Online courses are a rapidly expanding industry and will continue to grow as more and more students turn to online learning.
In addition, the technology has made it really easy for you to create and sell online courses and so, the barrier to teaching online has come down significantly.
Dozens of online course platforms exist, and each one can offer you something different. In fact, you now have so many options that figuring out the right online course software can become pretty confusing and frustrating.
In this guide, I will share some of the best online course platforms that exist in the market in 2020 as well as discuss how you can choose the right one for your business.
Let's get started.
(If you would like to go straight to the platforms’ section, you can use this table of content.)
How to Select the Best Online Course Creator
The biggest reason why people struggle to find the best online course software is that they aren't sure about what they should look for in a course platform.
If you don't have an understanding of what an online course platform should offer, you're very likely to make a wrong choice.
So, let's discuss some of the most important things that you should consider while choosing the right platform for your business.
Types of Online Course Software
There are a few different types of online course platforms that can be fit into a few categories. Each of these categories work best for various needs and so, you should first decide the type of online course platform you will use.
For example, if you want complete control over your business, brand and customer information, you should use a hosted online course software or a WordPress plugin.
On the other hand, you should go for an online learning platform if you want to leverage an existing marketplace audience.
Similarly, if you want to sell from your own website but aren’t very tech-savvy, you should use a hosted platform rather than a WordPress LMS plugin.
All-In-One vs Standalone Platforms
Generally, most online course platforms offer mainly course creation features and essential e-commerce capabilities.
However, the concept of all-in-one online course platforms have gained popularity in the past couple of years. Apart from the course creation and selling tools, these platforms are supposed to provide you tools for marketing and audience building.
So, if you want to simplify the tech side of things and want everything under one roof, you would want to go the all-in-one platform route.
Otherwise, if you already have your website and funnels in place, a standalone platform might be a better option.
Learning and Engagement Tools
The end objective of your online course is to facilitate students’ learning and your course platform is the medium through which you deliver that learning experience.
For me, it is one of the most important aspects of any online course creator and here are a few things your platform should let you do:
Again, these are some of the most commonly used features that an online course software should have but you may want additional features depending on your specific requirements.
This is one of the most important but overlooked criteria for selecting an online course platform. The question that you need to ask is: does the platform integrate and play well with other popular solutions?
Another must-have integration that the best online course platforms should support is Zapier. Zapier is an automation tool that allows you to integrate 100s of apps with each other and so if your platform integrates with it, it will integrate with most other online solutions.
For some of you, the budget might not be an issue. But for others, it is an important criterion while selecting an online course platform.
If you’re just getting started, it won’t make any sense to pay, say $400/month or make a significant investment upfront.
I personally like the “pay more as you grow” type of pricing where an online course platform offers multiple pricing options. In the beginning, you can subscribe to one of the lower priced plans and then upgrade as your business grows.
Customer Support and Training
Finally, you should select an online course software that offers excellent customer support. So, the platform should have a team of dedicated customer service guys to answer your questions and solve issues related to the platform quickly.
However, keep in mind that customer support isn’t just about answering your questions. Rather it’s about supporting you at every stage of your journey as a course creator.
For example, some platforms have an engaged instructor community where you can hang out with fellow course creators, seek advice and celebrate each other’s successes, and this is invaluable.
These are some of the most important things that you should consider while evaluating an online course platform. Obviously, there can be other things to consider as well depending on your requirements.
Now, let’s discuss the 15 best online course platforms and how they can help you build and grow your online course business.
Best Hosted Online Course Platforms
The platforms in this category provide you the infrastructure and the tools to create and sell online courses from your own website.
The biggest upside of using hosted solutions is that you can build your course website without worrying about "techy stuff" like hosting, maintenance, security and updates.
The hosted platforms are supposed to be easy to use and they allow you to get started pretty quickly, so you can focus on creating content and selling it rather than building and managing your website or handling tech issues.
Plus a good hosted course builder offers all the essential features that an average course creator would need and so, they work very well for a majority of creators.
Now, let's take a look at a few of the top hosted options out there.
Kajabi is an all-in-one online course platform that allows you to build a beautiful course website, host all types of content including videos, market and sell your courses, deliver your content professionally and further engage your students.
As far as course delivery and student engagement is concerned, Kajabi does an excellent job! Its course player has the most attractive design options among all the platforms that I have used which helps you give a premium look and feel to your courses.
Apart from all the essential course creation features, it offers some powerful features like iOS/Android mobile app, Community, Assessments (quizzes and assignments), Automations, learning paths, etc. which will help you create a great learning experience for your members.
When it comes to site building, Kajabi has the most to offer among all the hosted online course platforms.
It has a library of 10+ pre-built site themes which you can choose from and you can further build and customize your site with its easy-to-use yet powerful page builder. You can also create and run a fully-fledged blog on the Kajabi platform itself.
Finally, Kajabi really takes it to the next level with its sales and marketing features. Kajabi has what it calls the sales pipeline builder that allows you to easily create entire workflows including landing pages for getting new leads, launching your product, doing webinars or making sales.
It also has inbuilt capabilities for email marketing automation which allows you to follow up with your leads or send them automated sales emails.
Kajabi pricing starts from $149/mo and their most popular plan costs $199/mo. Whether you choose the lowest pricing tier or the highest one, Kajabi doesn't charge you any transaction fee.
Kajabi is certainly not the cheapest online course solution out there and it's starting price is steep. So, it might not work for you if you just want to test waters or if you're on a tight budget.
That being said, Kajabi is the most feature-rich online course platform out there and for everything that it has to offer, it is really worth the price.
It is an ideal solution for you if you want to run your entire business or a significant portion of it on a single platform.
PROs of Kajabi
CONs of Kajabi
If you want to explore Kajabi in further detail and see a complete breakdown of the platform, you should check this Kajabi Review guide.
Thinkific is another very popular hosted online course platform in the market that lets you create and sell online courses under your own brand.
Unlike Kajabi, Thinkific doesn't include a sales funnel builder or an email marketing platform and is focused on offering core features for creating and selling online courses.
Having said that, Thinkific is a great option for hosting your online courses and engaging your students.
It lets you add multiple content types including videos, quizzes, text, PDF, surveys, etc. to your course, deliver your content professionally through the inbuilt course player, drip your course content, create a community forum, issue certificates as well as create learning paths with prerequisites and lesson locking.
When it comes to site building, Thinkific offers a bunch of themes and a powerful site builder that lets you build a good-looking website and create sales pages easily, without requiring to write any code.
Moreover, Thinkific offers essential selling tools like payment processing, bundling, 1-click upsells, coupons, etc.
As far as Thinkific pricing is concerned, you can use their core features like content hosting for free. Or, you can upgrade to their Basic plan ($49/mo) or their PRO Plan ($99/mo) to get more features.
The best part about its pricing is that it doesn't charge you any transaction fee on any of the plans which makes it the most reasonably priced online course platform in the market.
PROs of Thinkific
CONs of Thinkific
If you want to explore Thinkific in further detail and see how it compares to Kajabi, you should check this Kajabi vs Thinkific comparison guide.
Teachable is is another robust solution for creating and selling online courses and it is somewhat similar to Thinkific in terms of features and capabilities.
Like Thinkific, Teachable is focused on offering only the core features for creating and selling an online course. So, it doesn't include a sales funnel builder or an email automation platform.
When it comes to course delivery, Teachable allows you to add multiple content types including videos and quizzes to your course, drip your course content, create certificates natively, ensure course compliance and it also has a very well-designed course player which together result in a great learning experience for the students.
It also offers powerful sales and marketing features like coupons, highly optimized 1-step checkout process, 1-click upsells, EU VAT handling, as well as a suite of services to manage your finances and paperwork.
However, Teachable's site building capabilities are pretty limited. It doesn't have any site themes and the page builder has limited editing options which makes customizing the look and feel of your website difficult.
As far as Teachable pricing is concerned, the platform is reasonably priced. You can start with their Basic Plan ($39/mo + 5% transaction fees) or with the Professional Plan ($99/mo + 0% transaction fees) in order to get more features.
Teachable does have a Free Plan as well but it allows you to have only up to 10 students which makes it good only while you are setting up your courses on the platform.
While Teachable will work for just about any course creator, Teachable's ease of use combined with its flexible pricing makes it an ideal platform for those getting started with selling online courses.
PROs of Teachable
CONs of Teachable
If you're interested in seeing an in-depth breakdown of the platform, you can read this Teachable Review guide. You can also check these Kajabi vs Teachable and Thinkific vs Teachable guides if you would like to compare it with its competitors
Podia (previously Coach) is a relatively new entrant in the hosted online course platform market that lets you create and sell online courses and other digital products like memberships and e-books.
When it comes to content delivery, Podia allows you to create engaging multimedia lectures with videos, audio, text, PDF, etc. which are then delivered through the beautifully designed course player.
Another useful feature that Podia offers is for building membership sites. So, apart from bundling your courses, you can also create individual Posts which work great for delivering one-off content on a regular basis.
Having said that, Podia at this point doesn't support essential features like Graded Quizzes, Certificates, Content Locking etc. and you should consider this while evaluating it.
When it comes to website creation, Podia lets you build sales pages for your products but then you can't build other pages or a fully-fledged website on the platform.
As far as sales and marketing is concerned, Podia includes essential features like payment processing, bundles, coupons, affiliate marketing and email marketing. However, it doesn't allow you to create sales funnels or landing pages.
Finally, Podia is reasonably priced and it offers two plans, both of which charge 0% transaction fees. On the Mover plan ($39/month), you can create and sell online courses and digital downloads but not memberships which is available only on the Shaker plan ($79/month).
While Podia doesn't have a free plan, they do offer a 14-day free trial for you to evaluate this online course creation software.
PROs of Podia
CONs of Podia
LearnWorlds is another popular online learning platform in the market that has a strong focus on delivering an interactive learning experience.
Some of the features that make it stand apart from the competition include Interactive Video Player, Interactive E-book Reader, Advanced Quiz and Exam Capabilities, Social Community Builder, Copyright Protection, etc.
Apart from the course creation features, LearnWorlds has a powerful page builder that allows you to create beautiful sales pages as well as other pages for your course website.
Moreover, it offers some useful e-commerce features like payment processing, bundling, subscriptions, coupons, etc.
As far as pricing is concerned, LearnWorlds pricing starts at $29/month where you have to pay $5 as transaction fees for every sale or, you can upgrade to their $99/month plan in order to avoid paying a transaction fees.
However, their most popular plan is the Learning Center Plan which costs $299/month and can be a bit expensive.
PROs of LearnWorlds
CONs of LearnWorlds
If you would like to explore the platform in further detail, check this LearnWorlds Review.
6. Academy of Mine
Academy of Mine is another (not so popular) option for creating and selling online courses. It lets you build a fully-fledged website to host your online courses and start selling them.
Of all the things that Academy of Mine has to offer, I really like its powerful LMS features. It has inbuilt support for Certificates, Gamification, Discussion Forums, GradeBook, etc. and these features can be really handy for boosting your student engagement.
Academy of Mine's pricing starts from $199/month and you'll need to upgrade to their $299/month plan if you want to sell subscriptions or share revenue with other teachers on your website.
There are a few other hosted platforms like ClickFunnels and Squarespace that we haven't included in this section. While these platforms allow you to create an online course, they don't offer many of the essential features and so, I don't recommend using them.
What Online Course Platform Should I Use?
Are you struggling to choose the right online course platform for your business? Do you feel confused about all the options out there? Just answer a handful of questions and we'll tell you which one is right for you.
Best WordPress LMS Plugins
In order to create an online course on WordPress, you’ll need what is called an LMS plugin. These plugins allow you to organize your content and deliver it to your students in a user-friendly way.
The biggest upside of using WordPress for building a course website is that it offers you unlimited flexibility in terms of features and functionality.
However, it requires you to be more tech-savvy and unlike hosted solutions , you'll need to go through a not-so-easy installation and setup process that involves at the very least, site hosting, a theme, several plugins, and video hosting.
Plus, you will need to take care of site maintenance, performance, and security on an ongoing basis, which can be overwhelming for a lot of course creators.
With that in mind, let's discuss some of the top WordPress LMS plugins.
LearnDash is the most popular WordPress LMS plugin and is used by some of the top businesses, universities and training organizations.
The core plugin is pretty robust and includes all the important features like drag-n-drop course builder, quizzes & exams, dripping, prerequisites, community forums, certificates & badges, etc.
Moreover, LearnDash has tons of free/premium add-ons that allow you to easily extend the functionality of your course website. So, if there is a feature that isn't available in the core plugin, you can easily find an add-on for that.
When it comes to e-commerce capabilities, LearnDash has in-built shopping cart functionality and you can process payments natively using Stripe, PayPal or 2Checkout.
However, the shopping cart functionality is really basic but the good thing is that Plus LearnDash has direct integration with popular cart solutions like SamCart, WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.
LearnDash is very reasonably priced, so you can get a 1 site license for just $159/year. If you want more than 1 license, you can buy the Plus Package which costs $189/year and gives you 10 site licenses.
AccessAlly is an all-in-one WordPress plugin that offers all the important features you'll need to create and sell an online course.
So, the plugin has a drag-n-drop course builder and it supports course creation features like user progress, quizzes, assignments, certificates, etc. Plus AccessAlly includes a full-blown membership management software.
When it comes to e-commerce functionality, AccessAlly has a lot to offer for a course plugin. So, you can create conversion focused order forms, process one-time or recurring payments, create upsells and cross sells and even run you affiliate program.
As far as pricing is concerned, the lowest tier costs $99/month and their most popular plan costs $129/month. So, AccessAlly is definitely priced on the higher side.
LifterLMS is another great option for building WordPress-based course websites and delivering online courses.
It has an easy to use course builder and supports features like quizzes, assignments, certificates, learning paths, content dripping, community forum, etc. and you can always add new features using the additional add-ons.
Moreover, LifterLMS has inbuilt membership capability as well. So, if you want to build a traditional membership site which includes more than just online courses, you can do that with LifterLMS.
Finally, LifterLMS offers handy e-commerce features which include ability to process one-time and recurring payments, create coupons, and bundle your courses.
As far as the pricing is concerned, you get the core plugin free of charge. However, if you want to process payments or integrate with your email service, you'll need to upgrade to the Universe Bundle which costs $299/year.
If you need features like advanced quizzes or social learning, you'll either need to buy add-ons for them individually or upgrade to the Infinity Bundle which is super expensive ($999/year).
10. Tutor LMS
Tutor LMS is a relatively new WordPress LMS plugin which has gained a lot of popularity over the past year.
The plugin has all the essential features that most creators would need to deliver an online course and is fairly easy to use as well.
However, Tutor LMS doesn't really have any inbuilt shopping cart functionality. So, if you want to sell your courses, you'll have to rely on its integration with shopping carts like WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.
When it comes to pricing, Tutor LMS has a free version which is good for setting up your courses. But if you want to actively sell your courses, you'll need a Pro license which costs $149/year for 1 site and $199/year for 5 sites.
Best Online Learning Platforms
The online learning platforms list courses from multiple instructors in their marketplace and the students can pay and watch the course on the platform.
So, they provide you with not just the infrastructure but they also actively help you with sales and marketing.
You will usually have to give a percentage of your sales to the platform which can vary from as little as 25% to as high as 75%. As far as I am concerned, revenue share is less of an issue for me.
The bigger issue is that you don’t get access to your students’ email addresses and you have little control over the platform’s policies, your branding, course pricing etc. which makes marketplaces a bad option for selling courses in the long term.
So, marketplaces are a good option for creating an additional sales channel for your courses. However, selling solely through marketplaces is a great risk and I don't recommend doing that.
With that in mind, let's discuss the top course marketplace options out there:
You might have taken a course through Udemy because they're easily the largest online course marketplace out there. They are also a good opportunity for course creators to list their courses.
What I like about it is that Udemy gives instructors a lot of guidance to create their own courses and market their offerings online.
You can use Udemy for free and simply create an online course with the knowledge you want to share. After that, you can market your course on the marketplace or to your own audience.
If you sell directly to your audience, you get 97% of the profits and Udemy takes 3%. However, if you get sales through Udemy’s marketplace, they get 50% of the sale and you get the other half.
If you’re just starting out teaching online and aren’t sure where to start, SkillShare might be an appropriate choice. You can create courses that feature videos and a class project and taught in short 10-25 minute segments.
The only downside is you must get 25 students enrolled in your class before you start earning any money.
Once you hit 25 enrollments, you can start to make between $1-2 per enrollee as part of the SkillShare Partner Program. You can also get compensated for premium members by using your referral link.
Overall, SkillShare is an uncomplicated way to make some money from your passions. With some hard work, your side hustle can start to bring in some extra cash.
If you're into creating training programs for businesses and companies, OpenSesame could be a great option for you.
All you need to do to get started is to create a profile and upload your courses. After that, OpenSesame will put them on their marketplace for sale.
The best part is that they offer your courses to any existing learning management system. This is awesome for those that know different companies want their materials but operate on different LMSs.
It is free to get started, but OpenSesame will take 50% for all courses sold as payment.
Fully-Fledged Learning Management Systems
These are more sophisticated than the other categories of online course solutions we discussed previously and most solopreneurs or smaller businesses won't require one.
Full-Fledged Learning Management Systems are better suited for established businesses who want a thorough online educational network or sophisticated learning management capabilities to train their customers or employees or partners.
TalentLMS is a popular Learning Management System that gives you everything you need to to train your employees, partners, and customers.
TalentLMS is cloud-based, so you don’t have to worry about installing or backing up anything you create.
It is fully customizable, so if you already have an established brand, you can keep the theme consistent throughout your trainings.
Their full range of analytics also gives you the power to fine-tune your courses and marketing strategy to make the most of your course.
TalentLMS's pricing starts at $39 per month and there are multiple plans you can choose from.
15. iSpring Learn
iSpring Learn is another powerful online learning platform that helps large companies train their employees by offering features like learning paths, advanced gamification, user management and detailed tracking and reporting.
With iSpring Learn, you'll be able to see employee progress, set goals for the company, and measure the impact of your training and change what isn’t working.
It also has a mobile app that will allow your employees to take learning courses even while traveling or even without an internet connection.
iSpring Learn is one of the best learning management systems for corporates and is used by the likes of PWC and Unilever.
Prices for training employees start at $366 per month (100 Active Users) and go to $1,410 per month (500 Active Users). If you need more active users, you can request a custom pricing for the LMS.
What Online Course Platform Should I Use?
Are you struggling to choose the right online course platform for your business? Do you feel confused about all the options out there? Just answer a handful of questions and we'll tell you which one is right for you.
Best Online Course Platforms - Final Verdict
As you can see, there are lots of different online course software options available in the market and I know that selecting the right one can be overwhelming.
So, I recommend that you keep it simple! You should first decide the type of online course platform you will use based on your broad requirements and your tech skills.
You can then evaluate the platforms within that category based on their features, your specific requirements, and your budget.
As discussed previously, hosted online course platforms work best for most course creators and if you're looking for an all-in-one platform, you should check out Kajabi. Otherwise you can try a standalone platform like Thinkific.
Do you have any questions about any of these platforms? Which platform do you think will work the best for you and why? Please leave a comment below and let me know.
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