Best Online Course Platforms in 2021 For Online Course Instructors
By far, the most common question I get asked is “Which is the best online course platform for my online courses?” which is a tricky question to answer. A better question would be, “based on my current marketing strategy, my current following and what I have yet tested, where should I strategically post my online course?” With the first question, you have hundreds of options to choose from, with the second, you have just a few options that will best get you started to where you need to go.
My goal through this article is to try to simplify the hundreds of options for you:) Oh, and by the way, if the information I share is helpful to you, could you do me a solid, and please share it with others who could benefit, or link to it from your own websites? Thanks in advance!
…now moving on
As an online course instructor, there are 2 main categories of platforms you need to consider:
- Platforms that are free and that other businesses control and manage. These platforms will take a portion of your profits from your course sales.
- Platforms that you fully control, pay for and manage. You keep all the profits from the course sales and are solely responsible for all your marketing.
From a strategic standpoint, when you are starting off and have little to no followers, your absolute best bet is to start off with the free options.
Be warned, you will receive some bad advice where people tell you that losing some of your course sale profits is a bad idea, but let me flip that lens for you. Which option would you prefer:
- A marketing company working around the clock to bring you in students that you otherwise would likely not have been able to reach, that will work for you for free – ads and all? OR
- Spend hours of your own time and hundreds or thousands of dollars of your own money in ads to make course sales?
If you went the route of option “B”, you would come out more profitable in the end IF you made lots of sales, but I can tell you as a marketer, marketing an unknown course from an unknown course creator to an audience that doesn’t know you, is one of the most difficult things to do! No matter what anyone says, your conversion rates will likely be very low to start. Yes, you can use different strategies and offers, build out funnels and email sequences, and spend loads of time and money to get it all done… or to get started now, you can choose option “A”.
When you use business platforms other people own (affectionately coined as “marketplaces” in the online course world) not only do you not need to commit any time or money upfront, you also have a very low risk way of testing out your course, gauging interest, monitoring student questions, and more. It gets your feet wet, without being thrown into the unknown depths of the sea. It’s your choice, but I’m more of a one toe in the water at a time type of person myself, especially when it comes to money:)
Free Platforms = Marketplace Platforms
Let’s look deeper at marketplace platforms for hosting your online courses. They include places like Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, Coursera, and so on. You essentially upload your course, profile, and other information. Users may see your course as an option for their chosen topic, and choose to enroll or not.
The platform handles all the marketing, sales, hosting fees, etc. plus add in things that will help you including ways students can post questions, ability to add your own promotions, ways you can email or message your students and more. There is no getting lost in technology with these!
You can start with one platform, and then add in as many more as you want. I don’t see a problem with this strategy, other than the time commitment that comes with uploading your already created course, but I do see a whole list of benefits including more monthly revenue, more exposure and more possibilities with the more platforms you have your courses on.
Marketplace platforms will also give you a much wider reach than you could likely get on your own. This doesn’t include just students! I’ve been found and invited to speak on online conferences, to write articles, to test out new products and more, through my online course discovery. I’ve also gained clients from all over the world through my marketplace course exposure, including getting discovered by a very niche Amazon online course provider, where I made an additional $2K USD per month for a few months, for doing nothing other than sharing my course.
Udemy is the king of the online course world and you will very likely get the most students from it so everyone should start here. I get trickles of students from other places I am listed, but Udemy takes the cake in terms of students. This may or may not be true for you, and I do have a basic Udemy marketing strategy that works every time for me (ask about my upcoming course on that;) but there may be more specialized marketplaces you should consider based on your topic. Technical trainers for example, could make a lot of money on Udemy + on specialized online course platforms such as Udacity, with a very niche technical audience that pay well for the information.
Platforms You Control = Course Management Systems
With platforms you control, you pay a fee for the privilege of hosting your course on the platform. Besides being able to upload all your videos and lessons, you receive features such as a website builder with templates, ability to send out emails or messages to your students, ability to create coupons, and more. These are called *Course Management Systems or CMS platforms, and include popular options such as Thinkific, Teachable, Kajabi, Podia and so on. The prices vary, but so do the options you receive. (* for ease of this article, I am calling the platforms you pay for to host your courses, CMS’: it’s the loose term in the industry, but it technically applies more to school settings).
As a special note, you can also host your courses on your Wordpress website through special plugins, such as LearnDash. I would highly suggest you first speak with your hosting provider though to ensure the extra resource and space drain on your Wordpress site won’t come at an additional cost. I’m not familiar enough with LearnDash to know how the storage space issue is handled.
Best Online Course Platforms in 2021: Verdict On Which To Choose
Marketing your courses
: If you use a marketplace option, you are not off the hook with marketing, it’s just that your marketing steps could be a lot faster, cheaper (or free) and simpler. You also don’t have to worry about things like security, backups, hosting charges, payment system setups, student messaging systems and so on.
Marketing add ons:
Whatever platforms you choose; to get into bigger course sales and profits, check if the following are included:
- Email funnel system
- Webinar system
- Membership area add on
- Coupon system
- Affiliate program system
- Landing pages
A CMS option that I am loving the look of, is Kajabi. Instead of going outside your chosen CMS for things such as your funnel system, Kajabi integrates everything seamlessly within the Kajabi platform. This could definitely be an ideal option if you are new to marketing or technology confuses you. Trust me though, even as an experienced marketer, things can often go wrong when linking multiple outside pieces together - and fixing and testing can easily eat up hours or days of your time.
: If you have a large following, you can safely start with a CMS as, when done properly, you will make course sales.
If you are just getting started, however, you definitely want to start with marketplaces.
: If you want to take the advice of a top marketer (moi!), start off with a short course on a marketplace (or a few marketplaces!), take a few weeks to monitor and answer questions and refine your course and prove demand for it, then go ahead and build everything on your own CMS as well, to get both worlds working for you. The CMS should have your new improved course (from what you’ve learned through the marketplace), plus be sure to add more substance and bonuses to it to warrant the higher fee than they could find on your marketplace version.
To do further course validation and begin faster with your own thing, you could then offer live training through your CMS. From there you would put all the pieces you’ve discovered together, and create the ultimate online course that you can charge premium dollars for. This would be your signature program.
How to Choose A Marketplace Platform:
- The DA (domain authority): As a marketer, I personally select platforms based on their Moz domain authority bar. (You can add the Moz extension by searching for “Mozbar from Moz” in your Chrome browser extension store, or getting a free Moz account and pasting in the URL of whatever you are looking at). A high domain authority shows you that the CMS is very likely legit and has a lot of traffic from Google. That means that your course has a higher chance of being seen! Another reason I do this is because there are many illegitimate CMS’ out there who can take your course, copy it as their own, and you will never see any money from it. I had one such experience, where they went so far as to change all the written text to make it look like their own, but it was my videos on it! …and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I don’t want that to happen to you.
- The reputation: you can simply do a Google search for something like “the top free marketplace platforms for course creators” and go from there. Look for the number of students in courses like yours and read over their material to get a sense of how they support their instructors and methods they are using to push students to take the listed courses.
- Udemy: start with Udemy. No arguing, just do it:) The best reason to start with Udemy is because Udemy has a screening process. If you do not pass the process, you need to ramp your stuff up. Put another way, if it’s good enough for Udemy, it’s good enough for all the other marketplace platforms. Their quality check is the gold seal of approval that your sound, lighting, layout, material, and so on, meets approval for meeting semi rigorous online course standards. If they suggest you fix something, fix it. That’s how you will learn and get better. You will also notice that once you get your course up on Udemy, you will receive emails from other marketplace platforms inviting you to put your course on their platforms. They know that Udemy is the gold standard so your course is one that has already been “chosen” as a solid online course that will likely please their own students.
As a special note, Udemy is very likely the platform that will also get you the most students.The platform attracts millions of students – and that’s a lot of potential eyeballs on what you have to offer!
How to Choose a CMS:
My #1 advice is to go with a CMS that offers attractive, marketing driven templates. Some of the templates on the CMS platforms are just ugly and in my marketing opinion, not built by a marketing person for sales. For example, look at the call to action button – is it hidden, or is it large and stands out? Can you add more than one call to action on a page? Simple things like that can really make a conversion difference on your sales and trust me, you don’t want to pay a monthly fee for a CMS AND have to pay for a programmer to change all the templates for you as well.
Consider the promotional options the CMS offers. This includes coupons (which are a must), ability to integrate zoom or another webinar system, ability to integrate with your email system for email marketing campaigns, and so on.
3. Membership Areas:
Many CMS’ offer the ability to build your own membership area. See if you can see a sample. Membership areas can really drive sales if used the right way, so you want them to look attractive and compelling for users.
4. Affiliate partnerships:
If your CMS offers an affiliate system, say the word “SCORE!” Setting up systems where affiliates promote your webinars or courses is a smart marketing move, but setting up affiliate tracking on your own is a great way to get grey hair!
There are many other things to consider when choosing the best online course platform for your current situation and goals, but I hope this quick overview is your quick start guide to what to do with the wonderful and awesome course your created!
If you haven’t yet created your online course, start off with my turbo boost to online courses training, for FREE! It’s only one hour and covers the 3 most essential things you should do before getting started. YES! I WANT THE FREE TRAINING!
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P.S. this article does NOT contain any affiliate links because I want you to know that I am sharing this information based on my experience, not the money I can make from referring you to specific CMS or marketplace links:)