Choosing a Platform For Your Online Course

In this post, I'm sharing tips for how to choose a platform for your online course. If you're new to course creation, here's some more articles that cover the basics:

Choosing a topic for your online course

Outlining online courses

Creating course materials the fast and easy way

If you were to ask me what the number one question I get asked about online course creation is, I would have to say it’s “how do I choose a platform for my online course?”

When choosing a platform, I recommend that my clients think mainly about how easy and reliable the platform is to use--both for the learners and for the course creator. More often than not, focusing on ease and reliability rather than price will actually save you money in the long run, both because your course will sell better and because you will spend less time fixing problems.

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There are three basic options when it comes to choosing a platform: you can either join an online course marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare, build on top of Wordpress using plugins, or you can subscribe to an all in one platform such as Podia, Teachable, or Kajabi.

I want to start off by saying that I don't think any of these options are bad and that I know online course creators who have found success using all of them. That said, there are some important things to consider when choosing which platform is right for you.

In this blog post, I'm going to cover the pros and cons of each option, tell you what I use, and help you compare features so that you can figure out the right option for your online course business.

The TL/DR version is that I really recommend going with an all in one course platform like Podia, Kajabi, or Teachable. They tend to be easy and reliable to work with, which saves you time and effort when managing your products, while also giving you complete control over your list and your growing course business.

Let's get into the specifics for each option: 

Course Marketplace:  

Course marketplaces are third-party companies that sell courses directly to their own customer base.

Some of the most popular online course marketplaces include Skillshare and Udemy. With marketplaces, all you have to do is upload your content and post it for sale. These websites are unique in that they market the courses for you.

Pros:

Some of the pros of using a course marketplace are:

  1. The company promotes courses for you

  2. They usually provide pretty extensive teacher support.

  3. Learners can get registration and technical support directly from the marketplace.

In short, course marketplaces can be a great option for teachers who have limited time and want to earn some passive income from their knowledge.

Cons:

Although these courses are pretty easy to set up, there are some definite cons to using an online course marketplace.

  1. These marketplaces are crowded. In most popular niches, you will find tons and tons of courses on nearly every topic.

  2. Because students are typically coming to these platforms to find something specific, rather than because they have a relationship with you the instructor, this can make it hard for your course to stand out.

  3. On these platforms, selling courses can often become a race to the bottom for new course creators, meaning that you are forced to compete on price.

While the included marketing services are a nice feature, it's also important to know that you pay a price for accessing them. Course marketplaces also take a significant share of your revenue.

Another important con is that just like with social media, you don't really own your list when you sell a course in an online course marketplace.

Teachers are you typically discouraged and even prohibited from contacting their students with other promotional content. For this reason, I don't typically recommend course marketplaces to online instructors who are really hoping to build a business (as opposed to just another source of passive income).

Overall Recommendation:

My overall recommendation for course marketplaces is that they might be okay for some course creators who want to create an additional income stream. They also expose new groups of learners to your content and in doing so may help build your personal brand.

However, I do not typically recommend course marketplaces to my clients as I don't think they are a good fit for people who are trying to build their own businesses. In my experience, it is better to invest the time and effort into marketing and building your own audience rather than relying on a course marketplace.

Wordpress Plugins:

Another popular way to create an online course is to use WordPress plugins to essentially DIY your own course platform.

Pros: 

The pros for using Wordpress plugins to create your online course website include:

  1. Using Wordpress plugins is, at least in some ways, a low-cost way to run your platform. For a low upfront fee, you can gain access to the specific plugin you choose. This may save you money when compared to the ongoing subscription costs, per course transaction fees, and commissions associated with other ecourse hosting options.

  2. Using Wordpress plugins also offers you virtually unlimited options when it comes to customizing your courses.

  3. Your course is also fully native to your website and you can integrate it with your existing offer pages in just about any way you like.

Cons:

The main cons for using Wordpress plugins to build your online course website could perhaps be better described as warnings. Using Wordpress plugins requires far more technical knowledge than other course hosting options, and there are many more opportunities for things to go wrong with your course doing things this way.

If you are truly a Wordpress expert yourself, or you are willing to pay a professional and highly-experienced web designer, preferably someone who has experience building and maintaining ecourse websites using Wordpress, then this can be a good option for you.

The biggest problem with building a course on Wordpress is that it typically takes a little bit of TLC to maintain. Because online courses require a complex web of integrations and tools, DIYing your online course platform is not easy. It requires extensive testing to make sure that all the functions of your course work well. This is especially true for important functions of online courses such as payments and student enrollment.

Even people who work with Wordpress regularly have told me that they've ended up scrapping their Wordpress plugin based online course platform in favor of one of the all-in-one solutions we will talk about later, simply because their Wordpress plugin solution created customer service headaches and required maintenance to keep the system working.

For most course providers, the additional customization and savings are not worth the costs of providing customer support and platform maintenance.

Overall Recommendation:

If you are a pro Wordpress developer who really knows their stuff, or you are willing to pay someone who meets that description, this can be a good option, especially if you need a lot of customization. Otherwise, it's usually much easier to go with one of the major course hosting platforms. 

All in One Course Platforms:

Pros:

All in one course platforms are typically subscription-based services that are set up out-of-the-box to host online courses. Many also provide other services to entrepreneurs including email marketing integrations, payment gateways, and storefronts for other digital products.

The main pros of using an all-in-one course platform are

  1. They are easy to set up and highly reliable. Using one of the major all in one eCourse platforms saves you time and money on customer service and maintenance and allows you to provide your learners with a reliable user experience.

  2. Most all in one eCourse platforms also include sophisticated tracking and monitoring of students and various other features to help you create the best product possible.

  3. As with online course marketplaces, they also provide their instructors with significant support to help them use their products.

Cons:

With all in one e-course platforms, the main con is that your options for customizing your product’s look and feel are somewhat limited. They can also be a little more expensive than using Wordpress plugins because you have to pay an online subscription fee that may increase as your business continues to grow.

Overall Recommendation:

In spite of these limitations, all in one eCourse platforms are what I recommend to almost all of my clients and what I use myself to create courses.

Because they are easy and reliable and automate so many of the business tasks that ecourse providers need to complete, they are a great way to maximize the amount of time that you spend creating content and serving your audience.

I find that for most course creators the amount of time saved easily outweighs the additional expense of using a subscription-based platform.

The reliability of the user experience is also incredibly valuable. In the online world, it is so easy to lose sales because something isn't clear and easy to use. Using a reliable online course platform is a great way to reduce refund requests and ensure that your learners have a great experience every time.

What I Use:

There are a variety of good options for all in one course platforms. I've recently started to use in Podia in my own business. I had previously been using Teachable, and I had a great experience with them as well. The main advantage of Podia is that it offers some additional features and at the time of writing had lower costs than Teachable.

With Podia, all plans include unlimited digital downloads, so in addition to courses, you can also sell digital products like PDF templates and anything else you like in your online storefront.

All plans also support integrated email newsletters, instant payouts, customer tracking, and easy-to-use checkout with payment protection.

Podia also offers a modern, easy to use, and easy to customize storefront. My courses look really beautiful with Podia and it's very easy to set up and run.

Podia has plans that start at $39 a month or $33 billed annually. Even this basic plan includes a 0% Podia fee which is great for new teachers who are just getting started.

If you upgrade to Podia’s Premium plan you get all basic Podia features plus advanced tracking, onboarding, migration assistance, drip course content, affiliates, and the ability to run a membership site for only $79 a month or $67 if billed annually.

All in all Podia offers amazing value for the money.

Have you started building your online course yet? What platforms are you considering? 

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Meet Rachel

I’m an instructional designer providing eCourse solutions for creative entrepreneurs. My focus is on helping you learn how to talk to your audience and validate your programs to take the uncertainty out of launching.

Have questions about creating your online course? Click below to learn how we can work together!

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