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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 ecourse?
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.
This is a free plugin for WordPress and its what I originally used for my 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 intend to upgrade to once LearnPress outgrows my needs or my courses become more profitable.
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 you’re going to be paying out fees which eat into your profits and paying a monthly fee on top of that if you decide you need more features like an affiliate program or connecting with your email marketing tool.
There are two big names in this area and the first, and my favorite of the two, is Thinkific.
There’s a free plan that charges you a 10% transaction fee and lets you make as many courses as you want.
You also get course upsells, connection to popular email platforms, content hosting, and instant access to your funds! There’s also a snazzy drag and drop builder to create your sales pages.
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).
In my opinion, this is probably the best way to get your feet wet with creating and selling an online course if you’re not ambitious enough to tackle creating an entire course website from scratch.
This is what most of the big bloggers use and its by far the more of the popular tools for creating and selling courses.
They have an extensive blog and tons of support and tutorials to help you along the way. And of course people like Melyssa Griffin team up to promote the software because its also what they are using.
But what I don’t really like about Teachable is that they charge you $1 + 10% in transaction fees (which is more than Thinkific). They also don’t pay out instantly; you have to wait at least 30 days.
And to get access to the email marketing connections you need the first tier paid plan. They also have a sales page builder and most of the sales pages I’ve seen on Teachable have look really nice.
Even though I think Thinkific is a lot better and gives you more bang for your buck; it seems Teachable has a larger user base because of the big brands that endorse it.
Try them both and make your own decision.
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, I would get started with something like Thinkific or play with LearnPress or Namaste! to get a feel for it. Eventually you will probably want to develop your own course site so you can reap all the benefits.
Good luck and let me know in the comments what your favorite platform for creating online courses is