What’s The Difference Between A Webinar Vs. An Online Course?

Posted by BeaconLive
What’s The Difference Between A Webinar Vs. An Online Course? | BeaconLive

Use This Guide To Determine Whether An Online Course Or A Webinar Will Help Your Company Meet Its Goals

eLearning offers convenience and effectiveness for people looking to enhance their skills from the comfort of their home or office. 


With the popularity of virtual learning, it’s easy to confuse different approaches like webinars and online courses. It’s easy to interchange the two eLearning content strategies since they offer a virtual way to gain skills and knowledge. 


However, it’s crucial to pinpoint the difference between an online course and a webinar to determine which would best fit your brand’s needs and goals. 


The purpose of each method is to serve different audiences and help companies meet their event goals. Choosing the incorrect eLearning method could cause your attendees to miss your message, which prevents you from meeting your virtual event goals and objectives. 


Let’s dive in and learn what each virtual event entails, how they differ from each other, and the pros and cons of each. 


What Is A Webinar? 

A webinar, or web seminar, is a live teaching session utilizing video conferencing or live chat to allow communication between attendees and presenters. It offers a broad range of topics, typically followed by a live Q&A session with viewers at the end. 


While webinars are usually free, the goal is to promote a premium service, a new product launch, or an upgraded feature. You can expect a webinar topic to align with the sponsoring organization’s business goals. 


Many companies host webinars to attract new customers or provide general information on a specific topic. 


A webinar presentation is usually live, but it can also be pre-recorded. They last between 30 to 60 minutes and are intended for a wider audience. While different types of webinars may offer PD or continuing education points, it is rare to gain certification or credits from a webinar. 


A person uses a laptop to attend an online course

Photo by Anna Shvets


What Is An Online Course?

Online courses dive deep into a specific topic and deliver more in-depth knowledge, much as you’d experience in a university course. The structure of an online course mimics a typical college class divided into modules, lessons, or units. 


Also referred to as eLearning or online training, e-courses often require payment to access the content. Online courses are intended for groups of people learning about a specific subject and can take days, weeks, or even months to complete. 


Participants often receive some sort of certification or credits after the eLearning course. There may be a live streaming component and interactive tools that allow course participants to connect with their instructors and other course members. 


Differences Between Webinars And Online Courses 

As you can see, it’s easy to confuse the two eLearning methods because both offer virtual opportunities to communicate important information. Both require an internet connection and a level of interactivity. 


Both approaches can be used for various purposes, like training sessions, onboarding, and professional development. They fit well with social media marketing and landing page promotion and generate email lists for future online events. 


Both webinars and online courses can help your brand generate high-quality leads that can help convert participants into new customers. 


However, there are some critical differences in the format and structure of webinars and online courses that make them better suited to specific audience needs. 


Let’s take a look at how webinars and online courses differ so that you are prepared to choose the correct format for your next virtual event. 






eLearning format refers to the length and availability of the online educational opportunity. Webinars and online courses have different forms, and which you choose depends on what your audience members need. 


Webinar Format 

Online Course Format 

  • Live online meeting 

  • Last 30-60 minutes

  • Lecture-style presentation

  • Broad subject matter 

  • Typically free or inexpensive to attend 

  • Webinar content is available for those unable to attend and can usually be shared 

  • Usually requires online conferencing equipment to engage with the host

  • Divided into modules or classes 

  • Can last days, weeks, or months

  • In-depth class content 

  • Specific subject matter 

  • Typically charge a fee for content 

  • Online learning content can only be accessed by those enrolled in the class

  • Can engage with other participants without a webcam


Webinars work best for short bursts of information, while online courses allow for an in-depth look into the subject matter. Webinars allow for time to answer questions right away, while participants may have to jot down their questions to ask the course facilitator at a later date. 



Structure refers to the flow of each online meeting. Because webinars and online courses take different amounts of time to complete, the design and pacing need to be different to obtain proper flow and engagement. 


Webinar Structure

Online Course Structure

  • Opening: A webinar moderator introduces the event and communicates the expectations. The topic and objectives of the online seminar. 

  • Presentation: This is the essence of the online webinar. The topic is wholly discussed with subtle integration of webinar marketing. This is where the Powerpoint presentation or screen sharing will occur. 

  • Closing: The moderator will summarize the topics discussed, emphasize key points, and typically allow the webinar participants to ask questions. 

  • Follow-Up: Once the webinar is over, most hosts will share a recording or transcript of the live webinar for reference or for those who registered but could not attend. 

  • Course Objective: This is where the key takeaways and goals are explained to audience members. Introductions are also made. 

  • Content Delivery: Learning resources, downloadable PDFs, webcast videos, supplements, and other interactive learning materials are posted. They are typically segmented into modules and presented in phases. 

  • Assessment: Many paid courses have checks at the end of each course, especially if the goal of the eLearning course is certification or a certificate. 

  • Follow-Up: Hosts will share credentials to participants’ emails and conduct a course survey. 


If you need to know whether or not your participants understood the content you were delivering, online courses allow for assessments. At the same time, webinars may not have the same opportunity for in-depth retention data. 


On the other hand, many online courses do not offer a video conference feature, meaning participants may feel isolated or not engaged with the course facilitator. Webinar features tend to be more engaging and allow participants to connect with webinar hosts and attendees on a deeper level. 



The cost of hosting a virtual event refers to the capital it takes to develop and launch your webinar or online course for your target audience. 


Typically, both forms have costs associated with creating content and a strong marketing strategy. A single webinar generally is less expensive to produce than a single online course. 


Pricing differs for participants depending on the two approaches. Many companies offer a free webinar for lead generation since they are less expensive to produce. On the other hand, online courses are a great way to not only attract new leads but also generate revenue for your brand. 


Let’s look at the cost differences between producing your own webinar or your own online course. 


Webinar Costs & Planning

Online Course Costs & Planning

  • Costs between $200 and $10,000 to plan and execute a one-hour webinar

  • Averages 4-6 weeks to plan

  • Most costs are incurred from the labor of preparing the webinar, followed by webinar platform software and equipment 

  • Can be repurposed as OnDemand content

  • Costs between $5,000 and $10,000 to plan and implement a one-hour course

  • Averages 80-280 hours to fully develop 

  • Most costs come from the labor of generating educational content, followed by LMS costs

  • Can be easily relaunched for a fresh audience 

While both types of online learning formats can help your company generate revenue, online courses can be updated and reused easily. At the same time, a live webinar would need to be updated and hosted all over again. 


Webinar attendees, on the other hand, can typically access recordings of the session for more extended periods of time. At the same time, online courses tend to limit access to materials for the duration of the course. 


A person uses a laptop to attend a webinar

Photo by RODNAE Productions


The Pros And Cons Of Webinars And Online Courses 

Which eLearning approach you choose depends on the needs of your audience members and your brand.


Both types of online learning have their own unique value, so how can you know which one is right for you?


Take a look at the pros and cons of each method to help you determine which is the best fit for your virtual event goals. 


Webinar Pros

Webinar Cons 

  • Works with limited resources

  • Convenient & affordable

  • Easy to access in real-time

  • Efficient solution for simple topics 

  • Live event and question & answer sessions 

  • Live demonstrations 

  • Appealing slide decks and interactive whiteboards 

  • Can’t watch at your own pace 

  • Unable to incorporate assessments

  • Generic in nature 

  • Less interactive 

  • Unable to go in-depth on subject matter 

  • Difficult to know if you hosted an effective webinar


Online Course Pros

Online Course Cons 

  • Offers high-quality, in-depth learning opportunities 

  • Incorporation of diverse resources (video content, pdfs, thought leader blogs) 

  • Interactive activities

  • Learn at your own pace 

  • Infinite access to materials 

  • May offer certifications 

  • Often very costly 

  • Very time-consuming 

  • Not applicable for quick training needs

  • Unable to offer OnDemand learning 

  • Tricky to create the correct course 


Both webinars and online courses are excellent tools to utilize for your online learning needs and generate quality leads. Facilitators must analyze the intended purpose of their virtual session, their target audience, and the allocated budget. 


Choose The Best Online Learning And Webinar Software 

Online courses and webinars offer unique ways to provide information on a wide scale. Depending on how in-depth you wish to go on a topic, choose the method that provides the most opportunity for your company and audience members. 


To avoid technology headaches, partner with BeaconLive for your own webinar and online course needs. BeaconLive helps you produce, deliver, and manage in-demand webinars and engaging online courses from start to finish through cloud-based solutions and impeccable customer service teams. 


Contact BeaconLive today to begin planning your next successful webinar or online course.


Topics: Continuing Education, eLearning, Webinars & Webcasts

Go Virtual With Confidence Using Our Most Helpful Content


Webinar Planning Timeline & Checklist

  • Even the most skilled and experienced professionals still need help planning and preparing for their virtual event and content delivery. We have developed this guide to help you prepare world-class webinars.
Rhode Island Housing Virtual Training & Automated Certificates Case Study
Open Book
Case Study

Rhode Island Housing Virtual Training & Automated Certificates Case Study

  • A white-labeled training and certification platform for RIH and their end-users - Our platform allowed them to centralize all training materials for their products, train, certify and track certificates of their users in a timely manner.

Virtual & Hybrid Events with BeaconLive

  • Going virtual is complicated, so let us handle everything. BeaconLive’s platform offers over 150 interactive features and is managed by our in-house events services team.

How can I boost webinar registration rates?
Use engaging email invitations to boost your webinar registration rate.
What is the best way to make an excellent first impression at a webinar?

Use welcome templates to greet your guests in style at your upcoming webinar.

Does a webinar require a microphone?

A high-quality microphone will help attendees and other participants hear what you have to say for hosts. For webinar attendees, a microphone is optional if there is an alternative way to communicate, such as a chatbox.