Thinkific Review: Our Top All-Around Pick
If you are selling or thinking about creating and selling online courses, you don’t have to do much searching to come up with a Thinkific review. There are plenty of Thinkific reviews out there. The main difference this one offers is that:
- I (Jeff Cobb) have more than 20 years experience in the e-learning industry, with a specific focus on businesses that sell education (as opposed to, for example, corporate training departments, that do not have to convince their learners to buy.)
- I have extensive experience designing, developing, and implementing online course platforms (I was the founder and CEO of an e-learning platform and course development company.)
- I have more than a decade of experience tracking and researching online course platforms and helping organizations and individuals pick the right platform for selling courses.
- I actually use Thinkific to create and deliver courses (like for hosting this free course, for example).
I’ve been closely tracking Thinkific and other providers that have emerged as a new class of online course platforms in the past several years. These are platforms that are much more user-friendly and less costly than traditional learning management systems, or LMS’s. They are a real boon for solo edupreneurs and small companies that want to get into the online course business. Over time, I think they also have real potential to disrupt the traditional learning management system market.
In addition to our round up of the best online course platforms, Learning Revolution has now done in-depth reviews of a number of learning platforms, but I chose to write a detailed Thinkific review before all others because (a) I think the company currently has the most momentum out of any of the comparable online course platforms in the market, and (b) I consistently hear from Learning Revolution readers that they have had a good experience with Thinkific, (c) I’ve had a great experience with it myself.
So, having said all that, let’s get started.
Snapshot: Thinkific Review
Since I know a lot of readers will be curious, I’ll say up front that Thinkific is my top overall choice for solo edupreneurs and small businesses interested in selling online courses. It is also a very solid option for larger businesses that do not have complex needs related to managing continuing education or certification. (Note: my opinion does not mean that you shouldn’t do your homework to figure out what is really best for you. Get my free platform guide for that.)
The range of features you get even with the free plan is impressive (more on Thinkific pricing below), and it just gets more and more impressive with the more advanced plans. I cover most of these features in detail throughout the rest of this article. What I’ll say for now is that Thinkific has done an excellent job of understanding the needs of course sellers, providing features that meet these needs, and making the system very easy to use considering all it offers.
And, of course, they have kept the learner in mind throughout. In fact, one of the things I like about Thinkific is that the company is clearly focused on what it takes to support effective e-learning experiences – that is, learning that actually has an impact and will keep your customers coming back for more.
Now, let’s start taking a look at the Thinkific experience in detail.
Even though I often hear from readers who complain about the costs of online course platforms. You sometimes even find this in other Thinkific reviews, but I think it is very hard to argue that Thinkific is anything other than a bargain for what it offers – particularly compared to pricing for traditional corporate learning management systems.
Thinkific pricing actually starts with a free plan that allows for one course, one community, and 1,000 users. Its paid plans cap out at $399 a month ($299 if paid annually) for an Expand license. In between, the Start plan offers a big jump in features for $99 per month ($74 if paid annually, and the Grow plan, at $199 per month ($149 if paid annually) offers all of the features that most course entrepreneurs will ever need. (And note that Thinkific does not charge transaction fees on any of its plans.)
Thinkific pricing does change from time to time, so be sure to check out the company’s Web site for the latest.
Thinkific: Building and Branding Your Web Site
Any courses you sell have to “live” somewhere, and ideally that somewhere provides an attractive, user friendly for your students and prospective students. Since the introduction of its Site Builder capabilities earlier this year, Thinkific is definitely up to the job.
Using Site Builder – which is simply part of the admin panel for the platform – you have the ability to set up an attractive home page for your course site and create as many custom pages as you need (e.g., to provide information about you and your other services). While you don’t have total control – you can’t, for example, install your own style sheets (CSS) – you do get very good capabilities for modifying branding elements like colors and font styles and you can upload pretty much any type of images or media you would want to use.
Site Builder currently comes with three themes to choose from, and there are multiple variations for each of these themes. (The company says more themes are part of the future development plan.) There are also a range of pre-fab “sections” that you can insert and modify on any page to provide for things like social proof (e.g. customer quotes or “as seen on” logos), calls to action, count down timer, and pricing options – basically, all of the critical tools you need for running a successful course or membership site. There is also a blank slate “Text & media” section that can be used to create pretty much whatever you want.
As is the case with just about any content management system, it took me a while to figure out how to do some basic things like delete sections (the themes provide a home page pre-populated with sections) and add custom pages to the site menu. But support was readily available for these. Thinkific has a solid support site on which you can search for help, but I tend to just use a Google search along with the word “Thinkific” to find whatever I need (e.g., “create custom site pages Thinkific”). I have yet to not find good support by doing this, whether on the Thinkific site or from another user.
Some additional features to note:
- Custom URL (under Settings > Site) – By default, you are assigned a thinkific.com address – e.g., learningrvolution.thinkific.com. With a paid plan (starting at $49 per month for Basic) you can get a custom URL – e.g., learn.learningrevolution.net
- SSL (Under Settings > Site) – With any plan you have the option to turn on SSL (secure socket layer), a best practice for any Web site these days. (Google smiles on this.)
- White labeling (under Settings > Site)– By jumping up to a Pro Plan ($99 a month) with the Growth Add-on ($.10 per active student/per month) you can easily remove the “Powered by Thinkific” language on your site and courses.
- Text Changes (under Settings > Learning Content and various other areas) – You can change a lot of the default language that is used in navigation and other areas. For example, Thinkific uses “Chapters” as the label for parts of a course. You might prefer to change this to “Lessons.”
So, you may be asking, “Could I use Thinkific for my main website?”
For edupreneurs who are just starting off and don’t already have a web presence the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Using Thinkific is a great way to take a big item off of your “to do” list (i.e., “figure out how to get a decent website set up”) and focus on creating and launching your courses. You can worry about a more sophisticated website later.
If you already have a website, though – particularly on a fuller-featured content management system like WordPress – I would not recommend relying on Thinkific (or any other course platform) for your main website. Site Builder is great for what it does – and can create a great course site to complement your main website – but ultimately it is relatively limited. A few of the key current limitations include:
- All themes are single column. So, for example, you can’t put e-mail sign-up forms, promotions for course, or other items down the left or right side of your site.
- As noted, you can’t apply your own CSS (cascading style sheets), mostly a limitation if you really want to mirror the branding of an existing website.
- There is no control over search engine optimization settings on web pages – e.g., you can’t specify the title tags or meta descriptions. You can, however, do this on course landing pages, which is arguably more important for the average edupreneur.
- Thinkific lacks the wealth of plug-ins and the extensive network of seasoned contractors that are available to support platforms like WordPress.
In spite of those limitations, Site Builder is likely to do the job well for most edupreneurs and is quite a bit better than what most online course platforms provide.
Thinkific: Creating Online Courses
While you definitely want an attractive, user-friendly site to house your courses, the courses themselves are the main attraction. As you might expect, this is an area where Thinkific really shines.
To start with, the platform provides a range of pre-configured templates that can be quite useful to course builders looking for help with how to organize their content. The templates cover the range of standard scenarios you would be likely to consider for offering an educational product. These are:
- Blank – Start fresh and create your own course to match your specific curriculum needs.
- Mini-course – Use a free or low-cost mini-course to generate leads for a full flagship course or service.
- Flagship Course – Build a full online course using a robust curriculum outline created with best practices in mind.
- Pre-sell – Create a pre-sell landing page and start building a waitlist to gauge interest in your course.
- Digital Download – Host downloadable files in an online course to generate revenue or collect email addresses.
- Membership Resource Library – Host downloadable resources to be included in a membership bundle with this template.
- Webinar Replay – Host your webinar replay video to allow registrants to review your presentation and offer.
All of these can be modified extensively – you can change the content in the sections that are provided, delete sections, or add new sections to arrive at the approach that is right for your content. All throughout the process, Thinkific provides “smart coach course building tips” to help you. (I found these helpful, but they can be easily turned off, if you prefer.)
If you have zero experience working with web content, there will inevitably be a bit of a learning curve, but my view is that Thinkific has done a good job making that curve as manageable as possible. Invest in making your way up it, and you will reap the rewards.
And, if you are already comfortable using other web content systems – like, for example, WordPress or another course platform – I think you will find working in Thinkific to be a breeze.
Overall, the logic of putting together a course in Thinkific makes complete sense from my perspective. After selecting “New Course,” choosing your course type, naming it (which you can change at any point), and saving it, you add “Chapters” (or modify ones already in the template) to create the structure of the course. As noted above, if you don’t like the term “Chapters,” you can change it to whatever you prefer.
You fill the Chapters with content in a way similar to how I described using Site Builder above. There are 11 options:
- Video lessons – Upload a video file. (This gets stored in a video library for re-use in other courses. Videos stored in this library are protected from access by anyone who is not a registered user of your site.)
- Quiz lessons – Create a quiz for your students. (More info on quizzes below)
- Multimedia lessons – This is a way to link out to content not hosted on Thinkific and make it an integrated part of your course. Some of the possibilities include:
- Webinar tools (provide the link to a live Zoom session, for example)
- Surveys (e.g. Typeform)
- Appointment booking tools (e.g. Calendly)
- Presentations (e.g. Prezi)
- Google Docs
- Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate files (Requires Pro or Enterprise license. More on this below.)
- Text lessons – Combine text, images, videos, etc. into a single lesson. This is basically the equivalent to “Text & Media” Site Builder option discussed above.
- Survey lessons – Gather information/feedback from your students by building a brief survey in Thinkific.
- PDF lessons – Upload a PDF file to be viewed within the course player.
- Audio lessons – Upload an audio file.
- Downloads – Include resources to be available for download from within the course player.
- Presentation lessons – Upload a presentation as a PDF file and record audio for each slide.
- Exam lessons – Include a Brillium exam in your course. (A Brillium license is separate from Thinkific and starts at $49 per month. More on this below.)
- Assignments – Assignments are what they sound like: they make it possible for students to upload assignments – a project document, for example – so that you can review it and give feedback,
The above options will get the job done for all but the most sophisticated edupreneurs. The main places they fall short is in providing for branching scenarios – i.e., enabling learners to go down different paths depending on their performances in the course or data you gather about them – and inserting interactive elements like learning games.
If those are options you truly need, you would be better off using a full-blown course authoring tool like iSpring or Articulate Storyline (see more about these types of tools here).
As someone who manages multiple brands, I particularly like the fact that you can customize the branding of the Thinkific Course Player on a per course basis. To quote Thinkific itself, that means …
“… you can have a differently customized student experience for the different courses that you offer. For example, if you want to have different branding like fonts, colors, and logos across your different courses, it’s easy to do that with the updated course player.”
And, if you are concerned about the security of your content – as I know many Learning Revolution readers are – you can disable copying and pasting text from your course and downloading PDF content is disabled by default (but you can enable it if you want to).
Before wrapping up this part of the Thinkific Review, I want to comment on a few specific aspects of course creation that I know are important to many Learning Revolution readers: quizzes, certificates, and use of third-party course creation tools like Articulate and Captivate.
Creating Quizzes in Thinkific
In general, providing quizzing as a form of self-assessment is a good idea in most adult online learning. Aside from giving students the ability to check their knowledge, it provides a basic level of interactivity to help promote engagement with the material.
The quizzing capabilities in Thinkific are definitely good enough for simple, multiple-choice assessments. For each question you put into a quiz you can specify whether there is only one correct answer or multiple correct answers. You can also provide an explanation for why an answer is correct or incorrect and (if you choose) provide the learner with some guidance on how to get the correct answer. This explanation displays once the student has submitted her answer choice.
Notably, Thinkific provides a simple template you can use for importing quiz questions, including answer choices and explanations. The template is very easy to use and I highly recommend this approach for authoring quiz questions. It will mean you have a local record of them and it will make it easier to import them into a different system in the future, should you ever need to.
Finally, you can specify whether or not the quiz requires a passing grade. (If you are using it for a self-check, for example – generally a good practice in adult learning – you may not want to require a passing grade.)
If you have a Pro or Enterprise plan, quizzes (as well as all other learning content) can be set as a prerequisite for moving on to the next chapter in a course – i.e., you have to pass the quiz to keep going. Under these plans, you also have the option to randomize the questions that are presented to each learner by pulling from a bank of questions you have created.
If you need to do more with quizzing and testing than I have described above, then chances are you represent a sophisticated, advanced learning business and should consider Thinkific’s Enterprise plan. With this you can take advantage of Thinkific’s existing integration with Brillium to offer more sophisticated assessments.
Brillium offers a much larger range of question choices – including, for example, matching and fill in the blank – the ability to branch (i.e., determine the next question a learner will get based on the answer to the previous question), and more robust reporting. Most course creators will not need all of this, but it is a great option if you are doing heavy duty testing – e.g., for a certification.
Completion Certificates in Thinkific
Thinkific provides for integration with Accredible for issuance of certificates. In case you aren’t familiar with Accredible, it’s an online platform for creating and managing different types of credentials. I don’t think you find this relationship mentioned enough in other Thinkific reviews: the integration represents a really smart choice by Thinkific to take advantage of best-of-breed software in a specific area – credentialing – rather than trying to build these capabilities itself.
To provide certificates for your courses, you have to have a Pro or Enterprise plan. I know some course creators may balk at having to pay extra for this feature, but I think the Accredible integration makes it worth it. And, really, if you are a serious enough about what you are teaching to provide a certificate, the cost for a Pro-level license is more than reasonable.
To add a certificate to any course, all you have to do, is select “Completion certificates” under the settings for any course you have created and select “thinkific” in the “Certificate template” drop down. (If you don’t see this option at first, start typing “thinkific” and it will appear.) You can also easily set a period of time for which the certificate will be valid. Click save, and you are all set – a personalized certificate will be presented to each learner who finishes your course.
Of course, there is a good chance you will not be satisfied with what the default Thinkific template looks like – that’s where the Accredible integration comes into play. You’ll notice that right underneath the area of Settings where you choose to include a completion certificate you can also click “Manage your Accredible integration.” This will take you to the Integrations panel where you will find your login credentials for Accredible. From there, you can click “Go To Accredible.com.”
Once you are on Accredible, click “Certificate Designs” in the top navigation and then click to edit the Thinkific certificate. This will get you to a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (WYSIWYG) editor that enables you to change the text and branding of the certificate. It also enables you to add or remove “dynamic” elements – i.e., those that get automatically inserted based on data in the Thinkific system – like the learner’s name, the course name, and the expiration data. (You will find these dynamic elements under “+Attribute.”)
Learners can view and download any certificates they earn through completing a course in the Certificates area under My Account.
All in all, the Accredible integration provides for very solid certificate capabilities in Thinkific – and you can issue as many certificates as you want through Thinkific without having to pay fees to Accredible, which would normally start at $960 a year. (Note: if you issue certificates directly through Accredible, those are subject to fees.)
Use of Articulate and Captivate in Thinkific
Many course creators will be perfectly content with using the tools in Thinkific to create courses, but some may prefer the option of creating their courses with third-party e-learning course creation software like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate.
Basically, using a third-party tool is an option to seriously consider if you (a) already have a significant number of courses built out in one of these tools (in which you case you probably do not want to have to re-create them using Thinkific course creation tools), and/or (b) you anticipate developing a significant catalog of courses with a relatively long “shelf life” – in which case you may not want to have your courses locked into a specific delivery platform.
You can use these types of tools with Thinkific – Articulate Storyline and Captivate are supported – but there are some limitations you should be aware of if you go this route.
First – and this is something most other Thinkific reviews don’t really discuss – Thinkific (like all other platforms in its class) has not implemented SCORM, which stands for the Shareable Content Object Reference Model. There’s a lot to SCORM, but the main thing for edupreneurs to know is that it provides standards for how an online course can communicate with a learning platform to send it data like how much time a learner has spent in a course, or whether specific parts of the course have been completed successfully. Thinkific tracks this kind of data using its own methods. (More about SCORM here.)
Second, you cannot import an Articulate or Captivate course into Thinkific on your own. These courses are made up of more than a single file (like, for example, a video file), so to get them into the platform, you need to zip the files up and send them to Thinkific customer support. My experience – and the experience of Learning Revolution readers I have heard from – is that Thinkific provides prompt support, but some edupreneurs may not like this extra step – particularly if you have previously used a system that was capable of importing SCORM packages.
Thinkific: Marketing and Selling
Unlike corporate and academic learning management systems, platforms like Thinkific are intended specifically for marketing and selling online education. So, as might be expected, Thinkific includes a range of features for this purpose.
Many of them can be found under the “Market and Sell” section of the administrative panel, but you’ll also find that some of the most valuable tools for marketing and selling are in other section. Basically, marketing and selling online courses is woven into the DNA of the Thinkific platform.
In the “Design Your Site” section, for example, you will find all of the default Sign Up and Checkout pages. As mentioned before, you have the ability to customize the pages. Also, in this same area you have access to the “All Courses” page, which is basically your course catalog. Any courses you have created here will be displayed individually or in categories – which leads to a nice catalog/marketing feature that is under the “Manage Learning Content” area.
Namely, in this area, you can create categories for your courses. If you have multiple courses, this is a great way to group related courses together to make sure your current and prospective students know about their options. You name your categories whatever you want and can also upload and image for each category. (If you need to create or license images, check out the Learning Revolutionary’s Toolbox.) The categories will then get displayed in the All Courses section of your site and/or you can also add a “Categories” section to any page in your site where it makes sense.
A few other marketing and selling features to mention in the “Manage Learning Content” area:
- For any piece of content you add to a course, you get to specify whether it will be part of a free trial of the course. If a course has free trial content, this is indicated on the sales page for the course. Students can sign up for free, but then have to pay to access any content you have not marked as free. This is a powerful selling feature!
- You can customize the completion page for each course and use it as an opportunity to promote related courses. (A highly recommended best practice.)
- Under any of Thinkific’s paid plans, you can easily create bundles of courses that can be sold as a single product. (I’m going to assume I don’t have to tell you how powerful this is!)
- With a Pro or Enterprise account, you can share revenue among instructors for courses and bundles of courses on a percentage basis. So, if you sell courses that have multiple instructors, you determine how much of the revenue split each gets. Note: Thinkific tracks the split, but actual payments are made outside of Thinkific – e.g., through PayPal.
Finally, the “Managing Learning Content” area is where you set prices on a course-by-course basis. You have some good options here:
- Free: Offer free content to your subscribers as a lead magnet or bonus.
- One-time payment: Charge students a one-time fee to access the content. Optionally, you can set an Enrollment Duration that will limit the time students have access to your content.
- Subscription / Membership: Charge students recurring monthly fees for access to all content. Great for membership sites. Requires use of bundles – which requires a paid plan.
- Monthly Payments: Split the full course price over several monthly payments.
You can also use the “Set additional pricing” option to set multiple pricing scenarios for a course.
As you can see, Thinkific is feature-rich when it comes to marketing and selling online courses – and we haven’t even gotten to the “Market and Sell” part of the admin panel yet!
So, now on to that …
Under “Market and Sell” you have a range of options, including:
- Coupons: With any paid plan you have the ability to set up coupons that can be used to promote courses or bundles. You can set the dollar or percentage amount for the coupon (e.g., $25 off or 25% off), set an expiration date (optional), and set the number of times the coupon can be used (optional).
- Sales Widgets: You can use the sales widget feature to generate HTML code you can put on your existing Web site to send users to a course landing page on Thinkific or straight to checkout. The widget can display as a button or a button with product image and any text you want to go with it. It’s a very easy feature to use and makes it a cinch to sell courses from your existing Web site.
- Affiliates: If you want to enlist others to promote your courses and earn a commission, Thinkific makes the process very straightforward. You simply add the affiliate person as a user and select “Affiliate” under “User Roles” in the process. (You can also easily convert current users to affiliate status.) Thinkific will track the courses or bundles an affiliate sells and the corresponding revenue, but as with instructor revenue sharing, actual payments are done outside of the system. (If you are considering selling through affiliates, see Qualities of Good Affiliates for Selling Your Courses.)
Of course, Thinkific also provides “Orders” page so that you can track all of the sales you make once the tools above start to do their job.
Finally, Thinkific offers a range of integrations with a variety of tools to support your marketing and selling efforts. These are extensive enough that they are covered separately in the following section.
Note: This section will be updated shortly, as Thinkific has recently introduced the Thinkific App Store, which represents a new approach to integration. You can read a full review of the Thinkific App Store here.
When you get into the world of online course platforms you start to hear a lot about “integrations.” In case it is not a familiar term, integration just means that one piece of software is able to “talk” to another by passing data to it through some special coding. This is one-way integration. If the other piece of software can send data back – i.e., “talk back” – there is two-way integration.
Integration matters so much for online course platforms (indeed, most Web platforms), because the makers of these platforms – like Thinkific – realize that they can’t be great at everything. So, it makes sense to connect to other software that does things their software can’t do.
Thinkific has (so far) focused on six key areas of integration: E-commerce, Automation Tools, Analytics, E-mail Marketing, Student Success, Growth Tools. Your level of access to integrations depends on the level of Thinkific plan you have. The following chart highlights which integrations are included with each Thinkific plan. Below the chart you will find more information about different areas of integration.
|Social sign-in||Everything under free, plus:||Everything under Basic, plus:||Everything under Pro, plus:|
|PayPal and Stripe||Outgoing Zapier Triggers||Incoming Zapier Actions||Enterprise Zapier Functionality|
|Quaderno||Sumo||Active Campaign||Public API|
|Google Analytics||Accredible||Single Sign On (SSO)|
|ConvertKit||*Growth Add-on Required|
You can easily connect your Thinkific account to your Stripe or Paypal account to process credit card orders for your courses. You can also connect to Stunning, a service that helps prevent failed Stripe payments as well as to Quaderno, an application that helps with managing taxes, including EU VAT taxes
While Thinkific does not list them under Integrations (they are under Settings > Orders & accounts), there are also pre-set social sign-in options that enable your customers to use their Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus accounts to register on you Thinkific site. (You still capture whatever e-mail address is associated with the account they choose to use.)
With the right level of paid plan, you can connect Thinkific to Zapier and Infusionsoft. Zapier is a Web platform that exists specifically to connect together (i.e., integrate) other platforms. So, in theory, you can use Zapier to integrate Thinkific with a wide range of platforms in addition to the ones already covered in the administrative panel.
Infusionsoft, on the other hand, is a very popular platform for small business to automate all aspects of their sales and marketing (500 monthly posts with a Pro plan, 10,000 with an Enterprise plan).
You can easily put your Google Analytics tracking code and site verification code into Thinkific – a basic step all course sellers should take – but the platform also provides some other useful integrations. The first of these is Facebook – you can drop in pixel code to track referrals from the mega social media site. Mixpanel is also an option for advanced analytics. (I have to admit, I was not familiar with this one before reviewing Thinkific – it looks quite valuable.) Finally, if the other Thinkific integrations or Zapier aren’t getting the job done for you, Thinkific also integrates with Segment, which in turn serves as an integration bridge to just about any sales and marketing platform you can think of.
This is a big one for online course sellers. I know from years of working with my clients and research that nothing is more effective for selling online courses than e-mail. Fortunately, Thinkific has integrations with four of the major league systems: MailChimp (which I use), AWeber, ConvertKit, and Active Campaign. There is not – for some reason – an established Constant Contact integration, but presumably this could be done with Zapier.
Accredible, the certificate platform already discussed above, is one of the tools listed here. Another is Disqus, the popular discussion forum platform. Connect your account and can easily drop a Disqus discussion into any course you create. Finally, if you have an Enterprise account, you will also see the Brillium assessment platform, discussed above, listed here.
Finally, Thinkific has an established integration with Sumo, which offers a suite of tools to help you grow your e-mail list, gain social media followers, and more.
In addition to what is covered in the Integrations area of the Thinkific admin panel, you also have some important options available under Settings > Code & analytics. These include:
- Site footer code: An area where you can input things like Google Analytics code (to be able to track user activity on your Thinkific site) and tracking pixels from sites like Facebook)
- Order tracking code: Enables you to input code to track conversions from advertising platforms like Google Ads, affiliate programs, or just about anything else for which tracking conversion matters
- Sign-up tracking code: Similar to order tracking, this enables you to track the source for anyone who signs up for your site.
Finally, for more advanced needs, Thinkific provides for the creation of Webhooks, access to a public API (application programming interfaces), and a single sign-on interface. These options are too complex to go into in this review, but the bottom line is that, in combination with everything else covered here, they enable you to address just about any integration need you can imagine – assuming, of course, you have or have access to the necessary programming skills.
Overall, Thinkific is very flexible when it comes to integration. The big upside of this flexibility is that, regardless of where you start, it is very likely you will be able to extend Thinkific to meet whatever needs arise in the future.
Thinkific: Managing and Supporting Students
Aside from enabling you to deliver your courses, one of the key reasons for using a specialized online course platform is that it makes managing and tracking your users and their data much easier.
Managing and Organizing Learners
To start with, when a user signs up at your site, Thinkific captures all of their key contact data (e.g., first name, last name, e-mail) and using custom sign-up fields (under Settings > Orders & accounts) you can easily add fields to capture whatever specific information you want from your users. (Note that, unlike platforms like Udemy, you get full access to the user data you collect.)
You can also organize users into groups. This seemingly simple feature can have a big impact on your business model by making it possible for you to sell courses in bulk to organizations – one of the best ways for online course sellers to drive major revenue growth, in my experience.
Using groups, you can also easily organize your learners by cohort, time, enrollment, job-type, or organization, or other variables, making it possible to track the effectiveness of your offerings with each group and to refine your marketing going forward. (Note: use of the Groups feature requires a Pro plan license with the Growth Add-on.) Find out more about the Thinkific Groups functionality >>
Communicating and Interacting with Learners
In addition to helping you organize your learners, Thinkific also enables a number of ways for you to communicate with your learners and for them to provide feedback on the course.
You can enable discussion for your courses and then manage your students contributions under Support Your Students > Discussions, where you can sort discussions by course, respond to students, and – if needed – “Disapprove” contributions that you don’t want to show up in the course. Discussions can be added on a per lesson or per course basis (a much-needed improvement).
In addition to discussion capabilities, Thinkific offers a Communities functionality in at the Pro level and above and has recently added Spaces feature to enable you to create dedicated areas for cohort-based courses, office hours, topic-focused discussions, among other possibilities.
All of this let’s you build your own on-branded communities and not have to send learners out to social platforms (e.g., Facebook Groups) that you don’t own. You can automatically add user to your communities on a site-wide, course, or bundle basis and even create tiered memberships or memberships based on Thinkific Groups. Learners can access your communities via direct link, or through their dashboard where they automatically see all the courses and communities they have access to.
From more of a marketing perspective, you can also enable your student to submit reviews for your courses. You then have the ability to approve these reviews (they are not published automatically) and use them as social proof on your sales page for the course. Unlike discussions, this feature can be enabled on a course-by-course basis.
Finally, there are a number of notifications that can be enabled or disabled in the Thinkific platform, some of which can be customized. You can, for example, send students a customized message when they register for your site, enroll in a specific course, or complete a course. You can also send out weekly reminder messages. (Note: Reminders are site-wide, not course-specific.)
Thinkific: Tracking and Reporting
A key reason to have a specialized online course platform – as opposed, for example, to just posting content behind a password on a Web site – is that it is going to track things like course progress and completion as well as quiz and survey data.
Thinkific’s progress tracking (under Support Your Students > Progress) enables you to select a specific student and monitor a number of variables for each course in which the student is enrolled. For each course you will see:
- Percentage of Course of Viewed
- Percentage of Course Completed
- Student Name
- Student Email
- Course Completed at (date)
- Course Started at (date)
- Course Activated at (date)
- Last sign in (date)
I like that you can also choose to reset a student’s completion percentage at any time, for example if you’re adding new lessons to an already completed course.
Overall, the course reporting is fairly basic, but I suspect it will serve the needs of the vast majority of course entrepreneurs.
Unlike the course reporting, the quiz and survey reporting is exported to a .CSV file (rather than displayed on screen) and e-mailed to you. The .csv file contains the responses from all students who have taken a survey a quiz along with their name, e-mail address, and when they took it. For quizzes, it also provides the number and percentage of questions the student got correct.
Overall, reporting for both courses and quizzes/surveys is one of the main areas in which the Thinkific system could be stronger. In fairness, this tends to be true for pretty much of the all of the platforms in this class of platforms. Ideally, over time, it would be possible to access course completion and quiz/survey data through a single Web interface. Even better, it would be great to be able to view a student transcript that displays hours associated with a course, any credit earned (not currently captured at all in Thinkific), and a link to download the certificate associated with the course.
Using Non-English Languages in Thinkific
I regularly hear from readers who want an online platform that supports languages other than English. So, before wrapping up, I want to be sure to highlight Thinkific’s multi-lingual capabilities.
With the recent addition of Latvian, Thinkific now supports more than 30 languages – all listed below. The option for specifying the language your site will be displayed in can be found under Settings > Learning content. You can also specify that students can make their own choice about what language to display the site in. If you decide to do this, students see this option on their Profile page under My Account.
Keep in mind that any text you have put into the site is not changed automatically when a new language is selected. Only text that is part of Thinkific’s standard heading, labels, and navigation is changed. (And, oddly, the navigation item “All Courses” remains in English no matter what language is selected.) If you want all parts of your site – including your course content – to display in a language other than English, then you have to input the content in that language.
This is not a shortcoming of Thinkific – it is simply the way that any database-driven software is going to act unless there is an auto-translation capability (which can lead to a different set of issues). In general, the fact that it is easy to flip to a different language for the core elements of Thinkific is likely to be a significant time saver for course creators working in non-English languages. Languages supported by Thinkific as of January 2020 include the following. (Note the company says to contact them if you don’t see your language, suggesting they will consider adding it.)
- Mandarin (Simplified)
- Mandarin (Traditional)
- Portuguese (Brazilian)
- Spanish (European)
- Spanish (Mexican)
Thinkific Review: What’s Missing (So Far)?
Anyone who has been working in the e-learning industry for the past couple of decades (as I have) will realize that Thinkific offers a remarkable range of features at a very reasonable price. It was not that long ago that a system with these capabilities could have easily cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.
With that in mind, it is hard to argue that Thinkific is “missing” much. Still, there are gaps that will rule it out for some course sellers – and these all tend to be gaps that are characteristic of this class of platforms. The main ones I see are:
No multi-tenancy option
Multi-tenancy means that you can create and manage multiple instances of a platform under a single umbrella. This can be really handy if, for example, you are a training company with many corporate clients and those clients want their own branded instance of the platform for serving and managing their users. While the Group functionality in Thinkific gets you part of the way there, it is not the same thing as multi-tenancy.
No continuing education credit capabilities
While you can indicate the estimated number of hours for completing a course in Thinkific, you cannot specify the amount of continuing education available for a course. While there may be work-arounds, for most course providers that focus on providing continuing education credit, this will be a significant barrier to using Thinkific,
No support for SCORM or xAPI/TinCan
As noted above, while Thinkific can host and deliver courses created in common authoring tools like Articulate and Captivate, it does not actually make use of the SCORM (or xAPI/TInCan) packaging capabilities of these applications. If you have a strong and valid reason for using one of the major e-learning standards, Thinkific would not be the way to go.
Like I said, these are areas that, for the most part, are not served well by other platforms that are in Thinkific’s class. To get a platform that supports all three generally means a starting price point three to four times higher than Thinkific – and it can go up a lot from there. So, be sure these truly are gaps for you before ruling out Thinkific.
Thinkific: The Bottom Line
I’ll end this Thinkific review where I started: this is a platform I highly recommend. Hopefully it is clear by now that it offers a full range of the most essential features to support your average edupreneur in selling online courses.
I think it is also important to repeat as I wrap up that Thinkific is a company with a lot of momentum. This is definitely not a trivial point: the market for online course platforms like Thinkific is currently crowded and noisy. You can be certain that a lot of the platforms that are here today will be gone tomorrow. (See my post on this – Which online course platforms will survive) I feel confident that Thinkific will be around – in fact, in summer 2020 it received a $22 million round of investment – and the company is clearly growing and continually investing to improve its platform.
Does all of this mean that Thinkific is the only platform you should consider?
Anyone who has followed me at all will know my answer is “Of course not!” Take what I say here to heart, but do the work – using, for example, my Course Platform Selection Guide – to understand your needs and make your own decision.
And, if you do end up going with Thinkific, I encourage you to share your own Thinkific review in the comments here.
Thinkific: Feature Updates
- May 2021: Thinkific introduces the Thinkific App Store.
- July 2020: Thinkific announces a new integration with Zoom.
- April 2019: Thinkific introduces bulk upload feature to enable you to import thousands of students and bulk enroll or un-enroll them in your online courses easily, quickly, and on your own schedule.
- April 2019: Thinkific introduces a new lesson type, Assignments, to enable you to collect, assess, and provide feedback on student-submitted files.
In August, the company introduced Thinkific Plus, which is aimed at high growth, high volume businesses. You get all the usual Thinkific features with this but also – along with a higher price tag – a range of additional features, including:
- Dedicated Account Manager
- Direct phone and email support
- Strategic 1-to-1 kickoff call
- Custom migration planning
- Launch Preparedness Review call
- Ongoing account services (Bulk content & student uploads, content duplication)
- Unlimited Site Administrators
- Unlimited Course Administrators/ Revenue Partners
- Unlimited Group Analysts
- Isolated / dedicated server hosting
- Dedicated sandbox site
- Up to 3 separate Thinkific sites
- Bulk content and student imports
- Course specific branding
- Advanced CSS customization
- Advanced password complexity
- Service Level Agreement (SLA) 99.5%
- Master Services Agreement (MSA)
If you already have a large course business or are growing fast, you may want to check it out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the question I often get from readers or see asked in other places.
Does Thinkific have a free plan?
Yes. You are limited to three courses with the Thinkific free plan, but you can have unlimited students. Of course, as you might expect, you won't get the full range of features. You can see the comparisons of different plans here.
Is Thinkific better than Teachable?
My bias is yes, Thinkific is one of the best Teachable alternatives, but really it depends on what you are looking for. In general, Thinkific wins for overall course website capabilities, managing bulks sales and content, and quiz/testing capabilities. Teachable wins for student engagement and interactivity, ease of navigation, selling/conversion tools, and customer support. You can read a comprehensive Teachable vs. Thinkific (or, if you prefer, Thinkific vs. Teachable ) comparison here.
What are the main alternatives to Thinkific?
Does Thinkific integrate with Zoom?
Yes, Thinkific announced a new integration with Zoom in July 2020. The company notes that "Live Lessons will be available on Pro plans and above but are currently available on all plans until December 31, 2020, to help everyone through these times of economic uncertainty."
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