4 Best Platforms to Manage Online Courses [Video Review]

review Jan 04, 2021
 

If you want to teach an online course, you need a good platform for managing video files, enrolled students, payments, marketing and web design. 

After thorough research of software for hosting online courses, my finding is that the best platforms for managing courses are:

  1. Kajabi
  2. Podia
  3. Teachable
  4. Thinkific

These platforms are also some of the largest in the industry. And for good reason.

They make it easy as a breeze to handle the administrative part of your course business — so you can focus on creating great learning content. 

In my video review, I highlight the "pros and cons" of each course platform, so you are able to decided what factors are more important to you. 

 

Pros and Cons of the Best Course Platforms

In summary, the pros and cons of each of the reviewed course hosting platforms that I talk about in the video are:

 

Kajabi

Kajabi is what you are looking at right now. This very blog is built on Kajabi. That's the main "pro" of Kajabi—that you have everything gathered in one tool (course hosting, website, blog, analytics, e-mail etc). 

I think the look and feel of Kajabi is super strong. Up to you to decide, but take a look around this blog and website. Don't you think it's well designed, sleek, spacious, calm and professional?

Kajabi also offers apps. Huge for students, who wish to practice the method of microlearning—taking short lessons when and where they need it.

The community is equally simple and well-designed as the rest of the platform. The Kajabi community looks a lot like a slimmed-down Facebook group. Great for interacting with students, getting to know your audience better and helping them achieve their goals.

The website builder is one of the best I've ever used. It's so easy to use and it does exactly what you need it to—and nothing more. And that's important. Limited options is a great way to secure that your final website is going to look professional and simple. 

The only "cons" of Kajabi is the lack of certificates for students, when they've completed a course (but you can create that in e.g. Canva, if you want). They don't handle VAT very well, and Kajabi has a higher price point than it's competitors (well-worth the money, IMO).

Try Kajabi for free

 

Podia

If you want simplicity, Podia is the lightest platform I've seen. Some might say they lack functionality, but it depends on what you're after. They offer the basics in an easy-to-learn administration panel. 

With Podia, there's also no restrictions on number of courses, number of students, landing pages or anything else. This is a big relief, as these limitations can be annoying on the other course platforms. 

The websites made in Podia are very simple and decent, which is a good thing for course creators with little to no design skills. Very easy to get something online that just works. 

If you have a website already, built in Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix or similar, you can keep that as it is—and just embed a Podia Checkout button on your website. Super neat little feature that simply integrates your two online spaces.

As an extra plus, Podia handles European VAT really well, which makes it a preferred course hosting platform for course creators outside the US.

Touching upon the cons of Podia, they take simplicity to the extreme, where it tilts over into a lack of functionality. The website builder is ok, but not great, so you might need an external tool here. There's no community feature, so again—you need to use another tool for that (like Facebook Groups).

And the biggest one; no app for students to take your courses on mobile. It IS possible to watch courses through the web app, but a native app experience is always better. 

For simple course business with a focus on great content and no time to admin the business side of things, Podia is a great place to start, as it's as easy as it gets (administration-wise).

Try Podia for free

 

Teachable

Teachable is very easy to set up and offers a lot of tools to support your students learning, such as online coaching tools, certificates and very powerful analytics to make you smarter about your audience. 

The administration panel of Teachable takes an hour or two to learn your way around. But once you've gotten the hang of it, navigating between your website, your admin module and the course curriculum, is a delightful experience.

Teachable offers an app for students to watch your course content, but only for the iPhone users out there (iOS only).

On the "con" side, Teachable lacks a great website builder, a community area, PayPal payments for memberships and more integrations (if they want to pride themselves on that). 

As one of the largest and most popular course administration software out there, Teachable is also in my opinion one of the best course platform tools out there. But—you need to take a free trial to check out the look and feel in order to decide for yourself.

Try Teachable for free

 

Thinkific

As hard as it is to pronounce, as popular a course platform it is. Thinkific is the super-tanker amongst other great course platforms - with its vast menu card of features and functionalities. 

You get a lot of site themes to choose from, so you get off to a good start with your online presence on Thinkific. 

There are advanced quizzes that make your students' learning experience more interactive than passively binge-watching all your video lessons (although it takes quite some time to set up the quizzes). 

Thinkific offers a community areas similar to Kajabi, but with more features for customisation. No need for external Facebook groups here.

This platform is built for both small and large course creators—although it probably has it's strengths amongst the bigger players. As an example, you can easily bulk manage large cohorts of students (which is only relevant when you actually have a lot of students.)

And Thinkific has a very friendly price point—considering the software you are given as soon as you've swiped the credit card. No excuses around software when you have Thinkific on your team. 

To quickly summarise the cons of Thinkific (as mentioned in the video above), there's no mobile app, a too long check out process for students, limited PayPal payment options, poor VAT handling and a bad chat support. 

Still, it's one of the 4 best course platforms, and I know that e.g. Fulltime Filmmaker is hosting his 6- or 7-figure course business with Thinkific.

Try Thinkific for free

 

Things to Consider Before You Choose

Keep in mind—these are my 4 favourite course platforms for managing your online courses. So, the cons mentioned are found using an extremely fine-grained filter. 

These are the best of the best, and I certainly think you should run your course business with Kajabi, Podia, Teachable or Thinkific. 

If you feel lost in researching the goods and bads of all the different course platforms out there, I hope this is a help in distilling the winners from the average options.

I've spent a fair share of time looking at promo videos, signing up for trials, even uploading my own courses onto some of them and trying out their website builders etc. 

My honest opinion is that Kajabi is the industry-best right now (as you've probably guessed by know, since I'm hosting my own website, blog and courses on Kajabi). 

You won't go wrong with their all-in-one course platform—no matter if you have 1 or 1000 students. 

I'm relatively new to this myself, and I still believe it's worth the investment to go for a great platform (sooner rather than later). 

You can sign up for a free 14-day trial for Kajabi right here. This gives you plenty of time to test out the admin module, try to create a web page and decide whether this is a space, you'd like to run your business from. 

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To finish off strong, I'll try to answer some more general questions around managing your courses online that people ask on Google.

 

How do you manage online courses?

A simple step-by-step approach to how you manage your online courses is:

  1. Sign up for a solid course platform
  2. Upload your video lessons and sort them into chapters
  3. Build landing pages for your course(s)
  4. Set up payment settings with e.g. Stripe and PayPal
  5. Start marketing your course landing page(s) (email, social media, blogging etc).

You need to keep an eye on how your landing page is performing. How many visitors do you get? Are people signing up? If people are dropping off after visiting your site, you probably need to optimise the landing page, you've created. 

The 3 components of a succesful course business is 1) great content, 2) a great platform and 3) great marketing. I'm talking more about how to sell courses online in my post about these 3 crucial cornerstones of any course business. 

The second cornerstone, a great course hosting platform, is super important for how easy it's going to be to do the day-to-day management of your online courses. 

If you've set up email automations, you don't have to do anything manually when people enrol in your course. They start receiving your emails from you over the next few days automatically, because you set it up once on your platform. 

If you've set up payments correctly, your student simply pays with their PayPal account or with a credit card, using e.g. Stripe as the payment provider. Therefore, you won't have to manage anything manually when a new student wants to purchase one of your courses. 

So, managing your online courses comes down to choosing the right administrative tool, setting it up with as much automation as possible, and then use your time on creating the best course content possible—and letting the world know about it too. 

If you do this, you can run a successful online course business yourself. No need for extra personel, freelancers or managed solutions. In this day and age, solopreneurship is getting easier and easier as technology gets cheaper and better. 

 

Where should I host my online course?

The 4 best platforms for hosting online courses are Kajabi, Podia, Teachable and Thinkific. Each of them have the right balance between feature-richness and ease of use. They combine strong technology with a great user-experience for both teachers and students.

The reason why it is so important what platform you choose is that you are going to spend hundreds of hours in these tools. They are the machine room from which you manage your course content, your students, your website and your whole business. 

If you make a too quick (and wrong) decision now—to save money or save the time researching enough—you'll regret it down the line. I had to switch platform from Heights to Kajabi, and it was a real hassle. Time-consuming, troublesome and energy-draining.

So, the "where" to host your online courses is as important as any other business decision you are going to make. My clear advice is to go for the top-shelf like Kajabi, accept the extra cost now and thank yourself in the future for choosing Kajabi as your course foundation.

 

Which platform is best for online courses?

The best platform for online courses is Kajabi. They offer a best-in-class interface for both course creators and students that makes it easy to manage and consume video lessons—on desktop, tablet or mobile.

You'll find numerous reviews around the web that tells you about the pros and cons of all the online course platforms on the internet. What you'll soon discover is that there isn't that much of a difference between them.

My suggestion is to not look too much at the nitty-gritty details of each platform in terms of specific functionality. Instead, you should be assessing what tool gives you a good gut feeling around spending hours upon hours—managing your course business in there.

The choice you make will impact both the success of your business as well as the joy you'll feel building it. A cheap choice might save you money today, but will cost you time and money down the line, when you realise a lack of features, a broken user journey or a frustration around the time, you spend on administration (not creation).

 

How can I improve my online sessions?

The 3 main ways to improve your online sessions is to 1) record better sound with a clip-on or directional microphone, 2) set up 3-point lighting with a key light, fill light and back light and 3) outline the script instead of reading off a teleprompter for increased authenticity and eye-contact.

You don't have to be a professional videographer to deliver great online session. Not at all. But you do need to know the basics of audio, video and delivery of your message.

Watch my video on the 5 simple concepts for better videos for a quick brush-up.

  • Audio is more important than you think. Most people would rather watch a grainy video with good audio—than an HD video with terrible sound. I use these cheap clip-on mics and they are more than enough for most online teachers, instructors and trainers.
  • Lighting is almost as important as decent audio. A dark video will quickly get a click back to search results. And an overly lit video is also harsh to watch for long. A simple setup, where you use e.g. a window as your key light, a soft-box as fill light and maybe an extra 3rd back light highlighting your contour goes a very long way.
  • The third way to improve online sessions like recorded video courses, recorded webinars and training sessions is to outline instead of read. Reading a script comes off as boring and disconnected. Outlining some key talking points and talking freely from that works way better on camera, and you'll learn it in no time.

 

What are the disadvantages of online classes?

The main disadvantages of online classes is the one-directional format with limited options to ask the teacher questions, the inability for teachers to adjust to the student along the way and the willpower it demands to initiate the self-learning as opposed to showing up for a lecture.

Even though online classes, video courses and webinars are becoming increasingly popular, they don't represent the holy grail of education. There are disadvantages to both the physical and digital learning format. 

As stated above, the main disadvantages are:

  1. One-directional communication
  2. Inability to course correct
  3. Required discipline from learner

 Other disadvantages of the online learning format are:

  • Online classes are a more isolated, lonely experience for students
  • Online classes don't create the same social bonds as the physical classroom, which are said to increase their likelihood of success later in life (source).
  • Online classes are often lacking the variation that a physical learning environment offers—with break-out sessions, group work and feedback on case projects.

All in all, online classes contribute with a lot of positive factors, like the independence of time and place, the low cost of classes and the accessibility to teachers from around the world. 

But there are also disadvantages that need to be considered before going all in on the format and cancelling all physical classes all-together. 

 

How can I make my online classes more effective?

Online classes become more effective if they include practical exercises for students, variation in format (talking head, animation, slides), and variation in structure (story-telling, memorisation and case comparison). 

A key factor for effective online classes is the social dimension. Having a sense of community and social relation with other students can dramatically increase the sense of obligation to do the work. 

In general, the completion rates of online classes are rather low. MIT and Harvard did a survey where they assessed how many of the students who enrolled in online classes actually completed them. The answer was 19,7% (source). 

This supports the case of adding all possible dimensions to online courses that can increase their effectiveness. 

Marketing expert, Seth Godin, adresses the problem of low completion rates in one of his podcasts. He shares an interesting insight from his own Akimbo courses, where the social dimension plays a crucial role. 

Godin says that because the focus is on belonging to a learning community, he sees up to 90% average completion rates among his students.

So, if your course platform or LMS supports a community feature like Kajabi or Thinkific, you should definitely get that community up an running—even though building and facilitating a learning community is hard work.

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