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Online Course Platforms: 3 LIGHTWEIGHT Alternatives

review teaching online Jan 26, 2024

I’m gonna show you 3 lightweight alternatives to big, complex course platforms

Scary statistics:

Only 10% of online businesses succeed on average, and most fail within the first 120 days.


When the odds are already stacked against us as course creators, it becomes even more important to get a simple, hassle-free, lightweight setup, when you're just starting out.

(So it’s not the tech that drags you down.)

In essence, all you need is 3 things:

  1. An online storefront (so people can find you)
  2. A payment gateway (so customers can pay you)
  3. And some kind of course hosting (so you can deliver your product).

All in-one solutions like Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific and LearnWorlds are powerful, but also bit overwhelming.

If you’re in the early days, you might be better off testing the waters with a SIMPLER alternative.

Here are the pros and cons of 3 of them:

(Choose one, and get going!)



▶️ Watch review as video (YouTube) 





With Gumroad, you don’t build a website - you simply fill out your profile.

Your profile is published online and listed on Gumroad Discover, where people can find you and buy from you.

This saves you days of website work.

(And you don’t actually need a fancy website to begin with.)

If you want one down the line, you’d have to create it outside Gumroad, on a platform like Squarespace.

The design of your Gumroad profile and product page is super simple - almost a bit empty.

(But when pages look like this on desktop, it’s often because they’re designed for mobile.)

I like the two-step checkout, with a product view → then a payment view.

First, you see cover, price, profile link, description, rating, and any extra info you want to list, and a button.

Then, a few payment details, and you’re in.

Nothing long-winded or elaborate.



Some course platforms make setting up payment a real hassle. Luckily, Gumroad makes this easy by "holding your money", so to speak, until you’ve connected a bank, Stripe or PayPal.

The way Gumroad makes money is that they keep 10% of what you earn. 

On top of that, you pay nothing - except the fees to Stripe and Paypal, which is also 3 percent, I think.

But no monthly subscription, like with most course platforms.


Just remember: When you start to make real money, the 10% fee to Gumroad starts to amount to something.

But to test run a product idea of yours, or to see if this game is something for you, this setup is super convenient.

The checkout is set up as a shopping cart, where you can add and buy multiple things from one creator (see image above).

You can also create an order bump, or upsell, that gently gets pushed after clicking Pay.




Gumroad lets you create a range of product types; digital products, courses, ebooks, memberships, physical goods, and bundles.

A common feature we online teachers want is video hosting - so we can create video lessons.

Gumroad does support direct uploads - comes in somewhat raw packaging, but it works.

It looks better if you embed a video hosted somewhere else, like on Loom.

Selling ebooks is a sweet experience, where the buyer can send it to their Kindle, or read it in Gumroads online e-reader.

Depending on the product type you choose, there are small variations, like shipping info added on physical products, but it’s by and large the same interface for creating products.

For your students, a simpler interface = a better interface.

On Gumroad, I like how you can build each course module as a “one-pager” with multiple videos and formats.

Very raw and easy to build - no fluff, just a few handles to turn, keeps it easy and fast for you as a teacher.



Gumroad has a simple email manager, for both individual and automated emails.

What they call Workflows, allows you to select a Trigger and some parameters that then trigger the sendout of one or more emails.

(For example a Welcome sequence when someone buys your course.)

There’s a built-in affiliate program, where people can promote your products and get a commission for every sale they generate for you.

You choose the commission, and then set your products free; people don’t have to sign up for any traditional affiliate program.

They promote your stuff, and the rest happens automatically.

There’s also a simple Subscribe page, where you can collect email addresses - for example, if you have a lead magnet, something free, you send people in exchange for their information.

The emails you collect can be managed in Gumroad or exported, if you want to move to another tool someday.

In conclusion, Gumroad is great if you’re looking for a super simple setup, easy product creation, and a lot of time saved on going with how Gumroad designs things.

It’s not a dedicated course platform as such, with quizzes, forums, lots of data on your student, and all those added layers, but it’s a great place to start.


If you roll with the Gumroad way, you will likely maintain the simplicity of your course business instead of letting it run wild in community management, data analysis paralysis, fancy funnels, lots of landing pages, all that sticky stuff.

Now, let’s move on to a course platform that is taking off right now, and for good reason.





Skool is really a community platform, so your storefront is simply the Community feed if your community is Public, and your About page if it’s Private.

A public community can be viewed by anyone, but people would have to sign up to engage, comment, create posts etc.

Most Skool communities are private, and then it’s the About page, with its video, bit of information, and a description that’s your “storefront”.

You can upload multiple pieces of media on your About page or Landing Page if you will - some use it to show a community banner image, some share customer testimonials, and I’ve created an actual teaser video (see image above).

You can also write a short general description of your community, share a couple of links, and display how many members are inside.

And then there’s a call to action that’s either join for free or pay to get in.

The general settings determine how your community looks - without too much work on your end; an icon, a cover, a name, a color.

That’s about it.

These bits and bolts on Skool are more than enough if you’re new in the game. Like Gumroad, you save a lot of time not having to build an actual website.



Skool doesn’t support buying individual courses or products, only paid memberships.

(For now.)

So the teachers who use Skool as their lightweight course platform do so by receiving payments elsewhere - for example on Stripe.

Then you just send them to your private Skool community afterward and let in the ones that have paid for the offer.

Skool supports paid communities through Stripe Express, so there’s a small transaction fee there, a few percentages, and then there’s what Skool costs, which is $99 per month, per community.

So Skool isn’t really made for receiving upfront payments for products.

Instead, they promote recurring payments for access to a community with an "all you can eat" buffet inside.



Skool lets you host courses inside their Classroom, where you can create as many courses as you want.

They are incredibly easy to create and manage - almost like a simple blog post.

If you teach video lessons, you need to host your videos somewhere else, because Skool can’t host them for you.

(I use Loom, it’s cheap, simple, and works perfectly with Skool.)

Each lesson has a block for a video, a text editor, and the option to add extra resources.

If you link a community post to a video lesson, the post will show below the lesson. This connects the community feed and the classroom in a cool way.

One of the strongest features of Skool is that it’s so easy and lightweight to use for both admins and members.

The focus is on creating connections and providing value - not so much on a million features and sleek designs.

Skool has a Calendar where you can schedule live calls, but you host these elsewhere, for example on Zoom.

Community members get reminders before the call and also see a notification in their feed.

So, you actually don't host much on Skool itself; it’s a community platform that connects courses, calls, community together.

I heard video hosting is coming though.

Skool is a startup, and they’re moving fast these days, so expect new features to drop every month.



Skool is gamified, so members get points that unlock levels and content.

It’s hard to run an active community, so any efforts around making it a fun experience are great!

Skool has a Discover page, where people can find your community among all other Skool communities.

If you have a great and active community, you’ll rank higher and eventually be able to attract new members directly from Skool.

(instead of YouTube, Linkedin, etc.)





Pensight creates a simple page for you with a banner image, your photo, a few links, and then whatever building blocks you want on there.

It’s a one-pager you can send people to, and they can then buy your course, book a call, or contact you.

You can choose from a few templates, colors, and fonts, but other than that, everything is as it is.

Nice and simple.

⚡️ Of all the course platforms I’ve tested, Pensight was the fastest to set up.

(Even the least tech-savvy or design-savvy will be able to make it and make it look good.)

If you go for the Pro plan, you can add an intro video as your profile picture - instead of a static image.

There are in general a lot of things that unlock concerning designing and populating your storefront when you choose a paid plan.

It’s $29/month, so the price is also pretty lightweight.

Extra nugget:

Social proof is powerful, and Pensight has added stars and testimonials as a feature to your storefront - so it’s not just you who says you’re good, but others say it too.

Great for conversions.



Pensight has a Wallet, where they hold your money until you want them - just like Gumroad.

When you want a payout, that happens through Stripe.

The transaction fee you pay is Stripe’s

(Pensight doesn’t keep any of your sales, like Gumroad does.)

They used to keep 3% on the free plan, but now it’s 0$/month and 0% fee.

Pretty good deal.

The checkout process is extremely minimalistic, but if you want to collect extra info and upsell other products you can if you go Pro.



Pensight can host all kinds of products; Memberships, Group sessions, courses, digital products like ebooks, 1:1 sessions, bundles, group calls, and video Q&As.

If this is too much, there’s a wizard to help you figure out what to create.

It seems like most of Pensights solutions are inbuilt, so when you host a call, it’s on Pensight, not Zoom. And when you upload a video, it’s hosted on Pensight, not Loom.

(So you save some money on other services there.)

All Products are easy to create - boxes to tick, blocks to add, files to upload - super intuitive.

I feel like the primary target audience here is coaches, experts, consultants who sign up for Pensight to sell their time as coaching calls, or 1:1 sessions - a common way to slowly lean into the course business.

You simply integrate with your Calendar, and then people can book you, pay you and talk to you, all on Pensight.

Pensight feels like one of the most lightweight course platforms I’ve tried 🕊️

It would probably be where I’d start if I had to begin all over.

Simple reasons:

It’s cheap, easy to set up, and there’s no need for extra tools.



Pensight has email marketing on the way 🎉

This is becoming a standard, so that’s probably why. The editor is classic Pensight; super sleek, blocky, and fast.

There’s a quite rich chat feature, where you have a private feed with your clients, where you can see your full history, the call recording is there, you can see what they’ve bought, and any chats back and forth you’ve had.

Very convenient.



These are my favorite lightweight alternatives to the heavier all-in-one course platforms out there.

Of course, you can start with the big ones as well, but there’s a real danger that you’ll get sucked into features that don’t matter right now.

Gumroad, Skool, and Pensight overlap quite a bit in terms of functionality, but they also have each of their focus:

If you want to try out one of these platforms, the links above lead you directly there AND it supports the creation of new content if you end up paying for something.

I hope you now feel better equipped to make a platform decision. I wish you all the best with setting up and launching your business.

Thanks for reading.

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