Building an online course is a popular way to generate some extra income if done right, but finding the right tool for the job can be a tough task. Thankfully that’s because there are lots of options – and we’re going to look at a few today. Listen to the episode.
Hey everybody and welcome to Creator Toolkit, the podcast about building stuff on the web. I’m Joe Casabona and today we’re going to talk about some options for creating online courses.
What Do You Need to Sell Online Courses?
First, it’s important to outline what we’d need to sell online courses. In this case, we’re going to assume that the cost of a course will be a one time purchase for the customer, and not a subscription model. With that in mind, we’ll need:
- A way to accept payments (not necessarily a shopping cart, especially if you’re only selling one course)
- A way for students to login
- A way to create a course
- Video support
- A way to lock down courses to only those who have purchased the course
- A way to track progress
- A way to communicate with students
There may be things we discover we need along the way, but these are the core features we’re going to look for in a platform.
Self-Hosted or Hosted
As with many of these projects, we need to figure out if we want to go hosted or self-hosted. We discuss the benefits in Episode 1 of this podcast, which you can find at https://creatortoolkit.com/001/.
Basically, do you want to have control over your platform, or do you just want to sell courses? We’ll look at solutions for both.
First we’ll look at hosted solutions. The most popular one I’ve seen is Teachable. They’re popular in the online learning space and offer all of the features we’re looking for and more. They’ll give you the option to build rich lectures, support uploaded video and audio, and you can set your own prices.
The best part about Teachable is you pay to be on the platform, so they don’t take a cut of your course sales. You can start at $29/month (billed annually) and they’ll handle everything for you from setting up and hosting the course, to processing payments, and even affiliate & email marketing. At the basic level, you’ll also pay a 5% transaction fee for the credit card processing – that goes away at the higher level. If you’re looking for a fast, easy way to sell your courses, Teachable is a fantastic bet.
Another good option for a hosted solution is Teachery. They offer a single, dead-simple pricing model of $49/month or $470/year, with no transaction fees. If you’re selling a good amount of courses, this is a great way to go.
They support everything Teachable supports as far as course creation and registration goes, and even make it super easy to style your courses. On top of that, you can easily do recurring payments like payment plans or memberships – something Teachable is not great with.
One popular option I want to mention but do not recommend is Udemy. They are free to get set up on, making their money by taking a cut of your revenue (up to 75% if they sell through their own paid promotions). They also let you set a price but offer what’s basically a perpetual sale, where your course will most likely be offered for $9.99. I have 2 courses on Udemy and make on average $5/student.
Udemy is a classic long-tail business. They make money because they are the marketplace, but it’s hard for most people in the marketplace to make any money. Plus, you don’t get direct access to your students – by their rules you, you can promote anything outside of Udemy to your student.
They promise a lower per student rate but high volume. The problem is if that high volume doesn’t come, there is little benefit to using a marketplace like Udemy.
If you want to just sell courses, I’d recommend Teachable or Teachery. But if you want more control over your design, platform, or information, there are a few self-hosted solutions you can try. Let’s start with WordPress’ offerings.
LearnDash and LifterLMS
There are 2 popular Learning Management Systems (LMS) that run on top of WordPress: LearnDash and LifterLMS.
I happen to use LearnDash on my own sites, so I’m more familiar with it, but both offer similar features. They’ll allow you to build and sell courses on top of WordPress. As a matter of fact, both include built-in eCommerce support, so you don’t need additional tools to sell. The main difference is in pricing.
LearnDash has a single payment option: $159/year to use the plugin. LifterLMS offers a free version of the plugin, but you’ll quickly want to upgrade to the paid version of plugin if you plan to sell courses. They have a 2-tiered model, starting at $99/year and going up to $999/year. You’ll want to determine which you’ll need based on number of sites and features, but the eCommerce features start at the $299/year tier.
I recommend you look at either of these and figure out which works best for you. I will say based on my experience that with LearnDash, it’s cheaper to get started, but you might end up buying addition add-ones to do exactly what you want to do. It looks like with LifterLMS, they have higher pricing, but more included features.
If you want a more focused show on either one of these, let me know by writing it via email: email@example.com, or on Twitter @jcasabona
Non-WordPress Self-Hosted Solutions
Outside of WordPress LMSs, the options tend to focus more on the course management side than the selling side.
A long-standing industry LMS is Moodle, which has been used by primary schools, colleges, and enterprises. it offers robust features for course and student management (something lacking in the WordPress LMSs), but selling through Moodle is something that might take some extra work. While there are extensions to add payment gateways, I’ve seen a common solution is to sell through WooCommerce. In my option, if you’re going to use WooCommerce (which is a WordPress solution), you might as well use LearnDash, LifterLMS, or even Sensei, a barebones LMS that runs specifically for WooCommerce.
Aside from that, there’s not a real definitive tool for selling online courses in your own space. I came across Click4Course and DigitalChalk, but both seemed to focus on selling their hosted solution.
My conclusion here is that if you want more control over the look, feel, features, and design, your best bet is probably WordPress with a plugin like LearnDash or LifterLMS. They offer all of the features we outlined in the beginning of the show, and offer you room to grow.
For all of the show notes, head over to creatortoolkit.com/014/ If you liked this episode, please share it!
My question for you is: How are you going to build your online courses? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jcasabona.
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, get out there and build something.