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15 Best Online Course Platforms for 2021 (With Free Options)

Everybody knows that the future of education is online.

And despite what the pandemic would have you believe, the market for online education will have grown to $115 billion between 2017 to 2022.

If anything, COVID-19 simply brought the inevitable sooner than later.

And instead of refusing online as the new normal for education, it’s time to embrace it.

Whether you’re a course creator or taker, below are the best online course platforms you must know more about moving forward.

What Are Online Course Platforms?

As a type of Learning Management System (LMS), online course platforms give users access to educational materials from their computers or mobile devices. Most online courses allow their students to progress at their own pace before taking exercises and exams to complete the course.

To compensate for the lack of human touch, good online courses also provide an immersive learning experience through the use of text, videos, PDFs, audio, and others. However, not all instructors present their courses this way as the approach depends on a case-to-case basis.

Best Online Course Platforms for 2021?

A really good online course platform allows you to present materials dynamically. They also give you a chance to set up your courses on a site where people can learn more about them before signing up.

Finally, these platforms give you options on how to receive payment from course takers to help you create a self-sustaining stream of income.

That said below are online course platforms that fit the description above to a tee.

1. Thinkific

Best Overall Online Course Platform (Free or from $39/month)

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If you want a one-stop shop where you can set up and market your course to an audience, then Thinkific is for you.

Aside from customizing your courses from the platform, you can also create a website to promote them and sell them with your preferred pricing.

Key features

  • Upload and organize your course modules quickly using its drag-and-drop feature.
  • Create a website from its premium templates where you can sell all your courses.
  • Choose from many ways on how you can earn from the courses you’ll create.
  • Use tools for motivating students to finish your courses in time.
  • Teach online confidently with its secure cloud hosting, daily backups, and more.

Pricing

Thinkific has three paid plans starting at $39/month. You can also pay annually to get a 20% discount. The basic plan includes unlimited courses, custom domains, and email integration, among others.

Higher plans starting at $79/month give you access to additional admin accounts, private and hidden courses, memberships and bundles, and more.

All plans have a 30-day free trial so you can give the platform a test drive.

2. Learnworlds

Best Online Learning Platform for Video Creators ($29/month)

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Learnworlds is one of the few platforms that allow you to create engaging videos to help facilitate learning.

You can add transcripts and interactions in the videos. This way, you make them easier to understand for hearing-impaired students and those who have short attention spans.

Key features

  • All interactive elements in all your course videos to make them more accessible.
  • Create a variety of tests that students must pass to earn their course certificate.
  • Upsell and cross-sell memberships, courses, and bundles for increased sales.
  • Invite students in your community to help them engage with like-minded people.
  • Build a website to promote and sell your courses with a few clicks.

Pricing

Learnworlds has three paid tiers starting with the Starter Plan at $29/month with a 30-day free trial.

It has everything you need to set up your e-learning business (unlimited courses, built-in community, coupons). On the downside, it takes $5 off every course sale and has only four payment gateways.

With higher plans starting at $99/month, you get access to premium features such as subscriptions and memberships, course certificates, live classes via Zoom, and others.

You can save up to 20% for yearly subscription on all plans.

3. Teachable

Best Online Course Platform for Beginners (from $29/month)

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With over 100,000 users who have made over $50 million from selling courses, you can’t go wrong with Teachable.

Part of its success is offering users everything they need to establish a successful online and e-learning business with the platform.

Key features

  • Integrate the platforms with third-party tools to automate your e-learning business.
  • Track and monitor the progress of your students and the sales of your courses.
  • Use its native Calendly integration to book leads and convert them into students.
  • Leverage its affiliate marketing features so you can get more sales and reward referees.
  • Get paid with over 130 currencies and make money without worrying about tax troubles.

Pricing

Teachable has three paid plans starting with the Basic plan at $39/month. It has the same features as the other two plans. However, it takes $5 off every course sale and has lower admin-level users.

Also, features like affiliate marketing, advanced reports, and certificates are available starting with the Pro plan ($119/month)

All plans offer unlimited videos, courses, and hosting. Also, you can save up to 20% for an annual subscription on all plans.

4. Kajabi

Best All-Inclusive Learning Platform for Professionals (from $119/month)

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While most online learning platforms require you to integrate with other tools to simplify your process, Kajabi takes it to a whole new level.

It takes the best features from these tools and combines them in a single dashboard. This way, you can manage your online business in peace without the troublesome integrations.

Key features

  • Turn your content into high-ticket courses or subscriptions at premium prices.
  • Grow your email list and send them beautiful emails with built-in dynamic elements.
  • Create websites and pages you can easily customize to match your brand.
  • Develop sales funnels using custom automation triggers for greater sales.
  • Tag and make notes of people based on their behavior to better serve them.

Pricing

Since Kajabi strives to be more than just an online learning platform, it makes it more expensive than the rest in this list. Starting at $149/month, you can create at least three products and pipelines with over 1,000 members and 10,000 contacts.

Higher plans ($199/month onwards) allow the use of its affiliate marketing and advance automation features. From here, you can also remove the Kajabi branding from all your products.

You can save up to 30% if you sign up to their annual subscriptions. All plans have a 14-day free trial to give you time to toy with it first.

5. Learndash

Best LMS Plugin for WordPress (from $16.50/month)

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If you have a WordPress or know your way around creating websites using the CMS, it’s best to just build your online courses in it.

Learndash gives you this opportunity to set up your online business using the full features of an LMS.

Key features

  • Create your branded learning portal with WordPress functionalities.
  • Sell courses using varying payment methods (membership, onetime payment, etc.).
  • Set up a course marketplace like Udemy and allow people to buy licenses in bulk.
  • Gain full control over your members and check their respective performances.
  • Use the latest tech, programs (SCORM, Tin Can API), and media on your site easily.

Pricing

Learndash offers three paid plans starting at $199/year for the Basic plan.

All plans have the same features (unlimited courses and users, 1-year support, drip-feed lessons, etc.). The difference is the number of sites that you can use the license on. The Basic plan only allows for a single site while the other plans (Plus at $229/year and Pro at $369/year) lets you use it on 10-25 sites. Also, the higher plans give you access to a dashboard and live activity reporting.

6. Podia

The Perfect Online Teaching Platform for Non-Techies (from $39/month)

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Some people have set up an online course but are unhappy with their current platform.

Thanks to Podia, you can migrate all your course materials for free without the technical know-how and start fresh.

More importantly, you can enjoy advanced features that will help maximize your sales and conversions.

Key features

  • Create a customizable website with help from live customer support.
  • Migrate your existing content (courses, website, etc.) to its hosting for free.
  • Pre-sell your digital products and use lead magnets to increase interest.
  • Connect with prospects via email marketing and messaging.
  • Generate more sales with 1-click upsells, product bundling, coupons, and more.

Pricing

Podia keeps it simple by offering only two plans: Mover ($39/month) and Shaker ($78/month). Both let you set up your courses with zero transaction feeds on your website hosted by the platform.

With Shaker, however, you get to enjoy premium features like affiliate marketing, blog, memberships, and others.

You can save up to 20% if you pay yearly instead of monthly.

7. Ruzuku

The Easiest Way to Deliver Online Courses (from $74.75/month)

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Given the unprecedented times, some people lack the know-how to move all their learning tools online.

However, Ruzuku simplifies setting up and launching your online courses so you can focus on the bottom line.

Key features

  • Launch and manage all your courses in a simple and powerful dashboard.
  • Bring your course to life on the platform using videos, PDFs, text, and others.
  • Track the progress of each student and encourage them to connect with each other.
  • Take payment (onetime or recurring) using your Stripe or PayPal accounts.
  • Receive excellent customer support to get the most out of your course.

Pricing

All three paid plans (starting at $99/month with a 14-day trial) have 0% transaction fees, accept PayPal and Stripe payments, and allow discount coupons that you can offer to people.

Higher plans receive access to unlimited webinars, polls and quizzes, and a wide variety of payment plans.

To save with your subscription, sign up for their yearly plans (from $99/month to $74.75/month paid annually).

If you’re unhappy with the platform, you can request for a refine within 30 days upon purchase – no questions asked.

8. Academy of Mine

The Best Enterprise B2B Online Learning Platform (from $499/month)

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If there’s a platform dedicated to the creation of internal training materials for organizations, the Academy of Mine is it.

Arguably the most robust among the list, it can deliver the most advanced features that meet the demands of B2B companies.

Key features

  • Create self-paced courses using videos, HTML, SCORM, TinCan, and more.
  • Set up live webinars with students and take the discussion to the next level.
  • Sell courses to companies and delegate the modules to their representatives using its Group Onboarding feature.
  • Deliver your courses to your students seamlessly by integrating with different platforms.
  • Get help from building your course from its in-house team’s custom services.

Pricing

For $9,997/year, the Academy of Mine provides users with everything they possibly need from an online learning platform.

It has the usual features common across all platforms – unlimited courses, integrated e-commerce, advanced reporting, and others.

However, since Academy of Mine caters to B2B clients, its Group Onboarding features is the most popular.

Upon purchase, you also receive 15 hours’ worth of onboarding and training from the team. This helps acquaint you with its distinct features so you can get the best out of it.

9. WizlQ

The Perfect Online Learning System for Educators (from $25/month)

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WizIQ works both as a platform for holding live classes online and as an LMS where you can sell online courses.

We highly recommend this for teachers looking to share their knowledge to people regardless of where they are.

Key features

  • Make live learning engaging with HD video conference, whiteboard, and more.
  • Create assessments available in different formats and put students to the test – literally!
  • Track the performance of students and courses or classes and look for areas of improvement.
  • Run and analyze your online classes and courses using its NextGen platform.
  • Take your class on the go with its mobile learning application.

Pricing

WizIQ offers Live Classroom (starting at $25/month paid annually) and its Learning Management System (contact sales for pricing).

The former is ideal for people who want to deliver live classes from their existing site through API. Under this option, there are three plans to choose from. All give you access to screen sharing, whiteboard, content library, and a maximum of two hours for the video, among others.

The LMS option is best-suited for people looking to launch online courses.

There are two plans to choose from. Both have basic features such as integrated payment gateways, discussion forum, conditional access to content, and others.

What Are the Best Online Learning Platforms for 2021?

Just as fun as creating courses is learning new skills you can capitalize later on. This is true especially in today’s world where we are experiencing a paradigm shift in how we receive education.

Therefore, on the flip side of profiting from your knowledge, below are online learning platforms where you can gain new knowledge about your interests and passions.

1. Shaw Academy

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Shaw Academy is one of the primary beneficiaries of the online course boom in 2020. But despite its surging popularity for its fine collection of courses, its reputation took a hit because of billing issues and poor customer support.

Pros:

  • Easy-to-digest training materials, even for complex topics.
  • Lots of courses to choose from over a variety of subjects.

Cons:

  • Was flagged on Trustpilot on 18 June 2020 for breaching the guidelines by inviting users to leave biased reviews.
  • Confusing pricing structure; it charged some users for payment they didn’t intend on paying.

Since the Trustpilot debacle, people are moving away from Shaw Academy to its alternatives. For your safety, we suggest you do the same.

2. Skillshare

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With a healthy mix of 20,000 free and premium online classes to choose from, Skillshare is a great place to start with your online education.

Learn about practical skills you can apply in real life from industry experts to help you level up your game in the workplace and life.

Pros:

  • Contains a variety of content about your interests that will keep you busy in a good way.
  • Offers various free trials to its premium courses that will help you decide whether or not to subscribe.

Cons:

  • Lack of closed captioning on some courses rendering some of it inaccessible.
  • Doesn’t offer certification after course completion, which is a deal-breaker for some.

With an excellent track record of courses, you can’t go wrong with at least trying Skillshare out.

3. Udemy

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Arguably the most popular online learning platform in this list, Udemy is home for over 130,000 courses that range across different topics under the sun.

By signing up, expect to learn from top instructors in their respective fields in easy-to-understand courses. If you run an orgnaization, the Udemy for Business grants you access to the top exclusive learning materials that will help you get to the top.

Pros:

  • Wide variety of courses specific to your niche that you can take at your own pace.
  • The presentation of the course and its sleek video player make learning more conducive.

Cons:

  • Inaccurate course ratings – just because a course has lots of 5-star reviews, doesn’t mean it’s good.
  • Low barrier of entry for instructors, which lends to subpar courses.

As a low-cost online learning platform, you will have to dig deep to find diamonds in the rough with Udemy.

4. LinkedIn Learning

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As the top social networking site for professionals, it only makes sense for LinkedIn to launch its own learning platform.

The result is a very concentrated but slowly growing collecting of courses from specific topics. Despite its limited coverage, LinkedIn Learning is an excellent choice for people who want to acquire skills that can help them level up their game at work.

Pros:

  • Enjoy access to Linked Premium features to help apply your newly acquired skills in the site’s job network.
  • Intuitive interface that lets you set goals, read the video transcripts, and check the course’s interactive Q&A.

Cons:

  • Courses are not accredited educational materials. This means students can’t transfer the credits earned from finishing the course to a university certificate.
  • Static delivery of course content – only limited to text and video.

LinkedIn Learning is a great source of insightful job-related courses to help you move up the ranks.

5. Treehouse

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The demand for technical and web-related skills are high nowadays.

Therefore, instead of sticking with the things you know, you may want to expand your skill sets that businesses need with the help of Treehouse.

Pros:

  • Arguably has the best library of courses related to coding and web development (Ruby on Rails, PHP, JavaScript, and more).
  • Receive university-level education (at a fraction of the cost) to prepare you for high-paying jobs in the marketplace with the Techdegree program.

Cons:

  • Once you cancel your subscription, you will lose access to the courses.
  • Lack of course reviews from its former students, making it difficult to decide whether or not the course is for you.

Despite the steep price ($199/month), learning code doesn’t get any better than Treehouse.

6. Coursera

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If you want to refine your existing skills or learn a new one, take courses that grant certifications as proof of completion and offer transferable credits to accredited institutions (but only if you’re currently enrolled in degree programs).

In this case, Coursera checks both boxes and then some. The platform is the place to find free and premium courses taught by top experts from the best universities and companies in the world.

Pros:

  • Enroll to and audit premium courses at no cost to you.
  • Hundreds and thousands of course takers to reach out to for networking opportunities.

Cons:

  • Little to non-existent interaction with instructors for collecting feedback, making the training too sterile.
  • Lacking in customer service and not enough online resources that answer concerns related to the platform.

Summary

In this day and age, online teaching and learning is the way to go. Even better, each platform caters to people with different wants and needs.

Thanks to the variety of online course and learning platforms available, there’s something for everyone. Based on the description for each tool above, decide which one is going to either help you sell courses effectively or gain new skills to move up the professional ladder.

Regarding the latter, Coursera seems to be the most logical destination for finding courses to take or audit for free. There’s also an option to pay and earn credits plus certification after finishing it.

But if you’re in the business of creating info products, Thinkific is the best place to start. It provides you with all the tools to set up, launch, and earn money from your courses.

Check out its site for more information by clicking here.

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