Top 10 Things to Look For When Choosing the Perfect Online Course Platform9 minute read
Picking the right online course platform can feel like a struggle for some creators. As builders of an online course platform, we’ll be the first to tell you that what is even more important than picking a platform for your online course is to just get started!
However, when it comes to online education, the tool and platform you choose to use can make a massive difference in both the value you are able to provide to your students and your bottom-line earnings.
If you are a creator with the skills to teach others, it is important that you have a tool built to help your students learn and achieve results from your courses. If you are like many Heights customers who are painters, writers, cooks, entrepreneurs, and coaches, you see yourself more as a creator with a skill to share, rather than an instructional designer or teacher in the traditional sense. Imparting knowledge online can be challenging compared to in-person teaching, which is why it is essential to have a platform entirely dedicated to helping you build a community that facilitates your students’ learning.
But how do you choose between all the platforms out there?
In today’s article, we’ll let you in the most important aspects to consider when looking for the perfect online course software. We’ll help make the choice easier for you so you can focus on building your online course rather than getting stuck in decision paralysis on how and where to build it.
Let’s see them below.
Self-Hosted vs. Marketplace: Which is Better to Build Online Courses?
Before getting into details, you need to understand the difference between a self-hosted platform and a marketplace.
We wrote a complete article about this: Online Course Software vs Marketplace - Which is Better for Your Business?
A self-hosted platform allows you to build your online course and retain control of your pricing, branding, and student enrollment. With a self-hosted platform, you’ll handle your own marketing, and you can create a personal brand. Your students are yours alone. You’ll be able to interact with them directly and allow them to interact with each other.
A marketplace is a site where you can sign-up and sell an online course under the site’s conditions: in most cases, you don’t have much control over your pricing, students’ enrollment, and you can do very little branding. You’ll have much fewer options with how you can interact and engage with your students, and likely the end result provided to students here will be much lower value.
While a self-hosted platform gives you the power to build an online course that is truly your own and to have complete control over your revenue, a marketplace offers you access to its pre-existing student base and gives you a head start with marketing, at the cost of a percentage of your sales going to the marketplace itself.
If your goal is to build your own branded community and course where students can learn and grow with you, and you want to be able to set your own prices and keep all of your earnings, then a self-hosted platform is a clear choice. Therefore, for this article’s purpose, we will cover components that are primarily found in self-hosted platforms.
With that said, let’s see the top 10 things to look for in an online course software or platform:
1. A Great Learning Experience for your Students
Your online course’s primary goal is to teach something; to share your knowledge.
So obviously, a great platform should allow you to do so. But how exactly?
You should look for a site with features designed to measure your students’ learning and help them translate their new knowledge into practice.
- Does the software let you structure your course into lessons, to simplify the learning process by drip-feeding knowledge?
- Does it offer any kind of analytics about students’ progress and results?
- Can you apply gamification tools to reward achievements?
- Can you create projects for your students to test their knowledge in real-life situations?
- Most importantly, does the software seem geared towards learning, or is it simply a marketing tool/web page builder?
All of the above are essential aspects to look for that will significantly increase your program’s value. Make sure to choose a platform that offers at least a couple of these features.
Heights Platform is designed to impart a sense of discovery and engage students to complete their course, applying the same principles that social media and video games use to keep us engaged. Heights lets you structure your course into modules and lessons and drip-feed them to your students. You have access to student analytics, and you can set up gamification by awarding badges, and creating projects for your students to complete.
2. Easy-to-Use Interface to Seamlessly Create Your Online Course
This is a no-brainer, a practical and easy-to-use platform will allow you to focus on creating content for your students and maximize your efforts.
Aim for an online course software with a straightforward built-in editor and integrated creator interface.
It should be easy for you as the creator to immediately understand how your content will appear to your students. You shouldn’t have to deal with a complicated admin interface that makes your content look completely different from what your students will experience. It should be easy to build your lessons, upload content, and collect payment from your students.
Most of the online course platforms out there offer the possibility of a free trial. This is a great way to understand if the software is the right one for your needs.
On Heights, you can use the Climb Outline to structure your course and lessons with ease.
3. Community Building and Student Engagement
If your students are engaged with your content and feel part of a community, your course will undoubtedly be successful.
But how can you create engagement in online education?
The right online course platform can help you achieve this. One way to build a sense of achievement among your students is to add gamification features to your lessons.
A recent study revealed that participants who learned through gamification scored 14% higher in skill-based assessments.
Gamifying your online course can be as simple as adding a points system or giving out badges and awards to your students whenever they complete a lesson or a set milestone. By earning points or rewards whenever a lesson is completed, your students will experience a feeling of accomplishment and realization while going through your program.
Community building is also an important part of a comprehensive course, especially for distanced online learning.
Having a forum or discussion board set up on your platform will enable your students to share ideas, tips and congratulate each other for their achievements. As their mentor, you’ll be able to answer questions, provide feedback, and more.
Heights Platform allows you to set up a discussion forum, where students can interact with each other and their mentor.
The unique projects feature in Heights Platform also helps your students engage and learn from each other, and provides past students a way to contribute and stick around to help out your newest customers.
4. Clear Pricing Plans, Avoid Commission-Based Structures.
Choosing the right pricing plan that suits your needs is also an important aspect to consider when looking for the perfect hosting solution.
Look for a platform that offers a transparent pricing strategy without hidden fees that will show up only after you’ve invested so much time building in one platform.
Most online course platforms offer multiple pricing options, depending on creators’ diverse needs.
Our advice is to steer clear from those platforms that are free or ask for a low price to begin with, but then take a commission of your earnings. (After making only a few sales, the percentage of your earnings that you lose to transaction fees and commissions will often be much higher than the flat monthly fee of other platforms!)
Instead, look for software with a fixed monthly or annual fee that doesn’t charge commissions and transaction fees. This way once you’ve gotten a few sales to cover your monthly platform costs, the rest is yours to grow your business with instead of having to consistently lose a percentage of your sales as you grow. A 5% transaction fee might not seem like much, but consider that you have a big launch one month and earn $10,000 from your course. That 5% fee would mean you’d pay the platform $500 for that month alone, in addition to other fees they might charge!
Heights Platform does not charge any transaction fees and offers a transparent pricing plan without taking any commission from its creators. There are no “necessary” add-on plans or hidden features sold at a separate subscription price. We offer 3 simple pricing plans based on the type of creator you are and the audience you have.
5. A Responsive Support Team to Assist You
This is an aspect that creators sometimes underestimate. There is nothing more frustrating than spending money on software and getting no support when you need it. We’re talking about support from true experts. Launching a new course shouldn’t be a nerve-wracking experience!
Even if a platform makes it super easy to set up your course, there are many components in a successful course launch, making it invaluable to have an expert support team at your disposal and ready to help you along the way.
When evaluating your software options, check out other creators’ reviews of a service’s customer support quality and its responsiveness. Live chat support isn’t worth much if they cannot provide you with actual answers!
When dealing with a software product, having a fast and helpful support team on your side will save you from headaches.
As a Heights Platform creator, you get support from experts that have helped thousands of creators around the world launch successful online courses and membership programs.
Check out creators’ reviews about Heights’ customer service.
6. White-Label Branding to Create Your Online Course
If your online course’s page is clearly your own and aligned with your branding, you’ll have more chances to affirm your authority and build credibility among your customers.
Creating a strong brand identity for your online course will also help you communicate your unique value proposition, establish credibility, and show authority in your field.
The software you choose should allow you to customize your pages and lessons, change the color themes, upload your own logo, set your custom domain, and more.
Heights Platform lets you completely customize your branding in full, from the domain name to your course’s color theme to the logo.
7. External Integrations
Heights Platform is an all-in-one course creation platform, meaning it provides all the tools you need to create and sell online courses. Still, every creator’s needs are different and there are likely other tools you enjoy or need to use for your particular business. The ability to connect your online course platform with your favorite external tools will make it easier for you to create a comprehensive program.
Here are a few things to look for in a platform:
- Can you upload content from external sources easily?
- Can you add integrations from other sites (ex: Google Analytics, Facebook Ads tracking, and more)?
- Can you import existing students from a different source without having to upgrade to a more expensive plan?
On Heights Platform, you can upload files to your lessons from a variety of sources, insert free images from Unsplash, accept payments directly to your Stripe and PayPal account, and use Zapier to connect your favorite apps and services.
8. Student Analytics
Having access to student analytics allows you to check your customers’ progress within your course and analyze their performance.
Analytics are important to help you understand which students are performing well, and who might need a little more help.
By collecting data about their achievements, as a mentor, you’ll be able to provide feedback and assess their learning curve.
Being able to see that a student who is struggling hasn’t yet viewed a specific lesson can help inform you on how you might improve your content for other students in the future. Using this data to reach out to struggling students is a fantastic way to make online learning more personal and add value to your teachings.
So it’s important not to forget about this aspect when choosing the best online course software for you.
On Heights Platform, you can check each student’s progress and much more. The screenshot below shows an example of what you can see as a creator.
9. Flexible Payment Settings for your Students
You might want to set different pricing strategies for your online courses. For instance, you could decide to sell your program for a one-time price or with installment payments. You might also want to offer a subscription or membership, and you might even plan to combine all these options into your future online education empire!
Depending on your course’s topic, length, customer base, you’ll evaluate the pricing strategy that is best for you.
When selecting a platform to host your online program, check if they offer the possibility of choosing between different pricing plans to set for your students.
On Heights Platform, you have almost unlimited flexibility in how you can structure your course and membership pricing. Create any number of one-time-price, installment plan, and subscription memberships. Sell courses individually, or add them to bundles along with download products, coaching services, private message boards, and projects for your students to purchase. You can also create coupon codes, presell your courses, manually and bulk enroll students, and more.
10. Basic Marketing Tools
Promoting your online course is an essential part of getting sales and gaining traffic to your site.
Just like opening a physical store, you’ll need to learn some marketing skills in order to attract customers to your course or membership program.
But there are a few things that you can look for that will help you get started with promoting your course.
Check if the platform allows you to connect your domain, build landing pages, add integrations with external apps, insert a tracking code or pixel on your website, customize your course page, send out announcements to your students, and more.
Heights Platform lets you do all of the above to get a head start on your marketing and minimize the need for external tools.Create Your Online Course Today