Course platforms - which is right for you?
Updated: Sep 28
On a recent poll I did on LinkedIn, 80% of over 160 voters said they prefer to consume their course content via a course platform rather than an email.
The reason I put the poll out in the field was to try to figure out which method was best to produce my course on prospect onboarding.
I didn't know if I wanted to drip it through email (like my simplify sequence) or if it was better to use a platform.
Well.... the results were pretty clear cut.
People don't want their course content via their inbox. They want it on a platform.
Now I just needed to decide which platform to use.
The search begins
There are quite a few out there, and I didn't try them all.
But I did play with a few.
The main questions I wanted to know where:
Ease of development of course content
Ease of landing page creation (as well as other pages such as purchase checkout page and thank you page)
If you've looked into course platforms, you've heard of many of these. Thinkific, Podia, Kajabi, Member Vault, Teachable, and many many more.
Podia and Kajabi give a more holistic approach. They also deal with your emails, and enable you to build a full website with many many features. It was overkill for what I needed, and the price was, accordingly, too high for my needs as well.
It's not that they're not worth their price, it's just that I knew it wasn't what I was looking for, and so I moved on to other options.
Thinkific was my first choice.
I felt it was right for me.
Easy to create an account.
Easy to upload the content
Customer experience is great. I knew because I had taken courses built on this platform.
You have a progress bar that updates students on where they are. There is clear indication of what chapters where completed.
You can add quizzes and even prerequisites and certification (with the upgraded account).
Uploading the course content was easy. Well structured and clear.
But the landing page designer - oh boy....
It was just so unintuitive.
It was hard to understand what changes are made where.
I couldn't find specific definitions for checkout pages and thank you pages per product (turns out it's a paid feature).
And overall I just felt very limited.
That's when I started to question if I had made the right choice.
I love that they have a free plan and that they don't take a cut of your income. They basically give you a chance to try them as a true freemium.
But is it worth the investment of time and making the commitment in the long run? I wasn't sure.
Add to that, the fact that all major integrations required an upgrade of some sort. This was critical if I wanted to send emails through my ESP and set automations for the course using Zapier.
In addition, coupons and multiple payment options are only in an upgraded plan as well.
It was time to look at other solutions.
This time, I uploaded the exact same course to Teachable.
Uploading the content was easy. I felt I had more control over the structure of each lesson.
I felt the platform gave more guidance to the creator to really succeed in building a course correctly.
While uploading video content took more time, it was totally worth it for that flexibility.
This platform gave me everything Thinkific did, but a little bit better.
The landing page designer is more robust. It gives you more options, easier to manipulate and build your page exactly as you want it.
I loved that each product has not only a sales page (or more than one), but also a unique checkout page and thank you page.
The customer experience also has a progress bar and enables students to work in a linear fashion or jump around (depending on your definitions).
But it wasn't quite as good as on Thinkific.
Integrations are only included in the paid options. And they also integrate with ThriveCart - which is a big plus for me, since it means I can use various products as upsells, down-sells, or a main point of entry to a sales funnel.
As to pricing... they have a free plan, but they take a cut of your income when you sell courses.
Now usually I have not issues with this. I actually like the pay-as-you-go model, where you pay per use. But my main issue here is that they're taking a cut, but not giving me full access to the integrations.
So for example, I would expect the ability to integrate my ESP even in the free plan, for paid courses. Since Teachable would be making money off of me.
Having said this, I do understand why they structured their pricing as they did. And their basic plan is around $40/month (paid annually) which is a reasonable price.
The last platform I looked at was MemberVault.
I had used this platform to create an evergreen membership product for a client.
We were really happy with the results. But I needed to see if this was a good fit for a course.
Spoiler - I don't think it is.
While it's easy to upload content and build the course outline and overall structure. It's not intuitive and takes a bit longer to get what's going on.
The designer for landing page, teaser page, description page and thank you page are all in one location, making it more difficult to understand what goes where. And they are all HTML based.
You write it like you would a document. If you want a bit more design, you need to code it. OUCH!
This is a major down side.
On the upside, you have more control over the payment options, including multiple currency options - which is great.
Their checkout page is actually a tab that opens on top of the landing page.
This can be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it.
It's easy to use, but limits you in terms of layout and content on the checkout page.
In fact, the user experience itself isn't as smooth as I'd like.
You are very limited in the layout of your site and the flow isn't all that great.
And yet, MemberVault has some great options open on their free tier. They include integrations and automations - which is great.
It's easy to set up and works seamlessly. They also have a built-in affiliate option. It's not so intuitive, but it is included in the free tier as well.
The free plan is up to 100 members and 3 active products. Which is enough to get started. And their next tier is about $20/month which is very affordable.
They also have a lifetime option for up to 1 million users.
Even if you don't get to that number of users, having lifetime use is great because it means you can guarantee lifetime access to your students. Which may not be the case in the other platforms.
So which would I choose?
This was a really hard call.
I think this is one of those times where it really depends on what you are looking for and what your process is.
For beginners who really don't want to spend anything, I would recommend trying out MemberVault.
It's a good tool to test general course viability.
But if you know your course will sell and you want to have more options for designing your landing page - I would recommend using Teachable.
Yes, you'll be paying either a monthly fee, or per sale, but your experience, and that of your customers will be better of.
Then again.... I chose Thinkific for my first course. Why?
I really liked the customer facing interface for my students.
I like the options that are available for the growth packages.
And I like that the different pricing tiers have a clear structure of what you get.
Free is free and paid gives you better integrations and marketing options. And even more when you upgrade to the growth plan.
So choose wisely. Choose what's right for YOUR workflow and desired customer journey.
UPDATE: ThriveCart recently added ThriveCart Learn to their package (without upping their price). It is by far, a better investment if you're going to pay for a course platform.
I've put together the comparison posts in this article for you.
Then drop me an email and let me know how it worked out for you.
Note: this article contains affiliate links. The opinions expressed are my own. It costs you nothing extra to use these links. I just make a bit of cash on the side so I can continue to do this research 😉. And I only recommend tools I highly believe in and have used myself.
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