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 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 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.
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.
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.