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Maybe you’re just like Gabrielle, a budding entrepreneur who wants to build an online business the smart way with a digital course (rather than starting a business just to remain stuck in the time-for-money hustle).
She’s discovered via research that the potential for eLearning and online course markets is huge. It’s expected to be worth $243 billion by 2022. And it’s expected to grow to $325 billion by 2025. With higher education shifting from the traditional classroom lecture to virtual classrooms, the opportunity is wide open for her to profit from her own online course on one of the many platforms.
But how do you choose the right platform for your course or training? In this guide we’re going to look at the top 10 online course platforms, and their pros and cons to help you determine which one is the best one for your course or training program.
We’ll explore their reliability, key features, marketing tools, the profit potential, technical help and the pricing structure.
Online Course Platforms Defined
Online course platforms are a type of learning management systems (LMS) providing users access to digital classes. Among these, there are a few different types of online platforms for teaching.
Each platform works best for specific needs and should be chosen based on your requirements.
- Self-Hosted WordPress LMS plugin online course platforms provide you the tools and infrastructure to sell your course from your website. These offer unlimited flexibility in the features and how it will function. The downside is you will have to take care of maintenance, security and the performance of the software. Example: LearnDash plugin
- Platforms hosted by third parties offer a combination of easy to set up and ability to share your course all in one place. You can build your course website without a lot of different plugins or worrying about the techy stuff. Example: Teachable
- Online Independent course platforms present your course via an e-commerce market along with many other courses. The platform manages most of the process including sales and marketing with some restrictive conditions Example: Udemy
Each platform has advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, look at all the options before deciding on one.
Online Course Platform Choices
To create and sell online courses, you need a great platform. Here is my honest review of several online course platforms with pros and cons. Giving you a comparison of the best e-learning tools, I’ve also covered the cost plus how easy it is to build and sell your course.
Let’s look at a few of the top platform choices in each category.
Hosted Online Course Platforms
Kajabi is an all-in-one platform that allows you to create a course website, host any type of content, market, and sell your course while delivering your content in a professional way.
- Website building tools including hosting, themes and design with flexible options.
- Customizable site themes to make your website look like you imagined.
- Automated email marketing allows you to build email marketing campaigns quickly, send email broadcasts and be able to see your email analytics
- Easy One Click log-in for your customers
- Custom URLs
- Built-in Blog to give updates to your customers and subscribers
- Pipelines so you can connect all the landing pages, email sequences and offers.
- Upsell ability
- Landing page builder where you can create stunning landing pages quickly.
- Automated marketing tools
- Payment processing and gateway
- Affiliate marketing suite
- Membership software
- Zero transaction fees
- Pricing plans are expensive: Kajabi offers yearly or monthly plans. The basic plan is $129 /month while the pro plan is $389 month.
- Support is only offered through live chat or email support.
Many creators believe that Teachable is the best platform for starters (free trial or $29/month). Teachable has more than 3 million students, 7500 instructors and over 2000 courses. Teachable lets you create and sell your online training or course under your own brand.
- It offers a variety of pricing plans from free to $399 a month.
- Allows you to add multiple content types including videos and quizzes to your course
- Can drip your course content
- Easy to get started with and to maneuver with drag-and-drop features
- Active blog and community for finding useful tips and advice
- Handles EU Vat payments
- Designed for focusing on creating and selling your course
- SSL certificates
- Seamless hosting
- Instant automatic upgrades
- Allows for you to brand and use your own images
- Ability to monitor student numbers and other analytics
- Page design options are minimal
- No email marketing features are included
Thinkific is perhaps the best overall online course platform (free or #39/ month). This option allows you to create sell and manage your course and the sales pages that go with them. They are a platform with a healthy set of user-friendly features and marketing tools. Thinkific is a good option if you want to reduce the technological headaches of many platforms.
- Pricing is reasonable, especially for new course creators. Free or $49 per month. Also has higher priced plans for more advanced users up to $499 a month
- Good for those with little or no experience in online business management
- Easy creation of course materials. Easy to load and organize your course
- The site builder creates beautiful sales pages
- Easily add icons from the site creator
- Course templates to help you design your course
- Ability to download any files created with eLearning tools such as iSpring and Captivate
- Accepts Stripe and PayPal payment options for your students
- Excellent support
- Unlimited Students and Content
- 2-step check-out pages
- Media can’t be mixed
- Not native comments feature
- Courses are rougher looking than other platforms
Podia, a simple and to the point online course platform (free trial or $39/month), is a good alternative to Kajabi. It allows users to create, host and sell their trainings all on one easy-to-use platform. With not transaction fees and a simple three-step process, you can have your course website ready to go quickly.
- Is reasonably priced with 0% transaction fees. Pricing is $39/month or $79/month
- Ability to add coupons
- Ability to have memberships which enable you to
- Interact with members
- Bundle products for specific groups
- Offer tiered plans
- Create individual posts for one-off content
- Connect with Facebook Groups and Slack
- Can pre-launch courses
- Sales page options
- Ability to leverage “drip” courses
- Has the capability to run your own affiliate program inside Podia
- Free 14-day trial
- Content delivery including videos, audio, PDF, text and more
- Their payment processors charge transaction fees of 2.9% plus 30 cents
- No free plan to try it out
- Doesn’t support graded quizzes, certificates, content locking
- Only supports building sales pages for you products. Can’t build other pages
- Doesn’t allow you to create a fully-fledged website
- Course builder is inflexibly
- Doesn’t support cloud import
Academy of Mine
Academy of Mine is an all-in-one platform that offers white label e-learning platforms with the option to have a website and course built for you by their team in a “done for you” way.
- Variety of customization options
- 24/7 customer service
- Done-for-you or drag-and-drop
- Inbuilt support for Certificates, gamification, discussion forums, gradebooks for student engagement
- Higher end pricing $199/month and $299/ month
- Steep learning curve
Best WordPress LMS Plugins
A WordPress Learning Management System (LMS) is course software you install on your WordPress website. Evidently, that only works if you already have a WordPress site and domain name.
LearnDash is a powerful WordPress LMS plugin with loads of features for total control over your course delivery. Design the course to your standards and easily engage with students.
- Can engage with students
- Ability to create forums
- Awards and certificates can be given out
- Reasonably priced at $199/year or $369/year
- Drip-feed content
- Drag-and-drop course builder for organizing
- Email/Zapier trigger functionality for automation
- Built-in video progression support for video courses
- Validation triggers
- Visual path generator makes it easier to design your course and visualize how everything works together
- Must purchase add-ons for some features
- Deep functionality can be difficult for casual users
- Steep learning curve
Best Online Learning Marketplaces
Online marketplaces for courses like Udemy and SkillShare continue to spend a lot of time to attract students (and course creators). They will do some of the selling for you and take a lot of the headaches away regarding design, hosting, etc. Therefore, I’ve included featured these two online learning platforms.
If you want to learn something, it’s probably on Udemy. The site is less of a unified “platform” and more of a portal or repository where students can access well over 100,000 courses on every topic imaginable.
Udemy is best for general knowledge learning and trainers, is a popular platform to both users and students. It offers one of the largest marketplaces to find e-courses. They also provide instructors guidance on creating their own courses and market them.
- Free to use
- Access to a large user base
- Substantial revenue share for tuition fees, 100% for new users, 50% for existing users
- You set your course price
- Ability to participate in their marketing promotions
- Reliable technology and support
- Retargeting ads
- Action-based email campaigns
- Course quality checklist
- Training videos
- Intense competition with other courses
- Strong competition with other course publishers
- Lenient return policies for any reason for students
While many online platforms basically provide college-style classes, Skillshare is less formal and aimed more at improving creative skills. Skillshare is a large marketplace platform focused on creative education and training. Skillshare allows you to create, host and sell video courses.
- Affiliate program to earn $10 for everyone who signs up
- Free to use
- Good support
- Instructions on making an online course
- Large marketplace of people who can find your course
- Must enroll 25 students before you get paid
- Low earnings pool
- No website building functionality
- No marketing function
- You don’t control or own your course
- Not allowed to determine your price
- Can’t be marketed outside Skillshare
How to Choose Your Platform
Choosing your platform can be overwhelming and confusing. But if you consider the most important aspects for what you want and for your goals, you can make an informed decision.
This is probably your most important consideration, especially if you are a beginner and your budget is limited. You want to choose a platform that you can easily afford at a low monthly cost until you can begin seeing more revenue.
Your Technical Skills
How much technology do you feel comfortable dealing with for your course creation? Is it flexible? Choose a platform that is easy for you to work in.
Your Target Audience
Do you already have an audience? An existing audience already has an interest in your course. Choose the fastest or most comprehensive option that allows you to use ready-made funnels. If you don’t have followers choose a basic plan that allows you to spend time creating an audience while you create your course.
Your Course Goals
What are your goals for the course? Will you be adding more courses? Upsells? Affiliates? Choose a platform that lets you grow with your course plans.
Will you be doing email marketing? Do you need an integrated system that collects email addresses and lets you send out automated emails? Does the platform integrate will with other popular solutions such as email service providers, list building solutions, or analytics solutions?
Your Content Marketing Plan
What’s your content marketing plan? Specifically, what type of content will you be creating? Videos? Text or PDF? Worksheets? One-on-one? Screenshares? Powerpoint presentations? The platform you use needs to support the different types of content you’ll be using in your course.
All-In-One Or Not
Do you need a platform for everything or do you want something that just hosts your courses? How much control do you want to give others or keep yourself?
Ease Of Use
Which platform is easiest for you to work with and is easy for your customers to use? Does it offer a great learning experience for the student?
Does the platform allow you to have complete control over your brand? Can you promote using your logo? Do they offer white labeling? Do you have ownership of the customer information? Can you export emails? Do you have a say in the price of the course?
Customer Support and Training
Does the platform offer excellent customer support you? Does it offer step-by-step tutorials, workshops and trainings?
Ask yourself these questions before you decide on the platform you are going to use for your course creation and marketing.
Since learning online is typically a very personal experience, I’ve featured several online course platforms that allow for self-paced learning, interactivity, and/or learning tailored to a particular skill level.
Yet, as you’ve realized by now, the best online course platform will depend completely on your needs. Hence, choosing a platform for your course begins with exploring the different options available online. With so many, and new ones being added every day, it’s important to weigh all your options first.
We’ve looked at the different types of platforms available. The self-hosted WordPress LMS plugin option works with your website. Third party platforms are easy to set up and share all in one place. The independent course platform is an ecommerce marketplace.
Sure, the choices of each platform each have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, it’s up to you to determine which ones will work for your needs. Ask yourself what you need and what your goals are for the course.
Then choose the online course platform that will fit those needs, help you grow your course success, and remain within your budget. Dear friend, I hope this article helped you choose the best online course platforms. Now, if you are selling your own online courses, then you may want to see our guide Online Success for Beginners.