You have chosen your first online course topic, gathered your materials, and are ready to bring them online. In support of your course you will need to decide on a platform. Simply put, your platform is the structural support system for your course materials. There are so many ways to approach platform selection, it might be best to sit down with cup of coffee (or other less caffeinated nurturing drink) and answer a few important questions.
Educational Marketplace Platforms
When we say “Marketplace Platform,” what do we mean? This kind of platform is basically the Walmart or Amazon.com of online education. Just as Amazon is a destination for online shopping of all types (not just books as they started out), course marketplaces function like a big online shop for all different kinds of online courses. And like Amazon, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to selling your courses through a marketplace platform.
Some advantages to going with a marketplace like Udemy (the most popular on the web today) include a built-in audience and marketing for your course, specific guidelines for creating your course, and a high quality platform that has over 15 million users. That means many potential buyers see ads for your course.
The disadvantages center around the way income is split. In the case of Udemy, the percentage of the course income you receives depends on the source of the students who sign up. As course creator, you make 50% of the sales that come in from Udemy’s marketing, 97% of sales that you promote, and 25% of sales from affiliates. What are affiliates? They are people who market your course for you and refer students for a percentage of the split.
Another disadvantage of platforms like Udemy is that there tend to be a LOT of courses, often on the same topics, so competition can limit your sales. Also, you are not allowed to collect email addresses of your students or promote any courses or products of your own. This severely limits your efforts to build your own brand and followers. In effect, you become dependent on Udemy to provide your students and can have a hard time getting traction on your own business and brand.
By 2018, Udemy had more than 65,000 courses offered on their site.
Udemy also offers an application for Apple IOS and Android that allows students to have their classes directly on their phones and wherever they are.
Another online marketplace is Skillshare, which has a little different business model. Customers pay a monthly fee to subscribe to all of Skillshare’s content. These fees are divvied up according to the number of times each instructor’s content is accessed. I guess you could call Skillshare’s business model a kind of educational co-op.
What’s a standalone platform? These sites do nothing but host your course for you. You market, sell, and teach it. In fact, the web pages for your course will often appear as if they are hosted on your own website.
Teachable has an enormous number of instructors and courses, over 10,000. One of the reason it’s so popular with instructors is that the Teachable interface is user-friendly for students and teachers alike. Some well-known industry leaders, such as Shopify and the New York Times use Shopify for training.
The downside of Teachable is the cost, which is several hundred dollars per year, with the cheapest plan averaging $33.25 per month when the fee is paid up-front on an annual basis. That’s a lot more than hosting for your website, which might be only $5.00 per month or less. Also, you are not getting the huge market exposure for your course that you would get on a Marketplace platform like Udemy. However, the flexibility in pricing and enrollments means that you can make a lot more money on Teachable *if* your course is popular. So, it’s a bit of a gamble, and one you may or may not be ready to take when you first starting out.
Thinkific is another very easy-to-use standalone course platform. Based in Canada, this company has been around for quite a while, and has great customer service for instructors. Price-wise, Thinkific has a free plan to get you started, but then their cheapest cost is $49 per month paid annually. In this case, “Free” doesn’t mean no-cost; there is a 10% transaction fee on any courses you sell. But it does remove some of the up-front risk in launching a course. Depending on the tuition for your course, you would want to move to paid plan pretty soon after people begin to sign up.
This is my personal favorite, due to the flexibility, extreme ease of use, and personal customer service. Another Canadian company, CourseCraft was started by a young couple looking for a simple way to host online art classes. The result is a platform with beautiful looking pages that are no more difficult to put together than a Word document with images and format. CourseCraft hosts all of your media, including video up to 2.5 gigabytes in size, audio files, images, PDF’s, downloads, and more. It also integrates directly with several email marketing systems such as Webkit and Campaign Monitor.
If you work with collaborators to create and/or teach your courses, the Society level CourseCraft plan has a very useful feature that allows you to add them as collaborators so that you can create and edit beautiful lessons together.
Although your courses are hosted on CourseCraft’s site, there are great integrations to embed landing pages on your own site or blog, so that students have a seamless experience moving between your website and courses without appearing to leave your site.
The paid plans also have a feature for selling course add-ons, such as private consulting or additional content such as e-books, PDF files, or videos.
If you need a really easy platform to help you get your first course up and running very fast, including live webinars, Ruzzku might be the right solution for you. Ruzuku is an interesting option, first because of their motto “Ridiculously simple online course creation” and second because it includes the option to host live webinars as part of their hosting.
The motto may actually be true. Ruzuku claims it is possible to create an online course in two hours or less, and practical experience bears it out. Ruzuku does not allow for individual email communication between the instructor and a student within the platform.
With an all-in-one platform, all aspects of running your online course, including email marketing, shopping cart, etc are handled together in one system. These can run the range from small and simple, such as Gumroad and Selz, to more complex and expensive, such as Kajabi, Podia, and InfusionSoft. I’ll try to lay out the options as comprehensively as possible here, because you can get totally lost in these systems, investing tons of time and money, only to find there are key features missing or that are deal-breaker for you. While all-in-one platforms work very well for some people, for others they are the source of infinite frustration.
Academy of Mine
This all-in-one platform has a huge menu of services and modules for course creators. I might be the most comprehensive system in this round up. The question you must answer is which components do you need, and does Academy of Mine perform them as well as or better than outside systems, such as email marketing, messaging, etc.
Academy of Min lets you create beautiful online courses and landing pages using prebuilt layouts and provides an Integrated Dashboard to manage multiple course offerings in one central place.
Assignments, quick true-false quizzes, and exams help you to assess and track your students’ learning progress in the system’s grade book.
Academy of Mine also comes with built-in-built messaging. This means you and your students can privately send messages to each other from within the platform.
A comprehensive marketing dashboard with Google Analytics and webmaster tools integration, email marketing and private messaging capabilities are also included in Academy of Mine’s monthly fee: From $99/month (Mini), $199/month (Starter), $299/month (Growing), $449/month (Monster); 30-day free trial. A 30-day free trial is available.
Podia is an affordable all-in-one platform that lets you create, market, and sell online courses and digital downloads, such as e-books or videos. It also allows you to set up membership programs.
What makes Podia an all-in-one platform is the inclusion of an email service for collecting email addresses, “dripping” emails to students after enrollment, and sending email marketing campaigns to prospects.
There are two levels of monthly payments wit Podia, the $39 “Mover” lever and $79 “Shaker” level. There is also a generous 30-day free trial (versus the usual 14-day trial). There are no transaction fees and no limits on the number of students or email subscribers you can have.
Small Business-Extended Enterprise (For more complex needs)
With built-in membership sites, sales pages, email marketing, course catalogs, ways to make upsell offers and affiliate tracking, this Simplero offers an all-in-one solution that would handle pretty much whatever you need to create, market and sell your course.
Simplero’s plans determine what transaction fees you pay, from $100 per month and 2% transaction fee on the Starter Plan to $400 per month and no transaction fees on the Unlimited plan. You can switch between plans easily, so choosing one isn’t a big deal and you can always change it later. Simplero also offers a generous 30-day free trial, which would most likely be needed to try out all the features that are included.
Zippy Courses began as a WordPress plugin but is now available as an all-in-one platform for hosting and marketing your courses. Rather than a standard course hosting platform, Zippy Courses emphasizes the teaching and sales aspects of the online course business equally by giving you the ability to create premium versions of your regular or shorter courses.
There are no transaction fees with Zippy Courses and the monthly fee covers unlimited courses. The two levels of monthly cost ($99 or $199) depends on the number of emails you’ll be sending and the amount of data storage you require. Zippy course easily supports courses that are “launched” and evergreen versions. There is a trial version for $1, not free, and it only lasts for seven days.
If you already have a WordPress website, love working with it, and want to include online courses in the products and information you already provide, this may be the best solution for you.
WordPress offers you ultimate flexibility. If you want to do something, you will very likely find a plugin or you can customize things with coding.
The flexibility that comes with WordPress means an average WordPress site selling courses would have around 20 plugins and it is very likely that you are going to face conflicts and compatibility issues on an ongoing basis.
If you are using WordPress, you will have to be on top of your site always. In fact site maintenance is a much more difficult and time consuming job than site development. With WordPress, it is you who take care of site maintenance, updates and security.
Keep in mind that WordPress is a free system that comes without any dedicated customer support. If a problem develops with your site, you either have to find and hire a qualified developer, or spend endless hours searching the forum sites for answers.
Software on your website
Moodle Plug-Ins/Add-Ons – learning management systems
If you’re still early in the platform selection process, here is a list of all of the things you should look for in an LMS (Learning Management System).