The 11 Best Online Course Platforms for Creators

David Utke •  Updated: August 3, 2023 •  Website Builders

While I like both Udemy and Skillshare, there is no denying that once you have an organic and paid traffic source, it is better to launch your own online course website using a course website builder. The margins are higher, it’s your platform and it’s a logical “next step” towards building a sustainable online income for your business.

On top of that, many of these online course website builder platforms allow you to provide additional services and features like 1 on 1 or group coaching, bump offers, referral discounts and upsells.

So what are the best online course platforms for instructors? You have a lot of options as this space has grown into a 200 billion industry. I would suggest that you pick a platform that gives your students an amazing, custom learning experience that feels professional and polished.

They should be so engaged and enjoying the experience that they don’t even realize they’re using a platform at all. It should feel like an extension of your website it’s own stand alone website.

Full disclaimer, I built WebsiteCreativePro.com (my online course website) with Teachable and highly recommend them as a online course website builder. I’ll be objective as possible as to other options I like as well as their pros and cons.

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Online course platform features to look for

The advantage of a Udemy or a Skillshare is that it’s a “done for you” free platform where you upload your courses and don’t have to worry about any technical or marketing details. With building out your own course website however you do need to pay attention to specific features like:

Content management

Provide a high quality content management system where you can upload videos, text, downloadable PDF documents, tests and quizzes in a way that looks great.

Even better if you can combine material into a single module as sometimes you’ll want to have a video and associated text underneath with downloadable material at the bottom.

Lock lessons and drip out content

Content lock lessons so students have to complete lessons in a certain order (optional but helpful). While I don’t do this, there are some teachers who want to restrict access to lessons until students complete their lessons in order, or acess is unlocked if a student passess a quiz.

Good UX for both mobile and desktop

Provide both a mobile and desktop version of your content so your students can access the content they paid for easily. A lot of students want to access your content on their phone while they are drinking coffee at Starbucks.

Landing pages to convert sales

Provide quality custom landing pages for your courses, buy buttons and a clean and easy checkout process to help drive sales.

We’re running a business here, you need to be able to create high quality landing pages that look professional as a way to convert traffic into paying students.

Quality checkout page and easy process

You don’t realize this if you’ve never sold anything online, but the checkout process and checkout page are quite important.

You want a quick and easy checkout process with a page that looks great, can easily incorporate upsells on and is easy to navigate.

Advanced marketing features

Incorporate marketing features like course upsells, bump offers, coupon codes, email marketing integration, running your own affiliate marketing offer, webinars and hosting your own online community. Again, we’re running a business and need to market our courses.

Best online course platforms for instructors

After creating free tutorials with a wide variety of platforms, myself and my team find these online course platforms to be the best:

Teachable – Best for a multi-course website

I personally use (WebsiteCreativePro.com is powered by Teachable) and recommend Teachable for building out your own course website if you’re wanting to create something similar to a Skillshare or a Udemy. Specifically if you want to host multiple low to mid tier priced courses.

It’s a solid LMS for online courses and has all the details you need to host multiple courses people can enroll into. You can create simple but effective sales pages, offer upsells on the checkout page, coupon codes, back office management including affiliate management and you can bundle courses together and price them at a discount.

The only weak aspect of Teachable is average student to teacher engagement. Students can leave comments on course lessons and you can email you with questions. You can integrate Circle into Teachable but I wish they had more robust features on this front.

One on one coaching

A unique feature found on Teachable I’ve not seen on other platforms is the ability to offer one one coaching to your students. This is alone makes the platform quite compelling to use because you can now setup your own offer without needing to use a 3rd party site like Fiverr. You can also use coaching as an upsell or cross sell to your students.

Affiliate management for the win

Teachable offers a service called “back office” that is perfect for the solo creator. It is a suite of services they offer to help you manage your business so you can focus on driving sales rather than being overwhelmed with paperwork.

The fee is a 2% transaction fee and Teachable on your behalf pays out affiliate within 30 days automatically, collects tax forms on your behalf, allows your school to accept PayPal as a payment processor and remits EU VAT charges automatically.

If you’re wanting to run a course website and manage affiliates then Teachable is simply the best option which is why I use it to run Website Creative Pro.

Sales pages that convert

If you know how to write sales copy you’ll love designing simple yet effective sales pages that convert visitors into customers. There are numerous block features to add in both images and sales videos to help you drive more sales for all your courses.

The only thing you may not like is that it is ideal to have a large hero image at the top of every online course you sell. But I find this layout visually appealing and best of all, it works to grab the visitors attention.

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Podia – Courses, communities, webinars and email marketing

Podia is an online platform that allows users to create and sell digital products, subscriptions, offer coaching and host webinars. With Podia, you can easily build a beautiful course website, manage your students, and take payments all in one place. Plus, with their built-in affiliate program, you can share your products with others and earn commissions on sales.

Podia (like Teachable) is an all-in-one online course platform with over 50,000 members that offers digital downloads, webinars, and memberships. I like Podia more if you’re wanting to host a few, more expensive flagship courses and leverage webinars.

There are no transaction costs with any of the Podia paid plans and the free plan lets you use their website builder to design a site that matches your product and you can use Podia’s built in email marketing features to help drive sales.

LMS features

With this platform you get a professional learning management content system where you can include videos, images, audio files, PDF’s and code scripts for your students. One thing I don’t like however with Podia is you can’t include text and video in one lesson module, you’ll need to break that up into two separate modules.

In addition to the learning LMS you also get a lot of helpful marketing features like the ability to content lock your lessons and drip them out over time lesson by lesson. You can pre-sell a course before launch to drive sales and you have the ability to add product course upsells at checkout.

Community memberships

Where Podia really stands out however is for those looking to create their own online community. On all their paid plans you’re able to host your own community of students, bundle products together catering towards specific groups with a target offer, setup tiered plans, and offer cross sells for other courses or products at checkout. Additionally, you can take advantage of Facebook Groups and Slack integration.

Webinars

Podia also functions as a webinar hosting platform, allowing you to host live or on-demand webinars. Webinars are highly effective at converting cold and warm traffic into buyers. You can even setup your webinar sales funnel first on Podia on a lower tier plan because they offer “draft webinars.” When you’re read to launch then upgrade your plan.

Email marketing

On all of Podia’s plans they offer their own email marketing service. With it you can create email opt-in forms, send broadcast emails, develop drip campaigns and setup simple sales funnels. It’s an interesting option because you can setup a course website and create a dedicated email list of all your customers if you like so when you update a course or add a feature you can let everyone know.

You could even drive traffic to a your course website from YouTube, a blog or paid traffic source and send cold traffic down a funnel you setup with Podia. However, it’s not as feature rich as proper email marketing provider with dedicated landing pages, if/or functions, click tracking and list segmentation. But if you don’t do email marketing, or just want something simple then Podia has you covered.

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Thinkific – No transaction fees and a good free plan

Thinkific is an excellent platform for creating an online course website because they offer a totally free plan where you can have one course with no transaction fee. On their paid plans they offer unlimited courses (unlike Teachable) and you get community spaces (functionally a chat room) on each plan including the free plan.

With Thinkific you’re able to build sales pages, checkout pages and leverage the course LMS on the backend to deliver the material. Thinkific offers a wide range of options for content to put into your course. From homework, surveys, presentation files to standard videos and text.

Group sales

What stands out from Thinkific is the ability to offer group sales. So organizations and companies can purchase access to your course easily and effectively then give that access to their respective employees. This is a bit niche specific, but if you’re target market is organizations then Thinkific is a great option.

Affiliates and checkout pages

Thinkific requires you to manually pay out affiliates one by one. You’ll also need to keep track of payouts manually as well for tax purposes. Running an affiliate program overall with Thinkific is way to cumbersome. Sure it’s fine if you have a few high performing affiliates. But the time it takes to manage everything is unreasonable.

In addition, I don’t like the checkout process with Thinkific. It’s a multi-step checkout process compared to Teachable’s singular checkout page. Multi-step is fine for a physical product, ecommerce website where you implement breadcrumbs on the checkout page but for purchasing a course there is no need for this as it slows the end user down.

Lecture discussions

Where Thinkific stands out is built in student interactions. While like Teachable students can comment on lessons, Thinkific takes it to another level by allowing group discussions, community posts to cover different topics and you can also offer live lectures using Zoom within your course.

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Kajabi – The all in one marketing solution

Kajabi is an all in one marketing platform that is perfect for someone who does not want to buy multiple services and instead want’s all their technology done by one company. Kajabi offers the ability to have an email newsletters with funnels, podcasts, a full on website with blog as well as membership functionality and the ability to sell digital products like courses.

Kajabi is an all-in-one platform that makes creating and delivering online courses easy. With Kajabi, you can create beautiful course content, set up automatic course enrollment, and track learner progress. Plus, Kajabi integrates with many popular learning tools and platforms, so you can easily add supplemental materials to your courses.

In addition, you also can leverage their “Pipeline” feature which allows you to quickly create automated marketing campaigns and funnels. These come with pre-written copy that is designed to convert leads into sales. While you should build and text your own funnel pipeline, it’s a great base template to build off of. Also, you can also customize your checkout and take advantage of blogging functionality for organic search traffic.

Not just for courses

Where a lot of beginners get confused is by looking at Kajabi as strictly an LMS platform. It’s not, it’s designed to be your go to, one price fits all marketing solution. With Kajabi you can create a website, setup a blog for organic search traffic, host courses, podcast, run a membership, create a community and you get email marketing built in to help drive sales.

Instead of using WordPress for your blog, Convert Kit for you email marketing, Teachable for your courses you can instead built everything on one platform which is the unique selling point of Kajabi. Although it’s a little pricier than some of the other platforms out there, it’s quite cost effective if you intend on using everything Kajabi offers. Which makes this one of the best marketing platforms around thanks to its wide range of built-in tools and features.

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Samcart – Bump offers done right

SamCart offers a variety of features, including customizable checkout pages, order bumps, upsells, downsells, and one-click upsells. These specific marketing features are designed to help businesses and professional marketers increase their revenue and improve their customer experience.

For example you can run a Facebook ad for a 7$ product that has a 9$ bump offer with a 47$ upsell with ease. With Samcart, you can host both digital downloads and video courses and easily add bump offers and upsells to all your product funnels.

Integration Capabilities

SamCart is also great when it comes to integration capabilities. It works seamlessly with a wide range of third-party tools and services, including email marketing platforms, payment gateways, and membership site software. This means that you can easily connect SamCart to the other tools you’re already using, streamlining your workflow and making your life easier.

Advanced Analytics

SamCart’s analytics provide detailed reports and insights, you can track your sales, conversion rates, and other key metrics with ease. This information can help you optimize your sales funnel and make data-driven decisions about your business.

Overall, I believe that SamCart is a fantastic shopping cart platform that offers a lot of value to online businesses. While it’s not perfect, its many pros far outweigh its cons, making it a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable and user-friendly shopping cart solution.

Pricing Structure

To get full access to all the marketing features I find essential, you’ll need to subscribe to their “Grow” plan which at $119 a month if you pay yearly is quite expensive if you’re just starting out. But you’re going to want be able to offer bump offers and upsells as part of your funnel.

I would suggest starting out on their “Launch” plan and launch your course. Once you start generating cashflow then it’s time to build out full a full product funnel.

Excellent checkout pages

Samcart has my favorite design for a checkout page. Image of the product or course being purchased, a “what you’ll get” section to help make that final sale and a beautifully designed bump offer box to help increase the value of your cart.

Samcart does bump offers and upsells better than any other platform and is a very strong and compelling reason to signup with them when you’re ready to launch your course.

Good landing pages

Finally, Samcart offers numerous prebuilt landing pages for different topics. Like this one for a fitness product. Each of these templates can be customized with your own branding, colors and copy to fit your style.

I do prefer the clean style of Teachable landing pages, but if you’re not happy with any of the sales pages with Samcart you can always use a tool like Lead Pages to custom design your own landing pages.

Learn Dash – The WordPress plugin option

Learn Dash is to courses what WooCommerce is to ecommerce with regards to WordPress. If you want to sell courses directly on your WordPress site, then LearnDash is the plugin you need. This popular WordPress LMS plugin is used by some big websites, including Yoast, Infusionsoft, the University of Michigan, and WP Elevation.

By utilizing LearnDash, you can create an unlimited number of courses that are both free and paid. The LMS itself has a wide variety of features to allow you to build online courses based on e-Learning principles. One helpful feature I like is “Focus Mode,” which blocks out all distractions to help students focus while taking one of your lessons.

LearnDash’s course builder is customizable and easy to work with, especially when it comes to email drip campaigns. If you want to build a great online course that goes along with an email drip schedule, LearnDash is the way to go. With this method, you can build a complete marketing campaign from beginning to end, attracting leads and selling courses.

Last, there are numerous addons for Learn Dash. One such is their Gradebook addon which is perfect for schools and universities. With the Gradebook add-on, you can easily keep track of your students’ grades and progress in one neat and orderly location. No more having to check different tools for information on a specific student.

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Gumroad – The best free option (with a catch)

Gumroad is a surprisingly good platform for creating and selling all sorts of products, including courses. They are totally free to use but they do charge a hefty transaction fee.

Gumroad used to offer a tiered fee of 9% on everything under 1000 USD, then 7% transaction fee from 1000 USD to 10,000 USD. If you sold over 10,000 USD it the transaction fee then dropped to 5% then 3% once you break 100,000 USD. If you manage to sell over a million dollars on Gumroad your fee drops to 2.9%.

They have since updated their fees and now charge a flat 10% fee for all users and removed the tiers. This is an awful change for sellers who were at the 3%-5% transaction fee range. But if you’re looking for a free platform to get started on Gumroad is a good choice. However if you have success it is going to more expensive than other course platforms.

Gumroad course features

Gumroad makes it very easy for you to sell courses online without any coding or advanced website development skills. You can either sell products directly from Gumroad with a personalized URL you can share, or embed your courses on your own website with a great looking “buy” button.

Gumroad is also unique because it offers features like a buy button support for Twitter and an official plugin for WordPress that enable you to embed Gumroad content.

In addition you can upload an unlimited number of courses, products, or files for your course. There is even unlimited bandwidth and storage for individual file sizes up (16GB free of charge).

Free email marketing

While I personally suggest using a dedicated email service provider for anyone serious about building out funnels and automatic sales processes, Gumroad is nice in that it does provide a free service to those not wanting or ready to buy a paid plan.

By utilizing their built in email marketing features, you can easily send mass emails that are segmented and tailored to your customer base about new course or product releases, updates to existing courses, general newsletters, and whatever else you need to communicate.

It’s similar to what Podia offers and it actually quite useful if you want to send course updates to your current students.

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Mighty Networks – Private community and courses

Mighty Networks provides a platform for you to construct and manage a paid private community website where you can implement native livestreaming on the platform, host events and integrate Zoom. Mighty Networks also allows for online course creation at their higher tier plan.

Mighty Networks not only makes it easy to build an online course, but also to grow a supportive and interactive community around your content. By using your social media followers, you can reach a wider audience of potential students for your Mighty Network.

Best alternative to a private Facebook group

A lot of entrepreneurs would rather use Mighty Network to create their own dedicated online space instead of basing it on social media platform (Facebook, Telegram, Discord groups). The latter often means having to ‘rent’ your audience from platforms such as Facebook, which are ad-driven.

The algorithm, not you, controls what members of your Facebook Group or people who like your page see. Consequently, they only a tiny fraction of the content you want to share with them. Since they’re also seeing social posts, ads for other groups and products, it’s easy for them to get distracted from your content. Another downside is that you don’t own your audience when use social media platforms to build an audience.

Understand that some members of your target group likely don’t want (or like) to use social media as a gathering platform. Many people are cutting back the time they spend there an want to seek out other areas where people can show up and be their true selves while still engaging with others in an open and vulnerable way that’s not possible in a Facebook group for example.

With Mighty Network, you will never have to worry about ads. You can design it exactly to your liking and control what content your members have access to. If you post something new, you even have the option of notifying all of them via email. Additionally, you can download a list of all your members with their associated email addresses. If you want more privacy or exclusivity in your community, you can enable paid membership options that screen who joins.

Online courses with Mighty Networks

The Business Plan unlocks the ability to create a course element for your online community. It’s not as robust as other LMS options on the list here with regards to lessons material and student interaction. The key focus of Mighty Networks is first and foremost building out an online community (free or paid) and then being able to offer a paid course aspect as an addon.

But one aspect I really like is that for each individual course you can create a community around that course for support, questions and student interaction.

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Learn Worlds – The white label choice

Learn Worlds is part website builder, part LMS solution. With it you can create a full website where you can blog, do a podcast, embed videos and drive traffic to purchase an online program from you. All within the same platform.

Learn Worlds also offers a wide variety of pricing plan options. From a total beginner looking to launch a course website to someone who needs a great white label option to sell to clients or to have complete control over the branding of their site.

The lower tier plans are pretty standard in that you can create a course website with a custom domain. You can design a sales page, checkout page and integrate the most popular payment processing options as well as some basic integrations with Google Analytics and an email service provider. Honestly other platforms like Thinkific and Teachable are better if you’re comparing the budget plans.

Learning center plan is the best

Where Learn Worlds really stands out is their “Learning Center” plan that costs $249 a month. It’s expensive, but for the right business it’s a great fit. With this plan you can take advantage of interactive videos where you can add watermarks, pointers, highlights, titles and more to your course videos.

At this plan you also get automatic transcripts and sub titles for your videos. This is important because not everyone who’s going to enroll in your course is a native English speaker and will find sub titles to be necessary.

You can also integrate Zoom and Webex accounts for some helpful community features and on top of that you can have your own custom IOS or Android app designed. It’s an extra fee, but if you’re not on the Learning Center plan it’s not an option.

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Academy of Mine – B2B LMS Platform

Academy of Mine is designed to help you deliver the best educational experience possible in a way that benefits your business. With a wide array of tools, you can give your customers, employees, and partners the resources they need to achieve their goals. Academy of Mine is perfect for professional training courses, certifications, and continuing education programs.

Their platform makes it easy to deliver accredited courses, compliance & safety programs, and training to other organizations or your own employees. They integrate with many different software apps so you can get the most out of our platform.

A highly customizable LMS that’s hosted and managed

Their LMS might already be perfect for your organization, but if it’s not you can have is customized to your liking. Their developers will brand and customize the platform to best suit your organizations needs. From minor changes to a complete design overhaul to developing new, niche specific features are totally possible.

If you’re running an organization or company where you need to develop some sort of professional training course then Academy of Mine is your go-to platform. Obviously though it’s way to excessive if you’re a solo creator which is why it’s at the bottom of the list.

Thrive Cart – One time fee choice

Thrive Cart is an e-commerce platform that helps businesses to create and manage their online sales funnels. It offers a range of features such as upsells, downsells, one-click upsells, and bump offers, which can help businesses increase their revenue and improve their customer experience.

One of the key advantages of Thrive Cart is that it’s the only option that has a one time fee with no monthly or yearly subscription. With Thrive Cart you can create landing pages, checkout pages that are similar in design to Samcart as well as offer bump offers, coupon codes and upsells with ease.

The platform also offers a range of customizable templates that businesses and marketers can use to create these specific as well as the ability to use integrations with other platforms such as email marketing services, payment gateways, and membership platforms. This makes it easy for businesses to connect Thrive Cart to their existing systems and streamline their sales process.

No video support built in

Thrive Cart is an LMS solution, not a video host. When you buy Thrive Cart you’re getting access to landing pages, thank you pages, checkout pages and the ability to integrate payment options, customize your courses and LMS, analytics and other 3rd party service integrations and so forth.

If you want to offer a video course, you’ll have to pay for video hosting and then embed your video inside Thrive Cart’s LMS. If however you want to offer text based courses then Thrive Cart is a very good choice given it’s one time fee.

Affiliate program

With your Thrive Cart account you also get access to a feature rich affiliate program you can run for your online courses and products. The only difficulty is that you need to manually pay out your affiliates who make sales.

Unlike Teachable that has a “back office” feature where they take care of all affiliate payments and tax reporting, with Thrive Cart it is a bit more manual. However, Thrive Cart is a one time fee and having the ability to manage and run your own affiliate program is a huge plus.

Just make sure your affiliate use the right link so they are credited with the sales correctly. Otherwise, your affiliate get access to a clean dashboard and accurate reporting as well as reliable tracking of all sales they generate.

Skool – Community and courses simplified

Skool was founded by Sam Ovens as a way to create a simple, easy to use platform for people who first and foremost want to build a niche specific community around a topic.

For example, this is Nomad School:

With your subscription to Skool you can create a community, have a classroom where you can host your own courses, a calendar for upcoming events and a leaderboard where you can gamify achievements to have your community members move up in level.

You can make your community totally for free with paid courses inside or you can make everything private. Skool is a great platform if you’re looking to offer online courses, create a membership website or offer a consultation offer with added resources.

The only downside of Skool is that the price point is a bit high if you’re building your community from scratch, but becomes more cost effective once your community grows. You also can’t have a custom domain and are limited in branding options.

What’s the best free online course platform?

If you don’t want to spend any money then I suggest using Gumroad. Only pay a transaction fee when you make a sale. Long term it’s more expensive if you have a popular course and are able to drive sales but if you’re looking to get started with minimum startup costs, Gumroad is the best free option.

Thinkific also has a generous free plan with no transaction fee which is ideal if you’re looking to sell a single course.

Is selling courses profitable?

Yes, courses can be very profitable. However you need to have some sort of marketing funnel setup. Even if it’s something as simple as organic search traffic to your YouTube videos or a blog. An online course platform is just a platform to host your courses and manage payment.

Unlike platforms like Udemy and Skillshare that are course marketplaces with buyers built in, you need to take care of driving traffic and attention to your course website yourself.

Should I use a subdomain for my courses?

I personally like using a separate, branded domain for my course website which is found at WebsiteCreativePro.com instead of putting all the course material on a subdomain like courses.davidutke.com.

keeping things separate keeps things simple because when you use a sub domain you’ll have to blend together the design of your course website to match that of the root domain. You’ll also have to worry about setting up a log so students can have access to the courses they purchase too.

Best online course platforms for beginners – Conclusion

If you’re stuck on which online course platform to choose just remember to evaluate your specific needs with regards to design of your course site, the respective checkout pages, marketing features provided by the platform, price point and any addition features you may find helpful (like one one coaching, livestreaming, community building, affiliate management and so forth).

All of the best online course platforms have three similar functions: They let you upload your content in the form of videos, text, PDF’s slideshows as well as audio. You can design sales pages, checkout pages and the course website. You’re given helpful marketing features like upsells, cross sells and even email marketing with some options.

My top choices broken down again and why:

With that said, pick the platform that’s right for you. Get to work creating the required course material and have some sort of traffic source to leverage to help drive sales. I’m very happy on Teachable. It’s the right platform for me, maybe it is for you too?

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David Utke

David Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 27k+ YouTube subscribers!