24 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 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 or University, 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 the top online course 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:

1. Platform-as-a-Service

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 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 courses, and often hit the ground running faster.

Many business owners start off on these hosted 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.

2. Software-as-a-Service

If Platform-as-a-Service LMS options 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 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.

We’ll explore more of the best online course platforms for WordPress in detail below.

What matters most in online learning for 2021?

Make the most of online learning in 2021.

In 2020 so much changed, and business owners who started to create and sell online courses have come out ahead.

With the focus on online learning, some entrepreneurs realized their online course platform was limiting and lacked the features they really needed.

It's important that any LMS you choose gives you the ability to get started quickly and to be flexible enough to meet your needs as things change.

There are also ongoing updates to privacy laws like CCPA, GDPR, CalOPPA, that are on every digital business owner's mind.

With tighter budgets, transaction fees, integration with existing tools for email marketing, and landing pages need to be top of mind.

iPad with screenshot of Equity statement

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 an LMS look at are the features and pricing.

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 product.

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:

3 cellphones with screenshots of 3 different LMS solutions

Do the 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.

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.

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 solution 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 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.

  • 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 tech tool?
  • 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 apps.

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 LMS 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?

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 course marketplace, you might see the surface of other online courses. But unless you're been behind the scenes of that set up, 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.

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 others are actively adding new online course functionality on a regular basis.

While you might not need additional features right now, you don’t want to get stuck on a course platform that isn’t evolving and growing with the market as online learning continues to mature.

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 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 their software work.

Look for a company that aligns with your values and has a mission you can get behind.

Now that you know how to compare course creation software, let’s get into the side-by-side comparisons!

Selling Online Courses on WordPress?

If you’ve decided that you’d like to build your membership portal on your own land, using WordPress as your content management system then you’ll love taking a look at our WordPress online course comparison pages.

There’s one thing you’ll quickly notice that happens in the WordPress ecosystem: there are a lot of different 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 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 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.

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I'm transferring an existing membership site to AccessAlly, and can't believe how much more robust and efficient my site is. There's so many opportunities to nurture and engage my membership through all the little things built into AccessAlly. So glad I made the move!

Carly Seifert

Carly Seifert

Compare the best online course platforms on 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.

Your online course platform comparison isn't complete until
you see AccessAlly in action.

See How AccessAlly
Can Help You Scale

  • 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