In this article, I’m going to highlight my favorite online course platforms.
These platforms have helped teachers and instructors reach millions of students.
In fact, they are the backbone of the e-learning industry which is expected to be worth $325 billion by 2025.
Keep reading to learn how to get a piece of the action.
The Best Online Course Platforms
There’s no shortage of course platforms out there, and they all do a great job at marketing themselves.
For me, however, the top 2 picks here easily trump their competitors.
Ideal for anyone from entrepreneurs to consultants, freelancers, authors, and anyone else looking to spread knowledge.
Thinkific is a leading solution for online content creators and easily the most comprehensive course platform on this list.
The brand has over 40,000 course creators, for whom the site has generated over $200 million in revenue.
I particularly like Thinkific because it allows you to get started hosting your own courses immediately via its Free Plan.
All you need to sign up is an email address.
I also love Thinkific’s simple, decluttered dashboard, which makes planning and hosting online courses dead-simple for virtually anyone.
Besides hosting your course content, Thinkific also makes it super easy to create sleek, customized course sites using a straightforward template.
Finally, Thinkfic also comes with a bunch of tools to help you market and sell your courses, such as Coupons, Sales Widgets, Affiliate programs, and more.
- Super simple dashboard.
- Intuitive course builder with drag and drop capabilities.
- Great design elements and templates to customize your course page, including banners, logos, avatars, CTAs, and more.
- Easily integrates with third-party platforms like Stripe, Paypal, Zapier, Mailchimp, Google Analytics, etc.
- Comprehensive platform that lets you design your site, manage your course material, market your courses, and support your students, all in one place.
Thinkific has 4 plans:
- Starter Plan – $0/mth
- Essentials Plan – $39/mth
- Business Plan – $79/mth
- Advanced – $219/mth
Unlike some of the other platforms mentioned on this list, Thinkific charges no transaction fees, even on it’s Free Plan.
Great options for big, professional course creators who want extra flexibility.
Teachable is one of the largest online course platforms, currently hosting over 186,000 courses and reaching over 18 million students.
Like Thinkific, Teachable has everything you need to host and sell your courses.
Its website and course builder are super simple to use and support a variety of learning tools and multimedia elements (like video, audio, PDF, images, and more).
I particularly like that Teachable has a bunch of resources to help beginner course creators get off their feet.
Like Thinkific, Teachable also has a free plan to help you kickstart your online course/school today.
What makes Teachable a little different from its competitors, however, is that it offers more advanced design features (like full HTML coding) to give you more flexibility over the look and feel of your online school.
- Simple course and website builder.
- Tons of resources for beginner course creators.
- Learning tools like quizzes, compliance features, certificates, and more.
- Multimedia support (video, audio, text, PDF, and images).
- Fully responsive websites.
- Variety of 3rd party integrations.
- Compatible with surveys and Google Forms to generate feedback from your students.
Teachable also has 4 plans with similar pricing to Thinkific:
- Free plan – $0/mth
- Basic Plan – $29/mth
- Professional Plan – $79/mth
- Business Plan – $399/mth
Note: Teachable has different transaction fees to Thinkific ($1 + 10% for every sale/signup).
Thinkific and Teachable are, in my opinion, the 2 best online course platforms out there. But if you want to shop around some more, that’s great.
Here are some other online teaching platforms worth checking out:
Kajabi markets itself as an all-in-one business platform.
And it really is.
With Kajabi, you can not only run online courses, but also build websites and landing pages, host webinars and events, create high-converting sales funnels, run membership sites, manage email marketing, blog, and much.
It also boasts some pretty awesome sales tools and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Business Insider, and more.
- Awesome sales tools, such as built-in shopping carts, one-click upsells, completely customizable checkouts, and more.
- Zero transaction fees.
- Beautiful templates to help you easily build websites, landing pages, sales funnels, and more.
- Supports quizzes and surveys.
- 24/7 live chat support.
- Basic Plan – $119/mth
- Growth Plan – $159/mth
- Pro Plan – 319/mth
Learnworlds is another great teaching platform that makes it easy to host courses and supporting websites and sales pages, all in one place.
It’s a great option for beginners with limited resources and no coding, design, or development knowledge.
What makes Learnworlds standout from some of its competitors is that it allows you to create interactive eBooks and host social networks for your students.
- Tons of interactive tools to enrich your course videos.
- Easy-to-edit templates for your website and sales pages.
- Intelligent sales engine that includes coupons, drip campaigns, and other tools to help you improve your sales.
- Social networks where your students can ask questions about your course and interact with one another.
- Unique tools for creating eBooks that your students can highlight and edit as they read.
- Starter – $24/mth
- Pro Trainer – $59.4/mth
- Learning Center – $179.4/mth
- Custom plans for high-volume corporate clients.
Podia is a similar platform to LearnDash, offering all the features you need to run, market, and sell your online courses, all in a single software.
And like many of the brands I’ve listed here, Podia also offers a free trial of its software.
If you’re looking for an extra platform to weigh up, this is definitely a viable option.
- Host unlimited course files.
- Drip content.
- Offers various payment plans and upsells.
- Comprehensive email marketing solutions.
- Digital download-friendly, meaning you can offer eBooks, audiobooks, PDFs, videos, audio, and more.
Podia offers 2 pricing plans, both of which are very accessible:
- Mover – $39/mth
- Shaker – $79mth
Great for WordPress users.
LearnDash is a learning management system (LMS) that seamlessly integrates with WordPress.
It’s one of the leading platforms used by Fortune 500 companies like InfusionSoft for their professional training projects, and leading universities (such as the University of Florida and University Washington).
- Seamless WordPress integration.
- Easy pricing models.
- Drip-feed options.
- Engagement triggers to show you how your students interact with your course material.
- Various selling options, including one-off payments, course bundles, shopping carts, subscriptions, and more.
- Mobile compatible.
- Multimedia compatible.
- Basic Package – $199/yr
- Plus Package – $229/yr
- Pro Package – $369/yr
The Best Online Learning Platforms
Online Learning Platforms are a little different from the course platforms I mentioned above.
In an online learning platform, your courses get sold in a marketplace along with tons of other courses.
The advantages of this are clear:
You have the potential to reach a much larger audience, seeing as some online learning platforms reach millions of students.
The downsides, however, are also pretty clear:
You face a lot more competition and you end up earning less from each sale due to commission from the platform.
One strategy that I’ve used, which may or may not be useful for you, is to create a free course on these platforms, and funnel students to your other properties.
If you’re looking to join an online learning platform, here are the best options out there:
Udemy is one of the biggest and best online learning platforms out there.
If you’re looking to teach on one of these platforms, this is by far my top recommendation.
Udemy reaches over 30 million students, hosts more than 100,000 courses, and is super easy to use.
Once you’re approved to teach, setting up your courses is super simple, and there are also tools to help you promote your courses on Udemy’s marketplace.
- Great resources on how to plan a course.
- Simple dashboard to keep you on track of your courses and students.
- Huge community of teachers.
- 24/7 support.
- Udemy is free.
How much does Udemy pay?
You set your course price on Udemy, but due to the platform’s revenue share scheme, your earnings might vary a lot.
From the get-go, Udemy will charge you a 3% administrative fee.
From organic traffic (that’s anyone who lands on your courses organically via search, for example), Udemy pays its instructors 50% of sales.
If you use coupons to market your courses directly to students, you’ll get 97% of every sale.
If, on the other hand, you sign up to Udemy’s Deals Program, you might get more traffic but you’ll also give Udemy the freedom to drop your course prices by up to 75%.
You’ll also only collect 50% of sales made through the Deals Program.
Finally, if you sell a course through Udemy’s affiliate program, you’ll only get 25% of sales.
Out of all the online learning platforms mentioned in this article, I like Udemy’s revenue model the most.
It might seem a little complex at first, but I find it much more accessible (especially for beginner teachers) than Skillshare’s royalty-based model, for example.
My Udemy Strategy:
I have a course on Udemy, however it’s 100% free. You can see the landing page here.
The reason is that I actually have the same course on this website which is completely free. So I wouldn’t want to charge for something on Udemy which I offer for free from my website.
But what’s great about creating a course for free on Udemy, is that you can funnel students into your email list, and then recommend other courses you might have on other platforms.
So this strategy is something to consider, if it works with your course. Perhaps you can create a “mini course” on these platforms and offer it for free, and funnel students to your other online properties.
Skillshare is THE learning platform for creatives.
It currently delivers courses to over 5 million students, specializing in niches like design, video, writing, photography, fine art, illustration and much more.
However, Skillshare doesn’t just teach creative classes.
It also hosts courses on business analytics, eCommerce, marketing, freelancing and entrepreneurship, and leadership.
If you’re an established instructor in one of these fields, Skillshare may be an option for you to reach more students and generate a steady income.
If you’re a new teacher, however, you might find it hard to get off the ground on Skillshare due to its royalty system (more info below).
- Huge student database.
- Community discussion forums where you and your students can interact.
- Great resources for teachers, including a teacher’s handbook and a 30-day teaching challenge.
- Skillshare is free.
How much does Skillshare pay?
Skillshare teachers are paid from a royalty pool which usually consists of up to 50% of Skillshare’s revenue.
Teachers get a share of these royalties based on how many minutes of their content gets watched by students.
So basically, the more people watch your classes, the bigger your share of royalties.
3. LinkedIn Learning
If you’re an instructor in the business niche, LinkedIn Learning is definitely worth checking out.
To start teaching, you’ll need to personally apply to LinkedIn Learning for instructors here.
Once you’re approved, you’ll have the opportunity to run courses on arguably the biggest professional social network in the world, which currently hosts over 1,000 different courses.
While it is still growing, LinkedIn Learning is a great option, especially for instructors focusing on project management, development, marketing, analytics, and other business-related topics.
What You Need to Start Teaching Online
The online learning market is huge.
In 2017, close to 80% of companies in the US used e-learning, according to eLearning Industry.
Well, e-learning is a great way for companies to invest in their talent and improve their performance.
In fact, over 40% of US companies report that e-learning has directly helped to increase their revenue.
So, what does an aspiring teacher like you need in order to take advantage of this huge demand for online courses?
Well, I could write a whole series of articles on that topic, but here go a few tips to help you get an idea of what it takes to teach online:
Know What You Want Your Students to Learn
This is by far the biggest piece of advice I can give you.
Before you start planning lessons, weighing up the cost of different software and so on, make sure you know EXACTLY what you want your students to learn.
To do this, it helps to reverse your role, think of yourself as a student and ask yourself:
What is the one thing I want to be able to do after I take this course?
It can also help to look at forums in your niche to identify the challenges people in your industry are facing and clearly outline how you can address them.
From there, you can start working backward to create a learning pathway that outlines exactly how your students will learn what you teach.
This is another, equally important tip for running online courses.
Regardless of your niche, your skill as an instructor, or your subject matter, you should ALWAYS focus on one thing:
This is true for any kind of content.
When I put together these articles, for example, I always make sure that each article is packed full of value for my readers.
After all, if there’s nothing for you to take away from reading my posts, you wouldn’t read them, right?
Use the Right Technology
Running online courses is a business.
And technology is your best friend when it comes to running an effective business.
In this article, I’ve given you a total of 9 different pieces of technology you can use to run an online course business.
Make sure to look into these options in more detail to find what works best for you.
Understand Your Budgets and Costs
Wondering what it costs to run an online course?
Well, type that question into Google and you’ll find estimates that vary from as low as $200 to anywhere above $15,000.
The real answer is:
The cost of running a course will depend on the subject matter of the course and countless other variables, such as the gear you need to put together your course materials, whether you’ll be working with a team or by yourself, and more.
The best way to get a realistic understanding of your costs is to run a cost analysis.
Once you’ve done that, analyze your budget and see how you need to adapt your course in order to meet your budget restrictions.
Build a Strong Brand
Branding is super important, and the best online instructors know this.
If you want to succeed in this highly competitive niche, you’ll want to build a strong brand for your business.
To do this, you’ll want to think about the design of everything from your website down to your videos, the way you present yourself, the tone of your videos, articles, and audio, and more.
Unfortunately, I can’t focus on all aspects of effective branding in this article.
For a good overview of this topic, check out this post by Business Collective.
Take Some Online Courses Yourself
Last but not least, if you’re looking to break into the online course market, make sure to try taking some courses of your own to get a feel for what’s already out there and how you can stand out from your competitors.
Remember, this list of tips is far from complete.
But building a complete guide to running online courses was never my goal here.
What I hope you take away from this article is my list of top course platforms.
Remember, my personal favorite course platforms are Thinkific and Teachable for their long list of features and great pricing.
If you’re looking to teach on an online learning platform, on the other hand, I recommend using Udemy.