The Difference Between a Webinar and an Online Course

Posted March 25, 2019 | Laura Christianson

I love attending webinars, not just for the content, but to study how webinars are structured.

Now that I’m hosting my own webinars, I realized something significant:

Most people don’t understand the difference between a webinar and an online course.

The Difference Between a Webinar and an Online Course |


The word “webinar” is a squishup of the phrase “web-based seminar.” A webinar is often used as a promotional tool for an online course, a premium service, or a product. The webinar topic is closely aligned with whatever the host is selling.

To attend a webinar, users register in advance with their name and email. To log in, they click a link to the webinar (which they receive via email), which sends them to the service that hosts the webinar.

Some webinar systems log users in automatically; others require users to input the name and/or email with which they registered.

Webinars are often referred to as:

  • Free online workshop
  • Master class
  • Free training
  • Web-based seminar
  • Interactive training

Typically, a webinar presentation is delivered live. Sometimes the webinar host does a “talking head” presentation, where participants watch the host deliver their content.

In other cases, participants listen to audio voiceover of the host while they watch a slide deck, video, or demonstration.

During a webinar, participants can interact with the host by posting comments, asking questions, and voting in polls. Some webinar systems allow the host to activate audio for attendees, which means people can ask questions that all participants can hear (rather than typing a question in a Comments box). The host and the attendee(s) can have a one-on-one conversation during the webinar.

Many webinar hosts send registrants a recorded replay that’s available for a few days.

Types of Webinars

While many webinars are delivered live, some are pre-recorded, which means you can instantly view the content.

I’m experimenting with a hybrid webinar. I pre-recorded and edited my video/slide deck presentation, and while the video is playing, I interact, live, with participants in the comments area.

I’m enjoying this method because I know that my presentation is polished and professional. I can be fully invested in questions viewers have, and answer them throughout the webinar.

Webinar Structure

Webinars have three main segments:

1. Introduction – During the first few minutes, the host greets attendees, asks a few “softball” questions, and explains the key takeaways attendees are going to get.

2. Instruction – The host teaches on a topic that’s closely aligned to the program, product, or service they are promoting. Instruction typically lasts from 30-60 minutes.

3. Promotion – At the end of the instruction time, the host seamlessly transitions into “selling” mode. They tell attendees about their product and its benefits. They address concerns, fears, and objections, and they usually offer incentives (aka, bonuses) that entice people to buy, right now.

Online Course

Often, the webinar host wants people to buy an online course. Other names for an online course are:

  • Online training program
  • E-course
  • Digital course
  • Web-based course

Unlike a webinar, which is a stand-alone presentation that lasts an hour or two, an online course dives deep into the subject matter, similar to what you’d get when enrolling in a university course.

An online course delivers a series of lessons to a web browser or mobile device. To access the course materials, the student logs in to the course web page with a username and password.

Where Online Courses Live

Online courses are housed on a Learning Management System (LMS), a type of website built to handle the unique needs of course creators and students.

If you’re thinking of creating an online course and want to compare systems, I found these reviews of LMS on the Mirasee blog helpful:

  1. Kajabi
  2. LearnDash
  3. LifterLMS
  4. Ruzuku
  5. Thinkific
  6. Teachable
  7. Teachery
  8. WP Courseware

If you use the content management system, several plugins are available for creating a course within a WordPress site. That’s what I did. I use the Zippy Courses plugin and am happy with its ease of use and performance. (Here’s a review of the Zippy Courses plugin, and here’s a review of the Zippy Courses all-in-one platform – two different entities.)

Online Course Structure

Online courses can be live or recorded and can include “talking head” videos, slide deck presentations, recorded video clips, interactive video discussions – you name it.

Similar to any course you’d take, online courses are divided into Units/Modules and Lessons.

Free vs. Paid Online Courses

Some online courses are free and are used as promotional tools for a “premium” product or service. A free course is referred to as a “mini-course” or “mini-training,” and is usually delivered as a series of automated emails.

I enrolled in a free mini-course that was delivered via recorded videos within a private Facebook group. The instruction was top-notch, and my positive experience convinced me that my money would be well spent if I enrolled in the instructor’s paid course.

Most courses cost money. I’ve seen courses that range from $9 to $50,000 USD. (Yes, you read that correctly. FIFTY THOUSAND smackers.)

Typically, a paid mini-course costs $9-$99. These self-guided courses translate a complex process into simple, easy-to-follow instructions. They’re geared towards helping students take the next baby step forward.

Introductory” courses usually range in price from $100-$500. These courses go more in depth on a topic and may include some interactive components, such as live video training with the instructor, group coaching sessions, a private Facebook group for students, and some attractive bonus materials.

Then you have “comprehensive” or “mega” courses, which start at $500 and cost as much $50,000. Mega courses present a comprehensive, step-by-step system that includes pretty much everything you could ever want to know about a topic. They almost always include a variety of ways for students to have long-term, one-to-one access with the instructor.

Course Promotion Tools

Free webinars and mini-courses are a great way to promote a paid online course. Other common promotional tools for your marketing arsenal:

  1. Landing pages
  2. An email series
  3. Podcasts and guest interviews on other people’s podcasts
  4. Blog posts and guest blog posts on other people’s blogs
  5. Live events
  6. Free ebooks
  7. Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups
  8. Facebook challenges
  9. Social media
  10. SlideShare
  11. Advertising (particularly Facebook ads)
  12. Affiliate partners (often referred to as JV Partners, which stands for Joint Venture partners)
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One response to “The Difference Between a Webinar and an Online Course”

  1. GreenEyedGuide says:

    This was really helpful! Thank you!

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