BEST ONLINE COURSE PLATFORMS / ONLINE COURSE CREATION SOFTWARE
With so many options on the market, how do you know which is the best online course platform / online course creation software for you?
Online Course Guideline
As a Course Creator, we want to make sure that our students have an amazing learning experience while completing our courses and at first glance, the abundance of choice in platforms sounds like a huge benefit. The downside is, having so much choice often gets confusing and overwhelming for the Course Creator. Just when they think they have made a decision on what online course platform / online course creation software they are going to use – a new one pops up and then they investigate that – the cycle can become endless and exhausting.
The good news, however, is that it doesn’t need to be that hard. If you know what you’re looking for in an online course platform / online course creation software, it’s actually quite simple to make a choice.
Just before we get into the breakdown, here is an overview of some of the different terms we will be talking about. We will go into more detail later for each of the terms.
Online Course Platform / Online Course Creation Software:
This is a ‘general term’ for ANY of the course creation platforms that allow you to host your online courses / digital content / online training / training material on e.g. Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi, New Zenler, Learndash, LifterLMS, Udemy, etc. This can also be referred to as a “Learning Management System” (LMS) or an online course builder.
A course creation platform that not just allows you to host your course but will also showcase your course(s) on their marketplace platform. E.g. Udemy
Self Hosted Platform:
This is referring to hosting your course directly on your website using a plugin such as LearnDash or LifterLMS.
Third Party Platform:
Any course creation platform that is not self hosted on your website e.g. Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi and New Zenler.
A course creation platform where the major focus is hosting the online course (and not so much on the sales / marketing of the online course) e.g. Teachable and Thinkific
A course creation platform where the major focus is hosting the online course AND giving the Course Creator the tools to sell their online course. E.g. Kajabi and New Zenler.
Once you understand the above definitions, it becomes a lot easier to compare, contrast, and find which option is best for you.
Note: We are using the umbrella term’s Online Course Platforms and Online Course Creation Software to describe these platforms and we are using the two terms interchangeable, however they can also be referred to as other terms such as Learning Management Systems (or LMS for short), Course Creation Software or simply Platforms for Online Courses.
OPTION 1: NO ONLINE COURSE PLATFORM / ONLINE COURSE CREATION SOFTWARE
- Create a free Facebook Group and upload all your course content in there in their “guide” section”
- Upload all your course content on a Google Drive under “folders” and share that content with your students.
OPTION 2: MARKETPLACE VS NON-MARKETPLACE
Once you’ve decided that you are going to use an online course platform / online course creation software, the first decision you need to make as a new course creator is marketplace vs non-marketplace.
Now this is an important point and it confuses a lot of Course Creators.
An online marketplace is something like “amazon”, “eBay” etc where consumers visit to purchase products from a 3rd party. For example you want to buy a new pair of jeans – you’ll visit Amazon, type in ‘jeans’, see a whole list of different businesses trying to sell you different jeans. You pick one and purchase it. And then the profit is split between Amazon and the 3rd party.
Most online course platforms / online course creation software are NOT MARKETPLACES and it’s important we acknowledge this from the start.
Let’s say for example you decide to use “Teachable” as your online course platform / online course creation software. Teachable is NOT a marketplace, Teachable’s job is to give you a place to ‘host’ your online course and that’s it.
Think of it like a car. If you want to drive from Point A to point B, you need two things
- A car
If you have a car but no fuel, then you can’t move, you just have the potential to move if you had some fuel. That’s what most online course platforms / online course creation software are like. They are “cars” but they don’t have fuel. They give you a place to host your course but to make sales, you’ll need to do your own digital marketing campaigns.
In saying that, there are course creation platforms / online course creation software that are also marketplaces. The most common of these being Udemy (although there are others such as Skillshare).
Udemy is an online course platform / online course creation software AND also a MARKETPLACE (like amazon or eBay). Udemy has millions of users visiting it’s website every month who are all looking for online courses to complete.
Udemy is the car AND also has the fuel.
And there’s another big benefit to using Udemy- it’s FREE!
So this is definitely your best option right?
Not quite, there’s a couple of disadvantages, as well.
The biggest drawback of using Udemy is that they take a significant cut of your course sales. At the time of writing this, Udemy will tax you approximately 50% for every sale made. If you used a Non-Marketplace online course platform / online course creation software – you would keep all 100% of your revenue.
And you may be thinking, 50% isn’t too bad… If I used a Non Marketplace online course platform / online course creation software, I’d have to pay a monthly fee for hosting my course there… and I’d probably have to spend a lot of money / time on sales marketing so the 50% isn’t so bad…
That’s true but here’s another disadvantage of Udemy.
There’s no guarantee your course is going to make any sales… Your course is a commodity, let’s just you’ve got a course on how to learn French, if someone goes into Udemy and searches for a course on how to learn French – your course is just going to be one of the many other French courses in there – some are going to be as little as $5-$10 and some are even going to free. So you can host your course on Udemy to save money on hosting and marketing BUT you may not make any sales. Or alternatively to make sales you may need to drop the cost of your course down to $5-$10.
There are other minor disadvantages to a marketplace like Udemy e.g. you will need to follow their pricing structure and follow their course structure, and you don’t get access to your students’ contact details but the above two points are it’s biggest drawbacks.
Course Creator Community recommendation: For most Course Creators it’s going to be a better option to use a Non Marketplace online course platform / online course creation software. You can charge what you like, create your course exactly the way you like it and keep 100% of the revenue. Yes, you are going to have to do your own sales and marketing but it’s the lesser of two evils. The only reason we would recommend a Course Creator go down the Udemy pathway is if the Creator is 100% certain they don’t want to do any sales and marketing, are happy to be at the mercy of Udemy when it comes to their revenue (which MAY be good… but also be little to nothing).
Summary Table: Marketplace vs Non Marketplace
Option 3: Self-Hosted vs 3rd Party Platform
If you’ve decided that you’re going to use a Non-Marketplace online course platform / online course creation software,the next decision to make is whether you are going to use a WordPress plugin (such as LearnDash or LifterLMS) and self-host your course(s) on your website or whether you are going to use a Third Party Platform (e.g. Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi etc).
There are advantages / disadvantages both ways so our goal is to give you a non-biased opinion and you can choose which you prefer.
There are two main advantages to going the self-hosted route.
#1: Price: A Third d Party Platform usually costs between $50-$100 a month, even up to $400 per month if you choose Kajabi’s Pro Plan. A WordPress Plugin (such as LearnDash or LifterLMS) is going to cost you closer to a few hundred dollars a year, so it’s definitely more affordable.
The other advantage of a WordPress plugin is the freedom. If you go with a Third Party Platform (e.g. Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi) you are going to be limited with their ‘course templates’. If you go with a WordPress plugin, you’re going to have a lot more freedom in the way your course looks and feels.
More affordable and more freedom, so self-hosting must be the best option right? Not quite, here’s a couple drawbacks.
Firstly, you need to already have a website. If you already have a website, then that’s fine. It could be an option for you. If you don’t already have a website, all of a sudden – it’s not more affordable because you will need to purchase the domain, purchase the hosting and pay someone to create your website. If you went with the Third Party Platform you wouldn’t need a website, wouldn’t need to pay for a domain, wouldn’t need to pay for hosting, and wouldn’t need to pay a developer to create your website.
Now if you do have a website, you can save a few dollars by self hosting your course but the drawback is you need to have a decent understanding of WordPress. The Third Party Platforms are really easy to use, even if you’re a technical newbie you’ll still be able to easily upload your course content on there. Self Hosting on WordPress on the other hand, you need to be somewhat tech-savvy. If you’re not tech savvy – don’t even think about self hosting.
The biggest drawback from self hosting, however, is the lack of leverage. The Third Party Platforms (Teachable, Thinkific etc) are really safe and robust – you’ll never (or at least very rarely) have an issue with their servers going down. And on the extremely rare occasion that it does, at least your whole website isn’t affected – only the course side of things are. On the other hand, if you self host your course on your website and your website is down (which is always likely) you’re in trouble!
Course Creator Community recommendation: For most Course Creators it’s going to be a better option to use a 3rd Party Platform. You’re more leveraged because your ‘website’ and ‘online course platform’ are hosted separately so if there’s an issue with one it won’t cause an issue with the other. Plus with a 3rd Party Platform you don’t need any tech / design skills. The only reason we would recommend someone self host their online course is if they already have a website, are really good with WordPress and are short on finances.
Summary Table: Self Hosted vs 3rd Party Platform
Option 4: “Online School” vs “All in One Platform”
If you’ve decided that you’re going to use a Third Party Platform, then the third decision you need to make when creating your first course is whether to go for an online school or an all-in-one.
An ‘Online School’ is an online course platform / online course creation software that allows you to host your course on. The major focus of the online school is to make sure once your student gets access to your course, they get a really good experience. The popular ‘Online Schools’ include Teachable and Thinkific.
An ‘All in One Platform’ is not only an ‘Online School’ but it also includes features to help with the sales / marketing of the course such as landing pages, funnels, email marketing, upsells, downsells, order bumps etc. The focus of the “All In One” is not only to give you the tools to host your online course but also to give you the tools to help you sell / market your online course. The popular “All in One” Platforms include Kajabi and New Zenler.
The advantage of the “Online School” is that it’s usually more affordable than an “All in One” for example the basic package on Teachable / Thinkific is usually going to be cheaper than the basic package on Kajabi or New Zenler.
However, if you choose to go with an “Online School” chances are you’ll eventually have to purchase further software to market your course such as landing page / funnel software (e.g Clickfunnels / Thrivecart) and Email Marketing software (e.g. ActiveCampaign / Mailchimp).
So even though it may look more affordable to start off with, it’s going to cost you more money in the long run due to the necessary add-ons.
On top of that, it can be tricky to integrate. For example if you’re using Clickfunnels as your landing page software / checkout cart and Teachable to host your online course – you’ll then need to use a software called “zapier” to link your Clickfunnels account to your Teachable account so that anyone that purchases via Clickfunnels still gets access to the course. It can be done and it’s not that difficult but it’s an extra step, an extra thing that can go wrong and an extra expense.
There’s no real disadvantage to going with an ‘All in One Platform’. However, there are a couple of considerations.
Consideration 1: Even though the All in One Platform does everything, it may not do everything as well as the individual software. For example – even though Kajabi has an Online School capability and Email Marketing capability, the Online School component may not be as good as a platform that’s major focus is an online school (e.g. Teachable) and it’s Email Marketing capability may not be as good as a platform that’s major focus is Email Marketing (e.g. Active Campaign).
Consideration 2: You’ve got all your eggs in the one basket and no leverage. So if you choose to go with an All in One such as Kajabi and Kajabi goes down… You’ve lost access to your funnels, Online School and Email Marketing. Whereas if you had all these platforms separate and one went down, only one aspect of your business would go down.
Course Creator Community recommendation: Most Course Creators are best off going with an“All in One” platform, even though you’re less leveraged and the platform may not be as good individually as an Online School, it’s a lot more convenient having everything in the one place.
Summary Table: Online School vs All in One Platform
Option 5: Which “All in One” Platform to Choose
There are online course platforms / online course creation software popping up all the time however the big 2 currently are Kajabi and New Zenler.
Kajabi is hands down the best, no question about it. It’s been around longer, has more features, and even the interface looks better.
So we should definitely go with Kajabi right? No quite.
Kajabi (for it’s Pro Plan) you’re looking at around $400 per month. For New Zenler’s equivalent pan, you’re looking at around $70 per month.
Even though Kajabi is better than New Zenler, is it worth an extra $3,000 a year?
Now, most Course Creators won’t need the Kajabi Pro plan from the start but Kajabi’s ‘basic’ package is $149 per month and only allows 3 courses, so you’ll pretty quickly have to upgrade to their ‘growth’ plan which is $200 a month.
So the real question…
$70 a month for New Zenler vs $200 a month for Kajabi?
It’s a tough choice…
The one advantage New Zenler has over Kajabi is they offer a free plan. It doesn’t have all the features that the paid plan does but it does have everything you need to get started as a Course Creator. You can then choose whether you upgrade to the New Zenler paid option or transfer to Kajabi.
Course Creator Community recommendation: This is a tricky one. If you can afford the $200 a month we recommend going with Kajabi, it is the superior product. If $200 a month is a stretch at the moment, go with New Zenler, it’s got everything you need for $70 a month. You can even start with New Zenler’s free version, play around with it for a while before deciding which way to go.
Other things to consider
There are many platforms on the market and just because you start with one platform, it doesn’t mean you need to stick with it forever when there are options available that will best suit your purpose. When you sign up with one platform and in a few months change your mind, it’s not challenging to change platforms, especially if you only have a few courses.
While there is so much to consider when choosing an online course platform as highlighted earlier, you need to set yourself up for success when creating your first course. After shopping around and deciding with your chosen platform, you’ll be ready to create your new course and share it with the world in no time at all. The goal is to have conversions and sales in the long run so choose wisely. When you’re ready to start, feel free to contact us at Course Creator!
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