24 of the best online course platforms compared
We’ve done the research for you, and created a comparison of the best online course platforms out there. This information is meant to help you make the right decisions for your business, right now.
What are online course platforms?
An online course platform is a system that contains all the tools you need to ideate, create, and share your educational material, in a way that interests and engages students.
Typically, an online course builder platform, or an online teaching platform, offers a range of features, including:
- Create and conduct online classes including audio and video lessons
- Host individual courses with interactive videos in a dedicated portal
- Add various types of assignments, tests, and quizzes
- Organize events such as workshops or webinars
- Build a student community for course-related discussions
- Integrate gamification options to improve learner engagement and retention
Advanced learning platforms have a variety of options to create different types of courses, from simple tutorials to step-by-step guides, from video training to gamified learning experiences, and everything in between.
Benefits of using online course platforms
Online course creation software have many advantages over the more traditional approaches of building your own eLearning website from scratch, offering in-person courses, or relying on popular online social media platforms, like Linkedin Learning.
For starters, it is cloud-based software, so this means you can sell to unlimited students and they can have unlimited access to the courses and video content you choose to give to them.
Here are some of the most popular benefits of the best digital course platforms:
- Easy course creation options that allow instructors to create meaningful and engaging content without too much technical effort.
- A single consolidated hub of support resources for instructors to help them design, develop, promote, and monetize their courses.
- Opportunity for developing content that can be used for lead generation, such as eBooks, downloadable charts and infographics, and other digital products.
- Reduced operational costs, which make it much easier and more financially viable to conduct an online course than teach in person.
- Automation of tasks and processes that can save the time and effort of instructors. For example, bulk enrollment options to save course instructors from having to register each student manually on the platform.
- Marketing features and sales tools, such as email marketing integration, affiliate marketing programs, membership modules, and one-page checkout, for better business scalability and growth.
- Built-in reporting options for student performance tracking, which enable instructors to measure how well students are engaging with the course material and what steps can be taken to improve their performance.
- Seamless student-teacher communication features, like in-platform email and live chat, to help teachers resolve student queries with ease.
- Greater student engagement with gamification tools, combinations of audio/video lectures, different types of assessments and assignments, and webinar/live class functionalities.
- Freedom of location as online learning platforms allow you to teach from any corner of the world, as long as you have a laptop and a strong internet connection!
Now that you know all the reasons why using an online course platform can be convenient, the next question is – which online course platform should you choose?
What is the best online course platform for your needs?
There’s no one perfect online course platform that does it all. Instead, there are great online course platforms that suit different markets and applications.
For example, if you’re looking for a Learning Management System (LMS) for a school, University, or accredited institution, you’ll want different features and integrations than a business owner or corporate trainer might need.
You know what you want to create and sell online courses, but not all learning management systems clearly spell out who they serve.
On this page, you’ll find many online courses platforms that are designed for small business owners selling online courses, as well as schools, and corporate training.
How to approach your online course platform comparison
Before we dive into the different online course platforms and course builder solutions on the market and how they compare to each other. You need to get clear on what hosting approach is best for you and your needs.
There are two main ways to set up a course website for your business or school:
In this model, you can upload your online course materials, manage members, and get everything up and running without setting up a lot of your infrastructure.
It’s like renting a “move-in ready” place.
You don’t have as much flexibility in terms of what you can add or change in your online courses because you’re not the true owner of the course platform. Just like when you’re renting, the owners might not let you add a new room or remove any walls.
The benefit of a Platform-as-a-Service LMS is that you can test your idea for your online courses, and often hit the ground running faster.
Many business owners start off on these hosted online course platforms, make some good money, and then realize that they want to own their platform and get more control over how their online courses are delivered.
That’s often when they turn to a self-hosted Software-as-a-Service option, but sometimes the task of migrating from one online course platform to another can be a pain and cause a lot of headaches.
That’s why deciding on your long-term vision for your online courses can help eliminate migration issues and lost revenue down the line.
If Platform-as-a-Service online learning platforms are like renting, then Software-as-a-Service combined with your own website host is all about complete ownership.
When you build your own house, you get to decide exactly where everything goes and how big you want it to get.
That’s the benefit of using a content management system like WordPress with extensible add-ons like WordPress LMS plugins and themes. You also get to pick which website host you want to use, and you can always choose to backup, export, or move your entire online course library at any time.
There’s a good reason that over 40% of the web is powered by WordPress, which is open source and has a large dedicated community of developers, designers, and experts to support it.
With WordPress, you can choose from many different LMS plugins, membership and payment solutions, and design options along the way. This puts course creation in your hands, on your own course website.
As a course creator, there are many perks with features like unlimited courses and students, often zero transaction fees, and more flexibility on how you want to create an online course.
We’ll explore more of the best online course platforms for WordPress in detail below.
If you want full design flexibility, AccessAlly is for you
Because AccessAlly is a WordPress plugin, you can use any WordPress theme or builder you like.
Or start with AccessAlly’s theme, which comes with all of the progress tracking and navigation menus integrated out of the box.
Power, flexibility, and beauty all in one course platform.
AccessAlly is a powerful online course platform that offers flexible ways to create interactive courses, manage digital memberships, effectively manage and sell online courses, coaching and memberships, on a 1:1 as well as on a group coaching basis.
Built as a WordPress plugin, AccessAlly is online course software and has all the essential eLearning features built into the platform, making it quick and convenient to offer many different types of online courses and memberships so you can scale your business.
It is designed to eliminate the need for multiple plugins that need to be constantly updated or complex integrations that make site management difficult and time-consuming.
Here is an overview of some of the key functionalities it offers:
Memberships and membership management
AccessAlly has an integrated membership module that allows you to create various membership levels for your students.
You can offer/limit access to your courses based on these membership levels and even use them to set up custom content delivery schedules.
Built-in Sales Pages
To market your courses and memberships, AccessAlly lets you create conversion-focused sales pages.
Affiliate marketing is an effective digital marketing strategy that can be used to increase the reach of your training programs, events, or memberships.
AccessAlly helps course creators tap into the potential of affiliate marketing with its integrated affiliate management system that allows platform owners to onboard influencers who promote their courses and earn commissions for every sale.
In an era of rapidly decreasing attention spans, it is essential for course instructors to figure out new and original ways to keep students engaged with the course content. AccessAlly offers a slew of gamification tools to make courses interesting and memorable.
This includes three types of quizzes, autogenerated certificates, video and audio lessons, student notes, drip-feed strategies, and much more. Plus, it features strong reporting options to help you track your students’ progress.
One of the best things about learning in a classroom is the opportunity to learn with peers.
AccessAlly brings this sense of community to your virtual classroom with its community development module, which enables you to foster healthy discussions and in-depth conversations around your course content on dedicated landing pages.
You can create global, site-wide communities, per-course or per-cohort level groups, and even topic-level discussions to facilitate meaningful discourse.
Fully Customizable Design
One main competitive advantage with AccessAlly is that it allows fully customizable design options. Everything is customizable, so your online learning portal can be fully branded and personalized to your preferences and your students’ needs.
AccessAlly is designed to be a single solution where online course creators can get everything they need to create unlimited courses, build a rich learning ecosystem and scale their business.
It has an extremely intuitive interface, is compatible with popular payment gateways like PayPal & Stripe, and also offers industry-leading 1:1 support to ensure that your website keeps working smoothly at all times.
|AccessAlly At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Customer support: Strong 1:1 customer support
Thinkific is an all-in-one course builder platform that allows course creators to develop and manage their online courses with ease.
It is a SaaS, web-based solution that is packed with features and highly scalable. One of its selling points is that it comes with the ability to build community spaces for collaborative learning and allows you to monetize memberships.
Thinkific helps you create an online course platform the way Wix helps you build a website: through a drag-and-drop interface.
- You can choose a theme, pick a course template, create your course using a drag-and-drop course builder, conduct live lessons via Zoom, award certificates to students on course completion, and so on.
- It allows you to track and measure student performance with tests, quizzes, assignments, and feedback.
- It has a ‘Learning Community’ module, which lets you build collaborative student communities for your courses. These communities can be bundled with courses, set up for memberships, or marketed as a standalone offering.
The advantage here is that you have an out-of-the-box solution with a very smooth learning curve. You can plug in your study material and start conducting or selling courses from day one.
The drawback is that you have limited control over the technical aspects of your eLearning website, like removing the Thinkific branding on the lower-end plans.
Recurring one-to-one customer support is also restricted to the higher-end plans.
|Thinkific At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Teachable is a beginner-friendly online course creation platform that gives you all the basic functionality you need to create standard online courses.
It features an intuitive drag-and-drop course builder, a robust ecommerce module, and a student referral module.
Some of its key features include:
- Bulk course uploads and bulk student enrollments to save time and effort
- Advanced data reporting to track student and business performance
- In-built taxation management
- Support for digital downloads, which makes it easy to sell eBooks, podcasts, guides, templates, and more
- Provision for marketing and sales strategies, such as tax-inclusive pricing, upselling, social media marketing, and coupons
- Flexible payout schedules and tax filings for collaborators
Teachable is a good option if you’re creating a course as an add-on to provide value to your target audience and boost your income.
However, if you want to build courses as your main source of income, Teachable’s functionality and scalability are limited.
It doesn’t allow you to monetize memberships, which prevents you from generating recurring income or setting up a dedicated membership site.
Additionally, customers can only access support through email and live chat.
|Teachable At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Udemy is the world’s largest eLearning marketplace, hosting more than 213,000 courses, 74,000 instructors, and 57 million students.
It has a large variety of resources for students for personal and professional development and enjoys strong customer loyalty.
This gives new course instructors immediate access to millions of students — although the sheer number of courses makes it highly difficult to rank well.
At its core, Udemy is a course marketplace and its course creation and marketing modules reflect that. This means that with Udemy, you get:
- A robust course builder, with several support resources to help instructors get started
- No hosting costs, no limits on uploads, and the ability to publish unlimited courses, with full access to all platform features at no cost
However, given the huge number of instructors and courses on Udemy, there are also some major drawbacks of choosing it as your course builder platform. For example:
- No scope for personal branding as a coach or course creator or a custom domain, which can be detrimental to your career as an online instructor in the long run
- A pricing model that does not pay well. Udemy offers instructors a commission anywhere between 25% to 97% per sale, depending on how the student discovers the course.
- No control over the final pricing of the course. Udemy allows you to become a premium instructor and participate in promotional campaigns, but this means that they may offer huge discounts on your course prices, selling it at a fraction of the original cost.
All in all, Udemy is a decent option if you are just getting started and do not want to manage your own site.
However, if you want to build courses as your main source of revenue, there are better options out there that give you more control, a better chance to compete, and more revenue-generation strategies.
|Udemy At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Customer support: Strong
Skillshare is another course marketplace and the platform for creative professionals to share their knowledge and expertise with learners from across the globe.
The platform has a variety of courses with a focus on the creative arts, like painting, photography, creative writing, film and video, crafts, and so on, which makes it a good option for creative entrepreneurs with expertise in the field.
In terms of pure functionality, Skillshare has:
- A standard course pattern, which combines video lectures and a class project. All classes are approximately 30 minutes in length, while the project focuses on getting learners to practice their newly learned skills.
- In-depth resources and detailed roadmaps for instructors to get started and continue on their teaching journey
However, you don’t own your own course content.
Skillshare operates on a membership model, where users pay a monthly fee for access to all the courses. Then, Skillshare pays instructors based on how many minutes of the course have been watched rather than how many people have signed up for a course, which makes it essential for your course to engage and retain learners.
You must apply and be accepted to teach.
|Skillshare At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Podia is a beginner-friendly, affordable, all-in-one online learning platform that allows you to create courses and sell memberships with ease.
Its core features include a website builder, community development module, affiliate marketing, email marketing tools, a range of integrations, and more.
Some advantages of using Podia include:
- You can create your custom website from the ground up, and sell all types digital eLearning products like online courses, coaching sessions, webinars, workshops, ebooks, and more
- You have access to strong marketing tools like an email marketing system, affiliate marketing program, tracking and analytics, payment gateway integrations with support for multiple currencies, and so on
- You can set up various workflows and automated processes to simplify course management with Podia’s numerous integrations
The primary drawback with Podia is that you cannot control the backend, or the tech stack of your website, which can make advanced customizations difficult.
Secondly, you don’t actually own your own courses, so you lack the control you’d have with dedicated site builders.
Podia also lacks customization options and advanced features, such as umbrella accounts and course enrollment limits for live cohort-based courses.
|Podia At A Glance:
Platform intuitiveness and ease-of-use:
Compare Specific Online Course & Membership Plugins for WordPress
Already using WordPress? AccessAlly is designed to help you sell more, teach better, and engage longer with built-in payments, course builder, and membership management. This creates a powerful automated membership experience built on the extendable WordPress platform.
See how we compare with other WordPress plugin solutions. Keep in mind that most WordPress course builder plugins don’t have transaction fees, and let you create unlimited courses. Ease of use may not always be the top priority, but there are pricing options for every budget, including free.
WP Courseware Alternatives
Selling online courses on WordPress?
If you’ve decided that you’d like to build your online courses on your own land, using WordPress as your content management system offers great page builders and learning management system plugins.
Some of the best online course platforms are built on WordPress, so take a look at our online course comparison pages to see what tools to choose to create and sell online courses.
There’s one thing you’ll quickly notice that happens in the WordPress ecosystem: there are a lot of different WordPress LMS plugins and some of them might require other plugins to handle your needs.
There are cases where it makes sense to use multiple plugins, if they come with solid integrations with tools you’re already using, for example. Other times, it can be a better idea to go with one WordPress LMS plugin that handles everything you need so there’s no chance of a breakdown between add-ons.
Here we’ll see how some of the most popular WordPress online course creation plugins stack up and you can click through for even more in-depth comparisons.
|Protected course content|
|Built-in Recurring Stripe and PayPal payments||Via Infusionsoft||Via Ontraport|
|Course builder for modules, lessons, and topics||Add-on required|
|Automatically creates tags, pages, and menus|
|Deep 2-Way Integration with Infusionsoft, Ontraport, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, and Drip||Infusionsoft & ActiveCampaign only||Ontraport only||Infusionsoft only|
|Multiple currencies, automated expiring coupons, and order bumps||Partial|
|Cart abandonment automation||Via Ontraport|
|Progress tracking, and progress-based unlocking content||Partial|
|Multiple types of quizzes, and auto generated certificates of completion||Add-on required|
|Course Licensing with Teams or Umbrella Accounts||Add-on required|
|Searchable member directories and editable custom fields through profiles|
|Gamification where members can earn points, and activity-based automation, login tracking|
|Media player, video bookmarks, tagging automation on quizzes|
|Cross-selling dashboards, with 1-click upsells||Via Infusionsoft|
|Built-in affiliate tracking with multiple tiers, links, and reporting||Infusionsoft only|
Compare the best online course platforms with a SaaS hosted model
How do the WordPress course platforms compare with software-as-a-service “hosted” learning platforms?
These platforms offer pre-made website templates, and may also include marketing automation, landing pages, a course marketplace, and other features that the WordPress solutions may not. However, some of the drawbacks may be pricing per course, a hefty monthly fee, or a lack of flexibility in how you can design a course.
What AccessAlly Customers Are Saying...
"We moved them over from Kajabi to Access Ally and every single member loves the new site!
Access Ally is SO easy to use and integrates perfectly with Ontraport. We’ve had ZERO issues with it, which I don’t think I can say about any other software or tool or plugin we use. Plus the interface is beautiful.
We moved them over from Kajabi to Access Ally and every single member loves the new site. It’s extremely user friendly for our clients, and for us. AccessAlly is a brilliant, beautiful, user friendly platform that has had a direct positive impact on our bottom line.” – Heidi DeCoux, HeidiDeCoux.com
"AccessAlly is the better option, hands down
“Honestly, Teachable, Thinkific, or Kajabi would have been the *easier* option, but AccessAlly with my WordPress theme is hands down the *better* option. It’s going to grow and scale with me over time, and that’s unbeatable.
AccessAlly allows me to provide a dashboard for all members, and it also allows me to create a member-directory (great for forming that community), an editable profile, plus lots of gamification features that can help members track their progress and reward them for their achievements.
AccessAlly integrates directly with my ESP, which gives me the functionality to track progress, send reminder emails. That’s priceless.” -Eden Fried, EdenFried.com
Find out how AccessAlly can help you scale
Your online course platform comparison isn’t complete until you see AccessAlly in action.
- Create and sell online courses with zero transaction fees, so you keep all of your profits
- Use email marketing and a built-in affiliate program to sell your course or membership
- One platform allows you to create a free trial or free plan where students can upgrade to paid online courses
- Perfect for course creators who want more flexibility in terms of design and functionality
- Grow your business, make more sales with the features that matter like umbrella accounts, affiliate links, gamification, and so much more
Online Course Platform Comparison Methodology
Now let’s look at what most of us naturally do when we start comparing online course platforms.
The first two things that many of us who are in the market for a learning management system (LMS) look at:
- The online course platform features
- The cost of online course software
These absolutely are important to consider, but it’s also good to look at other things that can impact your use of the online course platform long term. For example, customer support and ongoing development can make a huge difference in your experience with a learning platform.
The same goes for how an online learning platform integrates with your existing tech stack and the values of a company, and what they stand for.
Let’s take a closer look at all of these considerations:
Do the online course platforms offer the features you need?
Let’s face it: if an online course platform doesn’t do what you need it to do, then it’s not a good solution for your needs.
But feature lists can be confusing because your understanding of a feature might be different from someone else’s.
For example, if you need to white-label your online courses and sell bulk licenses, you might think that “groups” will handle your needs. Yet different online course platforms might not give you the exact way you want to sell to groups, so you need to dig in, try a demo, or ask questions before you buy.
The same goes for course creation. The sales page may say it allows you to create a mix of courses with modules and lessons.
But does it also allow you to create a recurring membership with digital downloads, and the ability to create sales pages or order forms that combine courses into a bigger offering?
Does the pricing match the value or are there hidden transaction fees?
Choosing an online course platform based on your budget is important because no tool should break the bank.
That being said, it’s hard to compare pricing boxes because there are often other costs involved with setting up an online course platform or membership site.
Some online course platforms limit you to one online course, or increase their monthly fee if your course sales reach a certain threshold.
Sometimes you’ll end up paying transaction fees on each sale, or you’ll be required to invest in additional integration plugins or other tools to make it work.
If you want to sell online courses, you can also use a dedicated e-commerce platform and connect your courses through integrations. This might allow you to use the learning platform that offers the drag and drop course builder you love, while you sell courses and other products and services.
The ability to create order forms, landing pages, and sales pages is also a huge plus available in many platforms.
The best online course platform should allow you to take payments in the currencies you need, without taking costly transaction fees or making it hard to access your hard-earned income.
It’s also important to consider the cost of switching down the line if you end up requiring more features of growing out of the first online course platform you pick.
Often it can cost you more to move from a cheaper online course platform than it would have to have paid a bit more for a long-term option from the start. That might help you decide what is the best online course platform for the long haul, and not just for the next few months.
The best online course platforms have great customer support
This is a big one: how you’re treated when you ask questions or need help with your online course platform matters!
Some online course platforms and companies outsource their support to other vendors, some offer chat support, phone support, or email support.
Others might help you create and sell courses by jumping on a jumpstart video call to get make sure you’ve got everything you need before you launch.
Then there’s the health of the user community around an online course platform. The best online course platforms know that its’ course builder is only as good as the course creators that use it!
- Is there an active Facebook group or forum you can go to for extra inspiration and support?
- Are there trained experts you can hire to help you get started with this new course creation software?
- Can you jump on a call with someone at the course builder company for extra help if you get stuck or want to talk through your strategic questions?
Customer support is an often overlooked aspect when comparing online course platforms.
Allows you to easily integrate with other tools
Another important consideration in your online course platform search is whether the integrations available will work the way you need them to.
Essentially, will your e-learning platform integrate deeply with your existing tech stack and marketing tools?
For example, you might see that an online course platform lists your email marketing company on their integrations page. But does it have two-way integration, where both systems can send data to each other — or is it a one-way push integration?
Take some popular WordPress LMS plugin options: these may require you to pay extra for integration add-ons, which add complexity to your course creation process.
These are the types of questions to ask before you buy and start implementing and feel stuck in the online course platform you picked.
When you look out at the online course marketplace, you might see the surface of other online courses. But unless you’ve been behind the scenes of that setup, you don’t know if everything is being held together by duct tape and lots of manual work.
You might also not realize that the course creators are paying a transaction fee, or that they feel stuck on the basic plan because they are lacking marketing automation.
Online courses are never an isolated part of an online business: they need to be integrated with the right marketing tools for the success of a business.
The best online course builder is continually improving
It can be hard to tell from online course platforms’ websites how actively they are developing their software.
Some companies have built out their core features and have moved onto other projects or development priorities, while other online course platforms are actively adding new online course features on a regular basis.
While you might not need additional features right now, you don’t want to get stuck on an online course platform that isn’t evolving and growing with the market as online learning continues to mature.
The best e-learning platform allows you to create a course that is self-paced, that runs on an automated drip, and that runs on a pre-set schedule. That way, it’s not the course creation tools that dictate how you sell online courses, but how your students will learn best.
Online course creation is not a static “set it and forget” type of online business. Rather, it’s an organic and ever-evolving process where you take your students’ feedback to heart and make updates.
Most learning management systems allow you to easily create your content and upload it. But will the students’ experience continue to evolve as you grow your business and want to improve the ease of use?
The best online course platforms lead with their values
Finally, an often overlooked aspect of buying course creation software is looking at what kind of company you’re supporting with your hard-earned dollars.
It might feel like all LMS companies are interchangeable, but there are real humans at the other end of the screen who are passionate and care about things beyond how their course builder software works.
Look for an online course creation company that aligns with your values and has a mission you can get behind.
Online course platforms that support a diverse range of businesses tend to have a more flexible approach to help you sell courses and online training. That’s because all of the course creator feedback is taken in through customer support, and new features are implemented to add that flexibility.
Now that you know how to compare course creation software, let’s get into the side-by-side comparisons!
Researching course platforms on your own is great, but if you want to talk to someone, we're here to help!
If you’re wondering whether you’re on the right track or not, we can help you sort out all of the different options. We’ll let you know if AccessAlly is a good fit or not, too.
We’ll start by asking you a few questions and guide you in the right direction.