While I really 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. The margins are higher, it’s your platform and it’s a logical “next step” towards building a sustainable online income for your business.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Content lock lessons so students have to complete lessons in a certain order (optional but helpful).
- Provide both a mobile and desktop version of your content so your students can access the content they paid for easily.
- Provide quality custom landing pages for your courses, buy buttons and a clean and easy checkout process to help drive sales.
- Incorporate marketing features like course upsells, coupon codes, email marketing integration, running your own affiliate marketing offer, webinars and hosting your own online community.
Although some argue the negatives of online courses, the best platforms provide real advantages for both teachers and students.
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:
- Learn Dash
- Mighty Networks
- Learn Worlds
- Academy of Mine
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.
- Pretty much everything you need in terms of features for a high converting, effective teaching website. Sales pages, checkout pages, a mobile app for your courses.
- Can create course bundles, coupon codes, upsells, hide courses from public display, content lock lessons so students have to complete lessons in a specific order and more.
- Integrates with Circle for building out your own community.
- Managing affiliates is a breeze with Teachable back office. Approve affiliate one by one then issue payment to all your affiliates with proper tracking at the click of a button.
- Integrates with popular email marketing providers.
- There is a free plan that does not expire so you can test the platform out before committing.
- I love the checkout page Teachable provides for your courses.
- Teachable charges a transaction fee on their “basic” and “free” plans but has a lower monthly price point than alternatives.
- Student engagement could be better out of the box instead of needing to pay for Circle integration.
- Teachable has a bit of a learning curve with learning how to design and setup everything.
- Support from Teachable is mediocre. They operate on ticket system and there is no live chat.
- You can’t move the same video from one course to another.
Podia – Flagship courses, communities, webinars and email marketing
Podia is an online platform that allows users to create and sell digital products, subscriptions 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Great looking course interface for your students and an overall effective sales page editor.
- Easy to use and intuitive design software and setup your courses on the backend.
- All plans get access to Podia’s email marketing. This is not going to replace a dedicated service provider, but it’s still decent for sending out course updates to students.
- You can pre-sell a course before launch with the option to create courses that are only open for enrolment for a limited amount of time.
- There are no transaction costs on any of Podia’s paid plans.
- I don’t like the light box checkout process of Podia and prefer a dedicated checkout page like Teachable.
- There is no mobile app students can download to consume courses they enroll in.
Thinkific – No transaction fees
Thinkific is an outstanding platform for creating an online course website. It’s the perfect option if you’re wanting an LMS for one high quality, feature rich course or if you want sell a portfolio of mid-tier courses. The price point is a bit high for their entry level “start” plan at $74 a month, but if you have the traffic and are able to generate sales it’s more cost effective than Teachable’s Pro plan which costs $99 a month.
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.
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.
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.
- The lesson experience from Thinkific is wonderful for your students. Can video, text, PDF’s documents, quizzes, presentation slides and audio files.
- A free plan where you can sell one course and pay zero transaction fees.
- Highly customizable if you have the technical skills.
- You can offer live lessons for your students.
- Can sell your course as a group package.
- The “start” plan is expensive at $74 a month and still includes “Thinkific” branding until you upgrade to the $149 a month grow plan.
- The affiliate management is unreasonable if you’re wanting to focus on running a popular affiliate program.
- I don’t like the two step checkout process, one page is best for an online course.
Kajabi – The all in one marketing solution
Kajabi is the superior platform for professionals who want to expand their business. It contains numerous features that cover everything you need to develop your online training exactly how you envision it. You can also construct as many components within your platform as necessary, including newsletters, podcasts, a full on website with blog as well as membership functionality.
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.
- A true, all in one solution for gaining organic search traffic and converting that traffic through email marketing and paid products.
- Kajabi has an “academy” and an active forum to help learn how to best use all the features and tools available with this platform.
- If you don’t yet have a website, email marketing provide or an LMS solution for your courses, Kajabi is an effective choice.
- If you already have a high traffic website and an email list then you won’t find the features of Kajabi that helpful.
- It’s a very expensive option if all you’re looking to do is to create and sell online courses.
- Affiliates are only included on the “Growth” plan.
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.
- As this LMS plugin integrates with WordPress, you have full control over all aspects of the student experience.
- The Gradebook extension makes Learn Dash ideal for courses offered by schools and universities.
- Drag and drop courses builder.
- Create a course (ideally free) using your YouTube videos.
- Offer coupon codes to help drive sales.
- Integrates with WooCommerce so you have control over the checkout process and access to payment processing options.
- Security and updates is on you since it’s a WordPress plugin.
- You have to design and manage all aspects of the course creation process, including the technical details you typically don’t have to deal with when using a platform like Teachable.
- If you’re wanting to offer videos and audio you’ll need to manage that yourself as Lean Dash is an LMS not a media host.
Gumroad – The 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.
- No monthly fee, get started for free with no feature restrictions.
- Gumroad has evolved into a platform to sell pretty much anything online. From courses, ebooks to physical products.
- Manage your own affiliate program.
- Set a custom domain and design your own course website.
- Embed your products and courses on your WordPress website.
- The transaction fees are high and you’ll pay more using Gumroad than alternative options if your marketing efforts are successful.
- The layout of a Gumroad site is a bit cookie cutter and has big “Gumroad” branding in the footer you can’t remove.
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.
- If you’re wanting to build out a membership website with a strong community focus look no further than Mighty Works.
- You can add on courses to upsell to your community. Perfect if what you’re building out is a free community.
- Mighty Networks support native live streaming, perfect to connect with a small audience in a more meaningful way.
- They also offer a “branded app” plan if you’re wanting a way to create your own app for IOS or Android.
- The livestreaming viewer limit on the community plan is capped at 50 viewers. Getting 50 viewers is difficult, but not impossible and you’ll have to upgrade to the business plan to have more than 50 viewers.
- The key focus is on building out a private community (free to join or paid). As such the course aspects and related marketing capabilities is not as robust as other options.
- You have to pay for a business plan to unlock the ability to have courses. As such, if all you’re looking to do is sell courses then Mighty Networks may not be right for you.
Learn Worlds – An excellent white label platform
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.
- Create a full website with a blog, paid courses, podcast and YouTube video embeds.
- Course material at the Learning Center plan is more dynamic with added video features.
- You can white label their platform for reselling purposes or to eliminate all “Learn Worlds” branding.
- Offer free courses, coupon codes and integrate an email marketing provider with ease.
- Get access to having your own custom app developed.
- At the lower price points other platforms are better. As such I would suggest going with the Learning Center plan or use a more affordable option.
Academy of Mine – The enterprise solution for education
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.
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. Yes, 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.
I know other platforms like Teachable, Podia and Thinkific have “free” plans as well, but these options are more aimed at allowing you the potential customer to tryout the platform to see if you like it. Rather than being a viable option to make sales.
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. Because unlike platforms like Udemy and Skillshare that have a marketplace of 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:
- Teachable – Best for creating a course website and an affiliate program.
- Podia – Ideal for a few flagship courses where you need webinars, email marketing and online community built in.
- Thinkific – Very similar to Teachable. Has better student engagement but a lacks Teachable’s fantastic back office service.
- Kajabi – An all in one platform for blogging, webinars, podcasting, email marketing and course creation. Go with this platform if you’re going to use all the tools they provide.
- Learn Dash – The best WordPress plugin option. I’m not a big fan of self hosted LMS solutions to be honest because I don’t want to deal with all the technical aspects of being in control of everything. But if you want full control using WordPress, Learn Dash allows for it.
- Gumroad – The best free option. Create and sell pretty much anything you like.
- Mighty Networks – Create your own private community or membership website and offer courses.
- Learn Worlds – The best white label choice. Create a full, feature rich website, blog and mobile app. Integrate your paid courses easily too.
- Academy of Mine – This is for enterprise level clients, not solo creators.
With that said, the most important factor is you. 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.