The 9 Best Platforms to Create and Sell Online Courses

Farheen Gani
Farheen Gani / Published September 13, 2018

Teaching an online course is a great way to leverage your skills and earn a side income at the same time. No matter what you do best—marketing, writing, coding, hand-lettering, or anything in between—you'll find scores of professionals and enthusiasts eager to learn from you. If your course takes off, it could even become a full-time gig.

But simply having the expertise to teach is not enough: You'll also need the right set of tools.

You'd be surprised how many nuts and bolts are involved in creating an online course: web hosting, domain name, website design, video and content hosting, quiz and survey tools, payment gateways, email providers…the list goes on. Online course platforms offer all these tools and more, so you can focus on what matters: building a professional course for your students.

The 9 Best Platforms to Create and Sell Online Courses

  • Udemy (Web, Android, iOS) for launching your first course
  • Skillshare (Web, Android, iOS) for teaching creative skills
  • Teachable (Web, iOS) for marketing your course
  • Podia (Web) for putting up a digital storefront
  • Thinkific (Web) for building a course from scratch
  • Kajabi (Web) for marketing a course on autopilot
  • Ruzuku (Web) for hosting webinars
  • WizIQ (Web, Android, iOS) for setting up a virtual classroom
  • Learnworlds (Web, Android, iOS) for creating an online school

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, LMSs are 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 individual creators to earn money by selling their courses.

Online course creation platforms can be broadly divided into two categories:

  • Course marketplaces
  • 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 create 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, the platforms we've covered below meet certain criteria:

  • Each marketplace and course creation software solution supports video, audio, PDFs, and images.
  • Each marketplace and course creation software solution offers varying levels of real-time interaction with students.
  • Each course creation software solution gives you the option to create scheduled as well as self-paced courses.
  • Each course creation software solution takes care of web hosting, custom domains, backups, and security.
  • Each course creation software solution is equipped with basic marketing and payment tools, including advanced options for more expensive plans.

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

Udemy (Web, Android, iOS)

Udemy interface for creating a 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 24 million students enrolled in its courses and an instructor base of 35,000.

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. Udemy also has an active Facebook group, StudioU, where you can interact with instructors and bounce course ideas off each other.

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

Skillshare (Web, Android, iOS)

Skillshare course creation interface

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 22,000+ 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 marketing your course

Teachable (Web, iOS)

Teachable interface

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 be tech savvy, use the Power Editor to tinker with the code. 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: 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: Simply 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.

Teachable Price: From $39/month for the Basic plan, which includes custom domain, email and affiliate marketing, coupon codes, drip course content, and a 5% transaction fee.

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 with one of these pre-made workflows:

See more ways to automate Teachable with Teachable's Zapier integrations.

Best online course creation software for putting up a digital storefront

Podia (Web)

Podia course creation interface

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.

Podia Price: From $39/month for the Mover plan for online courses, digital downloads, email marketing, and zero transaction fees.

You can do more with Podia when you connect it to your favorite apps through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically add your students to your marketing campaign, enroll new purchasers in your course, and more with one of these pre-made workflows:

See more ways to automate Podia with Podia's Zapier integrations.

Best online course creation software for building a course from scratch

Thinkific (Web)

Thinkific template options

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: mini-course, flagship course, digital download, membership bundle, 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.

Thinkific Price: Free for 3 courses and unlimited students, course upsells, payment gateway, and no transaction fees; from $49/month for the Basicplan for coupons and promotions, marketing and email integrations via Zapier, and drip content.

You can do more with Thinkific when you connect it to your favorite apps through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically add your students to your marketing campaign, get an SMS message when a course is purchased, and more with one of these pre-made workflows:

See more ways to automate Thinkific with Thinkific's Zapier integrations.

Best online course creation software for marketing a course on autopilot

Kajabi (Web)

Kajabi marketing automation page

Kajabi gives marketing superpowers to busy course creators. Its marketing blueprints, called Pipelines, help you connect landing pages—for course launches, special offers, and more—to checkout pages, with just a few clicks.

Here's an example: The promotional offer pipeline consists of three pages. The first lets you collect emails in exchange for a free downloadable such as an eBook or cheatsheet. When a visitor enters their email, they're taken to the second page: a sales page, where you can offer a discount on your courses or products. If they choose to purchase, they're taken to the third page: a checkout 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.

Kajabi Price: From $149/month for the Basic plan for one site, three products, three pipelines, and unlimited marketing emails.

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 with one of these pre-made workflows:

See more ways to automate Kajabi with Kajabi's Zapier integrations.

Best online course creation software for hosting webinars

Ruzuku (Web)

Ruzuku webinar creation page

Most course creation platforms favor self-paced courses, offering little to no interaction with students. Ruzuku fills this gap with its native video streaming option. Host webinars at any time during your course and interact with students in real-time.

Use Ruzuku's built-in teleconferencing service or an external service such as Ustream or Livestream. Notify students about an upcoming webinar, and when it's time, head over to the Events page to start the call. Convert presentations and other content into a PDF and add them to your call. While the call is in progress, students will be able to view your presentation on their screen, along with a live chat screen on one side, which allows you to interact with students during the call. When you're done with your webinar, you'll find its recording available and ready to share. Note that live chat content is not available once the call is complete.

Ruzuku Price: From $99/month for the Bootstrapper plan for a single instructor, unlimited courses and students, payment gateway, and coupons.

Best online course creation software for setting up a virtual classroom

WizIQ (Web, Android, iOS)

WizIQ course creation interface

Like other platforms, WizIQ helps you create and sell self-study courses and mock tests, but its flagship feature is the ability to host live classes. While similar to webinars, WizIQ's virtual classrooms are packed with teaching tools: whiteboards, live YouTube video streaming, screen sharing, live chat, and a polling option. This makes the platform ideal for tutors, professors, and even remote companies who wish to train employees, along with individual course creators.

Add live classes to your self-paced courses to help students understand the material better. A single virtual classroom can accommodate more than 200 attendees. Open multiple whiteboards to explain concepts and illustrate diagrams. Teach any subject with ease with the various geometric shapes, graphs, circuit diagrams, and maps available. You can also share files, presentations, or videos from your library. The Raise Hand feature and live chat options allow students to ask questions, while you can start a poll to get feedback in real-time.

If teaching is more important to you than selling your course, you'll find WizIQ's platform a perfect fit.

WizIQ Price: Contact the WizIQ sales team for pricing information.

Best online course creation software for creating an online school

Learnworlds (Web, Android, iOS)

Learnworlds social interface

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. The platform also lets you create eBooks with headings, images, videos, and links. If you already have content, simply import it into your eBook from Microsoft Word. 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.

Learnworlds Price: From $29/month for the Starter plan for custom domain, unlimited paid courses, built-in community, coupons, payment gateway, and $5 fee per course sale.

You can do more with LearnWorlds when you connect it to your favorite apps through Zapier's automated workflows. Automatically track new course purchases in a Google Sheet, send an email when a course is completed, and more with one of these pre-made workflows:

See more ways to automate LearnWorlds with LearnWorlds' Zapier integrations.

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.

Title image by emojoez via Shutterstock

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