There are three different types of platforms for hosting your ecourse online:
- Course marketplaces
- Course hosting providers
- Self-hosted solutions.
In this video I talk about advantages and disadvantages of each type of platform using real-life examples from my personal experience.
Option 1: Course marketplaces
You could think of this option as ‘Amazon’ for online courses. One of the most popular is Udemy with over 10M students! But there are many others, e.g. Skillshare, Lynda, Coursera and a few dozen others.
The advantages of such marketplaces are:
- Most of them are free for you to start. Just register as an instructor and publish your course. You pay only from the sale of your course.
- They have a large existing student base already. Which means it is easier for you to find students and market your course. People regularly browse through courses on these marketplaces and can find yours.
- The technology is simple and streamlined. These marketplaces make it very easy for you to upload your courses and student enrolment is completely automated.
- Large support communities of instructors. You have lots of opportunities to ask questions and get help.
These advantages make marketplaces very attractive for beginner course creators, but not everything is rosy with this option. For example:
- You are not in control! There are many rules and regulations you need to follow if you want to publish your course on a marketplace. They have a lot of say in what your course should and shouldn’t look like, and if you don’t follow their rules, your course will not be approved.
- They can dictate prices. Udemy previously had a price range of $9 to $300, and recently they changed these brackets to $20 – $50. Many instructors who were selling more expensive courses had to either reduce the price or remove their course off the platform.
- You get a lower share of your sales price. In case of Udemy (and at the time or writing this article) if an existing student purchases your course, you get 50% of the sale. If someone comes through an affiliate link, you only get 25% of the sale! Notice how I said – at the time or writing this article? Well, that’s because they can change their rules at any time. Back to point No 1. – you’re not in control!
- They can shut down. In case you haven’t heard, a very popular course marketplace, Skillfeed, shut down completely not so long ago. And some instructors built their entire teaching businesses and were making their living on this platform. Within just a few days everything they had was gone.
- You don’t have direct access to your students’ e-mail addresses. If you’re not building your e-mail list, you’re not building your business. Your subscribers are your potential customers, your clients, your students, your tribe. If a platform shuts down you have no way of getting in touch with your students again.
Option 2. eCourse Hosting Providers
With this option, you’re hosting your online course just like you’re hosting a website. And for this service you’re often asked to pay a monthly fee or a percentage of the course sales (or a bit of both).
Advantages are plenty:
- You are much more in control of everything that goes into your course. Your only limitations are the technical capabilities of the platform.
- You keep the lion share of the course sales. For example, Teachable charges 10% of course sales if you’re on a free plan, which means you keep 90% of course sales. And if you select one of their premium plans, your sales fee percentage is further reduced.
- Technology is usually also pretty simple for non-techies. Most of these platform usually make it extremely easy for you to upload and publish your course and student signup processes are automated.
- You have direct access to your students e-mails. You’re actually building a business! If you want to change the platform at some stage, you could simply e-mail your students and let them know that you’ve moved.
- Most of these platforms cover video hosting service as well. So you don’t have to worry about where to host your videos.
But there are disadvantages, as well:
- There is no single large student list. There is also no single list of courses that potential students could go to and browse and find your course.
- Marketing your courses, driving traffic, finding students – is your headache. You are building your school, your courses on their platform, just like you’re building a website on a hosting service. And you are, essentially, starting from a scratch.
Option 3: Self-Hosting
There are many plugins for WordPress that allow you to host an online course on your own website. Some of those plugins are free, some could cost you anywhere between $50 and $500.
One excellent and FREE plugin that I can recommend if you want to self-host your courses is LifterLMS. It’s very easy to use and its functionality covers pretty much anything you might possibly need for a course. It also easily integrates into almost any WordPress website and theme.
Advantages of self-hosting are:
- You are in complete control. You can do whatever you want to your courses, organise them how you want them, create structures, levels, membership areas etc.
- You keep all the revenue. With the exception of any plugin purchase costs, video hosting costs, paypal fees (which you would incur anyway, regardless of which option you choose) and any other running expenses, everything you make from course sales is yours to keep.
- Of course, you have unlimited access to your student data. Everything happens on your website, so whatever data you collect you are in full control of.
Main disadvantages are:
- You need video hosting. Course marketplaces and course hosting providers usually take care of video hosting for you. If you’re hosting on your own website, you need to find a solution for hosting your videos. You could explore options such as Vimeo and Wistia. But one of the most cost effective solutions is using Amazon S3 services, though it might take just a bit of tech skill to set it up.
- Tech support is your headache. If your students are having issues logging in, viewing videos, accessing materials, downloading worksheets or are getting any errors, it’s up to you to sort it out, and no one else is going to help you. On course marketplaces and hosting services you have access to their tech support and other instructors if you run into any issues.
So, which way should you go?
If you’re just starting out, you have no e-mail list and maybe not even a website – you could explore going to a course marketplace. It will be easier to reach students, get feedback and testimonials and generally build your confidence as an instructor.
Going forward, focus on building your own platform – your website and your e-mail list! Then you can decide whether you want to self-host (if you’re more of a techie type) or, if you can’t be bothered with tech, go with a course hosting provider.
Was this helpful? Which way do you want to go? What platform have you selected and why?
Do you see other advantages and disadvantages that I haven’t mentioned?
Share your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.