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BLOGMonetizing IP: Online Learning

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Business Development, Digital Strategy, Make It Happen Tipsheet, WebTagged as: , , ,

“The Internet wants to be free”: has been the internet anthem for decades. It has been sung by the academic world in the spirit of sharing knowledge, in the anti-spirit of corporate greed by anarchists, and by the “inbound marketing” crowd as a magnet to attract prospective clients. But at some point, intellectual property (IP) cannot be free: it has value in and of itself. And it costs money to develop.

Monetizing intellectual property can be done in a number of ways, including consulting, coaching, speaking (keynotes, workshops, webinars), books, advertising with podcasts, old-style DVDs and “programs”, implementation services, and selling related collateral (toolkits, posters, memory aids)

One of the most powerful – but also the least understood – ways to monetize IP is by selling it online. Not as a download, but as online learning. As there are so many different ways of doing this, choosing the right model and platform is critical.

There are two main types of platforms that are available:

  1. Learning Management Systems (LMS): These had their start from the online training/elearning world of decades ago, where a “class” went through a computer-based lesson. This usually consisted of a series of screens, often with cheesy animations, a test at the end, with a classroom management and tracking dashboard for the administrator. These systems have “made the leap” to the cloud, and now can handle individual learners, not just groups. The LMS is likely SCORM-compliant, which means that the learning structure can be exported from one system and imported into another. LMS-based systems work best for sequentially-based learning that requires an evaluative component. LMS is typically sold using a “course” model.
  2. Membership Sites: This model works best when the user (the learner) may require access to any particular piece of learning, at any particular point in time. The learning content is structured for just-in-time learning, and usually does not include an evaluative component. Membership sites got their start from the web where users might consume some learning for free, more learning upon registration (“freemium”) and even more learning for a monthly fee. An example of this is LinkedIn Learning (formerly

Implementing either of these models can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Do it yourself: This approach wires together WordPress (that holds the content), a membership plug-in (that controls access) and a database/ecommerce system. The benefit is complete flexibility in design and 100% of all revenue is yours.
  2. Cloud software framework: This approach rents software to you for your exclusive use; the software does it all, but may not be a perfect fit.
  3. Shared Platform: A shared platform hosts your content along with many others’ content. There may be a monthly cost of hosting, as well as a revenue split for any content that is purchased. The key benefit is the “network-effect”: the more content that is on the system the more it becomes the destination for potential learners. The con (beyond the cost and the reduced revenue) is that the ultimate control of the platform is with another organization…whose goals may (at some point) diverge from your own.

Choosing an approach: An argument can be made for each model, but the “best” depends on your goals:

  • Looking for the cheapest? Look at Shared platforms or Cloud software framework;
  • Looking for complete control? Look at Do it yourself;
  • Looking to share marketing (and clients) with others? Look at Shared Platforms;
  • Looking at Selling beyond the IP? Look at Do it yourself or LMS;
  • Looking to certify people? Look at an LMS.

Finally, there are many different business models – here are some of the more popular:

  • All-you-can-eat buffet: A set monthly subscription fee that covers 100% of all content.
  • Tiered access:  Each tier (eg Bronze/Silver/Gold) pays a different monthly rate, and gets access to different levels of content.
  • Timed release access:  For a monthly fee, more content gets unlocked as time goes by; this provides an incentive to stay, and rewards longer-term members.
  • Course fees:  For a set fee, a user gets access to a single “course”
  • A la Carte fees:  Users can preview any content, but to access it completely requires a purchase.
  • Certification fee:  Users get access to all of the content for free, but must pay a fee to take a test to be certified.
  • Indirect fees:  This model does not charge for access directly, but builds it into the cost of a related service, such as consulting, coaching, or speaking.
  • Sponsorship:  This model provides a venue for sponsors to either include courses of their own, or pay for product placement within your courses, or pay for advertising, as a way to defray the user fees.

Of course, it is possible to use several of these models at the same time: provide All-you-can-eat buffet access, but also sell a la carte.  Host the content within your own membership site, while also selling it through a shared platform.  The key determinant of what/when/how, is how well the plan supports your organization’s overall strategy.


Inventory your IP, and put a line in the sand: what should be free, and what should be sold. Then start asking some questions: is there any group within your organization thinking about membership sites and Learning Management Systems, as part of your marketing strategy? If the answer is “no one”, then find someone who is.

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