Today, formal higher education is more expensive than ever before. People have to make the difficult choice of either going far into debt to pay for college or the risk of entering the workforce with less education.
On the plus side, there are also more alternatives to traditional higher education than ever before. Online, one can take courses that teach specific skills. While it might take decades, this could be the future of education after high school for most people.
Today, anyone with enough talent can become a professional entertainer using youtube. Modern technology also allows anyone to become a professor if they have the skills.
If you think you could teach a subject, you can take a shot at teaching a course online. Not everyone who tries to sell an online course will succeed, but it is realistically achievable. If you can bring something new and not merely standard to the table, you have a chance at success.
Many people can make a full time living out of their online courses. Others keep their day jobs but earn far more money than they did before and have much more financial security.
Selling your courses online does not require a lot of complicated technical knowledge. Many different online tools will help you set your courses up online. You do not need to know how to write code to set up these courses, and you will not need to hire anyone.
Anyone can learn to use these tools. Different platforms have their advantages and disadvantages.
What is WordPress
WordPress is an enormously popular software, so popular that much of the internet runs on it. WordPress makes website design simple. Anyone can use WordPress to start a blog with little technical knowledge.
People still assume that WordPress is for blogs, but today it is used to create websites of all kinds. More than a third of the sites on the entire internet runs on WordPress.
Part of the enormous success of WordPress comes from the fact that it is open-source software. Anyone can modify the WordPress code and share the new version with others legally.
Today, people use WordPress to build not only blogs but online stores, forums, portfolios, and even social networks. If you are okay with a wordpress.com name (yourwebsite.wordpress.com), then WordPress is free. If you want to do it the professional way, you get yourself a domain name (yourdomainname.com) and a hosting service, and off you go.
What is a plugin
A WordPress plugin is a piece of software that adds new features to a WordPress website. It allows you to go beyond the limited tools that the WordPress editor has.
Plugins allow you to build many different types of websites. If you need a feature that the basic WordPress editor does not have, there is surely a plugin for it!
WordPress has been around for a long time, is extremely widely used, and is open source. For this reason, one can find a plugin for almost anything.
Someone has quite likely already coded whatever feature you need. The official directory lists thousands of different plugins for WordPress users to download.
What are the learning management systems (LMS)?
Learning management systems are essential to understand if you want to teach your own courses online. A learning management system is a program that your students will use when taking your courses.
With a learning management system, you can build a course that students can log in to and explore. As well as individuals hosting courses, businesses use learning management systems to create training programs.
With a learning management system, you can direct your students to many different types of content. Your students can see your videos, written works, and PowerPoint presentations after they log in to the learning management system.
You can also give your students tests using a learning management system. You can also use a learning management system to track information about how students use your course.
The best learning management systems are easy for both the course designer and the students to understand. A teacher should not risk using a learning management system that might be a little bit difficult.
Ease of use sells can sell anything. Ease of use sells courses just as much as it sells products.
Here are the very best LMS’s to sell your online courses from your website:
Accessally is reasonably easy to understand, so it might be the right first choice if you have never used a learning management system before.
You will not have to install a lot of different plugins for Accessally to have more than a bare-bones list of features. You can begin working on your course quickly, without having to install any new plugins until later on.
With Accessally, your students can use a progress tracking feature to know how close they are to finishing the course.
Your students quite likely have other responsibilities besides the online courses they are taking, and this progress tracking feature helps your students manage their often limited time.
Accessally also offers dynamic checklists to help your students manage their time.
Accessally is best for structured courses that a student has to complete in a specific order, not in any order they want. Structured courses tend to be better for students than more open-ended courses.
For example, a student might have to complete a quiz at the end of the first module. Only after completing this quiz will they be able to look at videos and written notes for the second module.
They need structure and should not be able to see all of the content right from the start. Accessally makes it easy for you to restrict content to students that have completed certain tasks.
- Easy to use tools for restricting content to students who have completed certain tasks
- Good send and receive feedback system
- Quiz builder
- Designed for membership websites and not solely as a learning management system
MemberPress cannot be used to build courses on its own (though you can do this too with by combining a page builder like Elementor Pro with Memberpress). Instead, it is a tool that helps teachers who use other course builders.
A teacher who builds courses in LearnDash, for example, might make use of MemberPress as well to improve the quality of their courses.
One can use MemberPress to track information about student behavior and, in other ways, enhance courses built in other course builders. It is a tool useful for course builders and not a course builder itself.
MemberPress may be the right choice if you are looking for a learning management system that is good for tracking information. You can keep track of every student or employee’s progress through the course, knowing what materials they look at more than once and what materials they ignore.
You can use this information to figure out how to improve your class in the future. Content that students ignore can be replaced with more exciting content. A person who sells courses online is always making improvements, and MemberPress makes it easy to improve one’s classes.
With MemberPress, it is easy to create timed quizzes that students cannot take all day to complete. MemberPress handles signup and login features for you, and it is easy to set up a payment system with MemberPress.
You can use Memberpress to have a mix of free content and paid content in your courses. You can offer students half of your course for free, and then restrict the other half to those who pay. This can make it much easier to bring in new students, especially if you are not yet a well known and respected course creator.
Do not assume that a tool like MemberPress is of little use if you cannot use it to build courses per se. For example, you might find a good and cheap course builder that lacks top-end tracking tools. In that case, you could install MemberPess and use it to track your student’s behavior.
- Better tracking tools than other learning management systems. Learn more about how your students use your course.
- Easy setup with a straightforward setup wizard
- Content restriction and content management
- File protection
- Not necessarily worth its somewhat higher price
- Not a course builder on its own – can only be used in combination with other course builders or webpage builders, like Elementor Pro
LearnDash is often found at the top of a list of the best learning management systems. LearnDash is a favorite of those who sell courses independently of the universities.
Universities, training organizations, and non-profits also use LearnDash. LearnDash is under very active development, so there are always new features to try. The quality of the course builder is part of LearnDash’s success.
In 2019, LearnDash 3.0 was released, introducing new features that were not yet available on other learning management systems. LearnDash aims to be mobile-friendly, to have an excellent user interface, and to make the interaction between the front end and the back end easy to understand.
The developers of LearnDash see poor interface quality and lack of compatibility with mobile devices as the main flaws of other learning management systems. LearnDash aims to correct these flaws.
LearnDash 3.0 offers an advanced quiz builder that makes it easy to build a custom test without programming knowledge. It is effortless to use – you can click on a question and select a question type – but also has powerful features.
You can modify the settings of each question and of the test itself. LearnDash will grade these quizzes automatically.
Another advantage of LearnDash is that you can “drip-feed” content to users. Not all content has to be available to users on the first day. You can “drip-feed” your content or, in other words, make some content unavailable until partway through the course.
You can also make it so that some content is invisible to users until they complete specific tasks.
With LearnDash, one can also export content and load their content into other courses. This feature gives LearnDash a massive advantage over learning management systems to do not offer it.
One can export a single lesson from a course that has ten lessons, and then import this single lesson into another course. If you are running multiple courses, this can save you a lot of time. You can also share content with other course creators using LearnDash.
- Easy to make your courses look professional and not like ordinary blog posts
- Course builder is easy to use
- Good quiz builder
- You can export lessons and add them to other courses
- Adding new plugins can sometimes cause LearnDash to have problems if you have the wrong combination of plugins
LifterLMS lets you create many different types of online learning programs, including large training websites that have many students and many different instructors.
It works just as well on a large scale as on a small scale. One can create a small course that has a single instructor and only a small number of students, or a business can use LifterLMS to create something on a much larger scale.
This scalability makes LifterLMS popular with corporations and not merely with independent course creators.
LifterLMS is popular with professionals who build courses for companies. It is a powerful tool that is used by those who create online courses for many different companies as a profession.
It works just as well for single course creators that are just starting and building their first course on their own. LifterLMS is a complete system that allows one to build courses and does not have to be used in conjunction with any other software other than WordPress itself.
LifterLMS has an excellent course builder with s simple drag and drop interface. One can upload videos, text content, or audio content and make it look just as good on the front end as on the back end.
One can also add quizzes just as easily with LifterLMS. Quizzes are automatically graded, saving the instructor or company a lot of time.
LifterLMS has plenty of different built-in payment options. One can offer some of the lessons for free and charge money for the rest of it. One can charge a single fee for the entire course or can charge a monthly fee depending on their goals.
You might use LifterLMS to build an education website that people pay a subscription for the full version of, so it is useful to be able to charge monthly fees.
You can even use multiple payment options, giving students a free version, a mid-priced version, and a premium version if you want to do this.
LifterLMS is great for keeping your students engaged. One can use gamification to keep the experience interesting for your students.
LifterLMS also allows you to set up forums for your students to be able to interact with each other better than with most other learning management systems. Students can earn badges for completing tasks and create online profiles.
- Great for many different types of projects and not merely for single instructor courses
- Many different payment options for students
- No significant drawbacks unless one is looking for a free option
The free version of LearnPress is impressive for a completely free learning management system. Some of the addons, of course, cost money, but there is a lot one can do with the free version.
Arguably, the free version of LearnPress is better than any other completely free learning management system.
Setup is more complicated with LearnPress than with other learning management systems as it does not include a typical setup wizard. If you want to avoid anything that is a technical hassle, you might not want to bother with LearnPress.
LearnPress becomes more comfortable to use after the initial setup. It is not much of a hassle to add quizzes, tests, videos, and assignments to LearnPress than it is to add these to other platforms.
LearnPress is not a poor platform by any means, and you will find it quite feature-rich if you give it a chance. Learnpress also integrates easily with other platforms, such as WooCommerce and bbPress.
People vary in their opinion of the LearnPress platform. At worst, customers describe it as poorly coded and slow. If you install many different addons, you may end up with a site that runs slowly. Not everyone runs into these performance issues.
Nonetheless, LearnPress remains very popular. It has more users than any other WordPress LMS. Assuming that you find it easy to use and fast (different people have different experiences), you may end up preferring LearnPress.
- Very feature-rich even if you do not buy anything
- No likelihood of compatibility problems between the LearnPress plugin and WordPress themes
- Supports PayPal plus other payment systems with free addons
- Can be challenging to use at first, although not in the long run
- Limited customer support for free accounts
- No money-back guarantee
- May slow down if you install too many addons
Restrict Content Pro is not a complete course building system. You can only use it to create courses in combination with other software. However, it is still a useful tool.
Restrict Content Pro allows you to hide WordPress content behind a paywall. If you are already a successful WordPress content creator, you may be able to make money from Restrict Content Pro on its own.
If you have an audience, you could hide some of your new content behind a paywall and see if your fans are willing to pay for it. However, one cannot create things like quizzes with Restrict Content Pro.
- A trusted and easy to use tool for helping WordPress publishers monetize their content
- Not a complete course building system
- Payment features may not be necessary if you are already using a real course building system
Sensei has a very successful company behind it. The developers of Sensei built WooCommerce and even created WordPress.com itself.
Sensei is particularly easy to use because it is similar to the WordPress interface. If you already know how to make high-quality websites using WordPress, you do not need to know much more to build stylish looking courses.
Unfortunately, active development on Sensei has stopped. The developers have not updated Sensei since 2015. While Sensei still works and is still used, you should probably avoid it.
You will have a better time using software that the developers still believe in and that they still improve upon.
Sensei is also expensive. As well as costing $149 to $299, Sensei also requires a lot of paid plugins to have a lot of features. The strong need for paid plugins makes Sensei cost a few times more than its stated price.
Sensei also only works if you are using WooCommerce, which costs money as well.
- Functional learning management system built by very respected software developers
- The option of creating quizzes that are graded manually rather than automatically
- Too expensive
- No longer updated by the developers
WooCommerce is known mostly as a platform for selling goods online and not as a course building system. However, the WooCommerce tools are powerful enough that one can use them to help you create online courses as well.
WooCommerce is not a complete course building system, but it can still be used by course builders. Some learning management systems such as Sensei require you to have WooCommerce to use their course builders.
You can also use WooCommerce to help sell your courses if you prefer the WooCommerce payment system.
- Required to use some learning management systems
- Can assist instructors using a different learning management system
- Not usually necessary for most course builders
- Is not used to build courses on its own
WPCourseWare is purely a tool for building courses online. It does not have any other purposes, and the developers do not intend it to be used to create membership websites.
WPCourseWare is an easy to use course builder that is only for the purpose of building courses. While it is not one of the most popular options, it has been used to create 20,000 courses.
The WPCourseWare course builder achieves an excellent combination of being easy to use while allowing you to create whatever courses you want.
You might choose to let students see all of your content at once, or you might give them content on a timeline, or only after they complete specific tasks.
You can sell your courses with either Stripe or PayPal and can charge a monthly fee instead of a single fee.
Quizzes can also have random questions from a question bank instead of each student having the same questions. This makes it much more difficult for students to cheat.
If different students have different questions, they cannot easily share information.
It is also easy to track data with WPCourseWare. You can quickly find out how many students you have and how far they are along in the course.
If you want to succeed in selling courses online, you need to improve them repeatedly. With proper tracking tools, you can identify parts of your class that are too easy or too difficult.
- Easy to use
- Excellent tracking tools
- Randomize your quiz questions
- Reasonably cheap and does not require lots of paid plugins
- Not one of the best known or most popular choices
- You may need to spend time installing many free plugins
- Third-party programs needed for payment as this has no features other than course building tools
Although slightly expensive ($199), CoursePress does boast an impressive list of features. CoursePress be able to compete with better-known learning management systems and become one of the best-known options in the future.
Many other learning management systems have compatibility issues – for example, a WordPress theme might not be compatible with an LMS. Coursepress seeks to avoid these issues.
Coursepress offers a long list of features, including:
- Support for multiple instructors, with different responsibilities and permissions
- Very many different payment options, not limited to single PayPal fees
- Both manual and automatic grading for tests
- Discussion boards
- Automatically send emails to students at specific times
- Tools to help instructors promote their courses
On another level, this is not yet one of the best-known platforms. If one wants to use a course building program that everyone knows about, they might have to look elsewhere.
- Reasonably cheap
- Lots of payment options
- Not yet very well known and established
The most popular choices are not always the best choices with learning management systems. LifterLMS, for example, is better than LearnPress in most ways even though LearnPress is more popular.
On another level, LearnPress does offer a free option, which might be the best if you are just beginning your online teaching side job.
If you are interested in teaching courses online, you should probably take a shot at it. You might be surprised by how much extra money you can make in this way, and how much fun you can have with it, even if you do not manage to quit your day job and teach full time.
The market is not so saturated that a new teacher has little chance. Look at the courses that you are going to be competing with, and offer something distinctive and of comparable quality.
Offer some of your content for free, and many students will be willing to give paid content a try as well.
Related: How to create an online course
Related: How to sell an online course