Today, more and more businesses and individuals are launching online courses—whether as a means to market a small business, build a niche brand, or just share know-how. Online courses offer the opportunity to build a community and even earn some additional income.
While the concept and reasoning behind building an online course is simple, the process often isn't. It's more than just uploading a video: it requires you to build out a course curriculum, develop assignments (if you want), design the course pages, and more.
Online course platforms streamline the process. These platforms offer all the tools you need to develop, launch, teach, and manage an online course—so you can focus on your content.
The 10 best platforms to create and sell online courses
Udemy for launching your first course
Skillshare for teaching creative skills
Teachable for creating an online school with advanced marketing
Podia for selling digital products and memberships
Thinkific for building a course from scratch
Kajabi for marketing a course on autopilot
LearnWorlds for creating an online school
Mighty Networks for building a paid community
Pathwright for building action-oriented courses
Xperiencify for gamifying your online course
Once you've decided on the app you'll use, you can do even more with Zapier. Here are three ways you can automate your online course registration and follow-up. Cut out the marketing busywork so you can focus on creating great course content.
What makes a great online course platform?
For this piece, we only considered platforms for building and selling an online course, which means we did not consider learning management systems (LMS). While the terms are often used interchangeably, LMS software is generally used either in a school setting or to help companies train their customers and employees. The platforms covered below, on the other hand, are designed for businesses and individual creators to earn money by selling their courses.
Online course creation platforms can be broadly divided into two categories:
Course creation software
In a marketplace, your course is a part of a catalog, and you have the option to customize your course landing page but not much else aside from the course content. Most marketplaces let you publish a course for free but take a share of course sales. The major advantage: course marketplaces provide you with an existing student base, so if you don't have much of an online presence yet, you might want to dabble with these first.
Course creation software, on the other hand, offers many more customization options. You can create branded landing pages, choose from multiple content formats when building your course, and get the necessary tools to market your course. These usually charge a fixed monthly fee, and some platforms also charge a transaction fee.
Unsurprisingly, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for creating a profitable course. Your ideal course creation platform is unique to your needs and goals. Are online courses your bread and butter? Then you need a platform that helps you reach the maximum number of students. Does teaching and engaging with students excite you? Then a course creator with interactive tools would work well. Are you creating a course to engage your existing audience? Then you'll want a tool with robust marketing features.
While every platform has its own unique selling point, we've judged the platforms below based on certain criteria:
Content formats supported, including video, audio, PDFs, and images
Editing features and customization options
Whether or not they're realistically affordable for small businesses
Support for assessments: quizzes, exams, certifications, etc.
Marketing and payment features
Ready to share your trade secrets online? Take a look at the best platforms to help you get the job done.
Online course marketplaces
Best online course marketplace for launching your first course
While the earliest massive open online courses (MOOCs) made learning accessible, Udemy took it a step further: it made teaching online possible. Today, the platform has over 40 million students enrolled in its courses and an instructor base of more than 50,000.
To create a paid course on Udemy, you first have to apply to become a premium instructor. Once approved, you'll see a series of easy-to-follow steps to help you create your first course. As you plan course content, keep in mind that all courses need at least 30 minutes of video and five lectures. You're also welcome to add quizzes, assignments, coding exercises, and discussion prompts.
Why launch your first course on Udemy? Because the platform offers loads of support for creating and marketing a course. For example, if you're not sure if your video lessons are up to snuff, you can submit a sample for review and get feedback on video and audio, along with suggestions for equipment. And for tutorials on planning a course, filming your first video, and related topics, Udemy offers the Teach Hub with tips and tricks.
If you're struggling to make your first few sales, Udemy's tailor-made marketing programs will offer support. Get your course featured in their email blasts, be a part of site-wide discounts, or opt for Udemy's affiliate marketing program. All of these programs are optional, and depending on the promotional channel you choose, Udemy takes a share of course sales.
Finally, Udemy's marketplace insights help you select the perfect course topic and see how it stacks up against other courses on the platform—which is important because of the size of the marketplace you're competing with. Similar to Google Analytics, this feature tells you how popular a topic is on Udemy, its search volume, and related keywords. You can also see the number of existing courses for a topic, top-earning courses in the category, monthly revenue earned, and best promotion channels (Udemy discovery, Udemy search, external sources, paid ads).
To put it simply, with Udemy, you're in good hands.
Udemy Price: Free for selling a premium course. Udemy charges 3% revenue share on course sales made by instructor coupons, 50% revenue share on courses found through organic search on Udemy or through a Udemy promotion, and 75% revenue share on course sales through Udemy's paid user acquisition channels. (Note: Revenue share does not include processing fees charged by PayPal or Payoneer, or mobile platform fees for mobile course sales.)
Best online course marketplace for teaching creative skills
If you're an entrepreneur, designer, writer, photographer, or blogger looking to teach your craft online, Skillshare is great for teaching creative skills. You'll find courses on all kinds of topics, both popular and niche: marketing, photography, cooking, hand painting, doodling, and even wall hanging.
The platform offers a membership plan for students that gives them access to all of its 27,000+ premium courses. As for creators, it's free to sign up and publish a course, but if you want to get paid, it must be a part of Skillshare's premium catalog.
Free or premium, Skillshare classes have three major moving parts: video lessons, a project, and community discussion. Each class includes 20-60 minutes of video, broken down into 2-5-minute lessons. The practical project then ensures hands-on experience. For instance, a social media class project might require students to promote their Instagram account, or a writing class might require students to draft a pitch. Finally, the community portion of a class allows students to post their work.
Instead of favoring final outcomes, Skillshare encourages students to share their progress, garner feedback, and tweak their work accordingly—which is perfect for the creative topics you'll be teaching.
Skillshare Price: Free for creating a premium class. Skillshare pays instructors $10 for premium membership referrals and royalties for minutes watched in a premium class each month.
Online course creation software
Best online course creation software for building an online school with advanced marketing
Teachable helps savvy course creators grow and nurture an online audience. To begin with, the platform offers various options to customize the look and feel of your course. Build a website that reflects your brand, create sales pages for launching your course, and if you happen to know some code, use the Power Editor to tinker with it. If not, edit the templates available. Teachable's course builder accepts files from Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, among other content formats.
There's flexibility when pricing your course too. You can offer courses on their own or in bundles, and choose between a one-time fee, a payment plan, or a subscription. When you're ready to launch, create coupon codes to see a quick boost in course sales. To build a sales team for your course, use the platform's built-in affiliate marketing option: imply add affiliates and they will get a percentage of course sales. No third-party integration required.
Teachable's native email marketing tool lets you filter and message students when they enroll in a course, redeem a coupon, or complete a course. The platform also helps you collect student feedback and uncover insights about your course using Google Forms and surveys. If you'd like to keep in touch with students after they've completed your course, add them to your email list with Teachable's integrations. As they say, the money is in the list.
You can do more with Teachable when you connect it to your favorite apps through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically add your students to your marketing campaign, track them in a Google Sheet, and more. Here are a few pre-made workflows to get you started, but you can connect Teachable with almost any app you use for your business.
Teachable Price: From $29/month for the Basic plan, which includes custom domain, email marketing, coupon codes, drip course content, and a 5% transaction fee.
Best online course creation software for selling digital products and memberships
Podia lets you build an online store for your digital content. Create online courses, digital downloads, and even membership sites, all as part of one digital storefront.
All Podia storefronts have a similar template, which is helpful if you find too many options overwhelming. Each store's landing page includes an overview, a "What's included" section, a content section, FAQs, and creator bios. And all courses, memberships, and digital downloads have a separate landing page.
Once you create an online course, you can publish it immediately or pre-launch it to collect emails. If you have additional resources to supplement your course—cheat sheets, eBooks, videos, audio, text, checklists—sell them as a digital download. You can also bundle and sell the two together.
Online content creators often try to nurture an online community on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. This can work, but you're often at the mercy of algorithmic changes and the rules of the platform you choose. Podia allows you to create your own private membership site, with different membership plans, perks, and content for members. Share updates with your community, notify them about new products, and watch your business grow.
Connect Podia to the other apps you use most through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically add your students to your marketing campaign, enroll new purchasers in your course, and more.
Podia Price: From $39/month for the Mover plan for online courses, digital downloads, email marketing, and zero transaction fees.
Best online course creation software for building a course from scratch
Putting together your first online course can be daunting. How many lessons should you include? Where should you add assignments and quizzes? What other file types should you include? Thinkific takes the guesswork out of course creation with its simple and ready-to-use templates.
There are two parts to creating a course on Thinkific: course material and landing page. To get started, choose from the following templates: pre-sell, mini-course, flagship course, membership resource library, and webinar replay. Unlike other course builders, where you start with a blank slate, Thinkific templates provide helpful cues and tips to build a valuable course. Apart from video lessons, the templates are pre-populated with sample quizzes, downloads, surveys, and instructor messages, at regular intervals throughout the course. Add or remove content as you see fit, or follow the template as is.
Thinkific's website builder is one of the easiest to use. Choose the pages you want to include, add your copy, pick a theme, and you're done.
Want to include testimonials on your website? Here's a neat trick to collect them on Thinkific: turn on student reviews for your course and add the ones you like directly to your landing page.
And by connecting Thinkific with Zapier, you can do things like automatically add your students to your marketing campaign or get an SMS message when a course is purchased.
Thinkific Price: Free for 1 course and unlimited students, course upsells, payment gateway, and no transaction fees; from $39/month for the Basic plan, which offers most features, including unlimited courses and students, marketing and email integrations via Zapier, and drip content.
Best online course creation software for marketing a course on autopilot
Kajabi gives marketing superpowers to busy course creators. Its marketing blueprints, called Pipelines, help you create an entire marketing funnel—from landing page and opt-ins to emails and course checkout—with just a few clicks.
Here's an example: The freebie pipeline consists of three touchpoints. The first is a landing page where you collect emails in exchange for a free downloadable, such as an eBook or cheatsheet. When a visitor enters their email, they're subscribed to your freebie email sequence, where you can thank them for signing up and upsell your course. If they choose to purchase, they're taken to a thank-you page. And that's it.
You can also choose what to do with the emails you collect. Add them to an email sequence, remind them about your special offer, or send them a thank-you note after they purchase. Kajabi has templates for all kinds of pages. Select a Pipeline, add your content, and your marketing machine is all set.
Templates can be handy, but if you want to create your own automations, Kajabi offers a number of if-then scenarios to choose from. When a student completes an assessment, fills a form, cancels a subscription, or has been inactive for a while, you can send them an email, register them for an event, or unsubscribe them from an email list. Given that email is at the core of all its features, Kajabi also has a native email provider that helps you track how many of your emails are opened.
You can do more with Kajabi when you connect it to your favorite apps through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically get email notifications for new purchases, give new purchasers access to your product, and more. Start with one of the workflows below, or connect Kajabi to any of the other apps you use.
Kajabi Price: From $119/month for the Basic plan for one site, three products, three pipelines, and unlimited marketing emails and landing pages.
Best online course creation software for creating an online school
Ever dreamt of starting your own school? Now you can. LearnWorlds helps you set up an online school website with multiple teachers and a course catalog. Add instructors and select the courses you want them to teach. While instructors can author courses, they cannot publish a new course or change general settings. As admin of your school, offer as many courses as you like, with various pricing options. For an added fee, you can even get a branded app for your school.
LearnWorlds' course builder has a number of unique tools. When adding content to your course, upload videos from your computer or Vimeo. Then, choose from a range of editing options such as adding text, images, pointers, logo, titles, and interactive buttons to your video. You can also add course content from SoundCloud and YouTube, among other formats.
LearnWorlds enables connections with students and teachers via an online community that accompanies every school. Most discussion forums focus on reviewing course-related material, but LearnWorlds' communities are designed for social interaction. While students are free to post questions about coursework, the idea is to foster engagement and exchange of ideas. To help students build their network, each student has a public profile that showcases their courses and achievements.
And by connecting LearnWorlds with Zapier, you can do things like automatically track new course purchases in a Google Sheet, send an email when a course is completed, and more.
LearnWorlds Price: From $24/month for the Starter plan for custom domain, unlimited paid courses, built-in community, coupons, 4 payment gateways, and $5 fee per course sale.
Best online course creation software for building a paid community
Mighty Networks helps you build a vibrant, active paid community around your online course. The app focuses broadly on community-building, which includes paid groups, events, and—you guessed it—online courses.
Users can sell individual courses, community membership, or bundle a combination of the two. Memberships can be priced as a one-time payment or subscription, and pricing is 100% custom. Each course can be priced separately or offered for free to paying members.
Every course comes with an Activity Feed built in that works to foster engagement and conversation as members complete your course. Members can share all kinds of content, too—from quick text posts to images and links. As the instructor, you can set topics to drive the conversation and build live events (both online and IRL) into your courses. Add icebreaker questions to get the ball rolling, and create polls to engage your audience and gather feedback.
Uniquely, the app offers a small but mighty feature (pun intended) that enables instructors to change the verbiage used in their community. For example, your table of contents can alternatively be called syllabus, course material, or any custom label you choose. Instructors can be professor, TA, teacher, or another custom name.
You can do more with Mighty Networks when you connect your favorite apps using the Zapier integration. Bring conversations across channels, automate new member invitations, sync events to your calendar, and more with these (and other) pre-made workflows.
Mighty Networks price: A free plan that does not include online courses is available; paid plans that include online courses start at $81/month for Zapier integrations and premium analytics.
Best online course creation software for building action-oriented courses
With Pathwright, you can launch an online course that's designed to be 100% actionable for learners. The app's course creator is one of the most fluid and intuitive of the software we tested—that action-oriented approach to course curriculum is no exception.
Start by building out the outline of your course syllabus, then add specific actions for students to complete. When you add each step, Pathwright enables you to choose the action students need to perform from a dropdown menu: watch, read, take, submit, attend, listen, or to-do. The result is a clear path (their term) that leads learners through the course material.
Once your syllabus and actions are outlined, Pathwright helpfully adds a "Needs content" note to each step. Another bonus: While quick design customization is limited, the sky's the limit for CSS-savvy users who want to code a completely customized look and feel for their courses.
And by connecting Pathwright with Zapier, you can do things like automatically add new students to your email list, send course invitations to new customers, notify students about new grades, and more.
Pathwright price: The Starter plan runs $99/month for up to 1,000 members, unlimited paid courses, and free course design classes.
Best online course creator for gamifying your online courses
Online courses have a notoriously low completion rate across the board, with many learners abandoning the course long before they finish. That's what Xperiencify aims to remedy. By allowing instructors to gamify courses and turn learning into a more engaging experience, the app promises to boost your completion rates by as much as 10-30%.
For each module students complete, they earn experience points (called XPs). Instructors can set the XP value of each module and elements within it during the course creation process.
In addition to points, instructors can design their own celebrations marking key milestones in each course. A new beta feature also lets instructors automate course experience flows with event-triggered emails, SMS, and more.
While video content is Xperiencify's bread and butter, you can also add supporting resources to your lessons, which can include everything from PDFs to slides to MP3 files and more. And you can do even more with Xperiencify by connecting it with your favorite software using Zapier.
Xperiencify pricing: Launch plan is $49/month for unlimited courses and students, 4.9% transaction fee, and Zapier integration.
Ready, set, teach
Whether you're passionate about teaching, want to grow your audience, or are just looking to earn an income from your courses, there's a platform to help you achieve your goals.
When picking a tool to launch your course, consider your budget, time constraints, current online following, and earning potential. If you're simply testing the waters, start with a course marketplace. Once you've validated your course topic and content, only then proceed to launch your own course website. Don't worry about migrating content from one platform to another. Most platforms support this, whether for free or for an added fee.
This article was originally published in September 2018 by Farheen Gani.