Creating an online course is one of the most energizing ways of growing or expanding your online business with digital products or services today.
Never before have more people been motivated to join up and take an online course to learn a new skill, have new experiences, and meet new people on the same journey to results and transformation.
It’s an exciting area for creators, coaches, and online entrepreneurs who are ready to level up their business.
While deciding on the topic of the course that you want to create is 80% of the battle, there are a few things to know upfront about the technical side of picking an online course platform that will make your life MUCH easier once you’re ready to go.
In the past, you had to start with a number of parts and pieces to get an online course off the ground. This included the need for web hosting, website design, content and video hosting, quiz and survey tools, payment gateways, and integrations with your email, site, and social channels, and more. Then, there’s the community side of things. It turns out that bringing people together around your course content is the most important piece of the whole experience. It’s the community that actually keeps them engaged.
While you still need to have each of these pieces to successfully build an online course, increasingly, there are options that pull all of these different parts together, including integrating your community and online courses in the same place.
How should you evaluate your online course platform? Let’s start with the not-so-obvious basics.
Sold, yet? I hope so.
An Ideal Online Course Platform Puts Your Brand and Your “WHY” Front and Center
Your “why” is bigger than the goal to monetize. It’s the area of people’s life where your expertise can help them master something interesting they can’t master on their own.
Your online course platform needs to give you the chance to put your motivation, or WHY, in front of people, so they know why they’d join, and then deliver on that WHY throughout your course.
What’s your WHY? Maybe you want them to have a better, more successful career, a better understanding of themselves, or a meaningful spiritual practice. Maybe you want them to make healthier decisions and navigate stress differently. Ultimately, you want them to get unstuck, achieve their goals, and live the life they want to live. This is why you do what you do.
But how does an online course help you guide others to results and transformation?
Online courses are a better way to share content. Turn your expertise into a flow for other people. Building a course gives you a way to bring people on a journey to master something interesting together. All of your insights on that topic will be in one place, where you can integrate articles, videos, and infographics, showing how it all relates and ties together.
Online courses are a better way to monetize your content. A course creates a marketable package for your expertise. You’re not just selling articles, videos, and quizzes—you’re selling the results and transformation people can have in their lives as a result of the hard won practices and expertise you’ve built in your own life. That’s why online courses are different from generic content. You’re creating an immersive experience made up of your expertise, practices, and guidance for your students to take into their own lives and achieve bigger goals or experience a transformation they haven’t been able to find on their own.
Online courses are the best learning environment for your following. Your best content is scattered across a range of channels in a variety of forms. A course lets you gather all those insights into one flow where your audience can get a tightly-curated “greatest hits” with clear learning objectives. By having all of your work in one place, your people can achieve results and transformation.
Online courses are the best way to spin up a community where people then motivate and learn from each other. Online courses create a clear focus for people to come together around the same WHY. Your people can connect with each other as they work through your modules together. Studies show that people learn, change, and grow better when they are not alone. There is power when your people are working together, in the same direction, and have a direct, shared experience. This is why it’s so important not to let your online course community start as an afterthought.
How Online Teaching Platforms Work
E-learning platforms aren’t new. In their earliest inception, they took the form of Moodle courses you may have used in school, and there are specialty Learning Management Systems (LMS) that serve the wider training and education needs of corporations and schools.
But in the past few years, new online learning platforms have emerged that serve creators with a more entrepreneurial aim. The rest of this article is focused on the best online course platforms that benefit individual creators like you looking to create income by selling their expertise packaged as an online course.
Hosted Solutions for Online Teaching Platforms
Are you intimidated already by the tech of your online business? Then you’re going to want to look at a hosted solution for your online course. These platforms come with the infrastructure and tools that let you sell your course from your own site, without having to worry about updates, security, hosting, and maintenance. You can focus on creating content and selling rather than managing a website. While you may be limited on some of the particular features available, but avoiding massive headaches from confusing tech is worth it. Most of our recommendations for online course platforms will fall into this category.
WordPress Plug-in Solutions for Online Course Platforms
If everything in your platform universe runs on WordPress, you’re going to want to strongly consider what’s called an LMS plug-in. You’ll have to go through a highly technical installation and setup process for things like the hosting provider, theme, several different plugins, and video hosting, but you’ll get unlimited flexibility in terms of features and functionality. You’re going to need to be a WordPress pro or be willing to hire one to get this going. You should consider these only if you have previous experience with WordPress, but we’ve included the biggest ones below.
Marketplace Solutions for Selling Online Courses
The earliest online course platforms for creators were marketplaces like Udemy and Skillshare. These marketplaces allow you to list your course their platform and find students for your courses who showed up looking for an online course.
These marketplace solutions continue to be very popular, but with more creators launching online courses with their own social media followings or email lists, the economics of a marketplace may or may not make as much sense.
See, while you’ll benefit from a marketplace’s topical indexes, organic search traffic, and promotional dollars, you also have to pay them a significant fee or a percentage of your sales, which doesn’t happen with hosted or LMS platforms. You also surrender your ability to collect email addresses and contact info for the people who take your course. So while new people might find you, you’re unable to add them to your network if this is your only course sales channel.
Sold, yet? I hope so.
What You Need in an Online Course Platform
A fast and clear way to create and organize lessons. The best online learning today is an immersive, yet organized multimedia event! You need creation software that supports video, audio, PDFs, images, and some type of feedback loop like a quiz or a conversation thread. You also need a way to do live instruction and scheduled webinar events, as well as offer self-paced materials outside of the main course material.
A way to make money: You need to be able to charge clients and seamlessly and securely collect payments from your customers. When you launch an online course, you’re not just charging for content. You’re creating a community powered by the topic of the course, and your people need to be able to buy your online courses, groups, and community seamlessly in the same place.
A way to support multiple business models as you evolve. You want an online course platform that can scale with you, whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to level up and improve what you already have. You also want a platform that can offer more than payment for a single online course alone. You want to be able to offer bundles of courses and communities or packages of paid mastermind groups fueled by free courses. You want the opportunity to experiment with different combinations and should choose a platform that makes this possible.
A way to smoothly integrate the marketing and delivery of your course. The success of your course depends on promotion: Does your online course software play nice with your email channel? Your social channels? It’s 2019! You shouldn’t have to duplicate your efforts across your channels and you shouldn’t have to cobble something together with workarounds that can easily break.
A way to connect your students to complete courses and grow faster. You need to be able to interact with your students in real-time, but the most important asset to the success of your audience and growth beyond your first people is their ability to interact with each other. When your community is thriving, you don’t need to spam your social channels or email list to sell more online courses. The conversations between participants–and when they contribute their experiences, stories, and tricks for absorbing your material–powers learning and growth much more than your videos or course content. It’s pretty simple. The more your community connects to each other, the more valuable your course becomes, and the faster you will grow from there.
A way to access your online courses and course community on mobile. Increasingly, the only reliable platform for delivering engagement and course completion is on native mobile apps, such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone. Checking to see if your online course platform is available on native mobile apps will be important.
The Best Online Course Platforms for 2020 to Create and Sell Your Expertise
No online course platform is perfect. Therefore, it’s best to know what’s the most important thing to you in delivering your courses, and probably more importantly, what’s going to be the most important thing to your students. Are you looking to grow your audience? Are you most concerned about price? Are you looking for ease of use? Looking ahead to 2020, we’ve rounded up the best online course platforms with a quick look at what makes each of them work.
Online Course Platform Comparison
Best for a Community-Focused Course: Mighty Networks
Best for Creating Your First Course: Udemy, Mighty Networks
Best if You’re a WordPress Technical Wiz: LearnDash
Best if Online Teaching is Your Main Focus: Teachable
Best for Heavy-Marketing an Online Course: Course: Kajabi
Best for Brand Exposure: Skillshare
- Type: Marketplace
- Strengths: You can use Udemy for free and simply create an online course with the knowledge you want to share.
- Weaknesses: Revenue share model is 50% for courses listed on their platform. In addition, you don’t get contact information for those who buy through Udemy. Community interaction (if any) happens in Udemy’s network, not yours.
- Best for: Trying out course creation, learning the process. Making and selling a course without having to build multi-channel platform.
- Type: Marketplace
- Strengths: Set up with the creatives in mind, Skillshare specializes in design, craft, and technical skills. As a result, it supports creative projects and feedback for assessment. Students show their work, and can practice and learn from giving and receiving feedback as much as from your instruction alone.
- Weaknesses: You can’t earn money until you get 25 students enrolled in a class, and even then, your share is $1-2 per enrollee. You can’t use these enrollees to build your own email list or wider network.
- Best for: Those just starting out and who have a creative topic. You can create courses that feature videos taught in short 10-25-minute segments and culminates with a class project. It’s an uncomplicated way to turn your passion into some extra cash on the side.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: A full-bodied platform that allows you to not only sell online courses, but build a true “peer-to-peer” community mastering your topic together. What sets a Mighty Network apart is that your online courses, community, events, and even mastermind groups are in one place, under your brand, and available to your people on every platform, including native mobile.
- Weaknesses: It’s not a Facebook Group, so your people may not want to follow you to another platform beyond where they spend a lot of their time already (even if they already followed you off Facebook to an online course platform).
- Best for: Creators who understand the power of a community in delivering premium priced online courses, better results, and deeper relationships across their students. If your course would benefit from collaboration, conversation, and cheering each other on (whose doesn’t?), Mighty Networks creates a place for people to master your topic together under your brand.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: the most robust of the hosted dedicated online course platforms. It is designed for savvy marketers who value marketing pages and sales funnels that drive sales and conversion to paid online courses. They recently added a native mobile app for course content.
- Weaknesses: Kajabi offers a very limited community while being the most expensive option among the dedicated course platforms. It also lacks privacy levels for gated content—buyers have all access to content or none at all.
- Best for: Savvy marketers who value the sales pages and funnels built into Kajabi. It’s ready to deliver your online courses with 10+ well-designed themes and robust built-in email marketing tools.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: Teachable is the most popular of the online course platforms for creators. It allows you to add multiple content types including videos and quizzes to your course, drip your course content, create certificates, and it also has a very well-designed course player, resulting in a great learning experience.
- Weaknesses: No community option, which drives instructors to create a Facebook Group and have to juggle members across both platforms. Plus, it’s hard to customize the look and feel to match your brand.
- Best for: Marketing promotions. Teachable has a coupons tool, 1-step checkout, 1-click upsells.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: A simple website builder with easy-to-create sales pages (no code required!). Allows for advanced quizzes including randomization and question banks with bulk import.
- Weaknesses: No community option. Plus, checkout process doesn’t perform well, and lacks in good sales and marketing features.
- Best for: Certification-based courses, where prerequisites and quiz assessments are key to the learning path.
- Type: LMS Plug-in
- Strengths: You get complete control over your course delivery. This is ideal for universities and training organization with a large learning base and the need for certification. Supports very lightweight web forums, but limited capability to connect the forums with the learning journey.
- Weaknesses: A very complicated setup. Plans are priced annually, but some features are classified as “add-ons”, so costs are not straightforward or predictable. There is only basic built-in cart functionality, which requires another cart plugin for WordPress.
- Best for: Creators who live and die by WordPress, capable of handling their own tech, and who want to keep all content tied to the same WordPress site.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: Ruzuku offers different price points for each course, a strong onboarding program that walks new users through the course-creation process, drip delivery capabilities, as well as marketing with coupons and discounts.
- Weaknesses: Ruzuku has very limited customization and themes, it only supports 2 payment processors, has limited numbers of students in teleconferences and webinars, and email is the only reliable channel of customer support.
- Best for: Hosting webinars and events. It works best with brands and content that value live interaction with the audience. Webinars dovetail well with the self-paced courses, including the ability to convert presentations, comments, and chat into permanent content.
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: This is ideal for a quick hit, fast-launch course. These plans offer unlimited courses, unlimited students, unlimited sales pages supporting their courses.
- Weaknesses: There really is no community option, and course creation has confusing navigation.If you want to schedule content delivery in a drip, you’re out of luck. There are really no marketing capabilities here, and you have to find your own video hosting.
- Best for: creators who want to focus on changing or testing material, and experimenting with different price points, rather than marketing or growing.
Podia (formerly Coach)
- Type: Hosted
- Strengths: Podia is super easy to use, with clean, modern design out of the box. Podia also gives you the ability to create one-off “posts” for paid content in addition to longer courses.
- Weaknesses: Podia doesn’t support essential features like graded quizzes, certificates, feedback, etc. There’s no standalone community space on the site, which disables any possible network effect and member interaction in the learning process. They also don’t support building a full website.
- Best for: creators who have course materials of different shapes and sizes who want a beautiful viewing experience.
Use an Online Course to Create and Grow Your Income
The demand for online learning is only growing, especially from creators whose unique brands and expertise are attracting people like never before. Whether you have one course or a series, write your own code or want to simply set things up with drag-and-drop, there is an online course platform for you.
Now is the time to turn your expertise and experiences into a new revenue stream. As you design your learning plans and pricing models, don’t forget real online learning goes beyond videos and articles: real online learning happens when your people can talk to each other and teach you back! Level up your content by bringing your community, courses, and subscriptions together.
Sold, yet? I hope so.