The Two Broad Categories Of Course Hosting Platforms
In my article about course hosting in the cloud, I mentioned that there are two categories of platforms:
- Course hosting platforms (sites like Teachable or Thinkific) and
- Course marketplaces (sites like Udemy or Skillshare).
While superficially similar, there are some major differences between these two categories of platforms. It’s important to understand the characteristics of each kind of platform before deciding to use one or the other.
Characteristics of Course Marketplaces
Marketplaces (sites like Udemy) sell your courses for you (so that you can focus on course creation), at the expense of reduced visibility for you. Reduced visibility as an instructor often translates to increased cost or reduced revenue.
Marketplaces are platforms which offer a variety of courses provided by multiple instructors. Sites like Udemy take care of certain marketing aspects, and they already have an existing (and often massive) customer base. This may make marketing easier for a course creator. It usually comes at the cost of not building a following for your own organization and not building your own brand. The extent of marketing carried out by the platform often varies significantly depending on how much potential the platform sees for your course.
Advantages of marketplaces:
- Access to an existing (and often very large) user base
- Guidance and support
- Course marketing done for you
Disadvantages of marketplaces:
- Dependency on a platform
- Customers are the platform’s customers
- The platform’s rules may change at any time (e.g. Udemy pricing change 3/2016)
- Competition – the platform may send your students to competitors’ courses
- Course ratings may put your courses as at a disadvantage vs. the competition
- Course creators who’re starting out, and don’t have a list.
- Course creators who want to keep the setup and technical aspects to a bare minimum
- Course creators who intend to stick with the platform
- Course creators who just want to create courses and not deal with any other aspect (marketing, running a website, …)
Not recommended for:
- Course creators who are going to build education businesses with multiple products on multiple platforms. The sales you make on marketplaces are often “lost” – you can’t draw your students’ attention to your other products in most cases.
- Course creators who may want to switch to other platforms later on as you will lose most of your customers in such a case.
Characteristics of Course Hosting Platforms
Online course hosting platforms provide the technology to host courses. They leave
- list building and
- actually selling courses to yourself.
The actual courses published on these platforms are often very similar to those offered on marketplaces. Video hosting, discussions and often quizzes are available to build your courses. Contrary to marketplaces, course hosters often offer website features (landing pages, blog) so that you often don’t even need to run a separate website if you want to avoid that.
Advantages of course hosting platforms:
- Freedom (any price, any course topic, any style and quality level)
- Build your customer base
- If you switch platforms, your customers stay with you
Disadvantages of course hosting platforms:
- You’re on your own when it comes to attracting customers
Please note that using course hosting platforms is not more difficult than using marketplaces. Usability is great with many course hosting platforms, and setting up a school on any of them will not be an obstacle for you.
There is always the option of publishing both on marketplace platforms as well as on course hosting platforms. This allows you to try out what works best for you, profiting from marketplace advantages while building your own list at the same time.
Marketplaces like Udemy seem tempting when you get started, as you have no realistic way of accessing an audience equally large on your own. While this is certainly true, marketplaces will not promote just any course. They will promote the courses where the see the biggest chances of success (= sales). In many cases, this means that your course needs to get traction before being picked up by the marketplace’s marketing. If you’re not able to generate traction (e.g. by directing customers from your own list to the marketplace), your course may not be promoted.
If your topic is a niche topic and doesn’t fit your marketplace’s profile, it may not be picked up by the platform’s marketing, and you may actually be better off on your own. On the other hand, if your course is a good fit for the marketplace, you may enjoy significant benefits from the marketplace.
Being present only on a marketplace poses certain risks. Sites like Skillshare or Udemy may change terms & conditions at any time (and have been known to do so in the past). You need to be aware of the fact that their revenue (not yours) is their priority. This means that a platform can make decisions that impact you negatively (but have positive impact on their business). If such a decision were to force you to move to a different platform, you will lose the majority of your customers. Marketplaces make it very hard (this is in their interest) to build your own list.
Marketplaces still offer opportunities which shouldn’t be dismissed. I would recommend a compromise.
The following are just very general recommendations. You may not fit either category 100%, and you may still be successful by going against this advice.
Experienced Online Marketer / Established Training Business
- You have your own list
- You have experience teaching and building courses
- You have experience in online marketing
I recommend you look at the course hosting platforms. The platforms presented in this guide are just as easy to use as marketplaces, and provide significant advantages. You will be able to drive sales with your own list and marketing, and you’ll enjoy the added flexibility / independence.
- You do not have a list
- You have not yet built courses before
- You do not know how to market your course
I recommend you start with a marketplace. You will not necessarily stick with it indefinitely, but it’ll provide a gentle way to get started.
Use the marketplace to
- Learn the craft of course creation (they offer assistance)
- Build a reputation
- Develop a feeling for the mechanisms of online marketing
- Generate leads within the allowed parameters (often very limited)
Since building your own audience will be limited by marketplaces, I would also recommend starting to build your own school in parallel. You don’t have to do this immediately, but as soon as you find some free time, get started. This will allow you to collect leads in your own email list on your own school.
For a complete and detailed overview of the best course hosting platforms for solopreneurs, download my course hosting platform guide for FREE!