Ever-changing social media and search algorithms make owning your channels more important than ever. Online courses are a great tool for building community and growing your list.
Today, anyone can share knowledge as quickly and easily as you can upload a video to YouTube. But to explore a topic in depth, build a community, earn an income, or grow your business by selling online courses? That takes a more robust setup to help you design course pages, build out a curriculum, and promote your course.
I researched and tested dozens of apps for creating and selling online courses, and these are my picks for the best.
The 9 best online course platforms
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
Mighty Networks for building a paid community
Simplero for managing your business
TrainerCentral for a simple online course platform
What makes the best online course platform?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
For this piece, I only considered platforms for building and selling an online course, which means I didn't 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 to create online courses 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.
Online 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, I've judged the online course software 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 and medium businesses
Support for assessments: quizzes, exams, certifications, etc.
Marketing and payment features
With those criteria in mind, I narrowed it down to 21 apps worth testing, then spent several days exploring them and running through an in-depth testing process. Here's what it looked like:
Signing up for an account and completing any onboarding flows offered
Walking through the core workflow to create a new course, including browsing any course templates, building out the curriculum, and adding course content in varying formats
Testing out other core features like building quizzes and tests, designing course certificates, scheduling live sessions, and setting up drip schedules
Customizing the overall design, colors, fonts, logos, landing pages, and more—to the extent possible with each app
Finally, looking at payment and marketing features like email broadcasts, pricing structures, community building, and SEO
The nine course creation platforms below are the best I found.
Online course marketplaces
Best online course marketplace for launching your first course
Udemy (Web, Android, iOS)
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 well over 50 million students enrolled in its courses and an instructor base of almost 75,000.
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 Teaching Center 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: Udemy charges 3% revenue share on course sales made by instructor coupons and 63% revenue share on all other course sales. (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)
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 35,000 premium courses. As for creators, it's a free online course platform if you just want 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, gather 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 courses software
Best online courses platform for building an online school with advanced marketing
Teachable (Web, iOS)
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: simply add affiliates, and they'll 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: The Free plan includes unlimited students and courses, with transaction fees of $1 + 10% per transaction; paid plans start at $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, coaching sessions, 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 $33/month for the Mover plan for unlimited everything, 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. Here are some examples.
Create ActiveCampaign contacts from new Thinkific orders
Thinkific price: Free for 1 course and unlimited students, full eCommerce, and no transaction fees; from $36/month for the Basic plan, which offers most features, including unlimited courses and students, a custom domain, and drip content.
Best online course creation software for marketing a course on autopilot
Kajabi (Web, iOS, Android)
Kajabi gives marketing superpowers to busy course creators. Its marketing blueprints, called funnels, 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 funnel 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 cheat sheet. 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 funnel, 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.
Grant new PayPal customers access to an offer on Kajabi
Kajabi price: From $119/month for the Basic plan for one site, 3 products, 3 pipelines, and unlimited marketing emails and landing pages.
Best online course creation software for building a paid community
Mighty Networks (Web, Android, iOS)
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.
Create new events in Mighty Networks when you add events to Google Calendar
Create posts in your Mighty Network from New Messages in a Slack channel
Subscribe new Mighty Network members to Mailchimp lists
Mighty Networks price: Plans that include online courses start at $99/month for cohort courses and Zapier integration.
Best online course creator for managing your business
Simplero (Web, iOS, Android)
If you're looking for a capable, customizable online course builder, you can't go wrong with Simplero. Creating and outlining your course curriculum is super quick: click the Create a new course button, and a few screens later, you're ready to build out your curriculum and add your learning content.
But Simplero isn't just a course creation app—it's more like a CRM, marketing automation, and online course tool in one package. That's reflected in the robust automation and list management features included in the app. You can build, publish, and market courses, track sales and financials, and maintain your customer list all in one app.
Head over to Marketing > Done-For-You Campaigns, for example, to install the Course Launch Challenge, a 21-day automated sequence. All you need to do is customize the emails and choose when the automation flow should run. It's a perfect all-in-one solution for when your online course is your business.
And with Simplero's Zapier integrations, you can do even more with the platform, like adding new students to your email list automatically or creating new Simplero subscribers from form submissions.
Turn Simplero subscriptions into Mailchimp subscribers
Simplero pricing: The Starter plan starts at $59/month and includes 1 product, 1 course, and unlimited landing pages; upgrade to the Scale plan at $149/month for 1,000 contacts, unlimited courses and products, affiliate marketing features, automations, and more.
Best simple online course creator
TrainerCentral (Web, iOS, Android)
If you're looking for simple online course creator that just works, TrainerCentral is a great choice. From the team behind Zoho, TrainerCentral offers a clean, easy-to-use interface, a decent free plan, and the most affordable upgrade plan in the game.
Despite the stripped-down design, TrainerCentral doesn't skimp on features. You won't find the more advanced perks like automation or extensive marketing features here, but the app includes multiple landing pages, a streamlined course-building workflow, graded tests, course certificates, and a number of flexible pricing structures.
Your "academy" comes with six ready-made landing pages (Home, All Courses, My Enrollments, All Live Workshops, Login, and Sign Up), each of which can be fully customized. And when you create a new course, TrainerCentral automatically builds three more: a homepage, a sales page, and a thank-you page. Choose from four themes and a number of color schemes. Add, rearrange, and edit sections, or create additional landing pages, too.
You can schedule live lessons from the Curriculum tab or click on the Drip tab to set up a custom drip schedule. Choose from more than 30 designs to create custom completion certificates. And you can connect Stripe, PayPal, Razorpay, Authorize.net, Forte, or Paytm to accept payments through the app, with support for multiple currencies, coupons and discounts, and more.
You can also connect TrainerCentral with Zapier to open up all kinds of useful automations, like adding learners to your email list or CRM, for example.
Create Google Sheets rows for new tickets purchased in TrainerCentral
Subscribe new TrainerCentral learners to Mailchimp
Create Accredible Certificates for new TrainerCentral course completions
TrainerCentral price: Free plan available for up to 3 courses and unlimited learners; paid plans start at $16.67/month and offer unlimited courses, zero transaction fees, course completion certificates, and more.
Which online course platform is best for you?
Whether you're passionate about teaching, want to grow your audience, or are just looking to earn an income from your courses, there's an online course creation 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.
In the end, software for online courses should allow you to focus your efforts on the course content, not the process of getting it out to your audience.
This article was originally published in September 2018 by Farheen Gani. The most recent update was in December 2022.