Are you looking for the best online course platform to power your business and support your students?
It’s no secret that the e-learning industry is booming. Online courses are a great way to monetize your audience and help people benefit from your knowledge.
But which online course platform should you choose?
In this post, we’re reviewing our favorite online course platforms so you can make an informed decision.
Let’s get started:
The best online course platforms compared – summary
- Podia – Best online course platform for most users. Zero fees. VAT handling included. And includes all the other features you’ll need – webinars, email marketing, customer messaging, and more.
- Thinkific – Best for customizing your courses. Zero fees and a limited free plan. No VAT handling unless a third-party tool is used. Includes VAT handling and automatic payouts for affiliates. Fees included on basic plan.
- Teachable – Best for direct integrations with third party tools such as ThriveCart.
- LearnWorlds – Powerful course platform but takes $5 per course sale on basic plan. Geared more towards in-company training and academia.
- LearnDash – The best learning management software available for WordPress. More technical hurdles involved but you keep more of your profit.
- Kajabi – Great platform that can power your entire business but it may be overkill for some users, especially considering the high price tag.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these platforms:
Podia is a popular online course platform that can be used to build your entire storefront. It allows you to create all the educational content you could possibly need. You can build multiple online courses, create digital downloads, set up separate membership sites, and host them all in one place.
Podia is simple to use. It handles VAT, video hosting and has an extensive amount of features which means you can handle almost everything within the platform itself.
The templates look great, convert well, and are easily customizable. Landing pages typically include an overview of the course, information about what’s included, a content section, creator bio, and FAQs.
You can use Podia to set up a separate landing page for each of your courses, digital downloads, or membership options. This is great as having multiple dedicated landing pages is proven to increase conversions.
When you’ve finished creating your online course, you can either choose to publish it straight away or pre-launch it to try to bag yourself some pre-orders. Podia can help with the pre-launch by allowing you to set up lead nurturing campaigns and teaser content.
Podia’s built-in email marketing tools are pretty great too. You can send newsletters, set up drip campaigns, and grow your list. You can segment your list based on which courses they’re enrolled in and access a wealth of data about how your emails are performing, like open rates and click rates.
In addition to your course, you can sell digital downloads – like ebooks, audio files, cheat sheets, and assessments – separately as digital downloads. You can also set up your own private membership site to build and connect with your community and sell access through various membership plans.
A final feature worth mentioning is the Live Chat. Podia is one of the only platforms with a seamlessly integrated Live Chat feature that can help you to maximize your lead conversions.
- Mover plan $39/month. No transaction fees.
- Shaker plan $79/month. No transaction fees.
For smaller businesses, or sales quantites their free plan has most of the features with transaction fees, rather than a monthly fee.
Thinkific is a powerful all-in-one course software solution that makes it easy to create and sell courses on your own course website. It’s a robust platform that scales well as you grow and is capable of supporting millions of students.
The designers at Thinkific clearly know what they’re doing, all the templates look great and are designed specifically to sell education. They’re also highly customizable. The drag and drop editor is super intuitive and makes setting everything up a cinch. You can also easily drop code into your Thinkific website using widget tools.
Thinkific courses can include multiple file types, like quizzes, surveys, PDFs, audio files, text, video and more, and you can easily import all of your content files in bulk through the content importer.
It has all the e-commerce features you’d expect, including a great marketing stack, lots of payment options, and robust student tracking tools.
It integrates well with other marketing and sales tools like Mailchimp, Segment.io, and Mixpanel.
And best of all, Thinkific doesn’t charge transaction fees even on their free plan. The only transaction fees you have to worry about are those charged by your payment processor (like PayPal).
If you’re just starting out, the Basic Plan should be sufficient, and you can scale up to the more expensive plans as you grow your business.
- Free Plan – $0/month
- Basic Plan – $49/month
- Pro + Growth Plan – $99/month
- Premier Plan – $499/month
Next up, we have Teachable, another solid online course platform. Teachable lets you create fully-responsive educational content, courses, graded quizzes, and landing pages that look great on all devices.
There’s a lot to love about Teachable but one of my favorite features is the custom completion certificates. You can create your own certificates to give out to your students upon the completion of your course. This helps to legitimize your course and provides a better experience for your customers.
You can also leverage the course compliance tools to enforce lecture completion and set mandatory pre-requisites for your students to enroll or progress through your course, such as minimum quiz scores.
It comes with lots of built-in marketing tools. You can use them to build your email list and set up segmented campaigns, create and roll out coupons and promotional offers, set up multiple advanced pricing options, customize sales pages, and even set up your own affiliate program.
The templates are easy to use and neatly designed, but there are also some advanced customization options if you want to tinker with them. You can change the design or go into the Power Editor to edit your website code for more advanced edits.
Teachable also integrates with support tools like Zendesk, Intercom, and Olark and comes with a free yourschool.teachable.com domain name. If you’d prefer to use your own, you can connect Teachable to your own domain name or a subdomain.
- Basic plan starts at $39/month (5% transaction fees)
- Professional plan starts at $119/month (zero transaction fees)
LearnWorlds is a premium online course platform that has grown in popularity in recent years. Like most of the software solutions we’ve looked at, they offer integrated marketing tools, analytics, sales pages, and customizable templates.
One thing I love about LearnWorlds is the level of interactivity in their pre-made course catalogs. Templates often include interactive video, interactive e-books, downloadable attachments, online tests, and other interactive elements that make your course more engaging for your students.
The interactive video tool allows you to easily sync up your transcripts, add hotspots that your students can click for more information, and more.
The course player is simple, flexible, and powerful. It uses flexible pathways and can drip feed your courses to your students via scheduled delivery. You can also set it up to allow students to navigate freely or sequentially through the course chapters. Students can also highlight text and add their own notes as they read through it.
- Starter $24/month billed annually
- Pro Trainer $79/month billed annually
- Learning Center $249/month billed annually
Unlike the other platforms we’ve looked at so far, LearnDash doesn’t help you to build your own course website from scratch. Rather, it’s a WordPress LMS plugin that integrates with your existing WordPress website.
Once you’ve added the LearnDash plugin, you can easily set up and start selling courses directly through your WordPress dashboard. You can deliver quizzes, give out student certificates, manage student enrollment, view reports, and everything else you’d need to run your e-learning business.
It’s a great choice for university, training organizations, and entrepreneurs that already have an existing web presence.
It has many of the features we’ve already talked about, as well as some unique advanced features that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these features is the LearnDash ‘Focus Mode’, which can be activated to remove all unnecessary page elements (like navigation bars and footer elements) in order to eliminate distractions for your students.
You can also use LearnDash to set up drip courses and use the Gradebook technology to give your students a grade based on their performance in quizzes and homework. You can award your students certificates, badges, and course points according to their grades and the activities they complete.
- Basic Package from $159 (1 site license)
- Plus Package from $189 (10 site licenses)
- Pro Package from $329 (25 site licenses)
Kajabi is an all-in-one business solution that lets you manage everything you need to run your online education business in one place.
You can use it to build your website, create and manage your courses, view analytics, run email marketing campaigns, communicate with your customers, and process payments from one single dashboard. You can even create blog posts to reach more customers through SEO and content marketing.
What makes Kajabi stand out from the crowd is its marketing automation tools and Pipelines feature, both of which are excellent. You can use Pipelines to connect your landing pages together with your checkout pages seamlessly to reduce the number of steps your customers have to take to close the sale and maximize conversion rates.
You can set up automation to trigger specific mailing events when your customers take certain actions, such as completing assessments or canceling subscriptions.
- Basic plan starts at $119/month
- Growth plan starts at $159/month
- Pro plan starts at $319/month
Online course platforms: frequently asked questions
What is an online course platform?
An online course platform is a tool that helps you to put together your course, host it, launch it, and market it to your customers. They provide a neat framework that simplifies these processes so that you don’t have to start from scratch and can devote more attention to the actual content of your courses, rather than the technical stuff.
There are lots of different kinds of online course platforms on the market, and each of them offers something a little different.
For example, some all-in-one platforms might help you to build your entire website, complete with your course sales and landing pages, from scratch, whereas others might integrate with your existing website.
Others still will allow you to build and host your course on their website as part of a catalog of courses, rather than on your own website. These ‘e-learning marketplaces’ include sites like Skillshare and Udemy.
The advantage of course marketplaces is that they give you access to a huge existing pool of potential students, but the trade-off is that they offer less flexibility and usually take a cut of your sales. We won’t be covering marketplaces here; we’ll be focusing exclusively on course creation software solutions that give you more control over your course.
It’s also important to distinguish online course platforms from learning management systems (LMS). LMS are less suitable for edupreneurs and small businesses like us that are trying to sell courses. They’re geared more towards in-company training and for use in schools.
What should I look for in an online course platform?
Now that we’re clear on exactly what online course platforms are, let’s talk about how to choose one. There are dozens of options, so how do you work out which is best for your needs and goals?
Well, here are a few things to think about.
Almost all course creation platforms will offer templates to help you to put your e-learning course and sales pages together. These usually offer at least some level of customization, but some will give you more control than others. Consider the customization options available and make sure it’s sufficient for your needs.
However, it’s worth noting that you don’t always have to use the built-in tools for creating sales pages and checkout pages. You could use a dedicated landing page plugin such as OptimizePress. This approach would offer more customization.
Marketing tools and features
Marketing is a huge part of setting up a profitable online course business. It’s no good creating awesome educational content if nobody ever sees it.
As such, make sure you look at the marketing tools and features on offer. Some platforms can help you to set up sales funnels, collect email addresses, launch email marketing campaigns, and more. These kinds of features will help you to reach more customers.
How do you plan on pricing your online course? If you plan on offering various payment plans, you’ll want to choose a platform that can set that up.
Some platforms offer more advanced payment tools that give you more flexibility in how you price your course. You might be able to set up recurring subscriptions, one-time fees, payment plans, and coupons.
The best online courses are interactive so try to choose a platform that allows you to build a good level of interactivity into your courses.
For example, if you want to be able to interact with your students directly, you might want to look for a platform that allows live streaming, or lets you set up forums where you can answer student questions.
Interactivity can be built into the content itself too through interactive elements like quizzes and surveys. Think about the interactive tools you might want to use in your course and look for a platform that can deliver this.
Think about what kind of content you plan on using in your e-learning course. Do you plan on creating a video course? Will you want to include assessments? Do you plan on incorporating PDFs, ebooks, or images? Make sure you choose a tool that supports all the different media types you plan on using.
If you’ve already built up a solid web presence, you might want to host your course on your existing website, rather than build a brand new one. If so, look for a course creation tool that integrates with WordPress or your CMS.
Many platforms for creating and selling online courses will set up a website and landing page for you and take care of pretty much everything, from web hosting and domain names to site security and backups.
Some platforms offer more advanced features that can take your course to the next level. I’m talking about things like multiple teacher classrooms, advanced sales funnels, email automation, robust analytics, and live lessons. Think about what advanced features you might be interested in and factor that into your decision.
The ability to run an affiliate program for your course is useful and will help you grow revenue faster. Teachable, for example, allows you to run an affiliate program. This includes link tracking and automatic payouts to your affiliates.
And finally, think about pricing. Different course creation platforms offer different pricing structures. Most will charge a fixed monthly fee but others might charge a one-off transaction fee or take a cut of your course sales.
Others such as Thinkific offer a free plan with a transaction fee. This would allow you to create your course without spending any money. Then you can upgrade to a paid plan once you’re ready to launch or you’re making a profit.
Think about this when comparing your options and set yourself a budget.
That concludes this guide to the best online course platforms. Hopefully, you find the right platform for your needs.
If none of these course selling platforms seem like a good fit, check out our guide to the best ecommerce platforms for digital products – you might find something more suitable there.
- Teachable Vs Thinkific: Which Course Platform Should You Use?
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