Why it's mission-critical for founders & operators of learning communities to find a platform that marries community with learning and integrates them as one
How Circle stacks up against other online community platforms (and how to choose which is best for your business)
The future of learning is rooted in community. Founders of learning communities across the globe are constantly in search of a platform that affords them time, money, and resources back to reinvest in their community.
Circle is one platform that course creators specifically often look to as a solution for their growing learning communities and supplemental learning experiences for paying members for a few reasons.
The the Circle community platform empowers founders of learning communities to bring community discussion to the forefront and design learning experiences under one roof.
According to their website, Circle “brings together engaging courses, discussions, members, live streams, chat, events, and membership — all in one place, all under your own brand.” These are must-have features for any growing learning community, especially the online startup, brand, and newsletter and podcast communities Circle often targets.
But is Circle the best community platform for virtual academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools that want to sell courses and help members change the course of their careers and, ultimately, their lives? Will it offer founders the comprehensive features they need to bridge learning and community?
Current and former Circle customers note that the community discussion features are plentiful, but in order to create a robust learning business on the platform, there are too many customizations and add-on features you have to seek out. You need to be able to integrate multiple handy tools that allow you to create online courses, conduct customer engagement, and create discussion posts to foster deeper relationships with your membership community.
We're breaking down five alternatives to Circle.so you may want to consider if you're a founder and/or operator of your own online community, and you hope to build, operate, and scale a really thriving community and sustainable learning business.
The 5 Best Alternatives to Circle.so for 2023
Disco is a purpose-driven community platform, designed to power a variety of learning experiences with community at the center. Disco creates a purpose-built OS for building, operating, monetizing, and scaling your learning online community platform.
“It was hard to find a social media platform for our learning community that aligned with our goals of live interactive learning AND kept us, the user, at the center of their mission until we found Disco. It feels like they made it specifically for us! It is easy to say that we would not have been able to grow as fast as a school if it weren’t for Disco.” – Hannah Baker, Co-Founder of The Fountain Institute
Community Building on Disco
Community engagement is at the heart of everything we do at Disco. We offer engagement features like the ability to create dedicated channels, create private spaces, direct messaging, and other discussion forums within your own website or app ecosystem. Additionally, Disco offers personalized branding options, custom domains, and tailored labels to create your community, your way.
Key Features of Disco
Powerful Automations: Streamlined community management and intelligent automations to enhance productivity and focus on member engagement.
Scalable Operations: Scale your learning community using Disco's AI co-pilot, advanced integrations, and adaptable templates.
Versatile Products: Create relevant learning pathways by tailoring onboarding flows, member profiles, and learning products to individual needs.
Actionable Analytics: Data-driven insights and time-saving automations to boost member engagement and drive success.
Seamless Slack Integration: Effortlessly integrate with your existing Slack community to elevate member engagement.
Flexible Customization: Personalized branding options, custom domains, and tailored labels to create your community, your way.
Revenue Optimization: Comprehensive and insightful revenue dashboards to effectively monitor sales, growth, and promotional campaigns.
Pricing for Disco
Disco offers a 14-day, free trial period and has several pricing tiers:
Basic: This includes basic branding, channels & DM's, deep Slack integration, basic analytics, event hosting, member groups, and Stripe, Zapier, and Zoom integration.
Organization (Most Popular): This includes everything in Basic, plus full custom branding, a powerful AI co-pilot, advanced communication tools, the ability to sell memberships, custom profile fields, multiple Zoom accounts, advanced analytics and reporting, and HD video streaming.
Max: This includes everything in Organization, plus advanced AI co-pilot (coming soon), and migration support.
Enterprise: This is built for large enterprises and includes unlimited learning products, a dedicated success lead, quarterly strategy reviews, custom training, integration services and support, product roadmap shaping, and SAML SSO (coming soon).
Learn more about our pricing plans and what's included in each tier here.
Disco's deep capability in building comprehensive learning experiences, its powerful automations, scalable operations, versatile products, actionable analytics, seamless Slack integration, flexible customization, and revenue optimization features make it a far better Circle.so alternative.
We've learned from the best in the biz on what it takes to grow and scale a learning community and packaged up their best advice. You're welcome!
Mighty Networks is one of learning's most tenured platforms, providing online communities a place to collaborate and grow their learning experiences for over half a decade.
Their target audience already lives on different sites like Slack or Discord, but Mighty Networks offers stronger membership capabilities and is beginning to support communities build out better online course management and support for different learning experiences.
Pricing for Mighty Networks
Community Plan - $33 a month
For their lowest price, their Community Plan members get their own MN website that allows native video, live streaming, and group chat, functionality or integration with Zoom to host events and other experiences.
Business Plan - $99 a month
Mighty Networks' middle-tier of pricing unlocks access to host and create live or online courses. You can track progress with community analytics and member data, and Zapier API integration lets you customize the platform even more.
Branded Apps - Custom
Mighty Networks offers custom pricing for existing branded apps that want to leverage their functionality to host more community-based and learning-based experiences without having to move platforms. Your app will be available on all major app stores.
Pros: Mighty Networks
Affordability: Some of the most affordable pricing for communities of all sizes
Tenure: MN enjoys name and brand recognition as an original platform for online communities
Strong community aspects and integrations to support community curation and growth
Cons: Mighty Networks
Members have noted difficulty navigating the platform, often leading to a distracting learning environment
Administrators have noted difficulty setting up the platform to best support a community and supplemental experiences
For creators looking for a true learning management system to build a community and business, it doesn't have the same functionality and customization options to really build a tailor-made learning experience
Both Circle and Mighty Networks base their core offering around community empowerment but lack when it comes to building out full learning experiences.
Founders would need to find a new platform entirely or use multiple platforms to create a well-rounded member experience in which community enrichment and learning exposure can happen simultaneously, as they do on platforms like Disco.
Tribe's platform was built for companies to have an all-in-one communication platform, customizable to their unique needs. Tribe lets you integrate apps, customize with blocks, your own branding, colors, and logos, and manage customer-brand relationships in their proprietary tool.
Pricing for Tribe
Advanced - Starting at $599 a month
Tribe describes their plans as “flexible,” depending on the size and scale of your business, but that flexibility doesn't start until nearly $600 per month. Smaller online communities, startups, and other businesses needing a community function may not have that affordability. The plan does allow for most of Tribe's integrations, functions, and customizations.
Enterprise - Custom
Larger businesses work with Tribe to create a custom pricing plan for hosting a robust community with all the bells and whistles members need to converse with each other and with a brand. This unlocks the option for legal review and custom billing.
Highly customizable (no code necessary) so brands can create the online community they want with the ability to upload content and link outs to events
A hands-on team that wants to help customers create their unique space
Expensive for smaller communities and businesses
No functionality for creating, hosting, or scaling online courses, events, and other learning experiences, so it's irrelevant for online communities that want a one-stop-shop for hosting learning experiences and communities on one platform
Unlike Circle, Tribe is not a learning platform nor a learning management system. It's not equipped to host learning experiences or allow for curriculum creation and duplication and is rather a deeply integrated community platform similar to Slack or Discord. It wouldn't be suited as an all-in-one learning and community management solution, like Disco, so it's important to consider if and when learning experience integration like virtual events and courses might become a part of your larger offering so you find a solution that brings both aspects of your business together, rather than keeping them on separate platforms.
Read how career accelerator On Deck is using Disco to save time, money, and resources that they can reinvest back into their community and supplemental offerings.
Discord is one of the most popular community apps on the market, with a specific focus on interest groups and affinities like art, gaming, podcasting, and more. Discord's goal is to create spaces that bring people together “to talk every day and hang out more often,” says the brand's website.
Discord boasts over 300 million registered users. Its simple UX and deep brand recognition make it a favorite of founders and creators in the learning industry, but it's not necessarily equipped to handle the integration of cohort-based courses, self-paced courses, , and other learning experiences as it is the deeper community aspect.
Pricing for Discord
Discord is a great free alternative for creators of communities, but their Nitro plans allow for larger file uploads and profile personalization, should those be relevant to your community.
Nitro is billed based on where you're located. In the US, for example, Nitro Basic clocks in at $2.99 a month, while Nitro comes in at $9.99 a month. Additional server boosting costs $4.99 a month.
Very affordable, if not entirely free, for large communities to gather on
Name and brand recognition lend themselves to easier member onboarding and navigation
Great for live streaming capabilities to members for webinars, live events
Not designed for learning communities — while content can be dropped into Discord, you can't seamlessly run self-paced or cohort-based on the platform, so you would need a separate platform in order to host and create or duplicate curriculum
Not as customizable as other community platforms with tool integrations and branding
While Discord enjoys brand recognition from millions of active users today, it doesn't have the same impact in the learning industry due to its lack of learning integrations. Some communities still lean on it for the community aspect of their business, choosing to host learning experiences on a separate platform, but learning truly thrives when it's coupled with community. Platforms like Circle and even Disco are better suited for learning communities that want to incorporate and monetize better learning experiences.
If you've spent time in a corporate setting or a modern startup, chances are you've used Slack. “Slack is your digital HQ,” the brand boasts, proving it's more of a business solution than it is a hub for learning communities, but it corners the market on communication and collaboration tools for both commercial and private use.
Slack provides all the functionality necessary for collaborating with teammates and community members together, like video and audio calls, custom emoji creation, tool integration, threads, channels, and more. This makes it super favorable as a community tool, but not as an alternative to Circle, Disco, or other learning management systems and platforms.
Pricing for Slack
Free - $0 a month
Slack's basic plan allows users a free channel and a good amount of functionality at no cost. You lose messages after 90 days, however, which isn't conducive for many businesses.
Pro - $7.25 a month
Still affordable, Slack's Pro Plan lets you maintain your channel's full history. You have unlimited integration capabilities and secure collaboration within your organization.
Business - $12.50 a month
At the Business Plan level, Slack takes on a lot of the heavy lifting with managing compliance and 24/7 support from a dedicated customer success team.
Enterprise - Custom
As with most community platforms, Slack boasts custom pricing for its largest, typically Enterprise level, clients. Support for up to 500,000 users gives you the largest of community features and functionality possible, and you'll enjoy full support and security from Slack's team.
Deep brand recognition for easy member onboarding and channel maintenance
Customizable with custom emojis, channels, threads, and spaces for members to hang out
Affordable for brands and customers of most sizes and scales at under $15 a month for almost all plans
Not dedicated for learning communities; while integrations run deep, Slack doesn't afford founders and teams the capability to host learning experiences like courses and events
Would have to be used separately in conjunction with another learning management system or platform
Slack is wonderful — it's why platforms like Circle (and Disco!) offer deep integration with Slack so you can still use its functionality on your own learning platform. While Slack may allow you to host live events for your members through their proprietary video software, it is not a learning platform and can't compete with the likes of Circle, particularly in the learning industry. Founders need the capability to host all types of learning experiences, including courses and masterminds, and monetize them with all the tools and functionality of a payment processor.
Circle is one of many learning platforms and community-oriented solutions that have hit the market as the learning industry continues to rapidly grow. It's important for founders to consider not only what their learning community looks like today, but what it may look like in a year, three years, even five or ten years down the line. Do you see a place for extended learning opportunities in your business plan? If so, there is a need for much more robust community solutions, especially if you're a virtual academy, bootcamp, or micro-school that's growing its community or is ready to scale entirely.
Supercharge Your Learning Community
A step-by-step guide to build and grow a thriving learning community.
Disco is Circle's best alternative for bridging learning and community
Founders and operators of learning communities looking to build, operate, and scale all aspects of brand communities for their business will need more than Circle's discussion forum and light learning integrations. With Disco, you can create deep community discussion and collaboration for your members while providing them with life-changing learning experiences that will improve their life and careers.
The Learning Community Playbook delivers actionable insights, innovative frameworks, and valuable strategies to spark engagement, nurture growth, and foster deeper connections. Access this resource and start building a vibrant learning ecosystem today!