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I'm Mara — I help creatives create and launch digital courses and profitable products. I love chatting about online marketing, design and goal setting!

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How to Choose the Right Online Course Software

So, you’ve decided to take the leap and expand your business with an online course – congratulations! But when there are so many different online course software programs you could use, how do you know which one you should use? 

Over the last 5+ years as an online course designer and business strategist, I’ve helped clients build courses on SO many different platforms. I’ve seen the ins and outs of everything at this point and when people set out to create an online course, they often message me wanting to know which software I think is the “right” choice.

It would definitely make things easier if I could tell you that there’s ONE perfect online course software, the truth is there isn’t one answer that’s truly perfect for everyone. Finding the best fit for your unique needs can be overwhelming and intimidating – you could spend weeks, months, or even years in the research phase, trying to sift through all the options, and asking yourself questions like:

  • What features do I really need in an online course software?
  • How do I choose ONE software when there are so many similar choices?
  • How can I be sure I’m making the right choice for my business?
  • When do I even have the time to figure all of this out?!

It can become a total spiral of decision-making fatigue and overwhelm. Here’s the honest truth: 

Finding the best online course software for you depends on many factors unique to you, your business and your goals. To start, here are a few of the key things you need to consider: 

  • What’s your budget?
  • How many courses or programs do you want to launch long-term?
  • How user-friendly do you need the software to be? 
  • What kind of student experience would you like to offer?
  • Which marketing tools do you want to be included in the software?

Let’s talk a bit more about what I’d recommend you consider as you answer these questions and weigh your options for online course software.

What’s your budget for online course software?

When choosing an online course software, budget is a huge consideration! Knowing your budget ahead of time can narrow down the field of options right out of the gate. It can be so tempting to just follow in the footsteps of other successful course creators and sign up for their go-to software. But remember: your business is unique, and when you’re just getting started, you don’t necessarily need a pricey platform with all the bells and whistles. It’s OK to go with a simpler, less expensive course creator at the beginning and DIY some of the marketing, like email campaigns and landing page creation, until your business grows. 

On the other end of the price spectrum, don’t choose software just because the basic plan is super affordable. Depending on which features are significant to you, take an honest look at the price tag on packages with those features – avoid estimating the cost and choosing your plan based on the most basic or premium plans if they don’t have features you need. 

Here’s an industry secret: Every single person I have ever worked with ended up changing their mind at some point. You’ll probably be tempted to find the perfect software that will last you for your entire business, but in reality it’s ok to change your mind. The tools, tech and software you need will adapt with your business. Changing software can be a challenge, but it’s not a big deal to transfer your course to a new platform after a while. 

Do you want to launch other courses, offers, and programs over time?

Looking ahead to your future plans for other courses or programs can save you a TON of money in the long term. As your business grows and you scale to the next phase, you’ll need more features and options than you did for your first course. Several online course software programs get insanely expensive as you add more course options to your plan, taking up large chunks of your profit. To avoid surprises, check out all of the packages a software provider offers.

Eventually, you might have to choose between scaling back your plans, paying a lot more money than you originally planned, or moving to another software that’s more in line with your budget. But if you’re OK with just one or two products for the foreseeable future, you’ll probably be fine with a more limited plan. If you want to play it safe with room for a bit of growth, I’d recommend that all course creators at least need software that can accommodate a couple of product spots, incorporate sales or landing pages, and brand courses with their colors and logos.

How user-friendly do you need an online course software to be?

While some platforms are easy to set up and use, others require more technical skills. Before you commit to one platform, be honest with yourself about how much tech work you’re willing to put in with an online course software. Are you up for watching tutorials and troubleshooting issues with the help of Google? Or does all of that technology and design work sound like a massive headache? Once you know your tech requirements, you can rule out options you know will be exhausting or overwhelming to use.

In my experience, most people who are beginning the process of online course building want to spend as much of their time creating course content, not figuring out clunky software! Several online course software providers have built-in, intuitive course builders and page creators to make building an online course as smooth as possible. 

What kind of student experience do you want to offer?

A large part of building a successful online course is ensuring students have the best experience possible. But how will you know what students like about a course without doing a bunch of user research? Think back to online courses you’ve taken as a student that you enjoyed the layout of, and ask yourself what made the course “work” for you. 

Overall, you want to ensure that it’s easy for your students to navigate the course and have a positive impression of their time spent learning with you. When students can seamlessly join your course and get valuable takeaways, they’ll have a great experience, and your course will stand out from the crowd! 

Which marketing tools do you need to be included in the software?

When choosing online course software, creating the course itself isn’t the ONLY thing you’ll need to consider. You’ll want to promote the course by sending out email marketing campaigns and nurturing leads with sales and landing pages built to maximize conversion. To handle these tasks, some people are happy sticking with the email marketing software they already use (like ConvertKit or ActiveCampaign) and building sales and landing pages on their existing websites. 

Many online course software options provide all-in-one services that incorporate email campaigns, landing pages, and sales pages, which makes for a streamlined marketing process. That said, if you’re happy with the email marketing and site-building software you’re already using, you can save money over investing in an all-in-one platform if you won’t really use those features. If you decide to stick with your current email marketing software and website, double-check that an online course software can integrate with whichever platforms you already use!

Working in instructional course design, I’ve seen so many people get caught up in the research phase and never even get around to making the course they’ve dreamed of. Of course, no one wants to make a big investment only to find out they’re missing important features halfway through the course-building process. An honest assessment of your budget, longer-term plans, user experience needs, desired student experience, and required marketing tools can help make choosing much easier! Two of my top choices for building amazing online courses are Kartra and Kajabi – read my deep-dive comparison of those two services to get started on finding the best course software for your business!

Need expert-level help sorting through all your options and figuring out which online course software is best for you? Book an online strategy call to chat with me about your course!