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