In the last 5 years, online courses have gone from, "Yeah I've heard of them" to "Heck yes. My Grandma's taking one." Even universities and colleges are jumping onboard the online course revolution -- some of them offer TOTALLY online degrees!
This means that online courses have pretty much become ubiquitous. That's a fancy way of saying, they're everywhere and we're all used to them. Learning things online is a part of most of our future, whether you’re looking for a degree, to upskill, or to master something important to you.
But you know what else is cool? It's also ridiculously easy to build an online course! That's because there are lots of platforms dedicated to giving YOU the power to build a course you can be proud of.
Creating an online course is one of the most energizing ways of growing or expanding your online business with digital products or services today.
So are you ready?
Whether you're drafting ideas for your first course, planning your fifth, or just curious, we’re going to walk you through the best online course platforms. We’ll show you how these platforms work, their pros and cons, and how to figure out which one's right for you.
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
In this article...
What is an online course platform?
An online course platform provides the software to create and host an online course. The best platforms give you a wide range of options for course delivery like quizzes and polls, the ability to add communities and live streaming, and ways to market your course.
Some online course platforms let you host a pre-recorded (asynchronous course). Some let you teach a live, cohort course (synchronous). And some do both and then some! We'll get to this.
Why should you use an online course platform?
Once upon a time, long ago, course creators had to learn code or hire a developer to create something that looked a bit like a course. It was expensive, time-consuming, and the end result still didn't look great.
Then, companies started inventing plugins for the content management system WordPress. This gave course creators more functionality and the ability to add a course by installing a premium plug-in. But the courses were still incredibly basic, clunky, buggy, and any custom branding you wanted still required hiring a developer. Of course, that was before everyone had a smartphone, so nobody cared that these were not accessible by mobile either.
We’ve come a long way.
Modern course platforms set the creator free to build almost anything they want -- no coding necessary. And many course platforms allow you to add your own custom branding and give you the tools to sell your course to your members.
Then, there’s the community side of things. Your students don't have to sit all by themselves in a quiet room while they learn (cue the sad violin).
It turns out that bringing people TOGETHER around your course content is the most important part of the whole experience. The community you build will be the thing that keeps everyone engaged.
The best online course creation platforms provide you with powerful tools to build an amazing course!
How online course platforms work
As online course platforms become more common, two general business models have emerged: hosted and marketplace solutions. Both have pros and cons, depending on what you're looking for.
Hosted solutions for online course platforms
Hosted platforms give you a place to build that’s all your own. No coding is necessary–just show up with your imagination to fill the blank canvas with a great course.
And let's talk money $$ . These platforms also come with the infrastructure and tools that let you sell your course from your own website without having to worry about updates, security, hosting, and maintenance.
You can focus on creating your best stuff and not get hung up on the tech.
Advantages of a hosted solution:
- Build whatever you want
- Keep most of the income you generate
- No distractions–your course is the focal point
Marketplace online course platforms
The other popular model for hosting and marketing an online course is a marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare. These marketplaces come with a bevy of potential students looking for things to learn. Members either have to pay a flat membership to access all the courses, or buy them individually. BUT the tradeoff is that the platform takes a cut of your revenue (or ALL of it and pays you out a bit).
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 sense for you.
Advantages of a marketplace solution:
- Large body of existing users to sell to
- The platform itself has a strong brand
What to look for in an online course platform
If you’ve got a handle on these two different business models, here are some of the things to look for as you evaluate course platforms:
The best online learning today is an immersive, yet organized multimedia delivery! It gives you a fast and clear way to create and organize lessons, supporting live streaming, 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.
You need to be able to charge for your course and securely collect payments from your customers. But the best platforms also give you diverse ways to monetize, for example, by building communities, upselling courses, private groups, and other add ons–all seamlessly without having to pay for new platforms or run complicated Zapier automations.
Comprehensive business model
Most course creators don’t think of this, but what if you want to grow your business beyond your course? What if your dreams 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.
While it seems like a lot if you’re just starting, there may come a day when you want to be able to offer bundles of courses and communities or packages of paid mastermind groups fueled by free courses. You might want the opportunity to experiment with different combinations or a white label course platform that makes this possible.
You don’t need to decide or think about this right now.
Heck, it’s enough stress to build an online course. But if you choose the right platform for your course, and you decide to do this stuff down the road, you’ll be able to add it without switching platforms!
A great platform should give you a way to smoothly integrate the marketing and delivery of your course. The success of your course depends on promotion: Does your online course platform play nice with your email channel? Your social channels?
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.
Ahh community. The thing too many courses are missing. The thing that students LOVE! A community option gives you 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 members 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 members will encourage 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 good platform should provide a way to access your online courses and course community on mobile. Increasingly, students expect to be able to access courses on native mobile apps on 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
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 what’s going to be the most important thing to your students? Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Are you looking to grow your audience?
- Are you most concerned about price?
- Are you looking for ease of use?
Looking ahead, we’ve rounded up the best platforms to create online courses with a quick look at what makes each of them work.
1. Mighty Networks
Best all-in-one & community-builder
Mighty Networks is an all-in-one cultural software that comes with the BEST course platform. It gives you all the flexibility and options you need to deliver any type of online course: live, pre-recorded, or mix and match.
You can totally customize any of your Mighty Spaces to include courses, and the platform is engaging and interactive, with easy-to-create lessons that can be styled to fit your brand. You can add community, events, messaging, and live streaming to your course Spaces-- this gives you a ton of flexibility.
Mighty is flexible enough to host an intimate small course with a few people OR or a full community with multiple courses inside–each of which can be sold separately. And members can access the course and community on robust mobile apps that are super easy to use and create content from.
Mighty Networks has the advantage of being flexible. It’s perfect for a beginner to use in creating elegant online courses, but if and when your course takes off you can do so much more with the platform–adding subgroups, new courses, exciting events, and live streaming.
Many of the world’s best creators have turned to Mighty Networks to build communities, like Adriene Mishler, who created a community around her 12 million YouTube subscribers to her channel- Yoga with Adriene or Sadie Robertson Huff, who used the platform to launch her LO sister app.
But there are also thousands of smaller creators, many of whom are earning 6 figures from building course communities that people love.
Mighty Networks - Summary
Strengths: An all-in-one platform that gives you flexible Spaces to build online courses, communities, host live streams, virtual events, and more all under your brand. The enterprise offering, Mighty Pro, offers everything on a Mighty Network while also including native mobile apps on iOS and Android.
Weaknesses: It’s not a course marketplace–you’ll need to bring your own members.
Best for: Creators and entrepreneurs 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, Mighty Networks creates a place for people to master your topic together under your brand.
Best marketplace platform for creator revenue
Udemy is a course marketplace that lets creators build online courses and list them. It has a mixture of free and paid courses on the marketplace. If you want to sell a paid course, you can fill out an description of your course and what it will offer and submit it for review. If it’s accepted, you’ll be able to sell it on Udemy.
You’ll then build your course and launch it.
Udemy lets you charge anywhere from $0-$199.99, and has a range of options for adding details to your course, quizzes, Q&As, etc. It also has a bunch of review features that users can use to signal if they liked your course or not.
Some of the disadvantages to Udemy. You only keep 37% of the money from each course sale when someone discovers it on the Udemy platform. Think of it as sort of a “finder’s fee” for Udemy referring clients to you. You also can’t build a community around your brand, and you don’t even get contact information for the people who take your course.
Another disadvantage is that you don’t get to add much of your own branding, the course needs to fit in the Udemy marketplace. However, Udemy does have a solid mobile app which is great for access.
If you get approved, Udemy might be a good place to create your first course ever, if you’ve never done it before. It’s straightforward and they’ll walk you through it.
Udemy - Summary
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 37% 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 a multi-channel platform.
Best marketplace platform for creator exposure
If you’re a creative who wants to host your course on a marketplace platform, Skillshare is where many teachers choose to get exposure and build their brand. It has a base of users, and a search function with people trying to find courses all the time. Skillshare includes a system that lets users rate your course as well as a difficulty-level meter. The platform is good and there are a lot of well-known names teaching on it.
While Skillshare is great value for students, it doesn’t give as much to course creators. Skillshare takes 30% of its revenue each month and divides it among course creators according to how many hours of their course its users watched. This means that you need to create a course that stands out in a sea of others, is unique, and that people will watch a lot of if you want to get past a few dollars a month.
Skillshare - Summary
Strengths: Set up with 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 culminate with a class project. It’s an uncomplicated way to turn your passion into some extra cash on the side.
Best complex marketing systems
Kajabi is an online course platform that gives you the ability to create and host. Instructors can add files and photos to their courses, and videos hosted through the third-party site, Wistia.
While its course platform isn’t as good as others and it has very limited community functions, where Kajabi excels is in the ability to create complex marketing systems. People building courses can create landing pages, marketing funnels, and email sequences to market them. Because of these marketing features, Kajabi ends up costing quite a bit more than others on this list, and it’s probably the most expensive.
Kajabi - Summary
Strengths: Offers many features you’d want from hosted 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: People who want complex marketing systems–probably those who understand sales pages and funnels.
Best affiliate program
Teachable is a hosted platform that lets you create your own course. While Teachable isn’t as advanced as others on this list, missing key features like mobile apps for every device (iOS only) and the option to add a course community, it does have one great feature: its affiliate program. An affiliate program lets teachers reward people who promote their course with a percentage of the course sale–and that’s what makes Teachable a contender.
Teachable - Summary
Strengths: Teachable is strong on the course design side, allowing 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. The affiliate program is also a plus.
Weaknesses: No Android app, 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.
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, the checkout process doesn’t perform well and lacks good sales and marketing features.
Best for: Certification-based courses, where prerequisites and quiz assessments are key to the learning path.
7. Podia (formerly Coach)
Strengths: Podia is super easy to use, with a 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.
You can use an online course platform 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. That's why courses and communities are a key part of the creator economy.
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? We hope so.