18 Best Online Course Platforms In 2020 (Free & Paid)

Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase. See the disclosure for more information.
9

When it comes to creating and selling online courses, creators use what is known as an online course platform.

Online course platforms are sometimes referred to as learning management systems (LMS).

An LMS is a dedicated platform or website that hosts all of your course content and delivers this to students. Their sole purpose is to make the course creation journey smoother for you – the course creator.

There are three main alternatives when it comes to an online course platform:

  • Standalone
  • Shared
  • WordPress-based

The different types of online course platforms

Standalone

A standalone online course platform is one that you can use to create your very own school and/or website. They do not host or advertise any other courses from someone else.

These platforms are perfect to build and grow your own brand.

The downside is that you will have to do more leg work to market and sell your course. Driving traffic to your online course usually comes from other sources, such as your own website or YouTube channel, for example.

If you stick at it, standalone online course platforms can be the most rewarding since you are not giving up as much of profits, compared with shared platforms.

Examples of a standalone online course platform include Teachable, Thinkific and Podia.

Shared

A shared online course platform is a course directory that hosts potentially thousands of courses from various different creators – not just yours!

These platforms benefit from having a huge visitor attraction, so you get the added benefit of reaching more students compared with standalone platforms.

But, in return for this marketing power, you will generally give up more of your profits.

A prime example of a shared platform is Udemy.

WordPress-based

Before the growth of standalone platforms to create and sell online courses, creators would often turn to WordPress.

WordPress is primarily designed for creating blogs and websites – not online courses. But, because WordPress is flexible, there are some clever WordPress plugins out there that can turn a standard website into an online course platform.

Using WordPress in this way does require a little more technical knowledge to set up and it can take longer to get going. I also believe they don’t function or look as well as standalone platforms.

If you are thinking of setting up a WordPress website to create an online course then check out our guide on how to create a WordPress website. This will get you started.

Examples of WordPress-based online course platforms include LearnDash, LifterLMS and LearnPress.

The best online course platforms

Now, let’s go through some of the best online course platforms that are available, in my opinion.

Teachable (#1 recommended)

Teachable is my favourite online course platform and the one I use to sell my courses as part of my side hustle.

Teachable homepage

Teachable is a freemium platform, so there is a Free account available – yay! This makes it a perfect choice for beginners who have never created a course.

As standard all plans include unlimited hosting, unlimited courses, the ability to use lecture comments and basic quizzes.

Premium plans at Teachable start from $29 per month (annual billing) and provide unlimited students, custom domain support, lower transaction fees and the ability to create coupon codes.

To get zero transaction fees in Teachable you need their most popular plan – Professional. Their Professional plan comes at a cost of $79 per month (annual billing) and also comes with the ability to add course completion certificates and removes any Teachable branding from your school.

If you choose to use Teachable, be sure to check out our step-by-step guide on how to create an online course with Teachable. This guide will show you how to get started with Teachable to create and sell an online course for free.

Podia

Podia is a relatively new standalone LMS that is growing in popularity.

Podia homepage

Unfortunately, there is no free account for Podia – prices start at $32.5 per month (annual billing). But, they do offer a 14-day free trial (no payment details required).

A big attraction for choosing Podia to sell your online course is that they do not charge any transaction fees on both of their plans. Yep, you get to keep all of the money from the sale (after accounting for any processing fees from PayPal etc)!

All price plans also come with unlimited everything (hosted, students, courses etc) and the ability to create coupon codes.

If you upgrade to their highest plan – Shaker – you get additional features including the ability to create a membership site. So, if you have a large enough following, students can pay a recurring fee to get access to learning material and courses. This can generate some serious income!

As well as a free trial, Podia run a live demo every week showing you how their system works. So check out their live webinar on their website – it’s free to attend.

Thinkific (#1 Free option)

Thinkific is probably the best online course platform if you don’t want to spend a penny.

Thinkific homepage

Thinkific is an excellent choice for creating your first online course since they include a Free price plan with zero transaction fees! In fact, you can create up to three courses with their Free plan.

Some of the core features available on all Thinkific plans include unlimited hosting, unlimited students (although there is some additional charge for certain plans), student quizzes and instant access to any sale funds.

Their entry-level premium account – Basic – starts at $39 per month (annual payment). This includes the ability to add a custom domain to better fit your course portal with your brand and the ability to create coupons for promotions. You can also create unlimited courses with their Basic plan.

For those with higher requirements, their most popular plan – Pro – enables the advanced course pricing options, course completion certificates, memberships and bundles, priority support and much more!

Since Thinkific is free to start, there is no excuse to not try it out!

LearnWorlds

LearnWorlds is the perfect option for creating an online course with a focus on social learning.

LearnWorlds homepage

At LearnWorlds there is no free account, but you can take a 30-day free trial to see what it is capable of.

Their Starter plan is $24 per month (annual billing) and includes the ability to have unlimited students, unlimited paid courses, create coupons, interactive e-books and quizzes. This is quite a lot of features, however, there is a $5 transaction fee per course sale on the Starter plan.

To get zero transaction fees, you need to go for their Pro Trainer plan, which comes in at $79 per month (annual billing). This plan also gives the ability to create custom certificates for students, a complete website builder with a blog and the ability to have free courses.

Perhaps the biggest attraction to LearnWorlds that sets it apart from the rest is their emphasis on creating a social learning platform. Think of a LinkedIn-like platform where students have their own profile and are encouraged to contribute to the community.

The social network focus in LearnWorlds is an interestng approach to online learning and make be worth looking into if you want to create a unique school.

Related: LearnWorlds Review: Next-Gen Online Course Platform

Kajabi

Kajabi is aimed at accomplished course creators who have a large following.

Kajabi homepage

Kajabi is an all-in-one platform to grow your online presence. It isn’t just an online course platform. As well as being able to create online courses, Kajabi can build landing pages, websites and has a powerful set of marketing tools.

All of these features come at a cost though, with no Free account in sight. There is a 14-day free trial to have a peek at their platform, then prices start at $119 per month (annual billing).

As standard, Kajabi plans include unlimited landing pages and unlimited emails to students.

Their lowest price plan – Basic – can handle up to 10,000 contacts and 1,000 active members. An active member is a person who has logged in at least once within the last 30 days.

With Basic you can create up to three products and pipelines. A product can be an online course, but can also include digital downloads (eg an e-book). A pipeline is an automated sales funnel to maximise your sales – this is what Kajabi is great at!

If you’re starting out with creating online courses, Kajabi may not be the best place to start. But, it may be worth giving their trial a go for a no-fee peek under their hood.

Academy of Mine

Academy of Mine is the most expensive online course platform on this list.

Academy of Mine homepage

Prices at Academy of Mine start at an eye-watering $417 per month (annual billing)! But, as you would expect for that amount of money, you do get a lot of features included.

In their first plan – Essentials – you get up to 2 hours of custom programming hours every month. The guys at Academy of Mine will work with you to create a bespoke online course school to fully fit your brand. This is what sets it apart from the other online course platforms.

As well as the customization help, all plans include unlimited students, unlimited course, quizzes, assignments, badges/gamification, certificate templates and much more.

If you’re starting out, then Academy of Mine will seem like an overkill option. But, it could be worth thinking about in the future if you are serious about your online course side hustle.

TalentLMS

TalentLMS is another freemium online course platform that has a lot of unique features.

The core features included in all TalentLMS plans include unlimited storage, unlimited admins/instructors, webinar integrations and gamification.

The gamification feature is a cool reward system that increases the engagement of students. Points are rewarded to students when they hit certain milestones, such as completing a lesson. These points can then be used to unlock further parts of the course.

You can start using TalentLMS for free with the ability to create up to 10 courses, but you are restricted to just 5 students. Despite these restrictions, the features included make it a perfect opportunity to set up your online school before upgrading to a premium plan.

Their premium plans are split into two categories: Standard and Active.

The Standard plans are based on the number of students that register for your course and are set as ‘active’ on their profile. These plans are rather restrictive. Standard price plans start at $59 per month (annual billing).

Active plans allow an unlimited number of registered users but the price is dependent upon the number of students who use the platform each month. Active price plans start at $129 per month (annual billing).

CourseCraft

CourseCraft is another online course platform that has a free plan available.

CourseCraft homepage

With a free CourseCraft plan, you can create as many courses as you like for up to 100 students. Additional features include instant payouts, coupon codes and a discussion forum. In return for these features with no upfront costs, transaction fees are at a steep 9%.

Their starter premium plan – Club – is $23 per month (annual billing) and gives you unlimited students, unlimited storage and lower transaction fees (5%).

A nice feature in the Club plan is the ability to sell add-ons to your course, such as private consulting time. This upsell strategy is great to increase revenue.

To get access to zero transaction fees, then you will need their Society plan ($47 per month; annual billing). Additional features of interest in this plan include the ability to add a custom domain, create an affiliate system and configure tax on sales.

Ruzuku

Ruzuku offers zero transaction fees on all of their plans.

Ruzuku homepage

If you’re after a free account, unfortunately, Ruzuku doesn’t have one. Instead, they offer a 14-day free trial (no payment details required). The trial includes all of its features with no limitations, so it’s great to see what the platform can do for you.

All price plans include unlimited students, unlimited courses, unlimited storage, coupons and daily backups of your school.

Prices start at $74.75 per month (annual billing) for their Bootstrapper account. You get quite a lot of features for this plan, however it does not allow for unlimited webinars, quizzes or subscription and payment plans.

If you want to add those missing features you will need their Up-and-Comer plan that comes in at $83.08 per month (annual billing).

Their top plan – University – is priced at $125 per month (annual billing) and is aimed at those with large schools. With this plan you can add your own domain and add multiple instructors.

DigitalChalk

DigitalChalk is an online course platform with a simple payment system for creators.

DigitalChalk homepage

Unlike most online course platforms, DigitalChalk have a single payment plan of $25 per month. And this plan comes with everything you will need as an online course creator.

Unlimited courses, storage, certificates, gamification and custom branding are just a few notable features included with DigitalChalk.

For each student that purchases a course, you will be charged a $8 registration fee; think of this as a transaction fee. Since this is not a percentage, this means you will take home more profits on high-ticket sales.

Alternatively, you can choose their Active Users plan where you will pay a larger monthly fee depending on the number of active users you have.

DigitalChalk sadly do not have a free trial, but you can enquire to have a demo, which I totally recommend before purchasing.

Teachery

Teachery comes with zero transaction fees with unlimited everything!

Teachery homepage

Unlimited courses, students and landing/sales pages, sprinkled with zero transaction fees are all crammed into a Teachery account.

On top of that, there is also custom domain support, the ability to create coupon codes, membership payment plans and email provider integrations.

Unfortunately, Teachery do not have built-in quiz or course completion certificate features. You can, however, design these with third-party tools and import them into your Teachery school as a work around.

Like the sound of Teachery?

Start by viewing their demo or signing up for the 14-day completely free trial to see if it ticks all of your boxes. And if you’re still keen after that, prices are $39 per month (annual billing) for everything.

Udemy (Shared LMS)

Udemy is the largest online course platform hosting over 130,000 courses!

Udemy homepage

In terms of market share, Udemy is the daddy of hosting online courses. Their courses have been taken by over 40 million students – that’s a lot!

At Udemy, it is free to host and create your online course – there are no limits to how many you can create. However, Udemy can take a rather large cut of the transaction in return for marketing your course.

If a student purchases a course that they find through Udemy, you will receive 50% of the transaction value. This is significantly lower compared with standalone online course platforms.

If a student purchases your course on Udemy after using a course referral link on say your website or by using a coupon code you gave them, then you will receive 97% of the sale.

Despite these limits, Udemy has the added benefit of marketing and doing the leg work for you. They can pull in potential students easily and have an excellent review system. So, you may end up getting less money per course sale, but you potentially can sell more than if you were to use a standalone online course platform.

Skillshare (Shared LMS)

Skillshare is similar to Udemy, but with a focus on delivering short courses (classes).

Skillshare is a membership platform where students pay monthly for access to their online class portfolio. With over 2 million students and growing, their platform has surged in popularity over recent years.

If you’re going to be creating a short but sweet online course, then considering hosting it on Skillshare. Rather than focusing on long, super detailed online courses, Skillshare distribute highly effective classes. In fact, their most popular classes are only 20-60 minutes long, with individual videos being 2-5 minutes each.

According to Skillshare, their top-earning teachers earn $100,000+ per year. So, don’t worry about the length of your online course (class), it’s all about quality over quantity with Skillshare.

On that note, the monetization of classes on the platform is rather unique. Since Skillshare is a membership platform, you get paid royalties based on the amount of minutes watched plus bonuses for the number of new students enrolled.

LearnDash (WordPress LMS)

If you’re after a WordPress-based LMS, then LearnDash is probably the one you should go for.

LearnDash homepage

Like most WordPress-based online course platforms, LearnDash is a premium plug-in with prices starting at $199 per year.

As standard all LearnDash plans come with the ability to create unlimited courses, can handle an unlimited amount of students, quizzes and course completion certificates.

If you want more enhanced features, including detailed analytics, then you will need their ProPanel add-on. This is included in their Plus Package ($229 per year).

LifterLMS (WordPress LMS)

LifterLMS is another WordPress LMS with an array of add-ons available.

LifterLMS homepage

Like LearnDash, there is no free account for LifterLMS. Instead, users can try out the plug-in for 30 days at a cost of just $1. This is a small price to pay if you are still on the fence about LifterLMS.

LifterLMS prices start from $99 per year, which gives you access to the core LifterLMS plugin. However, if you want to add additional features then you will need to purchase separate add-ons – these can cost a further $99 per year. To save a lot of money, it may be best to invest in their Universe Bundle.

The Universe Bundle costs $299 per year and comes with 14 add-ons – saving you $988 per year! Add ons in the Universe Bundle include PayPal and Stripe functionalities to accept payments as well as various design add-ons.

I would recommend taking out their 30-day trial if you are interested in LifterLMS. It only costs $1 so it’s a small price to pay for an insight into their features.

LearnPress (WordPress LMS)

LearnPress is a free WordPress LMS with additional add-ons available at a premium.

LearnPress homepage

If you’re after a free WordPress-based online course platform that LearnPress may be for you. The core plugin comes with the ability to create, manage and sell an online course.

There are also many free add-ons for LearnPress including Course Review, which gives the ability for students to review your course, and BuddyPress Integration, which can add a forum to your school.

Premium add-ons and themes are available to further enhance your LearnPress website. Examples of premium LearnPress add-ons include assignments, certificates and various payment gateway compatibility such as Stripe. These add-ons are usually priced at a one-time fee of $39.99.

Alternatively, you can purchase premium bundles for $249.99. Their Pro bundles come with all premium add-ons, lifetime updates and 6 months of technical support.

AccessAlly (WordPress LMS)

AccessAlly is a WordPress LMS that has been tried and tested by over 2.5 million users.

AccessAlley WordPress LMS

For a WordPress LMS, AccessAlley is certainly one of the most premium options on the market.

As expected, the plugin comes with everything you will need to structure, design and sell your online course through WordPress. This includes a drag and-drop course builder, student quizzes, homework submissions and gamification, to name just a few.

AccessAlley is compatable with numerous marketing platforms, such as Active Campaign and ConvertKit.

Pricing your online course can come in many forms, including one-time payments and subscription plans. There is also the option to create gift cards, which is a unique twist for online course platforms.

Prices start at a steep $82 per month and go all the way up to $2500 per year (annual billing). So, for that price, you want to be sure AccessAlley is right for you.

Fortunately, there is a free demo to learn more about their features. And, if you decide to purchase, there is a full 30-day money-back guarantee for that added reassurance.

Coursecats (WordPress LMS)

Coursecats includes a Concierge Service to let the experts deal with the technical side of things.

Coursecats homepage

Unlike other WordPress LMS on this list, Coursecats goes that one step further by taking care of the WordPress setup for you. So, don’t worry if you haven’t a clue how to install and configure websites. Their Concierge Service will take care of all this.

Once up and running, Coursecats provide a wealth of step-by-step tutorials to ensure you can get your content into their platform.

There are no restrictions with Coursecats, you can create as many courses as you like and deliver content to as many students as you like.

To get Coursecats, you can either pay monthly ($59 per month) or pay annually ($497 per year); the latter will save you $211 over the year!

If you’re interested in Coursecats, then I urge you to take advantage of their 30-day completely free trial to see what they can do for you.

Best online course platform comparison table

PlatformFree planPrices from/month*Trial
Teachable✔️$29Free plan
Podia$32.514 day
Thinkific✔️$39Free plan
LearnWorlds$2430 day
Kajabi$11914 day
Academy of Mine$41730 day
TalentLMS✔️$59Free plan
CourseCraft✔️$23Free plan
Ruzuku$7514 day
DigitalChalk$25Demo
Teachery$3914 day
Udemy✔️$0Free plan
Skillshare✔️$0Free plan
LearnDash$17Demo
LifterLMS$930 days ($1)
LearnPress✔️Add-onsFree plan
AccessAlly$82Demo
Coursecats$4230 days
*Cheapest paid plan per month when billed annually

FAQs

1. What is the best online course platform?

In my opinion, I believe Teachable is the best online course platform.

They have a free, but limited, plan to get you started. After that, their prices are reasonable so you can upgrade as you grow.

Teachable also has a sleek page builder to create awesome landing pages. I just think everything looks very professional on their platform, even the course curriculum page!

For a close second, I would say Podia. I am really impressed with what Podia has done in such a short space of time. If you’re interested in learning more about what Podia has to offer, then check out my review.

2. What is the best free online course platform?

If you don’t want to spend a penny, then go for Thinkific.

On their free plan, you get a lot of features and have zero transaction fees. There are not many online course platforms that can compete with that.

Wrapping up

I hope this list has given you some food for thought when thinking about what platform to use to create and sell your online course.

The amount of choice available can make you feel overwhelmed – I’ve been there myself!

My advice is to try out as many online course platforms as possible. Most either have a free plan or offer a free trial so go ahead and do your research. Then, pick the one that fits your needs.

If you decided upon a platform, let me know in the comments below. I’m interested to hear what people use and why.

Further reading on SideHustleTeach.com

If you’re thinking of creating your own online course, then check out my complete step-by-step guide on how to create one with Teachable; you can get started for free!

As you can tell, I’m a fan of Teachable. You can read the reasons why in my Teachable review.

Leave a Comment

9