The e-learning and online course market is soaring to new heights and estimated to be worth $325 billion by 2025. With higher education shifting from lectures to open source, online classes, you can profit by selling your knowledge to the world – and give your students a certification. I reviewed and ranked the best online course platforms, based on real world experience.
To choose between the best online course platforms, you need to understand the goals you want to achieve with your course, take a deep dive into the platform’s features, and know which learning curve you are comfortable with.
This guide to choosing teaching platforms is based on pricing, reliability, features, marketing tools, profit potential, technical support, sales, and more.
Please note, I may receive affiliate compensation for the links in this article. However, they are merely the best tools I have used that are most effective for launching and running an online course.
Table of Contents
What Are Online Course Platforms?
Online course platforms are types of learning management systems (LMS) that provide users with access to open online courses. These virtual courses are similar to offline courses in a lot of ways – an instructor provides an engaging educational experience through video, image, text, audio and PDF files. Students follow along with the lms software, take notes, perform exercises, and complete exams to test their knowledge.
Tools like Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi, Podia, and Ruzuku all feature a robust set of features for course creators.
Their course software includes a dedicated fully-responsive website experience, easy content uploads, the ability to edit the look and feel of the class, marketing features, course completion certificates, a sales funnel, and more. Course creators choose a platform to use, then charge their students a set fee to access their courses.
It is a fast growing way to make money online with a low entry cost.
What Are the Best Online Course Platforms?
Many course creators struggle to choose from the best online course platforms because they don’t know what features to look for.
There are a number of different options that can make or break the success of your online course, so choosing the right platform is very important. You should have complete control over your brand. You should be able to set your own pricing and policies, incorporate your logo, and make the experience consistent with your business.
If you are developing your personal brand, you should be the face of the course and have the ability to showcase your personality in the class design.
The platform should deliver a great learning experience. You should include multiple content types like audio, text, documents, and more. Other features to look for include the ability to create quizzes and send completion certificates, a forum where students can engage with each other, and “drip” courses, which are sent out to students over time.
Choose a platform that integrates well with other solutions. You’re going to want to make sure your online course can work with other tools like email marketing services, analytics solutions and more.
Check for popular integrations with tools like Mailchimp, Google Analytics, WordPress, and more. For example, if you started a blog and are selling online courses with WordPress, you need to choose a platform that can easily be integrated into your current website.
If you do want to create an online course with WordPress, you can search their plugin directory for a list of online course plugins.
The platform should fit your budget and offer flexible pricing options. To make money selling online courses, you need to spend money, but by looking into their pricing information, you can get a better understanding of your potential return on investment.
They should offer excellent customer support and training. A lot of services offer free resources and training, a dedicated account manager, and a helpful instructor community that can help you succeed.
Choose a well-developed online course platform with integrated LMS, ecommerce, and membership capabilities. To be successful, you need to be able to create, organize and deliver your course content, create members-only areas for your students, and sell your courses and accept payments all in one place.
Here are my picks for the best online course platforms.
Best Overall Online Course Platform (Free or $49/mo)
Thinkific’s mission is to power your education empire. They have a powerful set of features, email marketing tools, membership site integration for your lessons, and excellent 24/7 customer support. Their free plan has a basic feature set and you can create 3 courses for an unlimited number of students.
However I recommend their Pro Plan (which is most popular). The Pro Plan is $99/mo and you can create unlimited courses, feature memberships and bundles, advanced pricing options, certificates, and more. I recommend the Thinkific platform for course creators and entrepreneurs who are serious about creating, marketing, and selling their online courses at scale.
Best Podcast Hosting for Digital Downloads ($39/month)
Podia allows over 11,000 users to create, host, and sell their own lessons with one easy-to-use platform. There are no transaction fees and a simple three-step process has your website up in no time. They don’t charge fees, but their payment processors have transaction fees of 2.9% + 30¢.
Other features include the ability to add coupons and memberships, pre-launch courses, and “drip” courses where users can only access certain sections of the course at a time, helping them learn in the correct structure. Overall, it’s a unique and worthwhile course builder worth checking out.
You can sign up and give it a test run with a free 14-day trial.
Best Platform for Beginners ($0-39/mo)
Teachable is my #2 choice for e-learning platforms. By creating an account, you’re joining 22,000 other instructors creating excellent teaching platforms for their students. You can choose to use the online course platform for free (with $1 + $0.10 for all transactions) or choose their $39/month plan.
It’s very easy to upload your content, edit the look of your online school, and engage with your students. They have flexible pricing and low transaction fees on their high tier plans.
Best High-End Online Course Platform ($103/month)
Kajabi is a high-powered online course builder for in-depth courses. It features powerful site themes, robust email marketing automation, upsells and a customizable checkout, and blogging functionality.
Their plans are a bit expensive, starting at $103/month including the 20% annual discount. However, if you are an established business or want to take the plunge into the most advanced online course platform on the market, Kajabi is your clear choice.
The Ridiculously Easy Online Course Platform ($74.75/month)
Ruzuku allows you to create a step-by-step online course with their learning platform, PDFs and text in minutes. You can quickly create course outlines, edit and reorder your steps with ease, launch your course, and generate sales in no time.
Ruzuku integrates with tools like Mailchimp, Infusionsoft, and payment gateways like Stripe and PayPal to accept payments – and they don’t charge transaction fees.
Your course content is hosted on their platform and they perform daily backups. They’re also known for their helpful community and say that when you join Ruzuku, you’re not buying a teaching tool, you’re joining a team to help your students learn. They offer a 14-day free trial and a 30-day money back guarantee.
What Are Some of the Best Free Online Course Platforms?
In addition to platforms, some online course marketplaces connect online teachers to students to educate them on any number of different topics, either for free or at a low cost.
Often called massive open online courses (MOOC), they are slightly different than paid platforms used to create and host your own courses, as your courses are added into their marketplace where students can pay for them directly.
Here are some of the best free online course platforms.
Skillshare is a large online course marketplace focused on creative education. Their course topics include anything from graphic design and music production to fine art and cooking.
They also have online courses on more technical topics like data science, analytics, and ecommerce. Skillshare has over 24,000 classes, more than 4 million students, and over $5 million paid to teachers.Source: Skillshare.com
Each Skillshare class is 20-60 minutes broken down into shorter lessons, plus projects and a community discussion forum to connect with other students.
The open discussion is very beneficial for their creative topics, as students can share their progress and get feedback from others. Skillshare also can help premium members with production, course planning, and can even help with online course creation at their studio in New York.
What does Skillshare cost? Skillshare is free for creating a premium online course. They pay instructors $10 for paid membership referrals and monthly royalties for each minute of content watched.
Large User Base of Creators and Entrepreneurs. If you are offering content that would be suited for a creative audience, Skillshare is a great platform to get noticed. Courses on web design, email marketing, photography, painting, personal branding, and creative topics are some of the most popular topics.
Quality of Classes is Strong. Skillshare prides themselves on professional, high quality courses. They can help with outlining your course based on the needs of their audience, and can also assist with production.
Earnings Based on Royalty System. Each month, between 30 and 50% of Skillshare’s premium subscription revenue goes to a royalty pool for teachers.
The remaining funds go to marketing and promoting classes, supporting the platform, and running day-to-day operations. This royalty system works for well established Skillshare teachers, as the more minutes watched, the more revenue you receive.
However this makes it difficult for new instructors to receive much compensation when they’re just starting out. Plus, students who watch at 2x speed only count as half the minutes toward the royalty pool.
Only Offer Email Support. Although Skillshare has helpful support articles, the only option to contact them is via email.
Skillshare Review: Final Verdict
Skillshare is an up and coming online course marketplace with over 4 million students. With a large user base of creators and entrepreneurs, Skillshare is a great option for instructors in creative fields.
Their classes are all high quality and they can help make sure that your class will best match the needs of their audience for maximum impact.
However, based on the royalty system for earnings, and no live support, you may be able to make a lot more sales with a marketplace like Udemy. If you’re a creative course creator and want to reach a new audience, you can try Skillshare today.
Udemy is one of the best online course platform marketplaces with over 24 million students, 35,000 instructors, and an unbelievable 80,000+ courses. The first step to creating a course on Udemy is to sign up to be a premium instructor.
Once your account is approved, it’s very easy to get started creating your courses. When creating your video content, keep in mind the content has to be at least 30 minutes long and contain five lectures.Source: Udemy.com
Another benefit to adding your course on Udemy is that you can easily promote your class inside their platform. You can use their marketing features to be included in site-wide discounts, be placed in their marketing emails, or join their affiliate program with tiered commission rates.
What does Udemy cost? Udemy is a free to use, they only charge a 3% rev share for sales through instructor coupons, 50% for students who found your course through organic search (SEO), and 75% for sales made through their paid search marketing efforts.
Access to a Large Base of Users. Udemy’s base of 24,000 users are all potential students who will pay for your course. But just because you’re on their platform, it doesn’t mean you’ll start raking in sales right away.
You have to develop a strong marketing and sales strategy, much like a new ecommerce company, author, or real estate agent. It’s all about getting your name out there.
Strong Rev Share for Tuition Fees. Udemy instructors set their own course prices and receive revenue at 100% of the tuition fee for new users and 50% for existing users. That’s a very strong commission on sales, and a huge benefit to using their platform.
You Can Participate in Udemy Marketing Promotions. Every so often, Udemy runs promotions that can help you reach a larger audience on their platform. These marketing promotions are opt-in, so instructors can choose to participate or not.
Technology and Support. Udemy offers free 24/7 support and they also have a huge library of helpful articles.
Intense Competition with Other Courses. Udemy instructors are at the mercy of the placement and appearance on the Udemy website, which is controlled by their own proprietary algorithms.
It can be difficult to outrank other instructors on certain topics if you’re new to the space.
Competition with Other Course Publishers. Udemy isn’t the only course marketplace ranking on search engines for your course topics.
Other marketplaces like iSpring Learn, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Skillshare may have dominant rankings and positions on certain topics you want to be seen for, which can be a disadvantage for Udemy instructors.
Lenient Return Policies. Refunds are guaranteed to all students within 30 days for any reason. Because of this, students could take a course, complete it within 30 days, and get a guaranteed refund – decreasing your sales.
Udemy Review: Final Verdict
Udemy is one of the most well known, widely used, and professional online course marketplace out there. With a strong rev share model, a huge audience to tap into, 24/7 support, and marketing offerings, you can’t go wrong with their platform.
Although there is strong competition with other course creators and platforms, the company is likely to maintain their lead in the market.
Try Udemy today.
Treehouse is a relatively new online course marketplace that believes in the democratization of education and is “committed to making education accessible to students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds.”
They feature 300+ technical courses on coding and development, over 50,000 students, and over 27,545 minutes of video (and counting). Treehouse is partnered with some big names including Microsoft, IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa, and Google Developers.Source: teamtreehouse.com
What does Treehouse cost? Treehouse offers a 7-day free trial, then you can choose from three different plans ranging from $25 to $199 per month.
Their basic plan features on-demand courses, interactive practice sessions, and access to their online community.
The pro plan gives you access to bonuses, beta features, and downloadable content.
And if you’re looking to create a real portfolio and get job-ready skills, their Techdegree plan gives you every feature of the basic and pro plans, plus personalized feedback, real-time support, and a custom curriculum.
Try Treehouse today.
4. LinkedIn Learning
LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda) is another online course marketplace tailored to business professionals. With over 1,000 business courses on topics like project management, web development, and digital marketing, they’re a great platform for working professionals looking to keep their skills up-to-date.Source: LinkedIn Learning
They also offer certifications that you can add to your LinkedIn profile, showcasing your expertise and improving your online resume.
What does LinkedIn Learning cost? LinkedIn Learning costs are tied to a premium LinkedIn membership, which is $29.99/month or $24.00/month if you pay annually.
Try LinkedIn Learning today.
Coursera is a professional online course marketplace with virtual classes from some of the world’s best companies and universities like the University of Michigan, Duke, and Stanford.
Coursera courses are taught by instructors at some of the world’s top universities, take about 4-6 weeks to complete, and include video lectures, peer-reviewed assignments, and community discussion forums.Source: Coursera.org
What does Coursera cost? Coursera is free to join and you must be logged in to see pricing information on individual courses. There are three tiers of class offerings at Coursera.
Main courses run on a subscription basis and cost $29-99/month. These take the standard 4-6 weeks to complete and you receive an electronic course certificate upon completion.
Specialization courses are for mastering a specific career skill and cost between $39-79/month. In these online courses, you tackle real business challenges with hands-on projects and more rigorous coursework.
Online degree programs. If you’re looking for a more advanced education, you can even take part in university-recognized online degree programs. These take 1-3 years to complete and cost anywhere from $15 to $25,000.
Try Coursera today.
What Are Some of the Best Online Courses?
Whether you want to create and sell online courses from your own website or use another platform, it’s important to have a good understanding of the most popular and best online courses.
It’s difficult to come up with great online course ideas.
The Online Course Report recently came out with their list of the 80 highest rated on-demand courses. Their list includes some of the most popular and highly rated online courses:
EdX: The Science of Everyday Thinking
Udemy: The Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 (highest rated Udemy course)
Udemy: SEO Beginners: How I Get 1,000 Visitors a Day with SEO (most popular entrepreneurship course)
Coursera: An Introduction to to Interactive Programming in Python
As you can see from this list, students are looking for highly informative, impactful education, so you need to create online courses that are high quality and truly train your students.
How Do I Create an Online Course?
There are many steps to create an online course. With so many online learning platforms and LMS tools out there and the industry on the rise, the first common question is:
1. Figure Out the Cost to Develop Your Online Course.
The cost to develop an online course depends on many factors, including depth of content development, research and analytics expenses, and marketing. Research estimates that a professional online course can cost between $5,850 and $15,600 to produce.
However that’s a pretty high estimate including professional video development, paying a subject matter expert (SME) to teach the course or webinar, market research, and promoting the course.Source: racoongang.com
If you’re just starting out and want to create a course yourself, it can be much cheaper. For example, if you have a quality webcam, a microphone, screen sharing tools, and video editing software, you can create a course for under $200.
Your biggest investment is time. Keep in mind that the more effort you put up front into analyzing your audience, researching the market, creating a meaningful course outline, and shooting professional media with an engaging instructor, the more success and profit you will ultimately see.
2. Use the Best Online Course Software and Equipment.
Creating a course isn’t as simple as add a webinar to a website. You actually need to produce the course first!
Creation software and equipment are required to create the high quality content students are looking for. Remember, you’re replacing an in-classroom experience with a virtual course, so it needs to look professional.
However, you don’t need the most expensive, high-end equipment to get started – but you will need a few basic items.
I put this first because this may be the most important piece of equipment – bad audio is much easier to detect than shaky video, and you need a quality microphone for your course to sound truly great.
Use the best microphone you can afford. You can use a standard microphone, lavaliere microphones, or even a headset. One of my favorites is the Zoom H4n. And don’t forget to get some microphone accessories to improve your audio quality further: pop filters, foam balls, shock mounts, and acoustic panels if you’re recording in a small room.
Having a good set of noise-cancelling headphones will help tremendously during the editing process. They also come in handy when conducting interviews and recording someone.
3. Screen recording program
If you’re creating a class on a piece of software or computer program, you’ll have to show the screen to highlight the work you’re doing. There are lots of options when it comes to screen recording software, but one of my favorites is Camtasia.
Mostly all online courses will require live webinars or videos of an instructor for a personal classroom feel.
Recording equipment can include something as simple as your iPhone or a webcam, or run up to professional DSLR camcorders. The biggest factor is your budget. A great mid-range option is the Panasonic HC-V770.
5. Audio and video editing software
Once you’re done shooting your course, the real magic happens with editing. Some of my favorite options include Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. If you’re looking to spruce up your animations, try Adobe After Effects.
6. Lighting and accessories
Quality three-point-lighting is crucial to ensuring your instructor is shown in the best possible light (pun intended). You can purchase a full studio light set or simply some accessories for your iPhone.
Either way, you’ll want to research interview lighting techniques certify you look professional.
How Do I Sell Online Courses in 2019?
To sell online courses, start with the end goal in mind and work backwards. How are you going to transform your students’ lives and how will they be different once they’ve completed your course. You should start you course by letting your students know what they will achieve.
To understand what your students want to learn, hang out in forums related to your topic and look at the top questions people are asking. Quora is a great place for this.
Once you understand how you can solve your student’s problems, create a clearly defined learning path that will guide them to a predetermined goal. During each stage of the course journey, make their outcomes clear. By setting a learning path and clearly defined end goal, your students will stay more engaged and active with your content.
Here are some tips to sell online courses.
1. Create Valuable Course Content
This one is a no-brainer. You need a detailed vision of who your ideal students are and what they are interested in learning. Do they want to develop a new skill and earn an online certificate? Do they want to help grow their own business? By understanding your audience’s pain points, you can create a vision for your course.
Create compelling course content. Use interactive worksheets, PDFs, quizzes, and other elements to engage with your students on a deeper level. Also make sure to condense learning into shorter sentences – no one wants to read long paragraphs.
2. Differentiate Your Online Course Offering
Focus on your niche and provide the absolute best content with a focus on your unique value proposition (UVP). Unless you want to become the next EdX, you have to specialize and be the best at a very focused niche.
Offer a special hook statement and differentiate your course’s UVP out of the gate. Ask yourself: What makes my course different than the rest? For example if your niche is graphic design, don’t create a course simply called “Graphic Design for Beginners”. That’s too broad. A course called “Adobe InDesign for Ebook Publishers” is more focused and easier to market.
Don’t focus on too many different areas. Your online course should have one focal point and not stray away from it or go off topic. Only after you see some initial success with your teachings should you diversify into other topics.
3. Take Time to Market Your Online Course
After pouring all of your hard work into creating your course, the job isn’t done. You need to market it.
You need a dedicated website. To help people find you and view you as an expert in your field, you need a professional web presence. Your website should have an active blog with content related to your niche that is search engine optimization (SEO) optimized.
Build a social media following. Create your own Facebook Business page so that you can engage with your community. Share your latest updates on Twitter and Instagram. Having a regular post schedule and providing engaging social media content will help build a community behind your brand.
That’s a Wrap
Whether you want to launch a side hustle, grow your audience, teach students topics you care about, or looking to earn income from your online courses, there are plenty of options out there.
When choosing the between the best online teaching platforms, remember to do your research: consider the time restrictions, monthly costs, and marketing features available.
Each platform allows you to easily upload you content, provide training for your students and generate sales. But the key factor is you.
The success of your course ultimately relies on the quality of your content and how well you can market yourself.
A platform is just that, a platform. Yes, it’s a branded, engaging, interactive piece of media with your personal insights and experience, but it still needs planning, market research, development, and most importantly, marketing.
When choosing between the best online course platforms, you must ultimately decide the features that are right for you. There are endless amounts of topics to teach and millions of students out there ready to learn from you.
Why not get started today?
I recommend you start by building an online course with Thinkific.