It's a whole new world out there is you are an individual subject matter expert of a small training/education organization looking to sell online courses. This post will help you narrow down the choices quickly. And you may also want to grab the free learning platform guide to help you make the right choice faster.
To sell online courses, it used to be that you had to master an authoring tool, license a learning management system (LMS) – or come up with a workaround – figure out hosting and e-commerce, and then somehow deal with end user support. These days, you can get across the finish line with little more than a Web cam, an Internet connection, and one of the platforms listed here.
In this post, I draw on two decades of experience working with online course platforms to narrow down the options and take a quick look at some of the best of what’s out there for helping you create, market, and sell online courses on the Web.
Sell Online Courses: The Options
I update this list pretty frequently (last time: November 15, 2016).
Keep in mind that this is a rapidly growing area. There is no way I can keep up with or know about every platform designed to sell online courses. Be sure to check out the comments for additional choices and opinions. And if you have had experience with one of the platforms, please share anything constructive you can about the experience – i.e., what was good or bad about it and WHY. (You can comment on this post, or contact me directly.)
Also, keep in mind that, while I think all of these are strong choices, I don’t specifically endorse any of these platforms. Within each category, they are listed alphabetically, not ranked. I have vetted them at a very high level to make sure they seem like a good fit for subject matter entrepreneurs and smaller education and training businesses that want to sell online courses. Again, I encourage you to comment and share your experiences with them – good or bad.
Solopreneur > Small Business
These are platforms geared toward individual subject matter entrepreneurs or small businesses that want a relatively turnkey way to create their own branded site to sell online courses. (Also, unlike Udemy, which is discussed below in a different category, they allow you full control over your user data.) While the feature sets are relatively similar, they can be very different in their “look and feel” as well as in how focused they are on helping course entrepreneurs succeed – e.g., by providing good resources, educational content, strong support. Be sure to check out the free trial options, where available, so that you have a chance to kick the tires before committing.
Academy of Mine
One of the things I have found interesting about the Academy of Mine folks is that they are doing an excellent job using many of the very tactics I encourage in Leading the Learning Revolution to grow their own learning business, including a very active blog, podcasts, and Webinars that provide value to their audience. They are also very focused on blending marketing tools with learning tools in the administrative interface for their system. I have gotten feedback from some users that the learning curve to get up and running on the system is pretty steep. That said, if you can make your way up the curve, you will have pretty powerful set of tools at your disposal. Pricing starts at $199 a month.
Digital Chalk offers a variety of plans for getting courses online as well as production services to help you do it. If you’ve got the expertise, but don’t want to have to deal with the nuts and bolts of producing a course, this is a choice to consider. Also worth noting is the fact that the platform does support the Shareable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM, meaning you can create standards-compliant courses outside of the platform and import them. (Note: As far as I can tell, Digital Chalk and Educadium are the only platforms listed in this section that offer any off-the-shelf support for SCORM.) The company’s lowest price plan starts at $25 per month plus $8 per course.
Tip of the hat to Tom over at http://currancrew.tv/ for pointing this one out to me. I have not had time to fully check it out yet, but looks like another very full-featured system worth considering for anyone who wants to sell online courses. (Appears to the the U.S. version of http://www.patience.io/) Free 7-day trial and then $99 per month for the basic version.
With its CampusPay LMS services Educadium offers a way to add a simple e-commerce solution to its EasyCampus platform so that you can sell online courses. EasyCampus is, indeed, an easy platform on which to get up and running, but is nonetheless a relatively feature-rich LMS with a range of options for adding on features and services that fit your needs. Pricing for the platform starts at $99 per month and e-commerce fees range from 6.5% to 10% of sales, depending on which subscription package you choose.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pathwright co-founder Paul Johnson on the Learning Revolution podcast, and he also connected me with Jason Blumer, who has used the Pathwright platform with great success. The starter plan – which allows for 10 active learners (more can be added) – is $19 a month, and Pathwright does not charge any e-commerce fees (though your gateway – e.g., Stripe – still does, as usual).
The Rainmaker Platform from Copyblogger Media is the one platform is this list that can truly run your whole Web site in addition to providing to tools for creating and selling online courses. Built off of WordPress, the very popular content management and blogging software, Rainmaker was designed for people who want the power of WordPress without having to master all of the potential complexities of that software. There are trade-offs in taking this approach, of course. If you happen to be relatively accomplished with WordPress, for example, you may find some aspects of Rainmaker constraining. But if you are more interested in running your business than dealing with software, Rainmaker may be just the ticket. (I currently use a StudioPress theme – also from Copyblogger – for this site and am planning to migrate to Rainmaker for the next generation of Learning Revolution.)
One of the things I really like about Ruzuku is that they put a LOT of effort into helping subject matter entrepreneurs use their platform successfully – including everything from designing a great course, getting it online, and marketing it effectively. Their “Up and Comer Plus” plan also includes unlimited Webinars. If you are looking for an easy-to -use platform combined with a soup-to-nuts approach to helping you be successful with it, this is a great option. I recommend you sign up for their free trial today to give you an idea of what the platform can do.
Teachable (formerly Fedora) got started out of frustration with Udemy (listed below) – in particular, with the way in which Udemy controls information about and access to students. In response, the Teachable team has created a platform that enables you to “host courses on your website and control your branding, student data, and pricing all from one place.” I like the pricing model they offer. You can use the platform for free and pay $1 + 10% for all transactions. Or, you can choose to pay a monthly fee, which eliminates the $1 per transaction fees and also reduces the percentage paid to Teachable based on what level of monthly fee you choose. If you are ready to get started with online courses (or already have, but are looking for new technology), be sure to check out the free Teachable Quickstart Webinar (offered weekly on Thursdays).
Thinkific provides an all-in-one solution to help you create, deliver, and market and sell online courses – including a $0 starter plan (based on taking a 10% commission on your sales). A big vote of confidence for this platform is that my friend Dorie Clark – a bestselling author multiple-times over, guest on the Learning Revolution podcast, and generally very smart and business savvy person – is using it for the online course she is currently developing. Similar to Teachable above, you can use Thinkific completely free and then pay a 10% fee on all transactions. Or, you can pay for a monthly plan and get your transaction fees all the way down to zero. Definitely worth checking out.
Marketplace | Syndication
These are platforms that, in addition to providing ways to author/assemble courses, also provide an existing marketplace in which to sell online courses. (Note: I’ve started to expand on this list in my post Looking for an Alternative to Udemy?)
With Coggno, you can create courses or upload existing content – including SCORM files. You also have the option to deliver these courses privately or to distribute them through the Coggno marketplace. Coggno also provides the useful twist of enabling organizations to use a branded instance of the Coggno platform for free to offer courses to their target audience (e.g., employees, members) – thus providing yet another distribution option for your content. Organizations that use the LMS in this way pay only for the content they use. For course developers looking to sell their content, pricing starts at $24.95 per month plus 10% of sales.
OpenSesame is the first out of this group (as far as I can tell) that allows you to upload courses that you have created using a standards-based (SCORM, AICC) course authoring package like Articulate Presenter. If you happen to be an expert, or manage experts (e.g., if you represent a training firm or association) that is developing offerings at this level of sophistication, it might be the first place you want to check out. You can also upload video, and the company claims that courses published in its system can be accessed by any learning management system (LMS). So, for example, if you know there are businesses out there that would want your content, but are going to want it on their own LMS, this could be a very powerful option. The company takes 40% of any sales you make through its platform.
ProProfs give you tools to add media, quizzes, and certificates to your existing documents, videos & presentations – and then put them into a market place that the company claims reaches more than a million users. Monthly packages start at just under $75 ($60 if you commit to a year) and the company takes 9.5% off of sales through its marketplace.
Skillshare provides instructors with tools to create courses composed of video lessons and a “class project.” (All classes are have these two elements.) Classes are normally 10-25 minutes long, broken down into short videos, and they are all pre-recorded and self-paced. Once you have enrolled more than 25 learners in a class, you become eligible for participation in Skillshare’s Partner Program and can earn money through the royalty pool managed by the company – usually $1-2 per enrollment, according to the company. (Unlike Udemy – discussed below – Skillshare sells subscriptions to all of its content rather than to individual courses.) Once you are a partner, you’ll also get compensated for new Premium Members ($10 per) you bring to Skillshare through your Teacher Referral link. The Skillshare site reports that “Top teachers make up to $40,000 a year.”
The folks at Udemy say “Our goal is to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world’s experts.” From what I can tell, they have been doing a pretty good job making waves lately. The Udemy platform gives subject matter experts a simple, straightforward way to assemble content like PowerPoint slides, PDF documents, and YouTube videos into a coherent course experience. You can then publish into the Udemy marketplace and use a variety of tools to promote your masterpieces. Udemy is free for instructors – the company makes it’s money by keeping 50% if it sells your course. If you make the sale, you keep 97% (Udemy takes a 3% transaction fee). Keep in mind that your are currently required to price your courses between $20 and $50 on Udemy (source) – quite restrictive, in my opinion. Even so, ThinkTraffic reports that some some instructors have been having quite a bit of success.
For experts who want to deliver live and on-demand Webinars, WizIQ is an old standby. The company provides a platform through which you can easily offer a live Webinar session – with slides, desktop sharing, audio, and video – that can also be recorded for on-demand access by learners. Courses can be published and sold in WizIQ’s online marketplace. WizIQ does also plug-ins for Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard Learn – popular learning management systems in the academic world. While I have placed WizIQ here under “Marketplace” platforms, it does have a very academic feel to it and could just as easily be in the “Enterprise | Academic” section below. There’s a free 30-day trial, and then paid plans start at $33 a month (billed annually) plus a 5 percent per transaction fee of use of WizIQ’s payment gateway. (It’s unclear from the Web site whether you can use your own gateway.)
Finally, while not as open an option as the above platforms, it is worth noting that Lynda.com does accept proposals from instructors who want to offer a course on its platform.
(Again, see my post Looking for an Alternative to Udemy? for other options in this category.)
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Small Business > Extended Enterprise
I used to list a number of platforms here, but have now moved them to their own page: Learning Management System for Small Business. The platforms listed on that page are not out of the question for solo entrepreneurs, but they are probably a better fit, in most instances, for small-to-mid-sized businesses that are doing/planning a relatively high-volume of course sales (or big businesses, but those aren’t really a target for this site).
Also, if you happen to represent a trade or professional association, the best list for you is the association LMS list at Tagoras.
Plug-Ins and Add-ons
Some of the most popular open source platforms have plug-ins available to enable you to sell online courses. I plan to expand this area into a separate post soon, but in the meantime, here are some key choice:
If you happen to have already gone down the Moodle path (widely used open source LMS) for your course delivery needs, then you may want to check out CourseMerchant. While Moodle itself provides a very basic e-commerce option, CourseMerchant helps you take things to a much more sophisticated level – including the ability to bundle courses, offer discounts, and sell multi-seat licenses that allow for the seats to be easily allocated to learners. The CourseMerchant folks are also behind CourseIndex.com, a network that enables you to promote and sell online courses through affiliate marketers.
If you already use WordPress to manage your home base, them you may want to seriously consider a WordPress LMS plug-in to create and sell online courses. LifterLMS has the very strong selling point of being free. You pay only if you sign on for “Pro” program, which provides for a much higher level of support (which, for $149 per year, seems well worth it). Lifter’s creators are very tuned into the recent trends in gamification and have made badging and certificate capabilities a major feature of the system.
The systems also offers a range of pre-made integrations (e.g., Mailchimp, Stripe) and add-on services. You have to pay for these, and the fees can add up quickly. Even so, the total price for putting LifterLMS Pro and a full range of integrations and add-ons into place is far below what you might pay for a standalone LMS platform.
Like LifterLMS, LearnDash is a very feature rich system that was clearly developed by people serious about e-learning (and the founder, Justin Ferriman, does have a long background in e-learning). Unlike Lifter, the basic version is not free – pricing starts at $159 for the basic version and tops out at $329 for the Pro version. Keep in mind, though, that this is a one-time fee.
Once you’ve got a license, LearnDash offers a range of integrations and add-ons –WooCommerce, bbPress, Stripe, and Zapier, among many others – for free. And there are also a number of premium add-ons – including a connection to the GrassBlade LRS (for you e-learning geeks out there) – that look quite useful. Overall, this is serious e-learning at a very reasonable price.
If you have used/had success with any of these, or have others you would like to see on the list, please comment and share.
P.S. – If you liked this post, you may also like:
- Tools to Create an Online Course
- Looking for an Alternative to Udemy?
- The 4 Critical Components of a Successful Product Launch Formula
- What I’ve Learning About Selling Online Courses
- What’s the Best Way to Market Online Courses?
- Landing Pages 101 for Your Online Education and Training Business
And check out the full range of tools to help you create and sell online courses in The Learning Revolutionary’s Toolbox.