Will your online course be held prisoner?

By Jeff Cobb.  Last Updated on December 28, 2021

Photo of locked prison door

There’s a critical question that should (but often doesn’t) get answered when selecting a platform. Namely, “How easy will it be to move my online course to another platform?

You see, most course platforms provide you with a variety of tools for creating online courses, and that can be great for getting you started quickly. The problem comes down the line when you decide that you either (a) want to be able to distribute your course through additional platforms (e.g., maybe one of your customers already has a platform of their own), or (b) you want to change to a new platform.

Prefer to watch? Here’s a video version from the Learning Revolution YouTube channel.

Platforms are all a little different in how they approach course authoring and there simply is no “easy button” for exporting your course from one platform and importing into another. In most cases, you are going to run into a lot of headaches trying to do that and you will usually just have to start from scratch when assembling all of your course components in a different platform.

Now, that may not matter much if

  • You only have one, or possible a few courses, and none of them are huge or complex; and/or
  • You plan to heavily revise your courses on a pretty regular basis anyway (so, as part of your normal revision process you could also just move to another platform)

If those points apply to you – and they do, in fact, apply to a lot of course entrepreneurs – then the whole portability issue may not be a big deal. Still, you may want to read on for some tips on how to potentially make your life easier.

If, on the other hand, any of the following apply, you will want to seriously consider how to make your courses as portable as possible:

  • You have, or plan to have, a large online course catalog
  • Your content has a long shelf life – i.e., you can go years with nothing other than minor revisions to your courses
  • You have customers you value who will want to be able to offer your courses on their own platform

So, what do you do if these points apply to you?

First, do absolutely as much authoring as possible outside of any specific course platform. If your courses are heavily video driven, then you are almost certainly doing this anyway. But consider your other course elements as well – e.g., any text that is part of the course (worksheets, checklists, etc.), tests, evaluations. With all of these, think twice before using the authoring tools in your course platform.

Second, you may want to seriously consider using an off-the-shelf authoring package like Articulate Storyline, iSpring, Camtasia, etc. (Here are various options.) All of these will create content that can be used in pretty much any course platform. They can also package this content using SCORM and/or Tin Can, which may matter for distributing your courses to customers with their own platforms. (By, for example, using a platform like Course Container.)

Finally, use your judgement. Many of the online course platforms do have some very cool tools in them that you will want to use to enhance your courses. I’m not trying to tell you not to do that. I just want you to do it with eyes wide open and looking toward the future. The benefits of using the tools within a particular platform may very well outweigh whatever pain they cause later if you switch platforms. I just believe it is better to consider that up front.


P.S. – By the way, if you are currently looking for a first or new online course platform, definitely check out 15 Platforms to Publish and Sell Online Courses.

Photo Copyright: albund / 123RF Stock Photo

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