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Online course platforms comparison

8 Best Online Course Platforms Comparison for Entrepreneurs Who Hate Throwing Money Away

Read Time: 56 mins

Online Course Platforms Comparison: those that are High Value vs those that are just High Cost

Jump Straight to the Course Platform Comparison

Let’s face it, there are a lot of course platforms out there these days, many of which seem to be meh. Why meh? Because they often fail to deliver on what they promise, especially when it comes to how much they’re going to cost an independent course creator like yourself. Margin is everything for small businesses.

In this article, we’re only going to focus on the non-meh platforms, instead showcasing what we think are the 8 very best online course platforms. But we’re not just going to stop there, we’re also going to rank them in order from best to least value, in terms of bang for the buck. After all, it takes hard work, a ton of elbow grease, and fantastic sales skills to sell complete strangers on the internet to buy your online courses.

But before we begin, I have a simple question for you:

Why are so many course creators happy to dish out so much of their profits to big behemoth course platforms, instead of pocketing that profit?

If you know the answer to this question, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Too Many Course Creators Throw Their Hard Earned Profits in the Flaming Trash Can of Empty Course Platform Promises

As a course creator of 10 years myself, I cannot fathom dishing out $200-300 per month on a course platform that’s only doing basically the basics, or even one that has a gazillion features that most of which I’m not using. I don’t need thousands of features to sell a $1000 course that brings immense value to my learners. I only need to do the work to create a magnificent course, encourage them to email or leave comments in my course when they have questions, and be present in the course, answering their questions and encouraging discussions. Also, I need an online course to be easy to find for them, ideally on my website, easy to log in to, and reliable. Finally, I need an online course experience that looks awesome and extremely professional. That’s it! As a course creator, I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars extra each year paying for a service that’s giving me what I could get by paying for an online course platform that is a fraction of the cost. A course platform isn’t a luxury car that you can drive around and show off to your friends. Most people, including your learners, won’t even know what platform you’re using. 

So why should you eat away at your profits for the privilege of using a high-end and overly expensive online course platform? Uhh, you shouldn’t. Let’s be penny-wise and pound-heavy here folks.

As my new financial hero Caleb Hammer likes to say, You’re Losing Thousands of Dollars!
(per year, I’d add)

The Criteria I used to Evaluate to Generate this Online Course Platform Comparison

Here are the criteria that I look for when seeking must-haves for a solid and well-rounded online course platform to build my courses in:

What does High-Value Look like in an Online Course Platform vs. Just High Cost?

Criteria 1: User-Friendly Interface for both Creator and Learner

online course platform comparison

There are two sides to any course platform: what the creator experiences building their course and what learners experience taking their course. Both are super important in their ways.

On the creator side, a user-friendly interface can make all the difference between a creator feeling inspired and excited to build their course, and feeling a sense of dread and confusion when logging in. This is why our course platform, Owwlish, is such a popular platform for creators who really want to build a course on their WordPress site (and other platforms), but are overwhelmed by the complication that most WordPress online course plugins entail. While complicated platforms to build courses in can be a great boon for developers who would prefer to have their course creator clients go to them every time they want to change something in their course, this is not an efficient use of that creator’s time or money.

Just because an online course platform offers a lot of features, does not mean those features are easy to figure out or use. I’ll be honest, every time Apple or Microsoft releases a new complicated but powerful feature for their operating system, despite my excitement to try it out, I also feel a bit of stress knowing that it’s a new learning curve I’ll have to face soon when I try to figure it out. As a course platform developer ourselves, we build our product, Owwlish to be dead simple from the moment you sign up to the moment you press Publish on your course. Sometimes when a new customer comes to us and says that the other course platform they were using before us was so complicated to figure out, I have trouble relating. How hard can it be to make an online course builder that’s simple to use? Guess it’s harder than I would have thought 🙂

On the learner side, a user-friendly interface is even more important. I mean as an entrepreneur, most of us are willing to get our hands dirty and figure out what we need to do to get our business up and running. However, our learners – no, our customers; the people who spend their cold-hard cash on your courses – have very little patience for a complicated course learning interface. They want things to be super simple. This is one of the reasons we’ve built our course platform, Owwlish, to serve everything related to a course or online community from a single course experience; one with a menu on the side, and everything else in the center of their browser. We believe that everything related to what your learners have purchased related to your course, which includes comments, community, videos, audio, text, downloadables, and even other courses you’ve purchased, should be something that you can access from one single screen. We don’t want to confuse learners with complicated navigational systems when what they crave is dead simplicity.

Criteria 2: Features, Features, Features

A Super Simple Signup and Login Process for Learners

online course platform comparison

An important line item when discussing simple user interfaces for online course platforms is the enrollment and login process for learners. Your course should be easy to find, easy to purchase, and easy to get right into for potential customers. In fact, this is one reason we built our online course platform, Owwlish, to embed directly into your website; even directly into your sales page if that’s what you think would make it most simple for your learners to enroll and get started. By having your online course embedded right into your website, your learners never have to search old emails to find what subdomain (or separate domain) your course is hosted on.

The course checkout should be simple and easy and they should never have to log in to your course system after clicking “Sign-Up.” Your online course platform should be intelligent enough to get them started ASAP, right after successfully purchasing. Further, your learners shouldn’t have to log in every time they want to resume their online course. They should just stay logged in and if they do happen intentionally to log out or happen to log in from a different device, logging in should be as easy as 1 -2 – 3. Overall, there should be no friction for your learners between when they review your online course sales page and the moment they find themselves starting Module 1, Lesson 1.

Ability to Teach in Different Modalities and Content Types

online course platform comparison

Since the birth of the internet, remote learning has come a long way. Before the internet, the best people could do to learn over great distances from their instructors was by way of correspondence courses initially, followed by audio cassettes, and eventually video cassettes. In the early 2000s, the web allowed for multi-modal ways of providing information to people all across the globe.

I’ll never forget logging into my first online course, circa 2005. It was a course on personal growth by a teacher I respected tremendously. Looking back, it was quite ahead of its time: an entire platform, coded from scratch to allow learners to go through a linear progression of lessons with lots of text, images, an online forum, and even a few audio snippets (video wasn’t widely used back then on the net). The most exciting feature the course offered was a chat room where the instructor and course participants would gather on the same day and time each week to ask questions and gain insights. I met some incredible people from all over the world through those weekly chats. In fact, years later, I met up with a few of them in person who I discovered lived nearby, and even today, I still talk to 2 or 3 of them every week in a Whatsapp group. They are some of my most treasured life-long friends, and I met them all via my first online course. It’s wild as I think back on it all; no wonder I’m such a proponent of online learning!

The point is, if that course had only been a purely text or even audio-based course, I never would have met the lifelong friends that I did. It was through the different teaching modalities that I was able to both learn and connect with others, especially with my teacher. Thus, it’s no surprise that when choosing an excellent online platform, it’s important to select one that can provide not just text and video, but also audio support, the ability to embed presentations, the ability for learners to make comments and ask questions to the instructor, as well as the ability for creators to share PDFs and other downloadables with their learners. And let’s not forget quizzes! Quizzes are a vital way to ensure that your learners are engaging with your course and absorbing the material you’re putting out.

Gamification and Other Types of Engagement

Gamification is the art of providing opportunities to stimulate, challenge, and reward your learners for engaging deeply with your course. I’ll be honest, I’m not the type of learner who usually cares that much about digital badges, digital points/tokens, and or seeing where I stand on a community leaderboard. That said, there are tons of people who do love this stuff, and the presence of even some basic gamification elements in your course can really be the difference between them finishing your course and not. In truth, this is one area where most online course platforms could do better. While many course platforms don’t include any gamification features at all, those that do, put the burden of designing and implementing gamification elements on the creator, which is typically something creators have not been trained in and might feel overwhelmed at the thought of implementing. With our online course platform, Owwlish, gamification is absolutely on our roadmap of features to bring to the platform. However, the vision for us will be to do so in a way where artificial intelligence can be used to add gamification to a course automatically so that little burden is added to the course creator’s plate. If you’d be interested in this as a creator, please let us know as we’d love to discuss the nuts and bolts of adding this type of gamification to courses with creators like yourself!

One of the best online course platforms that does gamification really well is Xperiencify. We’ll talk more about them below in our list of course platforms.

Community and Social Networks that You Own

online course platform comparison

A few years back, it wasn’t uncommon for Course Creators to leverage Facebook Groups for the community aspect of their online courses. You’d have the course content on your website and then the discussions happening in the FB group. The problem many creators started to realize after a while is that they were depending too much on Facebook for their course success and at any moment, Facebook could and would start to de-emphasize posts from the creator’s Facebook Group on the learners’ feeds. Why did this happen? It could have been because a Facebook Group about concrete and practical course information wasn’t as juicy as many of the click-bait posts that pervade Facebook. It also could have been that as more and more learners joined other Facebook Groups about various topics, the Creator’s group would start to get drowned out by the rest of the noise from other groups.

It’s intelligent to want to have both your course and your community in one place, which is why more and more online course platforms are offering community features that you can tack onto your course. This provides the ability for your learners to feel a part of something dynamic and fun and become a part of the greater conversation. No more is communication simply 1-way (from creator to learner) but communication happens in every direction with a built-in community. As I mentioned earlier, being a learner of an online course with a thriving community 20 or so years ago, was transformational for me and allowed me to connect with folks that I became life-long friends with.

At Owwlish, we’re currently beta-testing our new comments features to bring more community and multi-directional conversations to our online courses. After this is rolled out, we plan to introduce Owwlish Groups, which will allow learners and creators to post topics in a feed-like format. While some online course platforms are taking the approach of recreating Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram within the walls of their course platform, we at Owwlish believe that instead of creating a massive and somewhat overwhelming mini social network platform where anyone can post whatever they want about nearly anything, community in courses work best when discussions have guard rails and are focused around specific topics that a creator sets. This also has a better chance of leading to engaging discussions between learners and creators. There’s an age-old problem creators often run into when creating their own mini-social networks in which they build out a grand community hoping it to be filled with thriving discussions, but instead end up with no one posting anything. The result: crickets.

Quizzes and Assessments

online course platform comparison

We mentioned quizzes above and what would a good online course be if there was no way to measure your learner’s understanding of your material as they’re progressing through your course? Quizzes are a vital element of any online course platform as they provide direct feedback to your learners who are (or are not) learning the knowledge and/or skills you’re teaching. Quizzes also serve as yet another way to keep learners engaged and interested in continuing your course, providing an opportunity to congratulate and reward them with positive words or a great score. Finally, quiz features in course platforms can be a way for your learners to submit writing samples, design or artwork, or even upload photos of things they’re learning in the real world from your course; for example, a woodworking course can allow your learners to submit photos of their recent woodworking project for you to review.

We Care About Great Technical Support. Don’t You?

Most online course platforms will be neck to neck in their ability to offer great email support that can answer any questions you might have. However, when building out your course, you’ll want to ensure that any platform you go with is willing to do the kind of hand-holding that is sometimes needed when running into truly difficult technical issues. If you have a problem you can’t figure out, are they willing to set up a call or screen share with you to troubleshoot? Or is that something they’re only willing to do if you pay for their $400/mo plan?

The truth is that most creators don’t need 1 on 1 video calls every week, let alone every month with your online course provider; however, you may need some personalized support for the first few weeks while you get your course up and running. With our platform, Owwlish, we are happy to jump into a video chat with any of our creators when they’re having trouble, no matter what plan they’re paying for. We encourage all new creators who sign up with us to get help integrating their online course into their website with our VIP Onboarding.

Criteria 3: The Price Course Creators Have to Pay to Host Their Course

Now for the 12 Best Online Course Platforms Comparison

online course platform comparison

It’s time to get into the nitty gritty and discover what we think about the best dozen online course platforms out there for those who want to preserve their profits but also want extraordinary value. Because this is a list geared around how to run your course business in a lean way, the way we’ll sort this list is by ranking them all by their value score. Each product will earn its value score by reviewing 3 different metrics:

  1. Features
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Price

For each, the score will be given from 1 to 10, with 1 being worst and 10 being best. For each platform, we’ll provide a Total Price for Value Score, which is an average of all 3 scores.

Thus, by having the value metric be 1/3 of the score, we’re able to balance price against features and ease of use to come up with what we think is a value score that effectively ranks products from the best bang for your buck to the least bang for your buck. The truth is, there are a lot of great platforms on this list that are simply overpriced. We want to highlight the ones that we think any new or seasoned course creator can adopt and feel like they’re making a wise business decision.

1. Thinkific – 8.3 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Prices for Thinkific: Free | $50 | $100 | $200 (monthly approximate)

Thinkific Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 10/10
  2. Ease of Use – 7/10
  3. Price – 8/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 8.3/10

I’ll be honest; while I’d always heard about Thinkific being a good online course platform, it wasn’t until I started working on this comparison article that I actually got to see how good of a value this platform is overall. The truth is that Thinkific has a lot of offers. Of all the big course platforms that I looked at, it may be the only one that offers a decent Free plan for creating and selling online courses. You could literally launch a profitable online course using Thinkific and make some good money from it, especially when you consider that they don’t take any additional transaction fees on top of any sales you make.

The Free Plan: Thinkific’s Lowest-Tiered Plan

In each one of these comparisons, we’re going to dedicate a section just to the lowest-tiered plan of each platform, so that we can really dive into everything you can expect to get if you want to take advantage of their lowest-priced offering in order to save money on running your online course business.

As mentioned, Thinkific is one of the few that offers a free plan. Thinkific’s Free plan gives you 1 course, a basic community feature to go with that course, quizzes, some Zapier functionality (triggers, not actions), and bulk import/export. While the Free plan doesn’t offer some of the nice-to-have features like drip scheduling or payment plans, it’s overall a great value for the price. The one drawback to the Free plan is that you only get 1 month of email support. After that, you’re on your own.

Thinkific’s Other Plans Basic, Start, and Grow

The rest of the Thinkific plans start at $50 monthly and go all the way up to $200/mo. For being willing to fork over your credit card, you’ll get the ability to sell unlimited courses, as well as more community spaces, which I’m not sure what those even are, but I imagine they are useful when community building. Plus you’ll get access to the nice-to-have features we mentioned above like drip scheduling, full Zapier functionality (both triggers and actions), the ability to accept course payments using a payment plan, membership features, and if you spend $200/mo, the ability to remove Thinkific branding from your courses. (Wow! They brand their courses unless you pay $200 monthly? Our platform lets you go brandless for all plans except the Basic. Makes me wonder if we’re giving too good a deal.)

So is Thinkific a Good Value?

As mentioned, Thinkific has a lot going for it as a course platform. That said, every platform has some drawbacks. Having spoken to a number of customers who have started using our platform, Owwlish, who have come to us after using Thinkific, the biggest cons I hear to the Thinkific experience is how complicated it can be to use compared to other platforms. While I cannot speak to that personally as I’ve not tried building a course with Thinkific, if multiple people tell me the same thing, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

Another slight downside, depending upon what you’re trying to accomplish with your online courses, is that Thinkific is not platform agnostic; meaning courses can only be hosted from their own Thinkific platform, instead of having the ability to integrate directly into your website. While the Thinkific website builder is supposed to be solid, it will probably never be as robust and feature-filled as dedicated website builder platforms. This means that as a course creator, you either have to be willing to build your entire marketing and sales website fully on the Thinkific website builder, or do what a lot of creators do and have 2 separate websites: one to sell the course and one to host their course. The result is that many creators have to compromise on the learner experience side of things: it can make enrolling in a course a bit confusing and often results in the two websites having inconsistent designs. As an aside, this is the reason we created Owwlish in the first place, to allow creators to sell and host their online courses all from 1 website, thanks to Owwlish courses being able to be integrated with literally any website platform.

Overall, however, Thinkific is certainly one of the better values out there in terms of its bank for the buck.

2. Owwlish – 7.7 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Prices for Owwlish: $25 | $50 (monthly approximate)

Owwlish Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 7/10
  2. Ease of Use – 8/10
  3. Price – 8/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 7.7/10

Full disclosure: Owwlish is our platform! I mean, couldn’t you kind of tell it was ours based on the URL of this website? That said, we’re darn proud of it. Moreover, I actually didn’t expect that we’d score it as 2nd to the top in this comprehensive online course platform. I initially worried that if we were to really do this article right, we’d end up somewhere in the middle at best. However, when it comes to providing value for your dollar, I can’t deny that Owwlish is a fantastic price given all of the features and benefits there are to using Owwlish. I mean where else can you find a platform that will give you a full course, unlimited quizzes, full Zapier functionality (both triggers and actions), as well as the ability to embed a course on nearly any website known to humans? (Hint: there are no other platforms that we know of where you can embed your courses right into a beautifully designed marketing Webflow, Wix, SquareSpace, or Weebly website). Let’s be into the nitty gritty of what Owwlish provides and why they’re still a great way to host a course for the budget-conscious entrepreneur.

One of the Easiest Course Builders Out There

Owwlish aim’s to be one of the easiest platforms to get started with for creators, with a super-simple interface, and settings that are actually useful. We detest platforms that create so many options in their backend, that users cringe with fear when logging into their accounts. Along with that, the learner user interface is elegant and simple. Owwlish also makes it dead-simple for your learners to enroll and login to their course. When learners enroll in their course, they’re never sent off to any other website where they have to check their email to find their login information. Instead, after enrolling, your course automatically opens where they can immediately start the course, creating a much better learner experience. Logging into your course later is a breeze as well, as there is no separate course website to remember or lookup; they simply visit your website, enter their email address, and receive a login code to get back into the course.Plus, if you want your course to sit on a super customized website you’ve poured thousands of dollars into with regard to its design and functionality, Owwlish plays nicely with whatever your website platform you’re using. Love the aesthetics of Webflow? Using Webflow to build your website and adding an Owwlish course to your site is a breeze. Love the endless possibilities that WordPress offers in terms of functionality, especially paired with a custom developer who can code anything you want? You can add an Owwlish course to any WordPress site in seconds.

The Basic: Owwlish’s Low Tier Plan

Owwlish’s most affordable plan offers just about everything you need to create a robust online course, add it to your website (no matter where you have your website), create quizzes, and charge good money for that course. Instead of having to pay for Thinkific’s Basic plan at nearly twice the price, Owwlish’s low-priced tier provides full Zapier integration (both triggers and actions) so that you can create automations with over 2000 external apps. What does this mean in practice? It means for example, that you can use nearly any payment gateway on earth that integrates with Zapier, to accept payments and automatically enroll that learner in your course. Or it means, for example, that you can anyone who enrolls in your Owwlish course can be added to nearly any email list service that integrates with Zapier (most of them do) or even add every new learner to a Google Sheet, along with which course they enrolled in and how much they paid (great for report generation). Owwlish’s low tiered plan also comes with built-in generative AI for instantaneous transcriptions and summarizations for any video you upload. Finally, Owwlish’s low-tiered plan will also get built-in community features like comments, so that you learners can ask questions about the content of a lesson and received answers from their instructors.

Owwlish’s Other Plan: Pro

If you want more than one course, you can upgrade to Owwlish’s Pro plan. This plan has all of the useful features of the Basic plan, but with the ability to create as many courses as your heart desires. It also comes with a few additional features reserved for only Pro subscribers, such as the ability to charge learners subscriptions for accessing your course/community, as well as the ability to setup your course using a drip scheduling method. Overall, the goal at Owwlish is to make the main difference the Basic and Pro plan the number of courses you want to create, while ensuring that Basic users who only want to run 1 course, still have access the great features Owwlish provides. Value is important to the company.

So is Owwlish a Good Value?

Owwlish is a new entrant amongst the various course platforms out there. This means that while we’re trying to catchup to the rest of our peers, there may still be a few features we’re in the process of adding in order to make sure that we’re up to par. That said, we are constantly building new features every day that people ask for. We even have a feature roadmap where we track customer feature requests and announce when those features are released on the platform. So if there’s a feature that you really want, let us know by either adding it or voting on the roadmap and we’ll work hard to prioritize it for you.Overall, Owwlish is a fantastic platform for creators who want an easy course-building experience and a solid feature-set for the price, offering a great value.

3. LearnDash – 7.3 out of 10 Score for Price for Value Delivered

Plan Prices for LearnDash: $20 | $30 (monthly)

LearnDash Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 9/10
  2. Ease of Use – 4/10
  3. Price – 9/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 7.3/10

I’m a HUGE fan of WordPress myself, having got my start as an online course creator who built the first versions of our courses and community on WordPress. So when it comes to LearnDash, it’s easy for me to see the benefits: gazillions of advanced course features that come with an extremely reasonable-priced plugin matched with the low cost of Managed WordPress hosting, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. In fact, sometimes when I meet with a potential customer of our course platform, Owwlish, after listening to them big long list of extremely specific requirements for their online course, a list I know cannot be met by any hosted platform such as Teachable or Thinkific or even our own product, I’ll often recommend LearnDash due to the fact that, being built on top of WordPress, it’s extraordinarily customizable.

In fact, any course that’s built in either LearnDash or LifterLMS is pretty much skies-the-limit, when it comes to customizability, due to the fact that by building on top of WordPress, you have full and total control of every line of code that powers your course, whether you know it or not. Many creators using WP don’t even realize the sheer power they have by using WordPress. Want your online course onboarding experience to include a custom form that the learner fills out to build out their profile and inform you as to how they found your course before they can start the course? LearnDash can be customized to do that. Want to design your quizzes so that learners don’t get their final certificate unless they passed all of your quizzes in no more than 1 attempt? LearnDash to the rescue. Want to have total control over exactly how your course’s design: down to the layout, font sizes, font family, and the type of icons that are used throughout the course? Easy! You can hire an incredible designer, experienced at WordPress, who can turn your dreams into reality.

LearnDash is quite similar in its features and offerings to LifterLMS, which we’ll explore next. One slight advantage to LearnDash over LifterLMS is that they will host your WordPress site for you with LearnDash already installed for you, leading to an arguably easier learning curve than LifterLMS. That said, the fact that it’s still a WordPress site you’ll be using to create your courses, doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still a difficult interface to build a course on; I should know, I used WordPress and LearnDash to build our first courses over 10 years ago.

LearnDash Plugin for 1 Site: learndash’s Lowest Tiered Plan

Unlike most other course solutions, LearnDash doesn’t have much in the way of tiered plans. I mean, technically there are various pricing tiers, but in terms of features, both tiers offer the same. It’s sort of all or nothing, and for what comes out to about $17/month ($200/annual), it’s kind of refreshing that they’re going to give you all the features in their 10 site license plan, as they do in their 1 site license plan. If you want hosting added onto that, the price will be approx $30/month for one site, which for only $13 more per month for full WordPress hosting, it’s a bad deal in itself.

LearnDash Other Plans: 10 Site License and Other Addons

  • As mentioned, LearnDash is a bit allergic to the idea of tiered pricing plans. Instead, their approach seems to be to give you a full set of features in any version you buy, and then for those more rare additional features that most course creators don’t need, they sell them as separate Add-Ons, which will run you about $50/year for each one you buy. The Add-Ons that LeanDash offers on top of their core plugin are:
  • Propanel – A more rebust learner analytics and reporting tool
  • Gradebook – A grading system that’s oriented more for institutions that need to provide grades to their students
  • Notes – A feature that lets learners take notes throughout your course and save them in your course system (something, if I’m being honest, I just don’t see providing a ton of value for learners. I mean, ever heard of Apple Notes anyone?)
  • Groups Plus – This extends the basic Group feature built-in to Learndash by making it easier to manage entire cohort of students through a class, and allowing instructors to have teaching assistants or other instructors involved in the course. Again, I’d say this is more of a feature oriented towards large educational institutions.

So is LearnDash a Good Value?

With so many incredible features for such a low price, what downside could there possibly be to building your course on LearnDash? Well, depending upon your level of experience with building a site in WordPress, and your comfortability with technology in general, the downsides can be significant. One of the most common tradeoffs in technology is flexibility and customization vs. easy of use. So while LearnDash + WordPress make for a very flexible course solution, the learning curve from zero to hitting Publish on a course, is steep.

Course creators first need to find a WordPress they like to create a new instance of WordPress (if they don’t already have one), then they need to figure which general free and paid plugins they’ll need to install in order to get their site up and running and relatively secure and protected from hackers. Then they’ll need to purchase a theme and customize that theme to get their site looking the way they want (easier said that done). Then, and only then, can they purchase LearnDash and it’s various add-ons, install all of those plugins, activate them, then starting diving into the multitude of settings pages in the backend of WordPress to make sure all their plugins and their theme are talking nicely to each other. This process can take often take weeks, if not months, and even though the LearnDash plugin itself is significantly lower in price compared to other online course platforms, when you factor in the annual WordPress hosting costs, a paid theme, and various other essential plugins that you’ll need to ensure everything’s working on your course site the way it should, plus if you factor in a cost of a WordPress developer to help you build out the site, the costs could actually be more expensive than even some of the more expensive online course platforms on this list.

Given all I’ve stated above, I’d probably only recommend going with the LearnDash + WordPress combo if:

  • You’re very tech savvy or you have the money to pay someone who is
  • You have a list of very specialized requirements for your course that can’t be easily accomplished with off-the shelf online course platforms, like the other ones mentioned on this list and have a big budget to build out your course site to look and function exactly the way you want.

That said, don’t get me wrong, there is a way to do all of the above on the cheap – especially if you have a knack for learning software quickly and you’re willing to make due to with free plugins and themes, instead of the paid ones.

4. Kajabi – 7.3 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Pricing with Kajabi: Free | $50 | $100 | $200 (monthly approximate)

Kajabi Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 9/10
  2. Ease of Use – 9/10
  3. Price – 4/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 7.3/10

Finally we come to what many would say is the giant gorilla in the room amongst all the online course platforms. Kajabi was started by a father who created a plastic toy for his sons, sought to monetize an instructional how-to video (probably about how to make such a toy yourself), and struggling to monetize that how-to, created an entire platform to help digital creators monetize their videos. It’s a cool story, and no doubt a solid product. Let’s start with the basics though: Kajabi is well known for its reliability and robustness as a platform, used by creators with very large audiences. It’s also famous for it’s easy interface and it’s strong marketing features, that can help a creator increase revenue through various upsell., downsell, and sidesell techniques.

If you’ve spent any time in the online course creator community, you’ll no doubt hear the biggest gurus in that community recommending Kajabi to first-time course creators. Why? Well, let’s explore this a little further, shall we? Why would Kajabi, easily the most expensive of all course platforms, the one recommended by super-nova online course gurus in the industry, such as Amy Porterfield, recommend the most expensive course platform to absolute new creators – those who’ve not validated whether they have a course that will indeed make money? Wouldn’t it be better, you might wonder, to encourage them to start on a much more affordable course platform, validate that they can actually generate revenue from their course, then upgrade to a more expensive and powerful platform, when they’re raking in the dough? Is it the Kajabi far out-features the rest of the platforms, especially ones that are less than half the price? In Short, no! I’d guess that the truth is that Kajabi is leveraging their excellent and long history as a course platform along with a generous affiliate program to encourage online course teachers/gurus to help sell Kajabi to their followers on behalf of Kajabi. In truth, I think this is a fantastic marketing strategy, and it’s one that I hope we at Owwlish can partially adopt one day, as it can typically be a win-win-win for every party (Kajabi, Guru, Course Creator).

That being said, I do stand by my slight skepticism above that for most new course creators, who don’t have that much experience selling digital products (or even physical ones for that matter), choosing the most expensive course platform to start off with, may not make business sense, especially if you’re on a tight budget and trying to make each dollar count. My guess is that, given the robust set of features Kajabi offers, it’s a platform that makes most sense for those course creators who have proven they can build and sell highly profitable online courses. But alas, let’s get into the plans . . .

Basic: Kajabi’s Lowest Tier Plan

Not to beat a dead horse, but I need to remind the reader again, that the point of this article is to analyze course platforms on the value that they provide to course creators, especially those who like to be conservative, or dare I say, frugal with the money they spend on expenses. With that in mind, Kajabi’s “Basic” plan doesn’t seem like all that great a deal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a strong plan in and of itself: while it’s considered a basic plan, it’s offering 3 courses (products) instead of just 1, like so many of the other platforms’ basic plans provide. But while Teachable and Thinkific have no limit on the number of active customers (what Kajabi calls learners), Kajabi sets this plan at 1000. And while they do offer their own built-in email marketing software, I’m not so sure that justifies the high starting price. For example, using Zapier, you can integrate most of the platforms on this list with nearly any email marketing service, most of which are going to have very robust features for email marketing and funnels, and most of which are going to cost much less than Kajabi’s Basic plan. So while I’m not saying that offering both a course platform and email marketing solution all in one, couldn’t be convenient, I’m not sure it’s worth it for course creators who are in hustle mode, looking to spin up a profitable course on the scrappy side of things.

Personally, if I were a new course creator who wanted to minimize my expenses and maximize my initial profits (so important when you’re starting out), I’d setup my course in a high value and more affordable course platform (like this one?) and use Zapier combined with an excellent email marketing system like Sendfox, to build an audience and create funnels at a fraction of the cost as what Kajabi would charge me. Then, I’d create an automatic drip email course funnel that sells my new subscribers on the incredibleness of my course over 5 or 10 days, in order to maximize sales. On the other hand, there are those that don’t like to take risk with more affordable products because they fear that they’re inferior (usually not true), and for those, Kajabi’s Basic plan is the perfect fit.

Kajabi’s Other Plans: Growth and Pro

Firstly, I have to say I actually like the names of Kajabi’s plans. They’re refreshingly straightforward and understandable. Beyond that, there’s not much more for me to say about the higher plans that Kajabi offers, except that they certainly pricey, given that the middle plans starts at where most other course platforms top out at, in terms of price. That said, if you like the look and feel of Kajabi’s interface (which many do), you’re someone who appreciates white-glove service, and your money’s no object in terms of your budget for operating your online course business, then the Growth and Pro plan Kajabi offers is certainly for you.

So is Kajabi a Good Value?

This is more tricky than I expected. While I see that Kajabi’s prices are very high compared to everyone else, I cannot deny that they are giving you a lot of value in all of their plans. Their higher plans just give you more more more of what you have in the Basic plan, but the feature sets appear to be the same across all three plans, which I appreciate and feel is certainly providing value. On the other hand, as humans, we love to spend our hard earned cash, and sometimes as entrepreneurs, spending a lot on a high end service like Kajabi can make us feel good about ourselves.

A quick story to demonstrate my point: I have a friend who was a master in her field, doing 1 on 1 sessions with clients for over a decade. During COVID, she was no longer able to see clients 1 on 1 as easily as before, and thus began to explore online course options. Having been referred to the platform, she immediately signed up for their most expensive plan, with the expectation that she’d grow into it within a few years. Her first year on Kajabi was a smashing success and by all measures, it appeared that going with Kajabi and Kajabi’s Pro plan was indeed the right choice, given her incredible sales. Fast forward a few years later and the surge of demand for her online courses had dropped significantly. Her overhead monthly payments to Kajabi had not dropped though, meaning that those costs started to sharply eat into her course profits. Like all things, it’s a balance, and while I don’t think one should set out to find the cheapest service online course platform service out there, I certainly don’t think it’s always wise to go with the most expensive, just because at this moment, you can.

Overall, I think Kajabi, while quite expensive, is still a better value than many others on this list.

5. LifterLMS – 7.0 out of 10 Score for Price for Value Delivered

Plan Prices for LifterLMS: Free | $17 | $30 | $100 (monthly)

LifeterLMS Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 9/10
  2. Ease of Use – 2/10
  3. Price – 10/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 7/10

This will be a quick one. LifterLMS is also a WordPress plugin and is overall very similar to LearnDash in terms of it being a product packed full of features, allowing for immense customizability, but all for a much lower price than any non-WordPress solutions. The only major differences are that LifterLMS does offer a free plan (unlike Learndash).

Core Plugin: LearnDash’s Lowest Tiered Plan

If being able to create unlimited online courses, and with offering a memberships to your learners, and you don’t plan to charge your learners for your courses and memberships, then LifterLMS’s Core Plugin is going to amaze you! Perhaps you’re a non-profit and want to provide your courses free to the public, or perhaps you’re a savvy online marketer, who knows the power of offering free courses as a method for lead generation; LifterLMS may be right for you. As mentioned, the biggest thing you loose with LifterLMS’s Core Plugin compared to Thinkific’s Free Plan, is an easy way to charge your learners for their course or membership access.

LifterLMS’s Other Plans: Earth, Universe, Infinity

When you break it down, even the paid plans that LifterLMS offers are incredible values, given how much you get for the price. For example, their Universe plan which comes out to roughly $30/month, gives you nearly all the same course features you could get with Teachable’s $200/month plan, along with a their built-in CRM feature and access to their online masterminds, where you can meet with other course creators to discuss your struggles and challenges. Talk about value!

If you’re ready for their top plan, the Infinity plan, you can enjoy access to 10 powerful add-ons of your choosing, to really take your courses to the next level in terms of functionality. One of my favorite add-one they offer, for instance, is their Cohorts add-on where you can schedule and track entire groups of learners to go through your course at on the same schedule; start date, weekly meetings, and end date, all coordinated by their Cohort plugin.

6. LearnWorlds – 6.7 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Pricing with LearnWorlds: $30 | $100 | $300 (monthly approximate)

LearnWorlds Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 7/10
  2. Ease of Use – 7/10
  3. Price – 6/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 6.7/10

LearnWorlds, an online learning platform based out of Cypress, is an impressive company, from everything I can tell. I’ve actually heard the founder speak about their platform on a podcast or two over the years, and I get the impression that their founding team cares a lot of about online learning. That’s a good thing!

In terms of features, they actually do have a strong feature set, from what I can tell. So why did I rate their features only a 7/10, compared to other platforms? As you know, this article is all about ranking platforms on their value. While LearnWorlds has a great feature overall, especially for the higher plans, I felt their lowest tiered plan, left a bit to be desired in terms of value. Don’t get me wrong, I think in general, it’s still a pretty robust feature offering, which is why it sits above other platforms like Teachable and Kajabit, but for the lowest tiered plans, when you zoom in to really look at it, it’s not as great a value as you might initially think. Let’s jump into that plan so you can see what I mean.

Starter: LearnWorld’s Lowest Tiered Plan

On the surface, the Starter plan from LearnWorlds looks like a pretty generous offering. It offers unlimited courses, something few other lower tiered plans offer from other platforms. It also offers big features such as quizzes, drip scheduling, and even some new AI featured that will build an ebook for you (based upon your course content I assume?). The rub comes from the fact that while you can build unlimited number of courses, you cannot offer any free courses! That’s a bit counterintuitive, don’t you think? I mean, you’d think if anything it would be the higher tiered plans that would give you the ability to sell and make money from courses, not the lower tiered plans, right? But then if you look deeper, you find out why. It’s because LearnWorlds is going to charge you $5 for every sale you make. This isn’t actually a bad amount if you think about it however. Compared to a percentage of your sales, at least it’s a fixed rate. That said, something about not being allowed to offer your course free, when you’re paying $30/month to offer that course to learners, rubs me the wrong way. I think it should be the creator’s business whether they want to make their courses free or not. That said, overall, I think LearnWorlds’ lowest tier plan remains as one of the more competitive out there, given it’s “unlimited course” policy.

LearnWorlds’ Other Plans: Pro-Trainer, Learning Center, High Volume & Corporate

While I can’t say I love the names of these plans (why does everyone have to be so “creative”?), I cannot deny that you get a lot of great features if you’re willing to upload to LearnWords’ $100/mo plan or higher. As discussed above, paying more means you finally get to charge nothing for your course (oh the irony) by offering free courses. These plans also offer extra goodies such as a full website (with no page limits), the ability to provide certificates of completion to learners after they complete your course, the ability to send bulk emails to learners, and the ability to charge subscriptions/memberships to learners for their courses. These higher tiered plans also allow you to pay them for additional addons such as creating a mobile app for your course and having the ability to clone content (though this seems to be that should just be a feature, not a paid add-on). Finally, you’ll also get the ability to add others on your team to your course administration, similar to an instructor role.

So is LearnWorlds a Good Value?

All the features offered by LearnWorlds in its higher plans are excellent and what you’d expect from a mature course platform. However, are these higher tired plans (from $100-300/mo) a good deal to get these features? Well, compared to platforms like Karabi (the most expense of the group), perhaps. However, compared to others on the list such as LifterLMS (that gives you nearly everything for 1/3 of the monthly price, or even Owwlish, these higher plans don’t appear to me to be superb on the value scale. On the other hand, I don’t think they’re overpriced either: ultimately they coming in par in terms of value in my opinion; and there’s nothing wrong with that. Overall, I’d say LearnWorlds is a decent value compared to similar online course platforms.

7. Teachable – 6.3 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Pricing with Teachable: Free | $50 | $100 | $200 (monthly approximate)

Teachable Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 7/10
  2. Ease of Use – 7/10
  3. Price – 5/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 6.3/10

In terms of value, the rest of this list is where things start to skew to slightly overpriced to very overpriced. Teachable’s a very big name amongst online course platforms, and this may be why their pricing is no longer as competitive as I remember it to be a few years ago. My guess is that they realized they’ve gained a lot of reputation points, and like many startups who come out of the gate swinging in terms of offering a ton for a ridiculously low price, they are not turning things towards a more profitable and sustainable business. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact all businesses should hope they find themselves in a similar position one day. A lot of times, technology platforms will offer super competitive prices to win customers and reputation and because they have lots of funding to keep them up and running, they can afford to keep their prices low for a long time, until their investors eventually want to see some returns. That said, Teachable is a trusted platform at this point, and probably one in which many people who coach online course creators, are willing to recommend Teachable because it’s tried and true.

Free & Basic: Teachable’s Lowest Tiered Plan

Yes, technically Teachable offers a “free” plan. However, it’s not free in the way that Thinkific’s Free plan is free, it’s more like, “Hey, wanna free trial that never expires?” I say this because while you can technically build and sell a course on Teachable’s free plan, they’ll not only be taking 10% of every sale you make, but they’ll only let have up to 10 students. I think if they didn’t limit the number of learners, this would be a legit free plan, but what sober course creators spends dozens of hours planning, outlining, and recording an entire course, with the hopes of getting no more than 10 enrollees. It simply wouldn’t make sense to spend that much money and time to get such a sad result. Finally, the Free plan only lets you upload 10 videos. I get it, hosting costs can be high, and they’re not running a charity, but let’s face it: if you sell 10 courses for $100 each, they’d take $100 from you. Anyway, let’s just assume for the sake of having a good comparison here, that Teachable doesn’t offer a truly Free plan, but offers a free trial and that their real lowest tiered plan is the Basic plan.

With that in mind, how does Teachable’s Basic plan compare? Meh, to be honest, I can’t say that’s great. The plan goes for $60/mo and for that, it doesn’t offer too much compared to similarly priced plans out there. You’re limited to only 5 courses (or other product types). So that’s kind of a buzz kill. I mean, I’d be ok with that if this were a really inexpensive plan, let’s say $30 or so. But for $60, I’d expect to be able to create way more courses than that if I wanted to. Also, they’re still adding on 5% transaction fees on to of Stripe/Paypal’s built-in transaction fees (usually around 3%), so that’s like 13% taken off of every sale you make. That really starts to add up, and remember, we’re paying a hefty amount for this Basic plan already. In terms of other features you get for the Basic, it’s fairly generous, giving you quizzes and drip scheduled content, but other than that, nothing major like certificates are included. Nor are you quizzes grade quizzes; which makes me wonder: is a quiz still a quiz if it’s not able to be graded? In fact, you don’t even have access to Zapier integrations (either triggers or actions), like many of the other platforms on this list with plans that are more affordable. All in all, if you really wanted to use Teachable in any meaningful way, you’d want to start at the higher $120/mo plan.

Teachable’s Other Plans: Pro, Pro+, and Business

Teachable’s higher tiered plans start at $120/mo and go all the way up to $500/mo. Again, these start substantially higher than other platforms similar offerings. While I don’t doubt that their feature-set is full and robust, in terms of value, it’s certainly not there. Again, think of this as more of a luxury priced product, where you are paying higher for the brand. While Teachable may not be as high end as a Bentley, you might think of it as more a BMW or Mercedes in terms of the price they’re commanding from their creators. Significant features at these higher plans include a new community feature, order bumps, and a live chat feature you can turn on for your learners. Unfortunately, there’s little Teachable really offers in terms of features that I haven’t seen on other platforms, and if fact other platforms seem to be offering a lot more cool features that I see missing in Teachable’s list.

So is Teachable a Good Value?

Overall, I’d only say Teachable is a good value compared to very high priced platforms like Kajabi. However, that doesn’t say all that much, when we’re talking the world of value. If it were me, I’d only recommend using them if my course budget was large enough that I didn’t need to be picky about getting a huge bang for my buck. Teachable is a solid platform no doubt, but my guess is that those who are getting the most value for their dollar are those who signed up at cheaper rates and are still grandfathered in.

8. Podia – 7.0 out of 10 Price for Value Delivered Score

Plan Pricing with Podia which allow for online courses: $40 | $90 (monthly approximate)

Podia Score Breakdown:

  1. Features – 7/10
  2. Ease of Use – 7/10
  3. Price – 7/10
    Total Price for Value Score: 7.0/10

”Draft Courses”, “Draft Webinars”, and “Draft Product Bundles” are actual “features” listed on a Podia’s pricing page for a real live paid plan. That’s right, for about $10/mo, you get the ability to create courses you cannot sell or even give away for free, and for Webinars you cannot host. What the . . .? I’m sorry, but at Owwlish, we pride ourselves for being a bit allergic to “stingy” pricing, and well, anyone who tries to sell you a plan that lets you build something you ultimately cannot sell, is what should be referred to as a free trial at best. This to me is the opposite of value; it’s like a department store selling you an outfit or 3-piece-suit that looks fantastic on you, and then informing you that if you can only wear it in their store and if you want to take it out into the world, you have to pay 4 times more. Let’s jump into the plans though to go through the specifics.

Free & Starter: Podia’s Lowest Tier Plans

Podia’s two most affordable plans, the Free and Starter plans, are strangely very similar to one another. In fact, I had a bit of trouble figuring out what the difference between the free plan and the paid $10/mo Start plan. I finally figured out that while nearly all the features and limitations are the same, the paid plan takes a slightly lower transaction fee off the top of your course sales (8% vs. 10%) and throws in a free domain name for the website they provide you. That’s nice I guess, but both plans feel like much ado about nothing, considering that they both contain those “Draft XYZ” features – you know, the “Go ahead and build a course, but we won’t let you share it with anyone thing?”

In truth, if Podia is unwilling to give their lowest plans actual features, it may be just better to not wave their hands about those limitations so much. Just let people try your course builder, don’t advertise that you’re letting people try your course builder. Anyway, the main positive things I can see that Podia gives course creators in their Free and Starter plans are a full website, community, and “coaching product.” Podia is unique in this offering amongst course platforms in that I’ve not seen something called a “Coaching Product” before that’s separate from an online course. What I understand it to mean is that you can basically sell a live 1 on 1 session with a client on your website. That’s nice and all, but I mean, you could literally create a PayPal or Stripe button, name it “Coaching with [Your name here]” and paste the code on your website and you’ve basically got the same thing there. Anyway, suffice to say that Podia’s lowest tiered plans don’t actually include the ability to sell or even give away online courses, and since this article is about comparing online course platforms based upon their value, I have to say that this may be one of the weakest of the low price plan offerings in this entire list. Darn, and I so wanted to like Podia, as I think they have some cool branding and design going on with their website.

Podia’s Other Plans: Mover and Shaker

If you want to host a course with Podia, you’ll need to go for their higher tiered plans, specifically the Mover plan, where you’ll get unlimited courses, webinars, downloads, product bundles, and “coaching products.” The good news is that the Mover plan, while one of Podia’s higher plans, is comparable to other platforms low tiered plan, starting at $40/mo. The bad news is that even though this is their 3rd highest plan they offer, they can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar, even at that level, still taking 5% of all you course sales, on top of payment gateway fees. For the Shaker plan (which, btw conjures images in my head of the famous Shakers: a religious group in England in the late 1700s who believed in egalitarian values between men and women. 👍), Podia gives you only one more feature that I can see compared to the Mover plan: an Affiliate system to sell your course. That’s certainly a valuable features, but remember, you’re going to pay an additional $50/mo over the Mover plan for that one feature. A feature, by the way, that if it works, would likely help Podia make more money from your transaction fees if they just rolled it into the Starter plan; just saying Podia 😊.

In terms of notable course features that Podia offers, we have to emphasize that they are one of the few platforms offering Webinars as apart of their feature-set. Zoom charges $79 for their Webinar plan on top of their basic Zoom subscription (which I think you need to use their Webinar add-on), so considering Podia offers webinar functionality in their Mover plan (about half the price), that appears to be a decent value offered. Unfortunately, when I looked into this feature more, I realized that it’s more of a wrapper for YouTube or Zoom, which you’ll need to actually use Podia’s webinar feature. Basically, Podia doesn’t do the actually webinar video technology, they it appears they handle the scheduling of the event, emailing of your attendees before and after the event, and tallying who showed up. This is actually super useful, when these features are baked into your coaching/course system I’d say, and the fact that they don’t try to also supply the live-streaming technology themselves, but utilize Youtube or Zoom is probably a good thing. That said, it should be noted that you should be able to host live Youtube or Zoom events on nearly any course platform on this list. The other notable feature offered by Podia that only few others have is a live chat bot which sits happily on your Podia website, allowing you to connect with both prospective clients and enrolled clients alike. While a few other platforms offer something similar, Teachable for instance, Podia provides this chat bot to you no matter which plan you’re on, while Teachable only offers it to their Pro plan users.

So is Podia a Good Value?

Overall, I admire Podia’s more creative approach to building an online course platform that is more akin to an online coaching platform, and I would say that when compared to most other course platforms on this this list, they offer a substantive value over the others in terms of what you get for you money.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully you find this list helpful to you, fellow course creator, in your search for the perfect online course platform. As you’re probably well aware at this point, there’s ample options out there to host your online course, but we believe there’s only a small handful of excellent technology solutions to creat and sell your course. Remember, choosing an online platform should not only support your vision in terms of its features, but should also be one that syncs with your finances as well. In the end, the old adage continues to ring true, even for online courses: a dollar saved is a dollar earned.

If you’re interested in exploring our online course platform, Owwlish deeper, why not checkout a demo?

Kevin

Kevin

Kevin has spent the better part of the last decade creating online courses that help people improve their careers and livelihoods. He had the idea to start Owwlish after failing to find an online course software that offered what he was looking for to create his next online course.

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