Online Course Platforms – Overview

There was a time when Higher Education led the pack as far as putting courses online was concerned. With this trend and from over 120 online learning systems identified by Landon in 2000 (then called Virtual Learning Environments), two main ones had survived to take up the majority of the market, namely proprietary/commercial Blackboard and Open Source Moodle. However, these platforms primarily offered systems in a way that the customer would have to provide the hosting, security, and overall support.

A few years ago, this gap in the market was recognised and Blackboard and other suppliers started providing outsourced or so-called managed hosting complementing their original specialist consultancy services to assist businesses in the implementation of their e-learning solutions. More recently, the popularisation of MOOCS and other such open online learning resources has prompted the development of such increasingly cloud-based, supplier-hosted, user-accessible environments where an individual (trainer, teacher…) no longer needs the backing of a larger institution to create, sell or promote their courses.

In effect, these Online Course Platforms, as they would soon be known, were seeing a rapid development outside of the Higher Education realm, with Udemy starting what turned out to be a system that would work for and correspond to an existing set of users’ needs. Indeed, that was the case as a number of online course platforms developed, many of them learning from the user feedback on Udemy and harnessing the larger opportunities of a continually evolving technology. There are now dozens of these websites that allow course instructors to concentrate on creating and sometimes selling their courses whilst the upheaval of hosting, monitoring, maintenance and security are taken care of by these professionals.

Of course, there remains the types of companies that offer only part of the service but will boast both the advantage of being specialised and thereby more sophisticated but also facilitating integration with other complementary tools, specialist in another aspect of the requirement. This is the case for the likes of WP CourseWare and LearnDash that plug into WordPress to turn the content management system into an e-learning platform. It is also the case of Course for Merchant and Cogno that require an appropriate third party integration before offering a full e-learning system. Those solutions may indeed have a point as we increasingly see all-in-one applications failing at developing specialist features. On the other hand, their reliance on third-party integration can leave tools like Cogno vulnerable in various aspects: eg. Cogno’s content analytics might be less specific as content it analyses (SCORM) is viewed more as a whole package than as the individual items it contains. Finally and as always, there are newcomers such as Google Education. They might indeed show promise but they still will be too much in their infancy to have gathered enough traction or feedback to allow for a full evaluation.

Whatever the tools claim to do and whatever the requirements of the course instructor, there are a number of features that will make these online course platforms meet the needs of the modern student and the stakeholders’ common expectations. First, it is not all to offer the creation of courses, these have to allow a variety of media, importing of content. It is great to be online, but are they web-optimised, usable, and increasingly paramount, mobile responsive? Where they are hosted, are they backed up, is the technology regularly monitored and maintained? And most of all, does the content still belongs to its creator? On this, let us explore the online course environments that make up our top choices and the reasons why they do. It is important to note that this list is based on a research of platforms based on their advertised features, opinions from users and experts on forums and own general knowledge of the subtleties of e-learning functionality. This post is a practical guuide for autonomous educators, from instructors, to trainers, to lecturers. For a more in-depth look into these or for an educational or training organisation’s specific requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

1. Academy of mine

academy of mineThis online course platform is often recommended by experts mainly because it appears to them as an all-in-one solution although our research found it hard to dig up evidence that the features presented showed completeness: unlimited courses and students  sell courses including subscriptions track progress multimedia course creation learning tools (blog, quiz, assignments, video-conferencing, live chat, screen sharing and white-boarding) custom domain progress tracking create badges and certificates. Prices are $199 per month to $499/m custom domain  hosting / monitoring / SSL / auto-upgrades social platform.

2. Teachable

This is a definite favourite in online course platform solutions, offering solid features, extensive options and a low price. It is also often cited as one of the best, especially since it was created to make up for the downsides of Udemy. The website information is detailed and clear. It offers multimedia course creation learning tools (quiz, blog, discussion forum student feedback) course selling (including coupons, pricing flexibility, worldwide payments for 130+ currencies and student refunds, full and partial) affiliate management school branding custom domain progress tracking MailChimp integration . It is also multi-language, mobile responsive web-optimised. Content can be imported from Udemy, Dropbox, Box and exported. Prices are $0 + fees to $299/m; enterprise plan options  hosting/monitoring/SSL/auto-upgrades you own your own data. Popularity: 5000+ users/creators

Pathwright3. Pathwright

Pathwright is free until you start selling, then it is $19/m +4% sales to $299/m +$3/extra member +4% sales. It is a favourite online course platform on the forums but it seems to be most adapted for hands-on project works. It offers multimedia course creation learning tools course selling (including pricing flexibility). There is not much other information unless you try it.

4. Thinkific

ThinkificAlthough there is not much out there about Thinkific, their website gives the picture of a very much all-in one online course platform, powerful and growing in popularity. Features listed include:  unlimited courses multimedia course creation learning tools (quiz, blog, discussion forum, survey student feedback but also the possibility of embedding third party tools, storyline/captivate and more e-learning tools) a high capacity for integration with third party to enhance the tools offered including for learning, teaching and marketing course selling (including coupons, pricing flexibility, multiple currencies and payment methods) affiliate management school branding custom domain progress tracking MailChimp integration . It is also multi-language, mobile responsive web-optimised. Content can be imported and exported. They also confirm that you own your content. There is a free starter option but to have the real benefits, it costs from $39/m+5%transaction fee to $219/m+no transaction fees.

5. Edloud

EdLoud logoEdloud does indeed scream loud above many of its competitors if you look at their features. For $99/m, it offers what everyone else offers plus help from an online training strategist, unlimited everything and social media integration and even training! Specific features are: Work with an Online Training Strategist (which I must admit is really important as online courses is not just uploading content!)  Completely Mobile-Responsive  Complete Affiliate Marketing Engine  Discount codes and coupons  Hassle-free instant upgrades and updates 99.98% uptime and 24/7 monitoring  Deep analytics and reports  24/7 Customer Support Secure payments with credit cards and PayPal  handles taxes and billing  Social media integration  Integration with 300+ services including Mailchimp  Unlimited courses and students/customers  Unlimited bandwidth and traffic  Sell in any currency to any country around the world Offer Online Courses, Webinars, Live Sessions, E-Books, … create interactive courses  Brand your school Everything you need to know about selling education and training products online. Unfortunately the site does not mention anything about student refund.

6. Ruzuku

RuzukuThis online course platform’s website has a number of testimonies mainly from women using the and loving its simplicity and straightforwardness. It does look easy to get a course online but the result looks a little outdated from what is shown. Its USP is its highly developed platform as a community of students and teachers identified by their social profiles, its Easy access to support via extensive media, and especially that students have easy access to Ruzuku support as they register, pay, and access your courses. Students are empowered and can post images, PDFs, and videos in their responses Ruzuku integrates with MailChimp, allows payments including via Stripe and Paypal. You can track students Create free courses Invite or remove participants from courses  Create Live (scheduled calendar-based) courses with automatic email notifications  Create On Demand courses with drip content  Create Self-Directed courses  Create new AND copy your existing courses Host and load multimedia files including for download. It offers Daily backups. Outisde of its website, Ruzuku is often cited as one of the best ones.

7. Teachery

TeacheryTeachery.co looks like a small contender in the online course platform arena. It fails to show a complete offer and this, in spite of many great features, including:  Unlimited Courses, Lessons, and Students  simple live course editor Multimedia content including slideshare presentation course style editor / branding payment pages and promo codes easy customer export custom domains custom course homepage tracking code and analytics comments and community welcome emails and course completed emails customer support email integration including with Mailchimp landing pages sales pages email capture pages

8. Udemy

UdemyUdemy is arguably the most known online course platforms. It is highly popular, mainly because it is one of the first one established that is free although you give up to 50% of your sales if Udemy brings in a student for you, otherwise you keep it all! The main medium is video but you can upload other content types. I don’t really feel it is a complete online learning course in the traditional sense but more of an opportunity to access a large community (namely over 9 million students) to showcase what is mainly video-based courses.

9. Content Management System powered online courses

Of course, there is also the option to sell courses from our own hosted-website.

SenseiLearnDashWordPress-powered websites can use
plugins such as WP Courseware, Learndash or
Wootheme’s Sensei.

joomlalmsWebsites using Joomla can extend the Content Management System with the add-on 
JoomlaLMS
and Drupal users can integrate Opigno.

If you are looking for hosted solutions like for the online course platforms described above, then there are very few that offer these and it is more of a niche market. wp-coursewareWordPress.com itself, in spite of offering free hosted WordPress blogging, does not enable addition of WordPress plugins so online learning will be impossible since WP Courseware and LearnDash are both WordPress plugins. 1InMusic.com allows music courses to be created and sold via their WordPress and LearnDash powered website. African-Counter.com welcomes any online course that teaches African heritage.

10. Blackboard / Moodle

BlackboardBlackboard LOGO is the leading Enterprise e-learning system in Higher Education. Although the Blackboard Academic Suite is mostly hosted within the institutions that purchase them, the company does offer paid, outsourced and managed hosting.  This is generally per active user per calendar period. So-called managed hosting clients include the likes of the University of Manchester. The actual provision will depend on contracts, but the advantages are having technical experts at hand for your Blackboard servers, 24/7 server support and maintenance. Blackboard also offers cheaper to free alternatives with CourseSites: you can create up to 5 course websites for free in which you can engage students in social learning, add multimedia into class content, assess performance, manage grades and share Open Education Resources.

11. Moodle

MoodleMoodle is the leading free open source (under the GPL licence) e-learning system used in Higher Education. It deals effectively with content and users from small and bigger organisations. Institutions can acquire Moodle simply by downloading it onto their servers. They can then brand it, as well as extend it with any of the wide range of available Moodle plugins. The website contains a lot of resources helping developers to build additional resources, users to share their courses (https://moodle.net/) and a lot more. It is important to note that, although Moodle itself and associated plugins are free, there is a cost associated with setting it up, configuring and customising it. Apart from the obvious time cost, that many disregard on the basis of DIY, a number of users, such as big adopter the Open University, have found that heavy customisation is needed to tailor what in effect is a generic e-learning solution, to their very particular needs. This has not been the case for all however, as Moodle does boast a plethora of learning activities including, as per their website:  a modern and easy to use interface  a personalised Dashboard  a variety of Collaborative tools and activities  an All-in-one calendar  a convenient file management system  a simple and intuitive text editor  notifications and progress tracking   Customisable site design and layout  Secure authentication and mass enrolment, Multilingual capability  Bulk course creation and easy backup  user and role permissions control  open standards support including SCORM and IMS-LTI as well as High interoperability  Simple plugin management  Regular security updates  and  Detailed reporting and logs.

12. TalentLMS

There is an annoying advert that keeps on coming up when I am watching YouTube clips. I guess it has worked because I have remembered to include TalentLMS on this list, in spite of not really seeing it anywhere else during my research. A lot of things seem to be annoying about their presentation of themselves, from the ad to their so-called yes list (a list of all they have presented as a list of close-answer FAQs for which the answer is always yes, but also does not allow a full list that truly allows you to see what is NOT available) and yet this online course platform could be a serious contender. Allowing you to have up to 10 free courses with up to 5 students with no time limit (and even advocating it as a first point of call), its prices go up to $449/m + $4 per additional active user. Its list of customers is impressive and it is mobile-friendly, acknowledges learning paths, allows reports, is free of tech headaches as it hosts/installs/automatically updates/backups and allows you to create rich multimedia courses and sell them. They claim that is so simple that you can start your learning portal in less than 3 minutes… and it is free to start with no credit card needed…

Conclusion

Choice are always dependent on business requirements, personal preferences and available budgets. At different times and under varied circumstances, I have recommended different LMS and sometimes the same. This list and quick summary gives enough insight into what is available to make an aware primary decision before drilling down to testing a couple, at the most three. It is also worth noting that the market changes often due to continual technology enhancement, and as a consequence, consideration should be given to the life expectancy of a selected piece of software.

Manuella Essaka on Linkedin
Manuella Essaka
Manuella Essaka is a highly experienced Digital Consultant and Project Manager, with a successful track record delivering e-Learning, Website and Mobile Solutions to educators and learners, music professionals, businesses and organisations. She is passionate about empowering clients by developing their understanding and ownership of the digital solutions setup through regular jargon-free communications, structured training and analytical reporting.
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