updated Jan 2021
Are you struggling to decide between a host of different online course platforms?
In this article, we're going to take a look at 5 of the best online course platforms (Thinkific vs Teachable vs Kajabi vs WordPress vs Udemy) and compare some of the most important features between them.
In this article, you'll learn how to choose which platform is the best option for you in terms of price, features, and ease of use.
Top 5 Online Course Platforms
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Reviews Of the Top 5 Best Online Course Platforms
Below is a short review for each of the 5 best online course platforms featured in this comparison, as well as a link to a more in-depth review and other useful resources for each.
These reviews might help you to quickly identify which course platform offers what you are searching for:
1) Kajabi Review
Kajabi offers a premium option with more features than Teachable or Thinkific.
There's built-in email marketing and a library of slick-looking course, landing page, and website templates; giving you a complete set of resources to promote and sell your course.
It is a great solution if you are looking for one of the most comprehensive resources to design and sell your own content in an intuitive way.
The look and feel of Kajabi-based courses is very high quality & offers a wide array of tools for online course creation.
Additionally, it is very easy to do without tech knowledge. You’ll be able to avoid the headache of coding and web development and still design a highly customizable course to fit your needs.
I personally use Kajabi after testing all the options and believe it is the best online course platform out there if you can afford $100/month+.
The design of the student course area is better than all other options, giving your students a great user experience (important if you're charging premium prices for your courses).
The large range of marketing features mean you can run everything from Kajabi without the need for 3rd party tools (or you can easily integrate with other software if you wish for full flexibility).
Finally, Kajabi support is top-notch. You can access support straight away via chat - it's quick, professional and thorough.
Overall, Kajabi is one of the best, if not the best, (you can check more Kajabi alternatives) teaching platforms out there, and gives you all the tools you need to design a world-class educational experience for your students. .
- High quality platform
- Easy to use
- Great marketing & branding features
- Great looking design, course themes & sale pages
- Option to host community forum in your course area
- Fast & helpful support
- More expensive monthly fees
- Need 3rd party to handle EU VAT
Kajabi Pricing: from $103/month
2) Thinkific Review
Thinkific is a high-quality online course platform with a great set of features enabling you to create & sell online courses and is very easy to get started with.
It is very similar to Teachable and to be honest it's difficult to say that one is better than the other, as they both offer very similar features for similar prices.
So ultimately, it might be up to your personal preference.
Try checking out both and seeing which one looks like the platform for you.
They're both very user-friendly & offer all you need to create & sell online courses (i.e. I highly recommend them both so don't spend too long deciding – instead focus on creating & selling your course!).
Thinkific offers better design with a drag & drop course page builder & is well known for having great support & easy set-up guide.
So if you truly value simplicity and ease of use, Thinkific might be the best option for you.
The most common complaints against it are the lack of customization for checkout & thank you/upsell pages, and the fact that you need to use a 3rd party integration to handle EU VAT (important if you're selling digital products in the EU).
Teachable has some more marketing & sales features like slick customisable checkout pages & one-click upsells, as well as the ability to run your own affiliate program with ease + collect EU VAT payments.
Therefore, if you are serious about marketing and selling your content with advanced techniques, then you might prefer Teachable.
The main downside with Teachable at the moment is the lack of ability to change the look and design of your course areas & sales pages (though they are apparently working on this).
- Click here for a full in-depth Thinkific Review and Thinkific Pricing Plans
- Get inspired from these real-life Thinkific Course Examples
- Check out my in-depth comparison between Teachable vs Thinkific, Podia vs. Thinkific articles
- If you’re wanting to see what other options are out there for selling your online course, then check out my list of 7 best Thinkific alternatives
- Great design & page builder
- Free & low cost options
- Simple to get started with
- Good mix of features
- Great support
- No built in email marketing feature
- Checkout & thankyou/upsell pages very basic
- Need 3rd party to handle EU VAT
- No in-built community forum
Thinkific Pricing: free starter plan or from $39/month
3) Teachable Review
Teachable is probably the most used & well know online course platform on the market.
It's packed full of features that give you everything you need to create & sell an online course. The online course creation tools are simple and highly customizable.
It's also really easy to use & offers low entry-level pricing - making it a natural choice for anyone just getting started (they even have a free plan for beginners).
In particular, it offers some great marketing tools like customizable checkouts & one-click upsell pages, as well as the ability to offer your own customizable affiliate program & handle your EU Vat payments.
Teachable also really helps support your success through regular webinars and blogs on useful subjects too do with course creation, marketing & selling.
Selling your virtual classroom is as vital to success as creating great content.
Both must go hand-in-hand, and these learning materials help you stay on trend and in front of the competition.
Highly recommended for anyone making their first online course on a budget.
- Click here for my full in-depth Teachable Review
- Check out my in-depth comparison between Teachable vs Thinkific, Podia vs. Teachable and more.
- Learn more about the differences between Teachable's Pricing Plans
- Get inspiration from these Teachable Course Examples
- Read more about 7 Best Teachable Alternatives
- Read my comparison between Learnworlds vs. Teachable
- Free & low cost options
- Simple to get started with
- Good mix of features
- Active blog & community with useful tips & advice
- Handles EU Vat payments
- Page design options could be more extensive
- No built-in email marketing feature
- No in-built community forum
Teachable Pricing: free trial or from $39/month
4) LearnDash Review
Creating your online course on your own WordPress website with LearnDash can be a great option if you want a custom design or set of features and if you've got the skills or budget.
It may be a little more fiddly & time-consuming to set up, but it gives you complete freedom & control to create what you want.
Although it might be the most complicated, it is also the option that probably offers you the most control over how you want your course to look and function.
Learndash is the most respected and widely used of the WordPress LMS and membership plugins and has a powerful set of features too.
You can create beautiful looking courses with pretty much any feature you might want, plus you can integrate it with other WordPress themes and plugins to create your course exactly as you want it.
For further info about creating your online course on WordPress, check out the following articles:
- Large set of features
- Complete flexibility over branding & design
- Lower ongoing costs
- Integrates easily with other plugins & services
- Usually more expensive to set up
- May need other services & plugins alongside
- You're in charge of tech issues & updates going forward
LearnDash Pricing: from $159/year
5) Udemy Review
With 20,000 instructors and 12 million students, Udemy is by far the biggest of all the online course platforms.
It's a marketplace filled with 42,000 courses on everything from app development to guitar lessons, dating tips and raising your productivity at work.
Due to its sheer size and number of courses, Udemy offers basically whatever it is that students are looking for.
The audience is there, and if your content is great you might be able to take a share of it.
Udemy will show and promote your course to their large audience, but your course is there alongside all the others, and there is a general focus on discounting and selling low-cost courses.
Therefore, while the opportunity is quite vast, the competition is pretty large as well, so you will have to really make use of the pricing and marketing strategies to stand out.
Not the best way to build a long-term online course business, but it can be good for exposure if you use it to offer free or low-cost mini-courses.
- Free to host your course
- Simple to get started
- Large audience of course buyers
- Marketing & promotion done for you
- Can use it to build exposure with free/low cost mini courses
- Limited pricing options
- Don't own relationship with students
- No control over branding & design
- Terms & conditions can be changed
Udemy Pricing: 50% of sales
Buyers Guide: The Different Types of Online Course Platform
Part of the confusion in working out which online course platform is best for you is the fact there are different types of platform, with different degrees of control, features and ease of use.
This section will outline each of these types of platforms.
1: Third-Party Hosted Platforms
Your course is hosted on a 3rd party platform, which aims to bring a mix of easy course creation & marketing features all under one roof. Designed to make the whole process much simpler than doing it all yourself on your own website.
2: Self-Hosted Platforms
Your course is based on your own website and you use a WordPress LMS plugin to design, run and market your course exactly as you wish, with lots of flexibility to add additional features if you need them.
Certainly more flexibility, but also much more complicated to design generally.
- for example: LearnDash, WP Courseware, or Memberpress plugins
3: Online Course Marketplaces
Your course is for sale in an eCommerce-style marketplace, alongside lots of other courses. The platform handles a lot of the process and promotes your course to its users, but in return, it takes a large cut and often sets some limiting terms & conditions. Much less flexibility in designing and promoting your course, but the potential is there to reach a very large audience.
Buyers Guide: How to Choose The Best Online Course Platform For You
There's no such thing as the best online course platform.
The best course platform is completely dependent on you and what you want.
Therefore, before you make this decision, you need to evaluate your needs and figure out what you want out of online teaching. This way, you can match your needs to the platform that suits you best.
To choose the right option for you, it's worth taking a minute to consider some of these important aspects:
1) Your Budget
If you're just starting out and on a limited budget, you'll probably want to choose a course platform you can afford with low monthly costs - at least until you start to see sales coming in.
I'd advise against building your online course business on Udemy as you have no control over your branding or relationship with your students (plus they take a big 50% cut!).
This effectively limits the control you have over-growing your own content, and they take a larger cut of the sales that you do end up making.
However, both Teachable and Thinkific are solid platforms with lots of flexibility which can get you started cheaply (Teachable has slightly better features for designing the look of your school).
These platforms allow you much more control over your creation and marketing efforts. You can stand out more easily with effective selling techniques.
Kajabi has a library of themes, landing pages and website designs to choose from, enabling you to customise the look and feel of your courses more extensively.
It also includes better marketing features such as integrated email marketing and a wide choice of landing pages.
Creating an online course using WordPress with LearnDash enables almost complete flexibility; with the option to use better and more complete marketing software and other WordPress plugins alongside it to get what you want.
It will also cost you much less in ongoing fees once set up - around $200-$500/year vs $1300 cheapest with Kajabi (see here for more info on the cost of creating an online course).
Also, you can sell your courses even through Shopify e-commerce platform. You can learn how to do it in my guide How To Sell Online Courses On Shopify.
However, you'll need to either be technically able or have the budget to pay a developer to help you get set up and keep on-hand for support.
2) Your Tech/Skill Level
Put simply; unless you are already competent installing and configuring WordPress plugins (or have the budget to pay a developer to do it for you), then you are best off using a 3rd party platform like Teachable, Thinkific or Kajabi.
These platforms have been built precisely to reduce the tech headache of setting everything up on your own website - leaving you the time and space to focus on creating your online course, and marketing & promoting it.
In my opinion, these activities are what will make or break the success of your course, so why spend time on anything else? Just pick your platform and get to work on the stuff that matters.
There is simply so much to do in building and growing an online course and designing lessons, that you really would not want to waste energy on things that don’t directly result in success.
If you do happen to be a WordPress whizz kid or want the flexibility it can offer, then you are probably best using a course/membership plugin like LearnDash, which can create you a very powerful online course platform with endless features and increased profits in the long run.
- Offering a membership is a great way to get recurring payments from your followers. Check these Top 5 Best Membership Site Platforms and know which one is the best to host your membership site.
3) Do You Have an Existing Audience?
Having an existing audience will make creating and selling your course a lot easier. You can ask them what they want to learn, you can build interest before launching, and you can start to make sales much quicker and at higher levels.
If you're in this situation, then count yourself lucky and get to work making your course asap!
It makes sense to throw whatever resources you have at it and launch your online course out there so it can start making you an income.
Choose the quickest or most complete option you can afford and get to it. For example, Kajabi have a feature called Kajabi Pipelines which are pre-made marketing funnels that can speed up the process a lot. They allow you to identify which areas need to be optimized the most and focus on those.
If you don't have much of a following yet, then choose Teachable or Thinkific on their basic plans and spend more time building an audience alongside the making of your online course.
You could use a marketplace like Udemy to gain exposure with a free mini course, but you should look to build your online course business on either a 3rd Party platform or your own website if you want to create your own brand, build a following of your own, and charge higher prices.
- Learn also about Podia online course platform in my in-depth review.
There are now lots of different platforms out there to create and sell an online course, which can make the whole process of choosing one a real headache.
However, I firmly believe that it's a mistake to waste more than a few hours deciding.
As we've seen there's really no such thing as the best online course platform - it's more a case of which is best for you.
Think through the key points that we've discussed above and which elements matter to you most, pick a platform and get started.
Don't waste any more time deciding.
Choose one based on what you've read in this article and get on with creating your course!
And if you're looking for inspiration and motivation to get your course created, then check out my online course examples page, showcasing 50 examples of people teaching unusual online course topics.
Still not sure? Leave a comment below and I'll do my best to help you out.