Are you thinking about creating your first course but not sure how to serve your content to your audience? Choosing the right service to support your lessons is not only about the ease of use for yourself but also the usability for your students. There are many online platforms to help you on your way to launching your first online course, but how do you choose the one that is right for YOU?
By selecting the right platform for your online course, you will not only save yourself time and money but also support your students on the best platform for YOUR content.
Below are some of the best services that provide a way for you to create and sell a course online.
But first, let’s get into what you should look for when looking for where you should sell your course:
Online Course Creation Considerations
The last thing you need is a complicated system to get your course up and running. You want something that you can set-up and hit the ground running, especially since you just want to get your course out there in front of your students!
First, you need to decide if you want to host the course on your blog/site or externally (“stand-alone platforms”).
Then, you need to break down what other services you want:
- Do you want full control over your content? This is more about how you want to be able to customize your course than “owning” your content (separate issue).
- Do you need the platform to accept payments for you? Do you already have a system in place to accept payments you would like to use?
- What kind of budget do you have to start your course? It’s challenging to invest money before you have made any money off of your hard work, but you will very likely want and need to pay for a platform that provides the services you need. Some platforms will offer an annual fee with no transaction fees (when a student purchases your course) and others may charge only per transaction (or a combination of the two options). Just look at the terms for each to see what fits your budget.
- How much of a profit do you want to make from your course? Yes, we all want 100% of the earnings from our courses, but there will be fees for using a platform and processing payments. Check to make sure that whatever service you sign up for only charges for the platform and does not take a cut of your final sale amount (if possible).
- Do you have an email service provider (ESP) you want to integrate directly with the course platform? Some platforms will connect directly with your ESP but others will rely on a service like Zapier to add students to your email list.
Before investing in any platform, make sure you look at the terms of the platform. There are some platforms that will technically own your content once published!
There are a million questions and things to consider. It will be overwhelming to sift through all the information out there. In the end, you have to just take the leap on your best guess after your research and know that you can change your mind down the road (though it may cause some issues transitioning to a new system later…what you gonna do?).
Now let’s look at the different ways you can set up your course:
The most widely used method of creating and publishing a course online is to go with a stand-alone platform.
What does this mean?
By going with a stand-alone platform you will be housing your course curriculum on an external site. Almost all hosting platforms will also provide you with support in the event of technical difficulties and even take care of payments (so no need to sign up with Stripe or a similar payment system yourself).
Basically, you pay for the service (usually monthly or annually), you place your course/lessons within the platform, and then your students will purchase the course through that platform. It’s the easiest way to get your course out there with little to no tech-savvy needed (in most cases).
What are the cons?
You will be limited by the design and functionality within a platform – so you won’t have full control over the customization of your course.
While this may be a con, it’s also a pro! If you are like most people out there, futzing with the design and layout of your course may delay the launch of your product. By working within the confines of a stand-alone course platform you are given strict parameters to just get your course done and launched!
Let’s touch on some of the most popular platforms (please note that while some of these platforms are for online courses, some do also offer membership-based services but that is not the focus of the info I’m sharing with you):
Teachable by far one of the most popular stand-alone course platforms on the market.
Plus, you can get started without any initial investments (though you will have limited functionality). They do offer a free version where there are merely higher fees when your course is purchased – so you may lose some profit but you don’t have to invest any money up front.
Teachable will handle all of your transactions and provides technical support for you every step of the way if you run into any issues. You will have a built-in sales page, checkout process, and login. All of these can be customized to fit your brand and messaging.
They even have the option of starting a blog around your school (which houses all of your courses) so even if you aren’t a blogger or have your own site, you can still push content to your students to build your following.
I previously hosted my courses on Teachable. My choice to go with Teachable was because of their ease of use and the popularity of the platform – my students were likely very familiar with how the platform works and didn’t have much (if any) guesswork on how to access my courses.
However, after paying $348 a year without reporting on student progress (like, what?!) I made the switch to LearnDash on my own site (subdomain). I had connected to Google Analytics, but extrapolating the information I need is painful and not student-specific (it’s globally which lessons have been completed, etc).
Other than reporting, I was pretty happy with Teachable.
However, I will also note that the Teachable app has some issues. For example, if you embed an image within a rich text block on one of your lessons it will NOT display within the app. Teachable has openly said they are not focused on the app and don’t know when this issue will be resolved.
Much like Teachable, Thinkific is another popular course platform that many use.
Thinkific has a slightly more advanced way to modify your course with a drag and drop editor, so you will have more ability to customize your course and sales page.
To top it all off, you can host up to 3 courses for FREE!
One of the main draws is you are able to fully host your course on Thinkific or you can deeply embed the course directly on your site (so that it appears as if it’s hosted on your site). So it’s a 2 for 1!
Podia offers a 14-day free trial so you can check it out before you buy! They also have live previews (webinars) so you can check out the process before you sign up.
Podia also allows you to build, essentially, a whole site with an about me page and contact page so even if you don’t have a blog or website you can still provide even more information to your students.
Their customer support is supposed to be absolutely amazing as well!
Although it’s not our focus, Podia is also a great way to set up a storefront for digital products or a membership site.
I’ve seen a lot of courses on Podia and many that say they made the switch from other platforms and love it.
The great thing about Udemy is that it’s completely free for instructors! You create a course and publish it to their platform. They will do promotion for you but this is largely based on ratings you get from students.
Unlike many platforms, Udemy has a full marketplace where students can find your course without needing to land on your sales page or any of your promotions.
I’ve also read that you have little to no control over the price of your course since they regularly offer site-wide deals (so if your course is $250 Udemy could, in theory, change the price to $50 during one of their sales).
Kajabi is basically an all-in-one marketing platform that integrates not only online courses but also email marketing and sales funnels. If you don’t have a blog or website, you can easily create one through their service.
Their interface looks absolutely beautiful and you will definitely get everything you need (and more) as an online course creator.
The biggest drawback is the price – their basic plan is $149/month (when paying monthly).
SendOwl is less about having a full course where you host paginated videos or text lessons and more for if you want to offer an external way to sell courses in the form of ebooks (or if you want to sell digital products).
This allows you to take the need to accept payment on your own site and even storing the potentially large files on your own site for sale.
You may see these called LMS (Learning Management Systems) that come in the form of plugins for your website.
One of the main challenges with finding a solution to host a course directly on your site is the need for multiple plugins: usually one to create the course and another to process payments. While this isn’t always the case, make sure to do your research to see what functionality is included and what is not.
(see Thinkific above for a stand-alone option that can also be integrated into your site)
- LearnDash: reportedly the most widely used WordPress plugin for self-hosting your online course. It integrates with many other plugins to balance out the functionality you need to customize and process payments for your course. I have personally switched to LearnDash from Teachable!
- LearnPress: this plugin for your blog is used by a lot of universities to offer courses for sale.
- CourseCats: originally just a WordPress plugin, this is now a stand-alone service but many purchase it just for the ability to use it directly on their website.
- Thrive Apprentice: I use a few products from Thrive Themes in the past and absolutely liked their products! They have great support and even offer a membership that includes all of their products – look at that before you sign up for just this one product! I will add that I purchased and tried Thrive Apprentice – know that it requires a membership plugin to lock your courses for payment before entry. Although it wasn’t easy to set-up, I made the switch to LearnDash when I discovered it had no reporting! When this was briefly used on my site, I was using Wishlist Member and ThriveCart Pro (not affiliated with Thrive Themes, just a similar name!).
No matter what platform you choose, I’m excited for you to start your journey to sharing your knowledge and, hopefully, growing your income. With so many choices out there you are bound to find the solution that works for YOU and your unique needs.
Was this helpful? Pin it to reference later!
About Kristine Beaves
Hi, I’m Kristine, a blogger, organization nerd, and mom of 2. You’ll find all my tips, tricks, and know-how on cutting through the crap-load of info out there about blogging with WordPress right here.