I will go over three course management options for you. This is a general overview; if you want to see them in detail, follow the links in the titles.
Course Management on Their Site
There are two basic approaches to online course management: On their site, or on your site. The difference is important in terms of data storage. If you work with a system that’s on their site, you don’t have to deal with the page loading drag and potential extra cost of needing more storage from your own web host.
I went ahead and signed up for Thinkific. It was also recommended by a friend. Cool interface. Free forever in terms of annual or monthly fees, but they have restrictions on number of courses at the free level. They also seem to have their own integrated membership feature, so you can create discussion groups within Thinkific. It doesn’t look like they charge transaction fees, but for me the fact that they don’t use Square as a payment gateway is a bit of a bummer. They do use Stripe and Paypal.
Teachable also has a free version, although you have to scroll down their site a bit to find it. Their subscription prices are a little cheaper than Thinkific, but they also charge for each payment transaction (it looks like it’s just to cover their cost). There are no limits on number of students for the paid plans, but a limit of 10 on the free one (makes sense). They have a nice feature comparison chart that gives you all the information you need to choose a plan. I didn’t see a specific membership feature at Teachable. Teachable also uses just Stripe and Paypal as payment gateways.
Both systems seem to have features to support the funnel I wrote about, starting with dripping email content and going on through to more formal course designs with lessons, quizzes, graded tests, etc.
For branding purposes, for both systems, you do start with a subdomain of the course management provider (e.g., joannecourse.thinkific.com), and have to pay to get a custom domain name. But it looks like Teachable may be easier to link up to your own site.
Course Management on Your Site
The advantage of hosting your courses yourself is freedom and control. Freedom to integrate into all your branding easily, freedom to take advantage of lots of third-party add-ons. Control over your security provider choices, membership groups, etc.
LearnDash seems to be the power player in this space. If you use LearnDash, though, you have to deal with hosting it on your site and therefore with your web host. As course content and enrollments grow, you may have to pay more for storage at your web host, in addition to any charges from LearnDash itself. They also charge significantly more than Thinkific and Teachable. In addition, there is no free option, although if you try it and don’t like it, you can get a refund.
My thought after looking at the features and integrations (I can use Square as a payment gateway!) is that LearnDash may be something to grow into after using the cheaper on-their-site options at Thinkific or Teachable. There are lots of add-ons to customize and expand your course system with LearnDash. But just starting out, I don’t think I’d go there.
So, a quick overview. At least I got us down to three options! Please do go and check out the details on each of these based on where you think you want to go with e-courses. I think I’ll try Thinkific first and see how it goes.
Meanwhile, I’m totally open to comments from your experience with theses course management systems. 🙂