4 Key Differences Between An Online Course And A Signature Program

by | Aug 25, 2022 | Business

If you’ve been thinking about adding a passive income stream to your business, then you’ve probably heard the “online business experts” talk about how online courses and signature programs are two of the best ways to increase your income without adding more hours of work for you. But maybe you’re not sure which one is right for your business and, to be honest, you’re not even totally sure what the difference is between them.

These two phrases are thrown around a lot in the online business world and oftentimes used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different when you get down to the nitty gritty. Let’s break down the difference between online courses and signature programs here so you know what’s right for your business.

4 Key Differences Between An Online Course And A Signature Program

First, a quick rundown of what each of these paid offerings mean…

What Is An Online Course?

An online course is a virtual class where an instructor teaches a specific concept, usually in the form of “how to” content. The content is created in advance and organized into an online course platform like Kajabi, and the students can go through it on their own time as a self-paced training. Students learn the step-by-step process through pre-recorded video or audio lessons on how to do that specific thing. By the end of the course, the student (hopefully) will learn everything they need to know to achieve their goal in that area.

Examples of online courses would be things like: How To Speak Spanish In 60 Days, How To Take Professional Photos With Your Phone, or How To Start And Grow Your Email List.

What Is A Signature Program?

A signature program is similar in that it likely also will have pre-recorded lessons and content for the participants to go through on their own time. But, that’s really where the similarities end.

A signature program is a group coaching experience where participants are guided by a coach, practitioner, or mentor through a journey from where they are (point A) to where they want to be (point B). This is typically done through pre-recorded lessons and content but also with live group coaching calls, Q&A sessions, a private community forum, a workbook or journal, other downloadable guides and resources, and possibly even opportunities for 1:1 coaching.

It’s a supportive group experience that helps participants overcome a problem or struggle, achieve a goal, and learn long-term strategies while being a part of a community of like-minded people.

Examples of good signature program topics would be something like: Heal Your Gut For Good, Balance Your Hormones Naturally, Master Your Mindset So You Can Manifest Your Wildest Dreams.

Now that we’re clear on what both an online course and signature program are, let’s dive into the differences so you can decide what paid offer to include in your wellness business.

4 Key Differences Between An Online Course And A Signature Program

The Difference Between An Online Course And A Signature Program

Key Difference #1: Hands-Off vs Support

An online course is typically a hands-off experience between the instructor and student. Since all of the content is created in advance, once the course is organized into the course platform, students can go through it on their own with little to no direct contact to the instructor.

One of the best and most valuable aspects of a signature program is the support that comes along with the journey. Typically, the coach or practitioner is available for questions, coaching, clarity, and guidance as their participants make their way through the program. This support comes in the form of live coaching and Q&A calls, a private community forum, and even the option for 1-on-1 sessions.

The cool thing here is that, even though your clients feel like they’re being fully supported and guided as part of your program, it’s only taking the coach a few hours a week max to provide that support (for example, a 60-minute live call every other week and a few minutes per day in the private community).

Key Difference #2: DIY vs. Community

When someone signs up for an online course, they know they’re signing up to go through it DIY-style. They’ll get access to all of the content and lessons they need to learn what they want to learn, and it’s their responsibility to go through it on their own time (which means there’s a low completion rate of online courses).

Signature programs have a big community aspect to them because of the private community platform (think FB groups or Slack channels) and the live virtual calls that act as meetups for the group. Typically, signature programs are cohort-based so there’s a group of like-minded people going through it together. Not only does being in a group help with that warm, fuzzy feeling of support and camaraderie, but it also acts as an accountability partner, so participants are much more likely to stay engaged and committed!

Key Difference #3: How-To vs. Transformation

Online courses teach someone how to do something. It’s very straightforward with step-by-step instructions that, when followed, will yield the desired results (again, hopefully…totally depends on if the online course is actually a GOOD online course). Going back to my examples from earlier, think about a course on how to take professional photos with your phone. The steps for a course would be something like:

  1. Change the settings on your phone
  2. Find good lighting
  3. Position your subject properly
  4. Edit to get your desired results

(Clearly, I’m NOT a photographer! 😆)

There’s a very clear path of things TO DO to achieve the course’s promise.

A signature program is focused on taking people through a transformation. Your program will guide people on a journey that provides tools, resources, education, experiences, and support to help them reach their goals, eliminate a problem, or experience a change. This transformation is more fluid and nuanced than a step-by-step system and thus requires the additional support, guidance, and community that comes with a signature program.

Key Difference #4: Low Price vs High Value

There are very different price points between online courses and signature programs. Because an online course is hands-off with little to no support and a more DIY-style to learning, the price point is typically lower pretty low, averaging under $500.

The additional support, community, and live coaching/Q&A/meetups bring with them a higher price point. These extras that aren’t a part of an online course make a signature program such a high-value experience that, even with a higher price tag, it’s an irresistible offer to your clients and will be easier to market, sell, and fill your groups!


Is An Online Course Or Signature Program Best For Your Business?

Of course, there is no one right answer as to whether you should add an online course or signature program to your business (maybe you can have both eventually!) but, here’s a great question to help guide your decision:

Are you an instructor teaching someone how to do something OR are you a coach, practitioner, or mentor guiding your clients through a process or transformation?

What I’ve found in working with hundreds of health and wellness business owners is that most wellness businesses do best with a signature program because the work you’re doing with clients simply can’t be totally hands-off. With health and wellness, there are a lot of nuances and the need for a little extra support. People have questions and want to know they will be supported along the journey. It IS their health after all, not something to DIY. Also, your clients will love being part of a group of people going through something similar!

If you’re ready to learn how to add a signature program to your business, be sure to catch my FREE masterclass going on now! ⬇️ 

create your own signature program

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Let me just come right out and say it—I'm obsessed with the group program business model, especially for those in the wellness industry. Adding an online program to my nutrition practice was the thing that changed my business and life forever in the best way possible....


Hey there, I'm Shawn!

I’m obsessed with nitro cold brew, 90% dark chocolate, and helping coaches and practitioners build a business they love. With nothing but a passion for helping others and the desire to never have a boss again, I quit the corporate world and built my own million dollar coaching business over the past decade. Now, I help others do the same.


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