All your online course options are not the same
Ten years ago your online course options sucked.
That was the consensus of the users I encountered. I was a UI developer, and I worked for an e-learning company at the time. Whenever I told someone what I did for a living the response was either oh, what's that? Or oh I hate online courses.
Unfortunately, the companies producing the courses and making the technology were not driven by the student, so the learning experience wasn't the main concern.
Not only that, it was darn right difficult to push the learning experience up the priority ladder due to the technology we needed to use. We all did an excellent job of meeting the needs of the buyer, and the buyers were businesses, not consumers.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Online courses are convenient, the variety of subject matter is staggering, and the price points are excellent! #elearning #entrepreneur” quote=”Online courses are convenient, the variety of subject matter is staggering, and the price points are excellent!”]
When students are not the primary purchaser, the online learning experience is still quite sucky.
Today people students will choose to learn online and they love the convenience. Beyond this, we also have enthusiastic teachers using simple to use technology to create engaging, timely and useful courses.
If you have something to teach, now is the time to teach it. Online.
Let's get on with the goods.
I took some of the most popular online course tools and platforms (and one or two I just wanted you to know about) and grouped them into four categories. All are relatively simple to use, but the learning curve, cost features are different for each category.
Here is how I've grouped my findings:
Four categories from simple to robust
- Simple, all-in-one tools
- Full-featured, all-in-one tools
#1 Email each lesson of your online course
Arguably one of the simplest ways to create and deliver a course is just to do it through email. You can use the tools you already have and get set up to offer your course pretty quickly. You can get creative with exactly how you offer your course via email. You can put each lesson in a separate email, attach a document such as a worksheet and include links to audio or video within your email. For payment, you can add a PayPal button to a sales page that collects their email address.
Once you have your email lessons created, you might want to use an automation feature within your mailing software. If you have that option, just create your emails ahead of time and set them to deliver automatically at intervals like once a week for four weeks and you're done!
Audio and video hosting
Both Vimeo and Wistia are great choices for video. Wistia is a lot more expensive, but it also has some fantastic features that do make up for it if you have the budget. Vimeo is the way to go if you are on a budget.
Want to make sure your videos are as small as possible to upload and use in courses? Try using handbrake. It's a free download used by many to optimize video for the web.
Use an all-in-one online course creation tool
These tools give you all you need to create, launch and sell, your online course. All you have to do is create your course material, enter it into their system, and set your price. These tools will do the rest. They are easy to learn and often free to start using! You don't have to install anything and the learning curve is pretty short. Creating a good course can still take a lot of time but when you are done creating your course materials a tool like this can give you a professional looking course that manages everything for you. If you want a professional looking course you can charge a fair bit of money and you want some very helpful management and payment features, this might be for you!
Here are a few options to consider.
#2 Teachable for your online course
Teachable has a lot of features for learning, marketing, reporting, and analytics. The interface is simple to use and easy for students to navigate. Teachable gets you up and running as painlessly as possible.
- Affiliate program
- Integrates with many 3rd party mailing systems
- Payment integration
- Customizable look and feel
- Courses can include quizzes, forums, blog, feedback collection
- Many selling options: bundles, memberships
- Reports and analytics
- Drip content
The “free” version has some limited features, but you can create unlimited courses for “free” you just have to pay a higher percentage of your profits.
- 1$ + 10% on all paid courses
- 2.9% +.30 payment processing fees
- Payments held 30 days and paid every 30 days
The “basic” version provides most features
- 5% on all paid courses
- 2.9% +.30 payment processing fees
- Payments held 30 days and paid every 30 days
#3 Course Craft for your online course
Very simple to get set up and to run. The pricing is interesting. All in all, it's a very friendly interface and user experience, super simple to use and create content and it offers a lot of useful features. I like this option a lot due to its apparent ease of use. They've kept their platform simple and easy to use, have features most would want and haven't over complicated the experience. It is designed to get your course created easily and relatively quickly. Love that!
- Payment integration
- Promo codes
- Sharable widgets
- Class collaboration
- Ability to make courses ‘secret'
- Nice add-on feature (similar to upsell) you can add a custom coaching session for a fee or an e-book or anything else as an ‘Add-On' to your course
- Mailing List Integration such as MailChimp and others
- 5% of sales up to 100 participants and max of 1GB*** of uploads
- 9% of sales if you want to create custom branding
$49 per course + 5% of sales if you want to bundle classes. For this, you get free branding and unlimited participants and uploads and the ability to bundle a course, but for each bundled course you pay $49.00
***I suspect the upload limit for the basic price won't last long if you want to have video in most of your lessons (who wouldn't?). For example, I think it's easy to assume four videos at 5 minutes could max out your 1 GB of upload capacity so if you want more than that per course you will need to pay the extra $49 fee -per course.
#4 Udemy for your online course
Udemy is hugely popular right now. If you want to grab attention there, you need to create a fantastic course, and that does take time and effort. Here is a great article about one person's success and the effort he put into creating his online courses.
Udemy has a minimum course requirement of 30 minutes of content with 60% video. Due to their enormous following of over 10 million users, you potentially have an opportunity to gain a new market. There is also a lot of competition. It's free for you to create a course minus any transaction fees. Udemy can be used purely as a self-promotion opportunity as well. You can offer a course or several courses for free to get your business some exposure.
- Good support and training for instructors -if you created an Udemy course just to go through their course creation material and course marketing material -you might be the better for it! I'd say this is one of their best features
- Robust course creation platform and tools
- Large following
Here is where this gets tricky. I did my best to understand their commission structure. From what I can tell it doesn't seem very easy for you to make more than 50% of your profits.
- You get 100 percent from people using your “Instructor Coupon” or unique link
- Udemy takes 50 percent of all profit when a student pays without your “Instructor Coupon” or doesn't arrive using your particular link
- Udemy will take 75% when they promote you themselves
This is an excellent article about the significant fee change in 2013 for teachers at Udemy. This article might help you decide if Udemy is right for you, right now. At one time Udemy was saying that 1 in 4 instructors made $10,000 per year or more, but that was in 2012. I suspect this is no longer the case. Udemy significantly changed their commission structure in 2013 and instructors have openly been complaining about reduced revenue.
You certainly don't have anything but time to lose if you decide to give it a try. Save your course material before you upload it and if it doesn't work for you, there are loads of other ways to run your course.
The way I see it you will need a lot of your traffic to make enough money off your course on Udemy. If you have a fantastic course, a great following already and can rise above the other offerings, it appears you can make some real money. Many have great courses but can't make much due to their small audience, the competition, and way Udemy pays its teachers. This is just how it looks to me nevertheless.
Use a full-featured, but a more complex all-in-one online course creation tool
Full-featured, all-in-one tools give you a lot of features that can help you grow your business and serve your students in many ways. You have several options for content delivery and fee management. You can even run a membership site with these tools. You can expect the learning curve, complexity, and cost to go up, but they are feature robust! These features can help you earn more money from online courses. When you are ready to offer more than one or two courses, this kind of system might be good to help you grow a more robust set of learning offerings.
#5 Kajabi for your online course
Super feature rich with a very easy to use interface. If you had a business centered around selling courses and digital content you could use their platform and nothing else. Beautiful interface and user experience from what I can see. I've not used it personally, but I know many who have good things to say about it. It is obvious lots of work and thought went into this product, and it is very robust. If robust is what you want -this looks like something to check out.
- Can be used as your complete website solution, in fact, it appears it was specifically designed to be just that -a fully integrated online solution, website with blog including membership or course platform all in one
- Drip Content -set your lessons to deliver over time
- Bulk upload and various methods for you to get your lesson content easily onto the platform
- Community Building -interactive discussions with auto email notifications
- Easy download features for students
- Video hosting (interestingly powered by Wista)
- Many themes to choose from to brand your experience
- Fantastic landing pages and marketing features
- Multiple payment options
- Ability to create special offers, bundle items, offer coupons and more
- Upsell features
- Affiliate features
Currently running a 50% off discount at the time of this writing
Price is at 50% off
- $64/month (if you pay annually) for their cheapest plan -this will double when their sale ends
- NO transaction fees!
*does not include automation (drip content), affiliate marketing and must keep their own marketing “powered by Kajabi” on your site
#6 Simplero for your online course
Simplero has a full-on email marketing system built right into their service that can drip content, segment your list and more. It also integrates with MailChimp as well if you'd rather use your own system.
Simplero is more affordable than Kajabi and has good core membership and course platform features. It is not designed to replace your website and because of this, I suspect you could get up and running with this far quicker than with Kajabi. The user interface (the look and feel) leaves something to be desired, but I've used courses on Simplero myself, and they work fine. It may not be pretty but the experience is still straightforward, reliable and easy to use. Check out their customer service if you are interested. I've heard good things about that as well.
- Upsell features
- Payment options such as payment plans, special offers, and automatic notifications are great features -for example if payments don't go through the system can automatically block admission
- You can sell information products such as courses and create a membership site
- The general content hosting options such as audio and video and more
- Mobile ready
- Good support
- Been around a while
- Free trial available*
- $100/month plus 2% transaction fee
*Does not include automation (drip content) and upselling
Use WordPress for your online course
Is there anything WordPress can't do?
I'll talk about two options: plugins and themes. When you use your WordPress site for your courses, you need to be ready to take on the responsibility of making sure it all works. Even when the plugin you use has support, you are still more vulnerable. However, you can take control of this and get help and support if you need it. This option can give you many options, and it can be extremely affordable and customizable.
WordPress plugins for your online course
Be wary when you chose a plugin. There are fantastic ones and crappy ones. Check the reviews, investigate the availability of support and look for more information online and not just the WordPress plugin site.
There are several WordPress plugins to help you create courses. I'm just going to talk about three of them: Smart Passworded Pages, Wishlist, and Zippy Courses. Smart Passworded Pages is NOT an online course plugin, but you can use it to help you run an online course with WordPress.
#7 Smart Passworded Pages for your online course
This plugin might provide one of the easiest ways to use your WordPress site to host your online course.
Smart Passworded Pages is a simple plugin that gives your website extra security. Your students would enter a password to access a page where you place all your course materials. You create the course as you would simple pages on your WordPress site. You can make it look as you would any page of your website, embed your audio and video and place it all behind a password protected page.
Yes, WordPress already has password protection but this claims to be more secure and offer you an easy way to password protect a ‘parent' page and make all the ‘child' pages below password protected. I thought that was pretty cool when I found it! In theory, you could make a section of your website its own learning portal.
If you try it I'd love to hear what you think.
Check out this simple plugin here: Smart Passworded Pages.
- Enhances the built-in WordPress password feature
- Easily create a whole section of ‘child' pages nested under a ‘parent' that are all protected with one password
- Easy to install and start using right away
#8 Wishlist for your online course
Wishlist is a very popular plugin that turns your WordPress site into a full-on membership site.
Run your online course on your own site and more. Wishlist has been around for a while and because of this, it has a large user base with experience. You can easily find support and that's a good thing. They also have an excellent reputation for support and provide a lot up front.
The cost is cheap for what you get, and you only pay a one-time fee. If you have some web support or you are a keener with your WordPress site and know your way around it, this is a super option.
- Membership levels
- Flexible membership options such as free trials
- Integrates easily with traditional payment methods
- Easily control the number of times members have access to materials
- Robust member management tools
- Secure content options are endless
- $197 for 1 sit
#9 Zippy Courses for your online course
Zippy courses are fairly new to the scene and very popular. If you like WordPress, you’ll love how easy it is to create courses and the extent you can customize your experience. WordPress course creation with EASE and intuitively seems to be where this product shines. It appears very logical and easy to manage and organize course content. Of course, there are still a lot of features and settings so I imagine even though it's designed to be ‘easy' to use, there will be a learning curve.
- Easy 3rd party integration with email services and payment providers
- Highly customizable! Robust layout options that make it easy if you are familiar with WordPress
- Create different levels of access (you can create a basic and an advanced version of a course as an upsell)
- Course Bundles
- Can create quizzes
- Drip content
- $199.00/year -Then you can just keep it and never pay again, but if you want to get the regular updates (you will need that to keep it secure) and support, you will need to pay this fee each year.
WordPress themes for your online course
Yes, WordPress you really CAN do everything can't you (WordPress smiles smugly).
You can create your whole website with one of these themes, so if you are ready to change your theme, this option might be for you!
Changing your theme if you already have one will take some time of course, but it's worth mentioning, so you know the scope of your online course creation choices. One WordPress theme that's getting a lot of press and positive reviews is called Rainmaker. Another well known learning theme is called WPLMS. Both of these offer extensive course and membership features build in the theme. WPLMS specializes in the learning management and Rainmaker claims to do many other things well out of the box such as integrated podcasting and marketing features bundled with it's own nifty landing pages and more.
#10 Rainmaker for your online course
Rainmaker isn't your typical theme. Let me be clear, this is not really a theme. It's a stand alone, fully hosted service. You don't download and install anything. The code is not yours and you pay to use their stuff as a service, but yes -it's build on WordPress.
Rainmaker is a full on website option for you with a lot of marketing and membership options built in. You pay for the access and then set up a full website with Rainmaker, choose from various layouts and customize it. Understanding you don't own the code, and you are using this as a service, is a good thing to keep in mind.
Some of the features
- Landing pages
- Split testing
- Podcast hosting
- Membership site features
*It's not easy to see all the features from their site unless you sign up for a free 14 day trial.
- $125/month if you pay for a full year at once
#11 WPLMS for your online course
WPLMS is far cheaper than Rainmaker and functions as a traditional WordPress theme, unlike Rainmaker. WPLMS is downloaded and installed. It comes with a few child themes and a load of options. WPLMS is a full on Learning Management System with a lot of standard LMS features.
This theme uses the BuddyPress platform which is a social platform and because it uses BuddyPress; it has a lot of social features like messaging, private profiles and user groups. WPLMS is a Learning Management System and as such it has features that can help you run a large number of courses in many ways with many people.
- BuddyPress and all its social features
- Robust course tracking
- Instructor/student communication
- Designed to be used for up to several hundred thousand users
- Robust student management
- Solid course management
- Robust instructor management
- $64 one time cost to download
- $20 extra for a full year of support
There you have it! 11 simple ways to create and sell your online course. I hope you've found this helpful. I'd love to hear about your online course adventures. I know there are many more options than what I have here. If you've used any of these tools please let me know your thoughts. You can find out more about me here.