Online courses, or ecourses, have been all the rage in the online business and blogosphere. With people like Melyssa Griffin turning her courses into a profitable business with tons of devoted followers it’s easy to see why others want a piece of the pie.
First of all, what is an online course?
Typically, it’s a group of lessons on a topic with the results being something actionable a person can take away to solve a problem or improve an aspect of their life.
These lessons can be text, audio, video, slides, live streaming, and can include workbooks, groups, calls, etc. The possibilities are endless and they work for any niche.
In this post I’m going to share a multitude of different ways (and places) that allow you to create your course and even sell it.
Some of the benefits to housing your own courses on your website (or a new site) is that you don’t have to worry about extra fees that other sites take out. You also get full control over everything and call the shots.
On the other hand it’s going to be a lot more technical and require a good bit of set up before you can open your first course. You’re also going to need to spend some money upfront unless you’re okay with missing out on some features.
If you plan on using video content you’ll have to decide where to host your videos. YouTube is an option but your videos won’t be 100% safe from being shared so using Vimeo or Wistia is a better option.
And quite frankly, I wouldn’t recommend hosting your courses on your own website. The downsides outweigh the positives in my opinion. Your site could go down, payments could stop functioning, tech things always break.
But that might be the route you want to take and there are plugins to sell your courses.
This is a free plugin for WordPress and its what I originally used for my first online course site.
What I love about it is that it’s super easy to use and the course builder on the backend is very simple and just gets the job done.
A lot of the front-end and how the students see the course is similar to popular sites like Teachable so they’ll feel comfortable accessing the content. If you want to customize the colors and styles that the plugin uses you’ll need to know some CSS though (or you could hire someone like me).
Some other features LearnPress doesn’t have is coupons or an affiliate system.
Normally, you could hook up with WooCommerce to accomplish those things but this plugin doesn’t do that. It does have a Woo add-on but I don’t think it will work in a way that you can connect a Woo product to a course.
This plugin isn’t free and usually costs around $129 but it’s probably one of the more popular LMS plugins available. It’s also what I would probably recommend if I had to choose one.
I haven’t got to play around with it yet but it seems to be just as easy to use as LearnPress but with so many more features and backed by great support on their website. You get cool things like dripped content, quizzes, gamification, triggers to interact with your students and a lot more.
One great thing about LearnDash is that it connects with Woocommerce and Easy Digital Downloads right out of the box. This means that you’ll be able to sell your courses with ease and even setup coupon codes or your own affiliate program.
If you’re serious about setting up a successful online course website then I think LearnDash is the way to go. It’s an investment up front but you’ll save a lot of money in the long run compared to monthly fees of third-party course sites.
WooCommerce, the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, also has their own learning management system add-on. It costs roughly the same as LearnDash at about $129.
I have worked with this plugin before on a few client websites and it works just about the same as other course plugins. However, I have had some bugs and issues while using it so your mileage may very.
It offers the basics of creating your own courses that can be sold but some features like dripped content and certificates have to be added on and sometimes even purchased. There doesn’t seem to be as many capabilities as similar plugins.
For those reasons I think its lacking in areas where LearnDash is excelling. If you have a WooCommerce-ready theme that looks great or don’t need a whole lot of bells and whistles than this may be a good choice.
This is an interesting option because the plugin itself comes free but if you want more advanced features or the option to sell your course then you have to upgrade or purchase one of their bundles.
But it claims to be an all in one solution for courses, membership, payments, and profiles. Feature-wise it seems to be on par with LearnDash (although a bit more clunky in my opinion).
You get your course builder, student profiles, gamification and certificates, dripped content, and even analytics.
I love that you can test it out for free to see if it works well with your courses and website and then upgrade if you decide you want to sell your courses.
You can get one add-on for $99 but the best deal is their bundle for $299 which includes most of their best add-ons.
Two other things setting LifterLMS apart is their $1 test trial that lets you use their bundle for just $1! And they also offer complete setup of their software on your website; it’s a touch pricey but you won’t have to worry about a thing.
This plugin is probably the most comparable to LearnDash and pretty popular in itself. One feature they boast is a drag and drop builder for your courses but it doesn’t seem quite that intuitive as other course plugins.
They also have the most advanced quiz system for LMS’s I’ve found. If your courses are going to rely heavily on quizzes, tests, and feedback then this would be a great choice.
Out of most of the plugins listed here, this one is a really great deal as its only $99 and you can install it on up to two websites. They’re also trusted by a lot of major brands and education companies.
This is a really interesting addition to the list. It’s free to use but you won’t have access to some of the Pro version features and can’t charge for your course.
The good news is that it’s super affordable at a one-time payment of $47!
It does hook up with WooCommerce but you have to setup a “bridge” which seems a bit more confusing than the plugin and play options other plugins provide.
The Pro version includes coupons, payments^, badges, protected files, dripped content and quizzes too. It does seem a bit more basic compared to something as robust as LearnDash but you can always try it for free to see if you want to spring for the pro version.
On third-party websites
The benefit of using an outside tool to run your course is that you don’t have to worry about tech hassles, hosting, creating things from scratch, hiding your content, etc.
You have literally everything you need at your fingertips to create and sell your course start to finish.
The downside is that there could be extra fees which eat into your profits and paying to use the tool on top of that. Plus if you need more features like an affiliate program or connecting with your email marketing tool that’s usually going to require a more expensive plan.
Usually the benefits of having all the course making tools at your disposal is worth the price. You can have a system that takes care of the emails, lessons, sales pages, payments, affiliate marketing, and more.
There are two big names when you think of course builders, but I have one that is even better.
The first of the popular course building tools is Teachable. It’s promoted by the big name entrepreneurs and they have a prominent role in the blogging world.
It’s easy to get started with Teachable because they have a free plan, so anyone can start selling a course if they want to. And I love that most of the features (like affiliate and email integration) are included on the basic plan.
But what I don’t really like about Teachable is that they charge you transaction fees unless you’re on the more expensive plans. They also don’t pay out instantly (unless you use Teachable payments); you have to wait at least 30 days.
Teachable has a big following behind it and there’s a reason it’s well regarded among bloggers. It’s fairly easy to use and it’s probably the most affordable third-party tool to use.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Thinkific. They’re a bit more corporate than Teachable who mainly targets women bloggers.
They do offer a free plan so you can give it a whirl. With that you can create up to 3 courses, have unlimited students, and get instant access to any money your make.
The support is also amazing! Upon signing up you’ll be able to “take a course” that shows you how to use Thinkific and get started.
I found the user interface a little more friendly on here than on Teachable but the sales pages always seem a little nicer over on Teachable (but maybe its just because more people use it).
Their cheapest paid plan is more than Teachable but includes about the same features.
While I think Thinkific and Teachable are both good choices, there’s one I like even better.
You likely haven’t heard of Podia because it’s relatively new and not a lot of business owners have discovered it.
Podia is a clean, simple platform that allows you to create and sell courses but also digital products and even membership sites. They don’t have a free version but you can get a free trial here.
There are no transaction fees at all and you have access to their amazing 24/7 support (which is really amazing). I’ve signed up for their webinars and I was blown away by how dedicated they are to their product.
You can also use Podia to build your email list and send out drip campaigns to your students. This can allow you to offer free courses and nurture them into purchasing a related product.
It’s a bit on the pricey side unless you don’t want access to the affiliate marketing or membership features they offer. For someone who wants it all this is the perfect option.
On a marketplace
Finally, there are large marketplaces that allow you to sell your online courses as well. In fact, you can use these in addition to any of the platforms I mentioned above to increase your visibility.
Some of the pros of listing your course on a marketplace is that all you really need to do is produce the content and upload it to the course site. Because these sites already have a large user base, you won’t even need to market unless you want to.
But the drawbacks are that you probably won’t make very much money per course, you don’t have much control over the site if any, and sometimes you can’t even choose the price you’re selling your course for.
If you haven’t heard of this massive course and elearning marketplace then you may be living under an (internet) rock.
There are millions of students on this website so it’s a great place to get more eyes on your content. They boast a great support system and even a forum for instructors to connect and get help with building their courses in Udemy.
The strange thing about this marketplace is how you make money. If you bring the students through your coupon or link then you receive 97% of the revenue but if the student purchases your course organically (through search, etc) then you only receive 50%.
It’s perfect if you don’t have a large audience to market to but it also makes sense if you want to drive your own sales.
And then we have Skillshare which is possibly even more bizarre than Udemy.
While there are free courses, students who sign up for premium memberships get access all the courses on Skillshare. You only earn money when you refer someone to purchase a premium account (you earn $10) or you earn royalties for every minute your content is watched.
It’s a really odd way to get paid but it seems to work for some people. Unfortunately, with these marketplaces you’ll have a lot of competition and it may be hard to stand out.
They also have a teacher center to help support and guide you to creating your course with them as well.
And there you have 10 different ways you can create and sell your own online course. Depending on how much effort you want to put into it and how tech savvy you are will help determine which platform works best for you.
In my opinion, Podia is the way to go if you’re serious about selling courses and digital products plus want the bang of email marketing and affiliate tools.
Good luck and let me know in the comments what your favorite platform for creating online courses is!