In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why we’re in the midst of learning’s gold rush and how online courses can be a lucrative way to start a learning business and generate revenue
- What considerations founders need to make in order to find the right online course platform for their needs
- Which five online course platforms we recommend and why — and alternatives to consider for each should you want to do more research
There has never been a better time to get in on the ground floor of the future of learning. Creators of online courses everywhere are reaping the financial and cultural benefits of founding an online business of learning.
Budding founders, established teachers, and massive organizations alike — no one is exempt from creating online courses, marketing it to an audience, and generating a ton of revenue.
As the online learning business has absolutely taken off in the last few years, so have the solutions responsible for making it come to life. Online course platforms are just one of the types of tools founders lean on to build, operate, scale, and monetize as many courses as they want.
Unlike a course website or your own website you'd host another business on, online course platforms are designed to help with the operational and administrative tasks associated with bringing an online course to life, including curriculum development, student progress reporting, and course duplication. The best online course platforms allow for hundreds of deep integrations with other tools so you can create the most robust tool possible.
More importantly, they provide the marketing and sales tools necessary to sell online courses. These can include anything from email marketing tools, the ability to create a custom domain, the ability to create landing pages, your own affiliate program, support digital downloads of marketing materials, and anything else you might need to start selling online courses.
Choosing an online course platform is one of the biggest decisions founders will make over the lifetime of their learning business, and migrating between tools can eat up precious time, money, and resources, so you want to pick the perfect platform from the jump.
We’ll start with some considerations you should make prior to picking a tool, then we’ll explore five of the most popular options on the market and discuss why each might be best for you.
Pro tip: Read our ultimate guide to the best online course platforms, reviewed, in addition to this article.
4 considerations to make before picking the best online course platform
There are a number of features you should be looking for in an online course platform, but those features and needs differ from business to business.
Rather, use these four considerations to guide where you want your online course business to go and what the perfect solution from the online course marketplace is for supporting your vision.
What's your ideal course design and format?
There are a number of different formats to online courses — synchronous or asynchronous, pre-recorded or live material, or a blend of all the above — and your online course platform should support the building and hosting of whatever course design you choose.
Let’s break down the support and all the features you’ll need in order to bring any of those formats to life:
Self-paced, or asynchronous, courses are aptly named because the learner completes online coursework at their own pace and their own time. They aren’t required to join live courses, classes, or lecture times, and they can work through course materials as slow or as quickly as they please.
Self-paced courses are particularly popular because most students who participate in them have other personal and professional obligations outside of the course. They want to participate in learning, but don’t want the rigid format of something more structured. These courses tend to be far more accessible to a wider breadth of your audience and, because you don’t have to employ as many instructors, teachers, or TAs, can be more affordable, too.
Self-paced courses do lack the companionship and camaraderie of learning alongside a cohort of like-minded students, and you miss out on the accountability of needing to report to a (virtual) classroom on certain times and days.
Cohort-based courses, also known as synchronous courses, have more structure than their self-paced counterparts. These online courses tend to have a component — be it live or pre-recorded — that requires member attendance so students can work alongside one another to complete course content.
Because these businesses need instructors and staff members to manage each cohort, they may be more expensive than asynchronous options. However, each cohort becomes their own micro-communities within the larger online community, and fostering learning with community is one of the best ways people retain and use information.
As mentioned above, course content — especially in video format — can either be pre-recorded or live.
If the former, the online course platform of your choosing will need to support uploading videos either directly from the file or through tools like Youtube or Vimeo.
If the latter, they should support integrations with Zoom or other video hosting tools or even have a proprietary method for allowing you to video conference with individual students, a cohort, or large groups of members.
Here are some other features you should look for in the hosting and creating of your online curriculum:
- Integrations with Google, Outlook, and other calendar formats so your learners can easily receive invites to events, classes, and other experiences
- Easy widgets or blocks to place course content where you want and course duplication features so you can recreate the same experience with each new group or cohort
- Integration with Zapier and other tools to automate tasks for saving time and money
- The ability to create different types of lessons, tasks, assignments, and assessments for curating your curriculum around
What are your growth and scale goals?
Naturally, you’re creating a business when you create an online course. People are seeking out your unique offerings in exchange for money, so you should treat it like a business and have goals in mind for how you want to grow and scale.
Moreover, the all in one platforms you're selecting between should be able to help you meet those goals.
Data, analytics, and reporting
In order to best know how to grow and scale, the first feature the online course platform of your choosing should offer is a robust report of data and analytics, like:
- Course content and what members are working through easily or having a more difficult time with
- Attendance reports for live courses and lectures
- Progress reports that monitor which your members are completing lessons, tasks, and assignments and at what speed
- Feedback reports from learners themselves so you can continuously improve your experience
Arming yourself with the most information possible will ensure you’re making the right decisions in growing and scaling your online course to become a full-fledged business.
Great online course platforms will provide a number of ways for you to monetize your business and get paid.
From creating a seamless transaction experience where students pay with built-in payment processors to building affiliate selling pipelines to letting you monetize other aspects of your business like event series attendance and exclusive content, your online course platform can become a revenue-generating machine if you use it wisely.
What does your ideal learning community look like?
Whether you’re intentional about it or not, satisfied learners from your online course will meet and discuss their experience, creating an online community you either curate or let thrive on its own.
Determining what your learning community looks like and what role you want to play in it is a big consideration — and one you want to keep in mind as you choose an online course platform.
Some tools lend themselves better to the fostering and maintaining of community. Others are simply focused on helping you create an online course, sell it, and wipe your hands clean.
Learning and community are much more powerful together, and powerful learning experiences generate significantly more profit. A community can also become a referral engine and help you market your course far better than you ever could.
If you’re looking for an online course platform that also double-functions as a community platform, these are some of the engagement tools and features you should look out for:
- The ability to create feeds, threads, channels, direct messages, and all types of ways members can communicate
- A space for content uploads and additional resources that can be made accessible to any learner at any time
- Tools to cap access, set pricing, and curate the application process
- Branding capabilities to upload your own colors, logos, iconography, and language or labels
What level of customization do you need for your online course platform?
There are so many options in the online course marketplaces for solutions if you're just interested in selling courses. There are fewer options — but mightier options — if you are wanting an online course creation software that you can really customize with all the features and all the tools you need to make online learning platforms that are suited to your brand.
Some online course platforms offer total web development capabilities so you can build your own online course website and custom domain from scratch. Others are an all in one platform that allow more advanced features to carry the weight of curriculum development, online learning solutions, and community features to host members on your own private membership site. Some solutions may also offer the sales and marketing tools you'll need to make it a comprehensive solution.
Depending on the stage your brand is at and where you want to take it in the future, you can determine the type of best online course platform you'll need for the long haul, especially if you need to migrate your existing website over to this new course site.
5 online course platforms worth considering for course creators (and why)
Disco isn’t just an online course platform; it’s comprehensive support for community-minded founders of online courses interested in building, operating, and scaling a community around their learning business. You can create and sell online courses, event series, and other experiences on this learning management system.
Whether you want to get your self-paced course, your cohort-based course, or any other kind of online course off the ground, Disco can support you from your earliest beginnings to when you’re ready to scale your business and begin bringing more members — and offerings — into the fold.
Pricing for Disco
Disco Pro: $75 a month for 1 admin and 3 instructors to create unlimited courses for unlimited students and communication streams.
Disco Organization: $399 a month for 5 admins and 10 instructors, student progress reporting, and the opportunity to brand your entire environment.
Disco Enterprise: Custom pricing for hen you're ready to scale your course with customized onboarding and dedicated success management to meet big revenue goals.
Disco puts the learning, operations and monetization needs of your online course at the core of its platform.
Not only can we host your online course and help you generate revenue, we empower creators of online courses to take the reins on their business.
Thousands of integrations and easy functionality makes Disco so much more than just another online course platform. It creates operational excellence by streamlining all the tools you need onto one solution.
Kajabi has been a top choice for online course creators who are focused on revenue generation. It provides the marketing, operational, and administrative tools necessary for helping founders meet those goals and creating courses.
But revenue generation doesn’t just happen in one silo; creating a community, growing that community, and developing new offerings your students will want to invest in is the best way to grow sustainable, regular profit.
Kajabi doesn’t make community a priority for both the users and members on their platform and lacks the features necessary for bringing it to life.
Pro tip: Read five alternatives to Kajabi you might want to consider.
Pricing for Kajabi
Build Mode: Free plan at no cost to build a website and start marketing your offerings.
Basic: $149 a month to sell up to 3 learning products and create course sales funnels for bringing learners on board.
Growth: $199 a month to brand your platform and earn revenue through affiliate selling and additional product creation.
Pro: Custom pricing for a code editor that lets you customize your website from end to end.
Kajabi is a solid option for founders looking to generate passive revenue. However, it’s important to put people before profit if you want to really gain solid business footing and build a thriving learning community around your online course.
Thinkific specializes in helping founders of online courses platform customize, launch, market, and scale their offerings and generate revenue from a single platform.
Pricing for Thinkific
Free: Free plan at no cost to start using key features like drag-and-drop curriculum creator and access the app store to find integrations to create unlimited courses.
Start: $74 a month to create individual member profiles, collect payment from students, and host cohort-based courses in addition to self-paced courses.
Grow: $149 a month to brand your Thinkific platform and scale your membership with additional administrators and communities.
Expand: $374 a month plan to keep scaling your community with more students, staff members, and learning experiences.
Plus - Custom pricing to design a customized platform and unlock dedicated customer support.
Thinkific is a great online course platform for hosting different types of courses. If hosting other types of learning experiences like event series are a part of your future business goals, you may want to seek out another platform like Disco.
Podia supports putting your online content, including podcasts, coaching, digital products and online courses in front of your virtual audience on a global scale.
But for these reasons, Podia isn’t technically an online course platform nor is it a learning management system. It won’t have the features you’ll need to support member progress and build a community as a result. Podia does let anyone create online workshops, courses, or sessions to generate revenue.
Pricing for Podia
Free: Free plan at no cost to create an account but Podia collects an 8% fee plus a transaction fee from Stripe (their preferred payment processor) for each sale.
Mover: $39 a month without transaction fees, but you can only sell digital products and coaching services. You cannot yet offer live webinars.
Shaker: $89 a month to start selling webinars and generate revenue through affiliate selling.
Earthquaker: $199 a month to unlock priority support and a dedicated onboarding plan. You’ll join Podia’s community of creators for monthly masterminds.
At Disco, we support the founders and operators of learning communities who want to move the industry forward by changing the lives of members within those communities. Podia is only really applicable if you want to create more passive income or sell one learning product.
Teachfloor helps founders of cohort-based courses onboard new students, host live classes, support learner progress, and collect payments.
Teachfloor does not, however, allow you to do the same for self-paced courses or event series — all learning experiences Disco supports.
Pricing for Teachfloor
Pro: $69 a month for four instructors and unlimited courses.
Business: $349 a month for up to 15 instructors and a customizable platform.
Enterprise: Custom pricing for larger learning communities and enterprise-level customers who want to scale their offerings.
Teachfloor is a solid platform for those who want to build a single-product learning business, but a platform like Disco is better suited for the founders of multi-product businesses and their supplemental communities.
Disco is the best online course platform for budding and established founders
Disco’s manifesto states that learning and community were meant to coexist. To have one without the other, you need a platform that can support both.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to learning, the online course platform of your choosing should support any kind of learning that's best suited for your growing community and sell courses you're passionate about.
Start a free trial to experience all that Disco has to offer founders of today's and tomorrow's most vibrant learning communities.