There are plenty of bloggers who have published round-ups of the best online course platforms, but this is the only one by a 20+ year e-learning industry pro who has actually designed, built, and implemented online course platforms and helped thousands of businesses – from solopreneurs to multi-national organizations – choose the right one for them. If you are (or want to be) an online course creator/seller and want pro guidance, you are in the right place.
I’ve narrowed my picks for online teaching platforms down to the list above because I don’t think it is helpful to provide you with a huge list of the best online course platforms. (It doesn’t really make sense that there would be a long list of the “best,” does it?!) Of course, not everyone’s needs are the same, so read on to find out why I like these platforms and other ones you may want to consider.
I won’t bore you with my background. If you are interested, you can find out more on my bio page. The main thing to stress here is that I have been working with and on online course platforms for more than two decades. I’ve seen a lot come and go, and I draw on my experience with building, researching, writing about, and implementing platforms to make the recommendations you find here.
You can find much of the reasoning behind my choices and – just as importantly – a process you can follow to make your choice – in my free course platform selection guide. I strongly encourage you to download that and use it along with the information you will find on this page.
Online Course Platforms – Need to Know
The platforms I cover here are specifically for creating and selling online courses. One of the most important things to know about choosing the best online course platform for these purposes is that most course software out there is not designed to sell online courses. It’s made to deliver internal corporate training or to support academic programs.
That means no e-commerce capabilities, no plug-n-play integration with major marketing tools, and usually very limited abilities to brand it and configure it the way you want to.
And here’s another important fact:
Even platforms that will work for selling online courses come in a lot of different flavors. Pick the wrong one for your online course business needs and you will have headaches.
To help narrow your field of choices, I’ve organized this post into the following:
It may seem like a no-brainer, but just having a clear idea of which of the categories above you fall in – along with knowing that only a small subset of online course platforms are meant for selling courses – will make your life MUCH easier.
Keep in mind that I think all of the course platforms listed here are strong choices. If you do some basic work to understand your learning and business objectives, and pick on based on that, you won’t go wrong.
As noted above, all of the online learning platforms listed here are strong choices, but I know it can be helpful for an expert to just say “look at this one, it’s a top choice” if you want to sell courses. So, here’s my all around top choice: Thinkific.
I like Thinkific because it is feature-rich but still easy to use, and you can tell it was created by people who really understand learning. You can create a free course right away, they are very upfront about how their different plans compare, and most importantly, I hear consistently from readers that that they have had a good experience with Thinkific.
Just use the button below to get one month free to create and launch your first product.
Now, let’s move on to the list.
Standalone Online Course Platforms
These are hosted course platforms geared toward solo edupreneurs or small businesses that want course creation software along with a 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 – i.e., 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.
This is the only category where I have a #1 choice and a very strong runner-up.
Thinkific provides a truly full-featured software solution to help you create, deliver, market and sell online courses. Aside from the fact that I use it myself, another 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 a very smart and business-savvy person – has used it for her online courses.
I also like that there is a free plan, but – unlike many of it’s competitors – Thinkific does not charge transaction fees on any of its plans, paid or free. (You still don’t quite get to sell online courses for free because your payment processor – e.g., PayPal, Stripe – will always charge you a transaction fee.)
I’ll also mention that the Thinkific App store really helps this online courses platform stand apart from most of its competitors. With the app store, you’re able to easily integrate a wide range of other platforms to help you create more impactful learning experiences and market your courses much more effectively. And Thinkific’s own Spaces feature makes it possible to run compelling cohort-based courses.
Thinkific’s Pricing: The Start paid plan comes with a bump in the features you get access to and starts at $99 per month ($74 if paid annually). Definitely worth checking out.
To go deeper, here’s our full Thinkific review.
While I rank Thinkific as my top all-around choice, LearnWorlds is a very close second for the average online course creator – and I also use it for certain offerings. The learning curve is higher, but it pays off with more sophisticated e-learning features – like the ability to support SCORM (the only platform in this category that does.)
LearnWorlds has picked up a lot of momentum in recent years. The company positions itself as a “premium” option that provides for high interactivity, social learning tools to complement standard course content, and white labeling.
The company also puts a lot of emphasis on its tools for building sales pages for courses – and these do indeed look impressive. You can even test them out without signing up through a simulator that LearnWorlds provides. LearnWorlds is also getting closer to an “all-in-one” than other platforms in this category with the full website builder capability it introduced in 2020 and continues to enhance.
Unlike many of the company’s here, LearnWorlds also offers services for uploading and converting your content, developing courses, and customizing your LearnWorlds school. All in all, it’s a very good option, deserving of the “premium” label.
LearnWorlds Pricing: You can try LearnWorlds free for 30 days (no credit card required), then pricing starts at $29 per month ($24, if billed annually). The company charges $5 per sale on its starter plan, but no additional fees on its other plans.
Use the code LEARNINGREVOLUTION50 when checking out at LearnWorlds and you will get 50% off for the first month of a Pro plan or higher.
To learn more, read our full LearnWorlds Review
Other Good Standalone Options
Naturally, Thinkific and LearnWorlds are not your only options for a standalone online training platform. It’s a crowded market right now and, while there is plenty of junk, there are also some very solid options that may be worth considering if you are looking for lower costs, a simpler interface, or stronger features in a particular area – like, for example, video.
Here are the other options I think are most worth considering:
One of the first online course platforms to launch in this category and still one of the most popular. In my opinion, Teachable offers one of the cleanest, most straightforward administrative interfaces out of any platform on this page. If you are looking to get pretty straightforward, on-demand courses up and running quickly, it’s a strong option.
Teachable Review: Teachable Review
I think Teachery probably doesn’t get the level of attention it deserves in the online course platform market. Most course creators will outgrow it’s feature set in a year or two, but i f you are just getting started out, I’m not sure there is an easier, more straightforward course development platform to use – and at a very reasonable cost.
Teachery Review: Teachery Review
While pretty much all of the platforms covered on this page enable you to upload video and create video-based courses, most of them don’t offer true app-based delivery of those online courses on mobile devices and none, other than Uscreen, support OTT distribution into channels like Apple TV, Roku, and FireTV.
Bottom line: If you have a heavy focus on video and want a top-notch video training platform, you should definitely check out Uscreen.
Uscreen Review: Uscreen Review
All-In-One Course Platforms
This category of online course software provides everything you need not just to create and sell online courses, but also to manage your full web presence and sell other digital products.
In general, their online course capabilities are not as sophisticated as what you will find in the best standalone online course platforms, but they make up for that in usually having a much stronger web content management system (CMS) along with native (i.e., not plug-in) e-mail marketing and customer relationship management tools (CRM).
My favorite in this category is:
Kajabi describes itself as “the one system you need to market, sell, and deliver your knowledge online.” As it happens, selling online courses is a big part of the equation. Along with courses, you’re able to sell memberships, training portals, file downloads, and pretty much any other digital product you can come up with.
For many people who just want to sell online courses – and who are already set with a website and marketing tools – this may be overkill. Then again, if you don’t have those things or simply want to get everything under one roof, Kajabi may be just the ticket. And Kajabi has done a lot in the past couple of years to add new features – like a full-fledged e-mail marketing system and the ability to support scheduling coaching sessions.
The company massively upgraded its web page builder capabilities a couple of years ago, making it more powerful than ever for creating websites and online courses. And, more recently, Kajabi released Kajabi Email, featuring a powerful visual editor to to create attractive, high-converting e-mails fast. The web page builder and e-mail capabilities are included with every plan.
For a more in-depth look at Kajabi, read our full Kajabi Review
Other Good All-in-One Platform Choices
Podia is a full-featured, but easy-to-use online course platform for selling courses, memberships, and digital downloads all in one place – and it has been gaining a lot of momentum as one of the main Kajabi competitors. Some of its key selling points are:
- no transaction fees (other than whatever you pay to your payment processor – i.e., Paypal or Stripe)
- a custom website that you can use your own domain with
- no limits on courses or users or webinars
- a strong focus on supporting affiliate marketing of your products
Podia Review: Podia Review
While weaker from an online courses standpoint, I view Kartra as a couple of notches above Kajabi when it comes to marketing muscle. Kartra will work best if your focus is on video content – it does not have the level of online course builder, student management, or assessment capabilities that the more course-focused platforms covered here have. But if video is your thing, and you want a ton of marketing muscle, Kartra is hard to beat.
Kartra Review: Kartra Review
Zenler describes itself as “the first ever online course platform built around sales & marketing.” That seems like a bit of a stretch, but it is definitely positioned as an alternative to Kajabi at a significantly lower price point. So, if price is a major consideration, this is definitely one you are going to want to check out.
Zenler Review: Zenler Review
Okay, you may notice that Uscreen is listed twice – here and under Standalone Online Course Platforms above. That’s because I’m hearing reports that a significant number of Kajabi users are migrating to Uscreen.
Chances are, those users are very video focused – and Uscreen definitely outshines Kajabi when it comes to video. Once you’ve got your videos uploaded and configured, you can launch your own branded OTT apps with zero coding skills. Uscreen also enables HD live streaming and provides a range of tools – discussion, avatars, and profiles, commenting – to help you build a community around your videos.
Uscreen Review: Uscreen Review
WordPress for Selling Courses Online
If you are wondering how to create an online course with WordPress – and, of course, sell it – there are plenty of WordPress plug-ins and themes available to help you out. These can be a particularly good option if you want to sell online courses from your own website, though keep in mind that you will need more technical skills if you go this route.
My current top choice for a WordPress learning management system (LMS) is:
LearnDash, in my opinion, is pretty much the gold standard for serious WordPress learning management system (LMS) plug-ins and the recent release of version 3.0 has made it even better. It is a very feature rich platform that was clearly developed by people serious about e-learning (and the founder, Justin Ferriman, does have a long background in e-learning).
Once you’ve have 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. (BTW – If you are going to go with LearnDash, I suggest using it in combo with BuddyBoss to add great membership/community capabilities.)
LearnDash Pricing: starts at $159 for the basic version and tops out at $329 for the Pro version and both come with a 15-day refund. Note: These are one-time, not monthly fees and they represent an insane amount of value for what you get. To continue getting updates and support, there is an annual renewal fee that is half of the initial license fee.
LearnDash Review: LearnDash Review
Other Good WordPress LMS Choices
The platform really leverages the full capabilities and flexibility of WordPress while also adding in great membership features and a learning management system (LMS) that includes notable features like the ability for students to submit homework assignments and get private feedback. If you don’t want to mess with your own installation of WordPress, it’s the way to go.
AccessAlly Review: AccessAlly Review
If you want a serious alternative to LearnDash for a WordPress LMS plug-in, LifterLMS is really the only choice, in my opinion. It has the very strong selling point of being free for the base version: you can search for and install it using the usual plug-in screen in WordPress. This means you can easily try out the system within your WordPress site before deciding whether it is right for you. You pay only if you decide to use any of the various add-ons available for the system.
Read our LearnDash vs LifterLMS comparison.
One last note for this section: if you are going to go the WordPress route, be sure to check out 11 Best Web Hosting Services for Creators and Experts.
Marketplace Online Course Platforms
These are online course platforms that, in addition to providing ways to author/assemble courses, also provide an existing marketplace in which to sell courses online.
You may notice that I don’t mention these up above when I highlight my top picks. The reason is that I’m not all that fond of them. These sites tend to turn courses into commodities and drive prices way down. That’s great if you are a learner looking for a course, not so great if you are a creator trying to generate a reasonable level of income from your courses.
Still, they are popular and they do have their place. (More thoughts here on when the marketplace model may be appropriate.)
If you are going to go this route, the top choice is pretty clear:
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 at it.
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 in $5 increments between $20 and $200 on Udemy (source) – quite restrictive, in my opinion. Even so, ThinkTraffic reports that some some instructors have been having quite a bit of success.
I’m not going to cover other marketplace online course platforms here. Instead, I encourage you to read 10 True Alternatives to Udemy for Selling Online Courses.
Small Business – B2B Course Platforms
Most of the best online training platforms listed on this page are geared towards solopreneurs or small, start-up businesses. While they can work for larger businesses, I’ve found over time that more established training and education companies may want to jump up to a different level if they:
- Sell business-to-business and may need to set up separate portals for each customer.
- Need to award continuing education credit learners.
- Already have an extensive catalog of courses built out in SCORM or TinCan-based authoring tools like iSpring, isEazy, Articulate, Captivate, or Lectora.
- Plan to build out a catalog of courses and don’t want to be “trapped” by using proprietary LMS tools.
- Need to manage online and classroom-based courses in the same system.
- Need complex assessment capabilities. (creating questions and answer pools, randomizing questions, ability to analyze the performance of individual questions – i.e., item analysis)
Because many course sellers do have these needs, I decided to create a separate “learning management system for small business” page. You can check that out for a range of options, but I’ll note here that my top pick in this catagory is:
I’ve seen TalentLMS emerge rapidly as one of the more visible brands in the “new breed” LMS market in recent years. The company offers a very full-featured system, including a very high level of brandability and wide range of pre-developed integrations via Zapier. You can sell your courses individually or via subscription via PayPal or Stripe.
Perhaps best of all, TalentLMS offers a free option that gives you the ability to kick the tires. After that, the lowest price standard option starts at $39 per month (less with annual payment up front) and the lowest price “unlimited” plan starts at $109 per month (again, less with annual payment up front).
TalentLMS Review: TalentLMS Review
Also, if you happen to represent a trade or professional association, be sure to check out the LMS reviews on ReviewMyLMS.
Next Steps for Choosing the “Best Online Course Platform” (for you)
If you haven’t already, definitely grab the free selection guide for online course platforms. It costs nothing, and it will help you make the right choice faster and smarter.
You may also want to check out the individual reviews of top course platforms that have been published here on Learning Revolution. This also includes comparisons of online course platforms like Teachable vs Thinkific and New Zenler vs Kajabi and Kajabi vs. Thinkific.
The LMS reviews on ReviewMyLMS are also very helpful as these come from actual users.
As you are considering your options, be sure that you are crystal clear about your learning and business objectives and what type of online course business you are. It really does matter when selecting an online course platform.
Next Steps Once You Have a Course Platform
As you probably realize – having a course platform doesn’t do you a lot of good if you don’t know how to create an online course – just follow the link to get my guidance on how to design an online course.
Other Ways to Monetize Your Expertise
Finally, keep in mind that while online courses are very popular right now, they are only one of many ways to help people learn and, in doing that, to monetize your expertise.
I’ve always maintained that you should aim to create a Value Ramp – a portfolio of offerings designed to address the needs of different audience segments at different price points. Here are just a few of the articles you’ll find here on Learning Revolution about different ways to generate income through your expertise-based business:
- The Complete Guide to Building a Successful Membership Site
- The Virtual Conference Business Model
- The Top 7 Ways to Monetize a Podcast
- How to Monetize Your Email Newsletters
- How to Make Money Blogging
- A Guide to Expert-Curated Affiliate Marketing
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are questions I get asked frequently about online course platforms.
What is the best online course platform?
People often want quick answers around what are the best online course platforms, but there is no single best online courses platform - there is only the best platform for you. To find it, make sure you understand which type of online course business you are and get very clear about your critical business objectives and the types of learning outcomes you aim to help your students achieve. This will help you identify the platform features that are truly most important for you and help you narrow your choices dramatically. The spreadsheet I include with my free platform selection guide can then help you go through a clear process to make your choice.
How do I create an online course?
Most online course platforms feature tools that you can use to author online courses. These are usually pretty intuitive and make it possible to use a combination of text, images, and videos to create courses. Most also include the ability to add quizzes and tests, discussion forums, and other interactive features.
If you are going to create a large number of courses or if you really need your courses to follow e-learning standards like SCORM, you may want to be careful about using the tools in an online course platform. Most do not follow e-learning standard, and you may find it very hard later to get your courses out of the platform. So, you may want to consider using an online course authoring tool separate from the platform.
Keep in mind, too, that having the tools is only the starting point. You will need to follow a good process for creating your online course.
- Online Course Platforms – Need to Know
- Categories of Online Course Platforms
- Standalone Online Course Platforms
- All-In-One Course Platforms
- WordPress for Selling Courses Online
- Marketplace Online Course Platforms
- Small Business – B2B Course Platforms
- Next Steps for Choosing the “Best Online Course Platform” (for you)
- Next Steps Once You Have a Course Platform
- Other Ways to Monetize Your Expertise
- Frequently Asked Questions