With over a 100 different course platforms to choose from, each with different pricing models, features, and technical capabilities the options are truly bewildering.
Whilst this can be intimidating, and off-pointing – don’t let it.
In this article we will cover the most critical salient points so you know what to look for to help you make your selection as well as introducing a few of the options available to you.
Whilst many platforms will offer a free trial account, the down-side is that it takes some significant time (ok a lot of time to be honest) to investigate any platform. So a free account sounds great but in practise it’s unlikely to get you much closer to a final conclusion.
It’s an area that I think it’s really helpful to get some outside and experienced guidance to help you on your decision. And I’ve written this article to start you on your journey.
If that’s out-of-reach for you, then you may find that a demo is more informative and a more efficient use of your time than a free trial account.
There’s also a cost comparison of several of the major options towards the end of this piece for your easy reference.
First things first
The biggest asset you can have, and what I feel is critical to enable you to find and select the most appropriate platform for you is getting absolutely clear on what your primary objective is.
This should then guide all your investigations, and will act like a radar helping you navigate these dangerous seas. Without it you’ll just be aiming blind, and you’re unlikely to achieve the best solution.
Selecting the wrong platform will have significant impact on your project, and whilst you can change at a later date, you can’t do so without cost and time penalties. So it’s worth investing a little time up-front now to make the most informed decision possible.
There’s a clip above from a webinar I delivered a little while ago on this point, I think you’ll find it helpful and it’s a great starting point.
Self assessment audit
Answer these few questions yourself to better understand what you need from your training platform.
- Do you have a special feature requirement?
- Y = Research and filter your options by those that have this option
- Is this primarily a marketing product (without a direct ROI need)?
- Y = Then consider a course market places such as Udemy, etc.
- N = Then avoid market places and research more significant platforms, such as the ones listed in the form below.
- Is future-proofing important?
- Y = Then consider creating your own platform, or using an open-source solution that has lot’s of plugin options so it’s easy to upgrade your functionality in the future.
- Never created a commercial course before?
- Y = Then consider speaking to an experienced Instructional Designer or LMS consultant to help guide you.
Now armed with these details use that to help guide you. More details below…
All platforms are not made equal
For the most part each platform has been built with one primary use-case in mind, with different platforms having different views of how best to serve that use-case (user scenario).
In broad terms I like to chunk digital courses into these four separate user categories, and this can help understand our own needs, and then match those to a platform of choice.
- Low cost course to the end user to maximise the quantity of users
- Primary goal is to upset them to other courses / services
- Often low-end LMS platforms / media distribution partners
- LMS candidates: Udemy, Kajabi, YouTube, Membership sites etc.
- Stand-alone product in itself that provides genuine benefit to the end user
- Typically will include various user engagement activities to ensure they are engaged, learning, and absorbing the material you are providing
- May include synchronous, and asynchronous content (more info on that here [link to blog / clip], or a fully blended learning experience (both).
- Primary goal is to train internal staff, measure and assess their performance
- Onboarding new staff / Increasing performance across the organisation
- LMS candidates: CrossKnowledge,
Universities, and schools
- LMS platforms used by, or created by Universities and large educational centres to deliver educational material
- The LMS of choice is usually chosen at higher level, and thus I don’t explore these candidates here
Chances are you fit into one of the above categories (if you do not please send me a message I’d love to learn more about your specific user-case situation). Be aware of that when you are searching for the right platform for yourself.
The feature conundrum
When it comes to features all platforms have to walk an undesirable tight-rope (except open-source platforms more on that in a moment).
Every platform knows that the more the students are engaged the better they perform, and the better their results. To achieve that you need a variety of engagement features, ones that will be suitable for the wide variety of courses that they wish to attract to their platform.
So on the face of it it would be wise for every platform to include as many features as possible. Right… No!
Because the more features you add, the more difficult the platform is to use. Both for the creator to create, and for the student to use. It also adds ‘weight’ to the software service, that will lead to slower systems and a significant degradation in performance. Not good.
Hence the tight-rope, or the future conundrum.
On one hand the platform wants to provide as many features as possible, and on the other, as few as possible.
Every platform has reached a different conclusion on what the magic formula is, and which features to include and which to avoid. It’s down to you to decide which is the best fit for you.
There is however another option…
There are some open-source options, and by far the biggest and most impressive and established is Moodle (or Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment if you prefer). Moodle’s primary focus is on interaction.
It’s been in continual development since it’s launch in 2002 and has improved tremendously in the last few years to become a very powerful, impressive and flexible platform.
As I write this there are currently over 1600 plugins available for that platform – that’s not a typo. Over 1600!
So chances are if you need a particular feature it’s already available via one of those plugins.
This is a great solution to the feature conundrum issue I described above.
Rather like a wordpress website (if you are familiar) you can add as much or as little functionality as you need. Always keeping the platform as light weight as possible.
Future-proofing is built in effectively, because you can always expand the features of your course at any time, and without having to change platforms with all the hassle that would entail.
Most of the plugins area available free, but this varies from plugin to plugin.
Installing, configuring and creating a course in an open-source environment such as Moodle is beyond most non developers, and non instructional designers. Which is why many rookies don’t consider it.
If you are diligent, and have the time and dedication you can totally learn how to do this. But is that really a wise use of your time?
A better solution is to hire experienced people to achieve this for you.
Experienced Developer & Designer
An experienced Moodle developer will be able to download, install and configure and test the Moodle onto a web address that you own. Then hire an experienced Instructional Designer to construct the course for you.
You will of course have to pay the developer and designer for their expertise, but you can off-set those costs against the costs of the platform as Moodle itself is free to use as it’s open-source.
Expert-Velocity – Create-A-Course
Plug alert! As experienced instructional designers we can design, and build your course on practically any platform.
As I write this we are currently mid-way through a Cross-Knowledge project (a LMS platform designed for Global corporations) for a well known global beer brand – that’s refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach :).
For other organisations we typically create and build the courses using Moodle and host them on our own hosted Moodle installation.
You don’t have any Moodle installation costs (since we’ve already done that), you simple pay us for our Instructional Design services.
- No ongoing monthly costs
- No Moodle installation costs
- No hosting costs †
- Highly flexible solution with over 1600 plugin options
Digital courses are largely evergreen, meaning that they do not decay quickly.
Whilst nothing lasts forever it’s reasonable to assume (and my experience and research confirms) that a course is likely to have a life-span of at least ten years, and more typically 12-15 years.
Thus it’s very important to consider the costs of your chosen platform not over a month, or a year as many rookies do, but certainly across several years and the form below will help you do that.
You can see that if you were making your decision based on price alone that you might reach a very different conclusion if you ONLY compared prices across just one year.
And you’d probably reach a very different conclusion if you compared over ten or 15 years.
- Additional fees
- 1 YEAR
- 5 YEARS
- 10 YEARS
- 15 YEARS
- $1 + 10%
In most platforms there are three different service levels (plans) available.
The above form typically shows the cost of the mid-level plan which in most cases will be the most appropriate for those that want a professional level service, but are not a multi-million corporation (yet).
Whilst there are differences between all the platforms and plans with regards to functionality etc., these plans have been chosen because they are the most similar across these particular platform.
And therefore as-much-as-is-possible are comparing apples-with-apples.
That said please consider this is a starting point, and dig deeper into any platforms that appeal to you for more details. Or preferably speak to a specialist who can better guide you.
Selecting the right training course solution is an important decision. It effects how your course is delivered to your clients, how engaged they will be and the results that they will ultimately achieve.
So here’s a quick summary;
- Get clear on your primary objective
- Get advice from an experienced instructional designer
- Identify any critical features and identify the platform/s that have them
- Consider the expected life-span of your course
- Get a demo or audition your number #1 option
Go for it!
If you would like a demo on the Expert-Velocity platform you can request that below ⇣
† Hosting on Expert-Velocity is free for two years for every customer, then just $100 per year