Online Course Platforms: Tips on Creating and Monetizing Online Training

Online Course Platforms: Tips on Creating and Monetizing Online Training
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

If you are an educator with a passion for making a difference in the lives of young learners, then you would do well to reach out to avid learners via online course platforms. With the right setup and expertly structured materials and presentation, you could be priming yourself for long-term success, joy, and financial rewards.

Selling your lessons to a wider audience is not as straightforward as it seems, however. With so many applications and online course platforms to choose from, it is imperative that you take good stock of your preferences and find a good match for them.

In this article, we present the best online course platforms in the market right now, with a guide section to help you launch a fruitful online course offering.

What are online course platforms?

Online course platforms are websites that provide an avenue for learners to avail of educational services and a platform for educators to deliver courses. Educational institutions themselves have online course platforms like those of Harvard and Stanford. Learners can avail of free courses or paid ones and earn certificates and degrees in the process.

Institution-offered courses are also syndicated via elearning sites such as Coursera and Udemy. These elearning platforms offer a wide variety of courses, ranging from the disciplines in STEM to the arts and humanities.

Popular online training platforms are used by individual course creators to offer lessons and teach skills like gardening, cross-stitching, and drawing. Other platforms offer participative setups where learners and teachers interact during scheduled sessions. This way, learning will not only be limited to passive knowledge transfer but also hands-on learning.

For learners, this means they do not have to go out and get lessons at campuses or academies. They do not have to follow a strict class schedule. This allows for greater flexibility and the chance to have a better work-life balance.

For educators and course creators, this can be a source of additional income. This is especially useful in light of the current pandemic. In the next section, we will discuss several reasons for selling online courses.

Source: BestColleges, 2020

Why sell online courses?

So, why sell online courses? Firstly, there will be more chances for additional income. Secondly, it gives you a good chance to become an authority in your niche. Thirdly, you can reach more people who want to learn about what you know.

The third reason is very much common to a lot of educators out there. They find imparting knowledge and skills rewarding. By extending your reach through online course platforms, you will not only get to make an impact in your immediate surroundings but also have a chance to teach, tutor, and make friends with people all over the world.

As for becoming an authority in your chosen niche, it also provides you with a path to build a brand. And brands last longer than people. Think Merriam-Webster and the Nobel Prize. Both are brands that outlasted their founders. Of course, in most educators’ context, they start at a modest level and in particular niches. The same goes for private instructors and personal trainers. But by having a larger reach, there are more chances to gain more students, subscribers, and, of course, additional income.

Additional income needs no elaboration. Most people need and want additional money. This is especially so in light of the economy-crippling pandemic. However, it is good to note that offering an online course can not only give you additional income but it can generate a passive income for you, too.

This is because there are online courses that you can plan and create ahead. You do not need to physically be there when teaching. Of course, there may be some online course formats depending on your course topic where you need to be open for consultation at some pre-arranged schedule. But for the most part, you can get on with your daily life as you will have a say when and when you will not be available.

Many educators, trainers, and instructors have found success in offering online courses. One of them is Rob Percival (Patel, n.d.). The former high school math teacher has earned a million dollars in less than a year from selling online web development and programming courses. Moreover, he has built a brand around his name that allowed him to cross over to other teaching media like books.

He started with just one course that he worked on for three months. Percival initially offered it for free and got 4,000 subscribers. Then he brought the price right up to the original amount of $199, earning him a revenue of $15,000 (Patel, n.d.). His second course earned him $200,000 in the first month. This kept the ball rolling for him.

Now, he appears on other social channels and even has books out.

Successful course creators can make hundreds to thousands of dollars on the side. Courses are not limited to traditional academic ones. You can offer to teach learners new skills like digital marketing or advanced crocheting. Given the success of others in this venture, you may want to consider taking this route. Online course platforms along with other social media touchpoints can help get you there.

Types of Online Course Platforms

Online course platforms come in many types. Some are quite general in their offerings. Meaning, they have courses spanning various disciplines and strands of academia. Others are quite specific, allowing a single individual to offer courses via a proprietary channel. In this section, we will outline the different types of online course platforms you can use.

Stand-Alone Platforms

The front-end of a website created using Learnworlds.

These platforms are targeted at small businesses and education-entrepreneurs who want a proprietary channel to sell online courses (Cobb, 2020). Moreover, these platforms give you access and control of your user data. Also, most, if not all, stand-alone online course platforms have similar features. They just have different levels of usability and depth of features. This involves the comprehensiveness of modules and the quality of support.

Stand-alone platforms are ideal for instructors, private tutors, and consultants. With these, they can have 100% control of the look and feel of their sites, price points, and course delivery mechanisms and formats. Small businesses can take advantage of these too like gyms and yoga studios. This is especially apt during the pandemic as you can provide instructions and have live classes without worrying about social distancing.

If you have your courses (especially video courses) prepared beforehand, you do not have to be there. It becomes a source of passive income, especially when your lessons are evergreen. Moreover, your students can also access course content at their own time and learn at their own pace.

One good example of a stand-alone platform is Learnworlds. This allows solo entrepreneurs and small businesses to create, sell, and promote their very own online courses. It also has a ton of features that allow you to deliver engaging and effective learning experiences. These include modules for creating interactive ebooks, video interactions, note-taking, self-assessments, and certificate awarding, among others.

Learnworlds also promotes social learning. It gives you the chance to create and nurture a learning community with strong and lasting relationships. Thus, you can bill your proprietary learning channel as a “social-first training school.”

Also, it is very easy to use with tons of templates available. You can get the hang of it in no time. Also, it is priced quite reasonably at $24 per month, billed annually.

With Learnworlds, it is easy for educators and course creators to convert lessons into different formats. For instance, it offers automatically extracted transcripts from your interactive video course. Of course, the usual features like quizzes and curated course pathways are available. A learning path can consist of interactive videos, e-books, informal tests, exams, sounds, external web pages, certifications, and more (Palaigeorgiou & Papadopoulou, 2019).

All-In-One Platforms

A screenshot of the backend user interface of Kajabi.

This type of online course platform allows you to fully manage your web presence, like bundling essential elements for content management, learning management, and customer relationship management. Essentially, this is an elearning website creator with full online business support features.

Kajabi, is a leading solution in this category (Cobb, 2020). Kajabi is an online business website creator that has the needs of online sellers and online course sellers in mind. Thus, the platform creators made their features more accommodating to their needs. These include one-click and customizable templates that can easily handle and present your course content.

Moreover, it handles other aspects like learner/client subscription, email marketing, lead management, workflow automation, and monetization among many. And speaking of monetization, Kajabi also helps you handle payments. It integrates seamlessly with popular payment gateways such as PayPal and Stripe.

Additionally, it also helps you make payments and subscriptions flexible for learners. For instance, you can set up different tiers from free-trial and one-time payments to recurring subscriptions and upgrades. Its basic plan starts at $119 per month billed annually.

A demo of an online course website made using Wix.

For readers who are familiar with website creators, Wix will come to mind. This all-in-one platform allows you to customize everything from your site. It also includes modules from analytics to video uploads. With the right tweaks, you can have a working site with customizable modules that can support online payments, course content creation, and even marketing campaigns with analytics. Pricing starts at $12.50 per month. However, Wix and other website creation software tools are not specialized for online learning courses. This means you have to customize it extensively, unlike those that are made for online business.

WordPress Plug-Ins/Themes

An AccessAlly webpage showcasing sites made with designers using the platform.

If you already have traction on your WordPress-powered website and you do not want to migrate to another platform if and when you decide to offer online courses, then do not worry. You can still keep working on WordPress by using various plug-ins and themes. However, as Cobb (2020) noted, this requires more time and technical skills.

It is not as daunting as it sounds, however. Most plug-ins and themes are accessible enough and providers often include tutorials for new and experienced users.

One of the popular plug-ins you can use is AccessAlly. It allows users to sell digital products, memberships, and online courses right on their WordPress sites. The platform includes modules for payment management, affiliate tracking, tax tracking, and can handle multiple currencies. It does not only have learning management features but also good CRM integrations.

Another great thing is that AccessAlly only charges a flat rate. So, all your revenue and growth remains with you. Pricing starts at $82 per month. And, you get two months free.

LearnDash is another WordPress-based LMS. It is popular among higher education institutions and businesses that provide further professional training. Users get to sell their courses online and even offer rewards and incentives. For instance, you can reward completion certificates, provide points, and digital badges to your learners. This is also a great way to gamify learning.

Moreover, it also allows you to drip-feed content or course materials automatically according to schedule. It is also easy to use, thanks to its straightforward interface. You can create prerequisites for completion such as quizzes and submissions. Additionally, it also allows users to build and nurture course-specific forums for social learning. Of course, it lets you set these to public or private.

For educational institutions, it offers educators a digital grade book that syncs with quiz and assignment performance. The module allows for manual grading as well.

You can also set up your payment scheme within the plug-in. It offers options, from one-time fees to recurring payments. Additionally, products can be configured to be sold individually or in bundles. Thus, you can offer price-based promotions. Pricing starts at $159 to license one site.

A screenshot of the backend user interface of LearnDash, a WordPress-based LMS.

Marketplace Platforms

Udemy is one of the most popular and easiest to join online course marketplaces democratizing teaching and learning.

These might just be the most popular online course platforms to date, especially with the general public. On these platforms, learners can choose from a wide variety of courses from different fields, disciplines, and interests. They partner with course creators to provide digital learning products as well as syndicate premade ones as well.

The defining feature of a  marketplace platform is that it allows users to create their courses directed towards an existing digital market. One example of this is Udemy.

Udemy allows users to teach and participate in online video classes (Conache et al., 2016). It also has a low barrier for entry. Anyone can easily create and sign up for courses. Additionally, course creation is free, which democratizes learning. As Brown and colleagues (2015) noted, it is focused on getting in-house corporate trainers, freelancers, and even talented hobbyists who are lay experts on topics to join up and teach. Teachers get $10 per organic enrollment.

You can easily sign up, plan your course, upload videos, and start to sell them online. However, your course (and your application) has to undergo a stringent review process. This is to keep up with the course and delivery quality the site is known for.

If you want to sell on Udemy, you have to pass the following requirements: HD video, at least 30 minutes of video content, a minimum of five lectures, and others. Reviewers may also recommend things for improvement to get your learners more engaged. This also benefits you as the Udemy team offers tips and guides for your success within the marketplace as well.

A screenshot of the Skillshare marketplace for film and video courses.

Another marketplace platform is Skillshare. However, its specialty, as its name suggests, is skill instruction. Once you survey the site, you will see skill-based lessons for photography, creative writing, music, web development, and others. It does not offer traditional education courses like those you find on other learning platforms.

Skillshare, just like Udemy, allows you to pre-record videos and assign class projects. The classes on Skillshare range from about 10 to 25 minutes long (Cobb, 2020). They are broken down into short videos and lessons are self-paced. However, unlike Udemy, Skillshare does not sell individual courses. It sells subscriptions to all of its content.

If you start teaching on Skillshare, you only get to offer free courses. When you reach 25 learners in a class, however, you start becoming a partner. This means as Cobb (2020) noted,  you earn from a royalty pool of about $1 to $2 per enrollment. He added that being a partner, you also get paid $10 for bringing in premium members through a referral link. As per Skillshare, top teachers earn $100,000+ every year.

Other popular online course platforms like Coursera do not qualify as marketplaces. This is because they do not offer individual course creators who are not affiliated with a partner institution the chance to put up courses. These, though, are popular among learners as they get to join classes and programs offered by top universities. For educators, it will be more difficult to get on these platforms than bonafide online course marketplaces like Skillshare and Udemy.

Video and Membership Platforms

A sample online course website made on the Uscreen platform.

These platforms are, by far, the most democratic way of sharing and selling course content. For instance, a content creator on YouTube posts the first three lectures on a particular course for free then offers the rest of the course through a membership service like Patreon. Or, they can bypass these through an over-the-top (OTT) media service like Uscreen.

OTT allows users to stream content directly to subscribers through the internet. Uscreen is an example of this. The platform mainly helps users monetize their videos. And, online education and skills courses fit here.

With Uscreen, you can launch your own OTT applications without coding skills. You can use its community features to create and foster a digital and social interactive atmosphere for learning as well. They allow you to create your video website, whitelist users through subscription schemes, and start monetizing your online video courses.

You get full control of your marketing, analytics, and your visual look and feel. Sure, the end product can be achieved using website builders like Wix, but Uscreen is not just a general website builder: it is a special website builder for video-based subscription sites. Hence, its features are geared towards video-on-demand only. Its basic plan is priced at $99 monthly.

Unlike marketplaces like Udemy and Skillshare, you do not have an active and somewhat captured market in place. You have to promote your course through SEO and social media yourself. However, Uscreen provides you with SEO-friendly and mobile-friendly formats that can help you with this.

The case is also similar if you choose the route of membership sites like Patreon. But, unlike OTT, it has an existing market already. Creators are easily searchable on the site, so members of other sites or from your existing channels can also easily find you there. However, there is a trade-off: you do not have total control of your platform. Depending on your plan, Patreon charges anywhere from 5% to 12% of your monthly revenue.

A screenshot of Patreon’s homepage.

Learning Management System

A screenshot of the TalentLMS interface for uploading video classes or lectures.

Learning management systems (LMS) are digital platforms that allow users to provide educational and training services over the internet. LMS platforms are usually easy-to-use SaaS products that provide you with tools for full customization of your site and course materials. You can teach a wide variety of subjects on the platform, from traditional academic courses like physics to skill-based training like photography.

However, unlike stand-alone and all-in-one platforms, they are not specialized in building a channel where you can monetize your course content. Instead, most LMS solutions are designed to be paid for by users (mostly educational institutions and businesses) to provide elearning opportunities. As such, it is being widely used by schools for distance learning and businesses for self-paced professional training.

However, there are ways for individual creators to capitalize or monetize course content over LMS. For one, there are platforms like TalentLMS that have ecommerce modules that allow for monetization. TalentLMS even has a free plan for you to get started with (supports five users and 10 courses). Other LMS programs may not have in-house ecommerce features. However, many have integrations with ecommerce platforms. All you have to do is look for the ones that do and you are good to go.

A screenshot of a Moodle demo site for Science and Mathematics classes.

One popular free online training platform with ecommerce integrations is Moodle. It is open-source. Thus, it is highly customizable.

Moodle is widely used in industries and academia. Individual course creators can also use it to teach skills or lead workout sessions or yoga classes. Just like other top online course platforms, you can upload different media types such as videos and images. Also, it has modules for quizzes, attendance, and learner status.

However, as it is free and open-source, its user interface can benefit from more improvements. The main setback of the platform for users is that it has poor usability. Also, there is a lack of good reporting tools. This is the tradeoff for getting it free. Nevertheless, other educators manage well with Moodle.

An ecommerce LMS that you can connect with Moodle to monetize Moodle classes.

Additionally, because Moodle’s free and open-source status, you cannot directly sell courses in it. But, there is a way around this. You can pair it with other solutions like Course Merchant as it allows you to offer bundled courses via a shopping cart feature. Course Merchant pricing is not posted on its official website at the moment. Contact the vendor for further details.

Source: Training Magazine & Dun & Bradstreet, 2019

What to Consider When Choosing an Online Course Platform 

The first thing that you need to consider is to put your online course on a platform that best suits your needs and those of your prospective subscribers. This also depends on what type of online learning course you plan on selling.

For instance, if you plan to sell an academic course on anthropology, then you are better off with a marketplace like Udemy. Or, if you are selling a skills-based course, it would probably fare better on Skillshare. So, the type of online course you want to offer matters when choosing a platform.

Generally, you need to consider the following criteria when choosing a marketplace platform:

  • Usability. The platform you choose should be easy to use both for you and your prospective subscribers. Research shows that usability is of high importance when it comes to success (Granic, 2008).  Make sure you have tested both ends of the platform. Meaning, you try to take a course as a learner and try to create a course as a teacher.
  • Popularity. When considering marketplaces, it is better to keep popularity in mind. You want your course to get the most eyes on it as possible.
  • Niche. If you should choose a marketplace, browse for the numbers of learners who enrolled in similar courses you want to offer. If you feel the number is too low, maybe it is not the place to roll out such an online course. Marketplaces have specializations and niches. Make sure you connect with one that you can thrive in.

When choosing a standalone, all-in-one, WordPress, or LMS platform, you need to consider the following:

  • Usability. Again, you should check both ends of the software: the front end and back end. And you should check them whether they are easy and enjoyable to use for both you, as a course creator and as a learner.
  • Customizability. As Chun (2004) noted, elearning systems already lean toward personalization and interactivity. The same is the appeal of online learning. Thus, the customizability of a program is a key criterion. Select a platform that gives enough freedom for directed yet personalized learning experiences and one that allows you to make adjustments on branding and its interface. The interface part involves the one you use and the ones your prospective subscribers will interact with.
  • Integrations. Being able to integrate your platform with other software and tools will help you extend its reach. Make sure to choose one that can work with third-party apps like for CRM, social media, popular payment gateways (PayPal, Stripe, etc.), and the like. Having this contingency is a good thing, especially when you are gearing up for growth.

Source: Statista Survey, 2017

Choosing a platform is like choosing an investment. You do not just pick a one-off program for a single course. You plan for further growth. It is best to plan out not just the progression of lessons for a single course but also to prepare the progression of courses themselves.

Successful course creators and online educators usually create several courses linked to each other. When it comes to technical courses, these can be separated by difficulty, like from basic programming to advanced programming courses. Or for history courses, they could be separated by era or sets of events.

Make sure that when you select a platform, you choose one that can help you showcase a corpus of connected work. And, if they have conceptual connections, then learners may as well just follow connected concepts through the end. This also bodes well when you have all of these monetized.

In the next section, we will discuss some tips and things you should consider to make a successful online course sell.

Tips for Creating A Successful Online Course

Creating a successful online course has many ingredients. They range from your course topic and medium to accessibility and marketing. But firstly, it all boils down to choosing your course topic. Here are tips on choosing what course to create:

Selecting a Course to Sell

  • Passion. Choose a topic that you are overly passionate about. This ensures that you will not get bored with course creation, especially in the midst of it. Plus, as you have a strong inclination for it, it will be easier to research and digest. Mastery will then be easier to achieve. Also, your enthusiasm will come across to learners. This, too, can get them more engaged.
  • Expertise.  Of course, you could not knowingly teach what you do not know. So, choose a topic that you have some expertise in. This does not mean that you are the foremost authority on it. You just have to be significantly knowledgeable than the people whose learning about the topic you facilitate. Also, knowledge is not enough. You should be able to navigate reasonably on and around the topic as well. The same goes for teaching skills such as video editing and graphic design.
  • Demand. Make sure that you choose a topic with high demand or else your efforts will be for naught. When monetizing is not your first goal, then getting the attention of prospective learners and establishing yourself as an authority should be. Make sure that there are people who are interested in your product first.

When you are set on what course you wish to offer, then it is time to structure your course. Also, while in this phase, you also have to keep the medium you have in mind for every module. Sometimes, this will be chosen for you by your platform especially if it is a marketplace. But, should you choose to have a proprietary channel, then the more you have to put some thought into it. Here are some tips on how to structure a course:

Things to Consider When Structuring a Course

  • Be the learner. Put yourself in the learner’s shoes. Alternatively, remember how you were when you were first so inclined to learn about your course topic. Remember the methods, sequence, and presentation that worked for you and you wished were applied to you by former teachers. Use this as a starting point in creating the big picture for your course and prospective learners’ journey.
  • Ask the learner. Today, it is very easy to shoot another person an email or send a private message. Ask potential learners or people you may know who are interested in learning about your course topic on how they would like the course to be delivered. This way, you will get firsthand insights. It is also good if you can send out quick digital surveys to prospects, similar course completers, and subject-matter experts. Browsing reviews and comments on forums should also give you an idea of the lay of the land.
  • The medium is the message. As Marshall McLuhan (1964) emphasized, the medium plays a large role in conveying a message. When you structure a course, for example, make sure that you use available tools to make concepts better understood. A multimedia approach is highly recommended. For instance, if you upload a video lecture, it is good to have slides, handouts, and audio transcriptions downloadable. Use images, charts, and graphs when you can to help the audience visualize data. Moreover, if you are showing them how to do things like in skills training, a high-quality video of the steps should be included.

The way you structure a course depends on the materials, topic, discipline, and even your style of teaching. This, in ample detail, is way beyond the scope of this article. The general idea is to segment materials into smaller learning units based on already existing literature (Raspopovic et al, 2016).

If you already have experience in teaching, then you may structure your online course the way you would your face-to-face classes. Let the topics flow in the usual progressive and logical manner. Just remember to have the content and techniques well-translated to online learning. In this vein, here are tips on how to make your online course engaging:

Making an Online Course More Engaging

  • Clear learning outcomes. Establish what learners should achieve. Would they be able to learn the basics of a topic? Will they become advanced users of a particular software? Or, will they achieve mastery? If you browse through highly-rated courses on marketplaces, you will notice that many creators have their learning outcomes mentioned in the title. Set your learners’ expectations. Just be sure to deliver.
  • Pick up media production skills. When starting to offer a course alone, many people find that they will have to wear different hats. They will become the curriculum designer, the lecturer, the videographer, the graphics artist, the lightman, the video editor, and the marketer all at the same time. If you do not have the resources to get more knowledgeable and skillful people than you for different aspects of course creation, then you must do it yourself. This entails you learning how to produce course materials yourself. Learn about these from books, free videos, and good course creators themselves. You can also learn by imitation.
  • Invest in hardware and software. You cannot make a good video with clear audio without the right tools. So, you need to invest in good equipment and software. Today, mobile phones can already capture crisp video. There are also not-so-expensive lighting and audio equipment. Aside from these, there are cheap editing software tools that can do the trick. Try to get the right mix of equipment and software that will do your materials and course delivery justice. Do not skimp but also do not go overboard.
  • Increase participation. Make your course interactive through forums, group projects, consultation sessions, and personal coaching. Listening to lectures and taking quizzes will likely not be enough for learners to get engaged. Take advantage of the social features of your online course platform and connect with learners.
  • Learn by imitation. Enroll in popular and successful courses yourself. See what makes them work when it comes to delivery. Pick out and analyze the bits that make them compelling and engaging for you then apply it to the course you are creating.

You should not only plan on how to engage people while they take your course but also before it. Successful online teachers market their courses effectively by engaging prospective subscribers. As they are selling online courses, a good deal of marketing communications should also be done online. Here are some tips on how to get people to know about and try your course.

Promoting Your Online Course

  • Offer something for free. Do a pilot and offer it for free on popular sites like YouTube or directly on marketplaces. This way, you will gauge how your course offering will be received. Plus, if you engage with learners and communicate with them, you would be able to know which aspects of your course work for them or not. This is not only a chance to get the word out there about your course, you also get people to try it out and get them hooked. Additionally, you will gain insights on how to improve your materials or delivery.
  • Use social media. Be active on social media and engage other people with interests related to your course offering. Become a part of the larger community. Also, when you are done with course creation, start by promoting your offering to your friends and ask them to help you share it with others. Chances are you will reach prospective subscribers with enough eyes on your online course or free lectures. Also, you can promote your course through paid channels like Facebook Ads and Google Ads. Of course, there is a general art and science for this. Maybe by enrolling in digital marketing courses, you will be able to learn a few tricks and best practices to get your course well known to your target market.
  • Answer questions of forums. Help people get useful information on forums like Quora, social media pages and groups, and other websites that have related content to your course offering. This can help establish you as an authority and an active member of the community in different online channels.

Have a Role in a Community of Learners

Successful online course teachers fill a role in an evolving community of learners and practitioners. Individual participants may come and go. But in a particular discipline or interest-based community, learning goes on and on. Discoveries and new techniques inject novel things to talk and learn about. New narratives and pedagogical techniques are needed to be woven to spark interests and continue the passing on of knowledge and skills.

This is the role of teachers and communicators. And, by deciding to teach online courses, this will also be the role that you will fill. So, make sure that you are visibly active and genuinely helpful to your community even if you only have a digital presence to reach them.

Hopefully, these tips and background information will help you get started with offering a successful learning program on online course platforms.

 

References: 

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  9. Palaigeorgiou, G., & Papadopoulou, A. (2019). Promoting self-paced learning in the elementary classroom with interactive video, an online course platform and tablets. Education and Information Technologies, 24 (1), 805-823. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-018-9804-5
  10. Patel, N. (2020, January 23). The entrepreneur’s guide to creating, selling, and profiting from an online course. Neil Patel.com.
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