Course platforms are designed to make it easy for you to create and sell your online courses. They handle payment and student access, course design and navigation, hosting your videos, and helping you market your courses. All this makes it easy for you to focus on the important stuff like creating content.
If you have a course idea you think will sell, then picking the right online learning platform is the first step to building your own 6-figure per month education empire.
I’ve analyzed dozens of online learning providers and boiled the list down to my top five favorites. In this comparison of online course platforms, I’ll review the pros and cons of each.
Table of Contents
- Best Online Course Platforms Guide
- Different Types of Online Course Platforms
- How to Choose the Best Online Course Platform
- Which online course platform is really the best?
- Best Free Online Course Software
- How to Market Your Online Course
- Frequently Asked Questions
Note, this post does include some affiliate links, but that does not impact my honest recommendations. If you visit a course website through one of my links and ultimately sign-up, you pay nothing extra, but I earn a small commission which helps me provide all this content to you for free.
Best Online Course Platforms Guide
Online Course Platform Ratings
|Ease of Use for |
|Flexibility to |
|Affordability||Average with good free |
|Most expensive, but |
includes many tools
you'd otherwise pay for
|Average||Average||Free to start but very |
high transaction fees
|Editor's Notes||Most flexible platform. |
Best place to get started
for free and upgrade
later as your needs grow.
Read my full Thinkific review
|Robust all-in-one toolkit. |
No need to pay for a
separate sales funnel
builder or email mgmt.
Read my full Kajabi review
|Avoid high transaction |
fees on lower plan tiers.
Read my full Teachable
|Great customer service |
and affordable plans.
Read my full Podia
|Main advantage is a |
Otherwise, Udemy is very
limited in all regards.
Read my full Udemy
Pricing & Cost Comparison
|Monthly billing tiers||$0 / $49 / $99 / $499||$149 / $199 / $399||$39 / $119 / $299||$39 / $79||$0|
|My Pricing Plan Guides||Thinkific Pricing Plan Guide||Kajabi Pricing Plan Guide||Teachable Pricing Plan Guide||Podia Pricing Plan Guide||Udemy Pricing Plan Guide|
|Discount for annual pre-payment||20%||20%||20-26%||17%||0|
|Transaction fees||0%||0%||0-5%||0%||3% for your own referrals, 50% for marketplace sales|
Note: 3rd party payment processors like Stripe and PayPal will typically take 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction and are not associated with course plans. This is standard for any credit card charge on the Internet.
Read my detailed Pricing Plan Guide that gives you a side-by-side comparison of ALL the price plans across online course platforms.
Course Creation Feature Comparison
|Visual page builder|
|Bulk import course |
|Prerequisites (content |
|Quizzes, surveys, |
|Course completion |
|3rd party integration ($)||3rd party integration ($)|
|Course reviews / |
|Course reporting and |
|Social media logins|
|API and SSO for |
Course Marketing Feature Comparison
|Run your own affiliate |
|set commission structure|
|Built in Email |
|3rd Party Email |
|Drip feed course |
|Built in sales funnel |
|Marketing automation |
|Zapier integration ($)||Zapier integration ($)||Zapier integration ($)|
|Sales page templates|
|Reporting and |
|Time limited courses|
Payment and Checkout Feature Comparison
|Course pricing |
|Access your funds||Instantly (students pay |
|Instantly (students pay |
|Varies based on your |
plan (can be 1-2 mos.)
|Instantly (students pay |
|2-3 mos. (students pay |
|PayPal and Stripe |
|Payment plans for |
Head to Head Course Platform Comparisons
Have you already weeded down your options to two platforms already? Check out our head to head online course comparisons for a granular analysis:
Different Types of Online Course Platforms
There are dozens of eLearning platforms to assess, each with different specialties. Let’s look at the main types.
Hosted Online Course Platforms
All of the platforms in the comparison table above are hosted for you, meaning that they provide all the infrastructure to create and sell courses. Your course content, videos, and storefront will be hosted in the cloud and maintained by the course provider.
Pros of Hosted Course Platforms
- These platforms offer everything you need (and didn't know you needed) including payment processing, video and content hosting, customizable web design templates, sales funnels, and email management.
- You do not need to be tech savvy to setup a course and storefront.
- You can typically match your own website’s branding and specify your own sub-domain, for example, course.yourwebsite.com
- They provide ongoing support and maintenance, feature updates, and will handle website security.
- They also ensure a mobile responsive design and fast page speeds.
- Their servers are managed to automatically scale to support high volume as you grow.
Cons of Hosted Course Platforms
- Most hosted course platform plans come with a recurring monthly fee that is higher than options for hosting your own course, although there are some free price plans available and most platforms offer discounts for annual pre-payment.
- It can be daunting to switch between platforms, although many come with free migration when you sign-up.
Self-Host Your Own Course through a WordPress plugin
Pros of Hosting Your Own Course
- Most self-hosted WordPress plugins, like LearnDash charge a recurring annual fee that is lower than hosted course platforms. Plans increase in price if you get licenses for multiple websites, although you can typically have unlimited courses on a single website.
- Most maintained plugins come with feature updates (but you must handle upgrades yourself).
- Most plugins will work with any WordPress theme to fit into your branding and there is no need for a custom domain since it runs on your own website.
- You have total control over configuration as the software will be running on your own website.
Cons of Hosting Your Own Course
- You will need some technical chops (or have to hire someone else who does) to install and configure the plugin on your website.
- You need to handle your own video and content hosting or use 3rd parties like YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia.
- You need to manage plugin upgrades and maintenance yourself as well as handle website security.
- If your website is not yet mobile responsive, your courses will not be either.
- You need to worry about page speed and scaling to support high volume as you grow.
- Most do not come with tools to manage your own course affiliate program.
Learning Management Systems
The term “Learning Management System” is sometimes used interchangeably with hosted course platforms. However, it is typically used to describe more sophisticated and expensive, enterprise level software used by corporate and educational institutions to train employees and classes of college students.
Some course platforms have marketplaces where you can sell your course to students who browse a catalog of courses. Kajabi and Udemy both have online marketplaces although the Udemy marketplace has the largest number of courses and students by far. The downside of course marketplaces is you will have to compete with other courses in your niche and Udemy severely limits you in terms of pricing and branding your course.
How to Choose the Best Online Course Platform
Here are some guidelines to help you understand essential components of course software as well as pitfalls to avoid. You’ll need to prioritize which of these criteria are the most important for your own situation.
Ease of Use and Support
- How easy or difficult is it to setup a new course and customize your store front? Do you need to be tech-savvy or is it intuitive? To find out, sign-up for a free trial of any platform and spend 20 minutes trying to customize a sample course.
- Does the platform have lots of tutorials and good customer support in case you have questions?
- Are you comfortable working with a 3rd party email provider like MailChimp or Aweber to message your students? Or do you prefer a platform that has built in email marketing?
- Do you want to offer course completion certificates to students? Some platforms have these included and on others you must pay for a third-party provider like Accredible.
Flexibility to Customize
- How much can you customize your sales page and course to promote your brand?
- Can you remove platform branding and logo or specify your own sub-domain, for example, course.yourwebsite.com?
- Does the platform have existing integrations with third party systems for things like email management, sales funnels, and course completion certificates?
- Does it have Zapier integration with pre-built “zaps”? Zapier is a popular middleware tool that allows you to easily connect to almost any online tool without much tech-savvy.
- Do you want to tackle course promotion yourself or want to list your course in a marketplace?
- Does the platform come with sales page templates, a marketing funnel builder, or allow integration with 3rd party marketing funnel software?
- Does the platform have marketing automation allowing you to trigger emails or offers based on things like course completion or inactivity?
- Can you run your own affiliate program and have a team of affiliates selling on your behalf for a commission?
- Always go for a platform with zero transaction fees. If your course gains traction and starts to sell, transaction fees will quickly eat into your profits.
- Is there a discount for pre-paying annually?
- Is this your first course? If so, consider a platform with a free option to get started and learn the ins and outs. As you begin to sell and you want more options you can easily upgrade into a premium plan.
Payment Processing Capabilities
- Do you have the freedom to set your own course prices?
- Does the platform support Stripe or PayPal for payment processing?
- Do you want the flexibility to offer coupons and payment plans to your students?
Which online course platform is really the best?
The best online course platforms are intuitive and designed to help you focus on course creation rather than figuring out how to set things up.
My picks for the best platform is Thinkific.
Thinkific is the best all-around platform with the most flexibility to customize your course. It also enables you to easily integrate with your preferred 3rd party vendors like MailChimp, Zapier, and many more. It is one of the more affordable providers and has a quality free option to get you started.
We've negotiated an exclusive offer for our visitors.
For a limited time you can try Thinkific's Pro + Growth Plan, free for one month.
Best Free Online Course Software
Thinkific also happens to be my pick for the best free online course platform. If you are new to selling courses or starting out on a budget, Thinkific has the best free option of all the platforms.
Other platforms have free trials for a limited time, free with high transaction fees (Teachable), or free but 50% commission on sales (Udemy). Thinkific is the only provider with a truly free, viable option to sell courses.
The main caveats of Thinkific’s free plan are that you are limited to 3 courses and you cannot remove the Thinkific branding. Though you can still add your own branding to both your course and your sales page.
When you see traction and your course starts to sell, you can easily upgrade your plan in order to offer more than 3 courses and get access to additional features.
How to Market Your Online Course
There are a variety of ways to promote your online course. While I could devote an entire website to course marketing, here are just a few for now.
- Do your research: One of the best forms of marketing starts before you even have a product or service ready to sell. It comes from careful planning, data and market analysis, and financial forecasting. Choosing the best online course niche to capitalize on trends and stand out from the competition is key to long term course marketing success.
- Use your existing resources: This may seem obvious, but if you are lucky enough to already have an email list, social media following, or traffic to your website, then you can simply message your followers to let them know about your course. You can also create blog posts and banner ads promoting your own course.
- Enlist a team of affiliates: Affiliate marketing is when you find website owners in relevant niches and ask them to promote your course for a share of the profit. You get to decide what percent of the sales price is offered as a commission. Successful programs often give up 20-50% for sales they would not have gotten otherwise. All the platforms above come with built-in affiliate management tools to handle order tracking and payouts.
- Offer coupons or time sensitive discounts: The course providers above each allow you to create coupon codes. You can give these to folks on your email list as a special offer or send them to your affiliates to help them drive more orders.
- Create sales funnels: Use sales funnel software like LeadPages, ClickFunnels, or Kajabi to nuture your prospective students with webinars, email drip series, free lead magnets, and tested sales page templates. Student don’t always buy the first time they read about your course. So you can increase your sales by engaging with them across multiple touch points to move them towards a sale.
- Place paid ads on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram: Consider making a brief video ad that leads to a longer course teaser on your sales page. Video is king these days and converts at a much higher rate than text or image ads. In any case, start out with a small advertising budget and make sure you get your cost per acquisition down to your desired profit margin before increasing your ad spend.
p.s. If you need help with marketing or setting up a course platform, my marketing agency, Grant Spark can help. We work closely with selected course creators to help them realize their vision. To apply to work with us, send me, Geoff, an email (Geoff AT ddiy.co) with a brief summary of your course and your goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Course setup is very straightforward and intuitive on most platforms. First outline your course and break it down into lessons and a curriculum. Then upload videos or written content for each lesson. Once done, you can brand the course with your logo and branding and then link to it from your website. See our picks for the best online course platforms.
Setting up a course platform is the easy part and very intuitive. If you are already an expert on a given topic, you can create a curriculum, record videos, and publish content in as little as a few days. If you are researching a topic and want polished, professionally edited videos it could take you a few weeks or longer. See our picks for the best online course platforms.
The sky is the limit. The very best course providers make hundreds of thousands per month and it’s reasonable for many course providers to earn a few thousand per month. Obviously, not everyone knocks it out of the park, but the nice thing about courses is you create them once and can sell them over and over again without any additional effort. See our picks for the best online course platforms.
You can sell your course for a one-time fee or use a recurring membership model. Some people will even offer an introductory course for free and then upsell with consulting services or a second high cost course. See our picks for the best online course platforms.
Your pricing will vary based on your niche as well as the amount of value you deliver. People charge anywhere from free or $10 up to thousands of dollars per course. Courses that show a return on investment like Internet marketing and professional skills typically earn the most. But don’t be afraid to charge a premium and check what other courses in your niche are charging. See our picks for the best online course platforms.
Some course platforms have free options to get you started. These don’t come with all the bells and whistles, but are more than enough to see if you will get traction from your course before spending money. See our picks for the best free online course options.