The past year or two of explosive growth in the online courses has made me feel like a bit of a dinosaur in the industry. 😆 I mean, I remember back when Teachable and Thinkific were about the only platforms in town! Today there are dozens of tech tools made for entrepreneurs to build out and host their very first online course. If you’re new to the industry, I’m so excited for you because it’s WAY easier to get started now than it was when I created and sold the first edition of the Ultimate Bundle™️ about 3 years ago. (a.k.a. back in Prehistoric Times in the tech world)
And there’s a reason for all of this growth in online course platforms — one that goes way deeper than the shift to work-from-home in 2020. Franky, it makes sense that the knowledge economy is shifting online now that you don’t need to know how to custom-code an online education product. With these online course platforms, the means of building your business is in your hands, you just have to pick a platform to use and start!
There are so many advantages to teaching a course online. You can start teaching from anywhere in the world (your car, couch, or favorite coffee shop) and enroll students from all sorts of backgrounds. Virtually any topic or skill can be taught online, from languages to marketing to coding. You can get super meta or totally granular. The (virtual) world is your oyster. In fact, I wonder if there’s a course out there teaching how to cook the best oysters…? If you’ve heard of it, let me know!
Teaching online means ultimate flexibility in working hours and reusable teaching materials, so you can do the heavy lifting once and keep bringing in revenue for a long time to come. It also allows course creators to reach more students, from states and countries anywhere around the globe. Anyone with an internet connection can attend livestream lectures, learn a language via video-call, or coach themselves through a video course series. Even top tier universities like Stanford and Harvard are democratizing learning by making courses accessible and affordable online.
I can finally live out my Elle Woods dreams…Harvard, here we come! 🤪
But you might be wondering — is there really room for me or my idea in the online course world? Can you really make money without having a million students? Is MY particular industry already over-saturated with online courses? Let’s discuss the room for growth, and then I want to share with you my top picks for the tech platforms to use when hosting your future online course.
An Industry that Just Keeps Growing and Growing and…
In the past year alone, online courses made over 46 billion dollars. In the beginning of 2019, the online course industry was forecast to be worth $300 billion by 2025. Now that prediction is $325 billion.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated online course growth, as teachers, businesses and entrepreneurs pivot to move their work online. 2020 saw a 221% surge in new course creation, with increasing numbers of new course creators, new student enrollment, and new classes offered. That’s huge!
New technology like cloud computing and AI coupled with better internet across the globe will continue to drive the market growth in the years ahead. (Rapid cloud adoption provides flexibility in content storage, sharing, and access to both learners and content providers.) The e-learning industry growth statistics certainly aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
It’s super exciting that learning is becoming so democratized. But it can also feel overwhelming when trying to parse out the many (so, so many!) teaching platforms. They each come with their own quirks, pros and cons, and sets of bells and whistles.
When it comes to where to host your online course, I’ve done a deep dive into the top platforms to save you time and brain space. After all, you’ll want to save that for creating a course that’s unique and life changing 😉
Spoiler alert: Kajabi (affiliate link) is my top recommendation, and it’s what I use in my own business. I’ll run down some other options, but I’m team Kajabi for course creation & sales. I even wrote about why I switched over to the platform from Teachable. It’s a decision I feel really solid about.
The 5 Best Platforms To Teach Online (And My #1 Pick)
After you’ve done your research, created a killer class outline, and pulled together your materials, it’s time to find the best platform to host your course.
What makes a great online teaching platform? It ultimately depends upon your business, your style, and your needs.
What’s your budget? Prices often depend on the level of features like the number of courses, students, storage space, and so on. Do you plan to offer live teaching and lead class conversations in real time, or will your course consist of a set of slides and materials that students can move through on their own time?
Whatever platform you choose, excellent customer service is key. You never know when you might need a helping hand, and a fast and professional response can be life-saving (er, class-saving!). That’s one of the things I’ve loved most about Kajabi (affiliate link): their chat support feature for nearly immediate service.
You might be looking for a dedicated course platform, or a platform completely dedicated to hosting your classes and course content. But you do have other options.
All-in-one course platforms go above and beyond basic course creation functionality to help you run webinars, developer email sequences, and more. If you already have a WordPress website, there are plugins or themes that can help you host a class on your site, like Learndash and Zippy Courses.
Another possibility is an online course marketplace where your class becomes part of a catalog—think Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare and Coursera. This means you get an existing student base to market your courses to, but you don’t own the hosting and you have significantly less control; students usually pay a flat monthly fee for access to unlimited premium classes on these platforms, so you don’t get say over your course’s price. In most cases, you get paid via a revenue share. You also don’t usually get access to your students’ email addresses, so it’s not a plus for your email marketing the same way using a dedicated course platform can be.
We’ll focus on the dedicated course platforms and all-in-one course platforms here, and I’ll start with my favorite:
I have sold nearly $1 million in online courses, so I feel comfortable chatting with you about online courses 🙂
Overall, IMO Kajabi gives the most professional and cleanest look to the course materials themselves. I’ve been on both the student and creator sides, and I prefer Kajabi over other options. You can learn more about Kajabi and sign up for a free trial here.
Kajabi’s used by over 25,000 course creators including big names like Amy Porterfield, the online marketing expert, and Brendan Burchard, the personal development coach.
Kajabi’s features are truly impressive. It’s an all-in-one system that offers you everything including the marketing tools to build an online course business. It’s the only all-in-one platform with no need for third party tools. The platform delivers when it comes to sales and marketing: it comes with its own built-in email list management, sales funnel builder, checkout pages, and marketing automation.
Automation can be a life saver for your online business. For example, if a few days have passed by with no activity from a student, an automatic email can ping them to check if they need any help or info in order to move forward. Or you can set up an automated email to go out once a student completes or starts a lesson. The possibilities are literally endless.
Think of Kajabi as the Mercedes of online course platforms. It costs a bit more than the competition, but you get more bang for your buck.
As of 2021, Kajabi has 3 pricing options:
· The Basic Plan costs $149 a month, or $119 a month if billed annually. Users get access to Kajabi University, webinars, dozens of premade templates, key automation, and more. They get three products and three pipelines. They are limited to 1,000 active members and 10,000 contacts, plus a single website for one admin.
· The most popular plan is the Growth Plan, which ups the number of products and pipelines to 15. Users can gain up to 25,000 contacts as well as 10,000 active members. This one costs $199 a month, or $159 a month with an annual subscription. There’s also advanced automation and 24/7 chat support, which are great to have.
· The Pro Plan grants users up to 100 products and pipelines, 100,000 contacts, 20,000 active members, and three websites for 25 admin members (that’s a lot!). It’ll cost you $399/month, or $319 if billed annually.
Here’s another pro: although you can drip content with both Kajabi and Thinkific, Kajabi lets you send automated drip emails to announce the release of new content. I even use that feature to announce product updates and improvements to my existing members. Thinkific doesn’t yet have the capability to send drip emails to your students automatically.
Originally, when I started my business in 2017, I launched the Ultimate BundleTM on Teachable (affiliate link). It used to be a more affordable option than Kajabi (in some cases that’s still true – but honestly Kajabi’s basic plan now rivals how much I was paying for Teachable towards the end.)
Teachable is a cloud-hosted solution that offers a user-friendly course builder interface, and it’s excellent for beginners.
It’s also the largest online course platform on the market when talking numbers. They have over 100,000 instructors on the platform, who they’ve helped earn more than $500 million dollars. Big names like the New York Times, Melyssa Griffin, Pat Flynn, and John Lee Dumas use Teachable, so that’s a pretty great endorsement.
The pricing plans are:
· $29/month for their Basic plan. This comes with unlimited students, 5% transaction fees, and a members-only community.
· $99/month for Pro, their most popular plan. There are zero transaction fees and integrated affiliate marketing.
· $249/month for the Teachable Business plan. You’ll also get priority product support, advanced theme customization, and group coaching calls.
With Teachable, you have to link to your sales page from somewhere else, like a landing page on your website or your social media, to drive traffic to your Teachable course. That means you need a separate website or blog to drive sales, unlike Kajabi, where you can build out funnels and marketing campaigns within Kajabi itself.
While Kajabi offers a long list of features, Thinkific is focused more on the core online course platform essentials—things that are considered the bare-bones “must-haves” for course creation and delivery. It makes it easy to customize your course to match your existing brand.
The cloud-based software also lets you manage your clients, payments, course materials and integrations from its user-friendly dashboard.
They even have a free plan! It definitely has its limitations, but it’s a great place to start if you’re not quite ready to shell out funds yet. You’re limited at three courses or less over there. Thinkific has three more plans at $49, $99, and $499 a month that come with increasingly fancy add-ons like payment plans and subscriptions, plus affiliate tools to help you sell your course.
Thinkific is used by over 36,000 course creators who serve over 16 million students in 164 countries. The platform has generated over $300 million in sales.
Kartra is made for those looking to create a community around their course; it’s another all-in-one option where the courses themselves are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of functionality. Funnel building, email marketing, and product selling are highlights of Kartra, whereas platforms like Kajabi really center video courses, and all things course related.
Kartra comes with help desk support, a potential replacement for tools like ZenDesk, FreshDesk, or Intercom. It has great features like the ticket system, agent chat support system, and knowledge base management. Its calendar allows your customers to book appointments with you and even integrates with your Google Calendar.
You can also sell products or services online through and take credit card and Paypal payments through their sleek, secure payment gateway. (Most of these other platforms are geared towards selling digital products, whereas Kartra will let you sell physical items, too. Start dreaming of the awesome items in your shop!)
Kartra makes it easy to set up different access levels for your course, which is a simple way of delivering any bonuses that you might want to include. You can add support for your students right inside the course area. Ultimately, this isn’t my choice because the courses just feel like an add-on, rather than the heart of what Kartra is about.
Pricing starts at $99/month and goes all the way up to their Platinum plan, at $499/month. They have a promo where you can start a trial for $1 for 14 days, too.
Last but not least – Membervault! “Join a community of highly engaged, passionate entrepreneurs disrupting the way we sell and engage online,” Membervault says. MemberVault is a membership site where you can put all your offers, courses, downloads, PDFs, and coaching or membership programs in one easy-to-navigate place.
The big perk is that this platform gives you serious audience insights and automatic segmentation capabilities based on how people engage with you and your content. They’re all about making your business feel personal, even as you scale.
Membervault has what they call a “binge & buy” marketplace, where your customers are able to buy your stuff at their own pace without the pressure from lots of launches and promotions. They’re using gamification to make your products appealing and fun. Features like an automatic leaderboard and unlockable content are crafted to increase engagement.
They currently have three pricing options: Forever Free, which is free for up to 100 users, a starter at $19/month, capped at 1,000 users, and Base at $39/month for up to 10,000 people. (They sell a Pro and Pro+ plan for businesses with larger lists, too.)
I hope this is helpful, and I can’t wait to hear if you try any of these online course platforms.
If you have any questions about Kajabi or Teachable, drop them in the comments below!
Or, if you choose to use one of the options I mentioned in this article and you get yoru own online course off the ground, leave a comment and let me know the name of it! I’d love to check it out. 💛
I’m rooting for you!
PS. Before you head off to create a killer course, watch my free legal workshop ‘5 Steps to Legally Protect & Grow Your Online Business.’ Save your seat right here, and I’ll see you there!