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If you’ve done research on publishing your online courses you’ve no doubt run into what I call ‘hosted platforms’. A hosted course platform is a course delivery system designed to get your course online and accepting students.
Hosted platforms make it easy to create and publish courses with little to no fuss and make the world of online education easier to access.
They’re a fantastic tool to have in your belt but deciding on one – and even if it’s a good fit for your goals – can be tricky. Let’s peel back the jargon and sales talk to go over the pros and cons of using a hosted course platform. With this info you can make an informed decision on whether it’s a good fit for you.
Last week I went over the pros and cons of using a course marketplace to deliver your course – check that article out if you’re currently weighing your options.
What’s a course platform?
Lets start by first defining the difference between a platform and a marketplace. Because a marketplace is a platform but a platform is not necessarily a marketplace. Confused? Right.
When I say a course platform I’m referring to services like MemberVault, Podia, Thinkific, and Kajabi. In these platforms there’s no way to browse a list of all courses published there. Your course and school are separate entities from any others on the platform. When using a hosted platform, your audience signs up to your school only and any interactions seems to come directly from you.
Opposite to this are course marketplaces like Udemy and Skillshare, where your students can browse a wide gamut of courses. Courses are offered in one catalog and students pick and choose which ones they’d like to take. In this instance your audience signs up for the marketplace itself and any interactions come from them rather than directly from you.
A course platform is a silent and hidden back end while a course marketplace acts as both a back end and a branded vehicle for interaction with your students.
Do the differences really matter?
If you’re viewing this from the shoes of a course creator, the difference may seem trivial. Both of them offer the ability to publish and distribute an online course. The process of uploading your content and materials is not that different and they both allow you to earn money for your knowledge and effort.
If you’re viewing this as a potential student there’s a difference in the experience. With a platform they interact directly with the course creator or publisher which is a more direct form of interaction. With a marketplace they interact with a large platform which may offer a sense of security.
With a course platform it can be harder to find your course since the responsibility of promoting and marketing your courses falls on you. As a student, browsing a course marketplace can be overwhelming when trying to decide between courses on the same subject.
As a course creator, the nuances and experiences are different and we’ll get down to the pros and cons in the next sections.
One of the biggest features is that they are hosted for you. Their platform is designed to handle many learners at a time and optimized to deliver your content fast and at a higher quality. There’s no need to worry about stringing together video services with storage, with a web server – it’s all planned out for you.
Created for delivering courses
Some may say multitasking is great but I appreciate when a system or software does one thing and does it well. Course platforms are designed around one main purpose – to deliver courses to students. This focus is what makes it easier to publish and sell those courses for course creators.
White label branding
Using one the paid tiers of any of the course platforms will allow you to use what we call white label branding. This is where you won’t see any mention of the platform itself. This is a great way to create a more established brand for your courses since you won’t have to compete with any other brands in your url and naming. Making a seamless experience for your students and reducing the likelihood of them becoming confused.
You own your student list
A bone of contention amongst course owners who use marketplace platforms is that they don’t own the list of their students. They’re forbidden to contact them outside of the marketplace and aren’t able to transfer them to another platform if they move. Most hosted platforms clearly state how you own your list of students and can do whatever you want with them (within reason and complying with spam laws of course).
The hosted platforms sound pretty good don’t they? In my mind there are far more pros than cons to using them but let’s go over a few of the cons so you can decide yourself.
You’re subject to their terms and conditions
As with any hosted service, you have to follow the rules they lay out for you. This isn’t a problem for the majority of course owners but there have been instances of courses removed or shut down because of small print. The last thing you want to do is fight to get your content or school back up. Make sure you read all the fine print in the terms and services so you make sure you don’t accidentally break them.
They’re not free
Hosted course platforms offer several levels of pricing to their users. Some have free levels but the features you get at the free level are usually not enough for a course creator serious about their student’s experience. Taking monthly fees or transaction fees into account will be important when measuring profitability.
Can suffer from feature bloat
There are a few hosted course platforms that suffer badly from feature bloat. This happens when an otherwise solid service tries to offer more features to their users to entice them away from the competition. Unfortunately most course creators already have many of these same systems in place elsewhere so having them repeated by their course platform isn’t necessary and expensive.
So which do you choose?
It’s up to you whether using a hosted platform is a good idea for your courses and situation.
Taking advantage of their purpose-built systems is a great way to scale up your course offerings from a marketplace level and provide a better experience for your students.
If you think you’re a bit past what a hosted course platform offers you, it might be time to examine how a self hosted solution could help.
In the next article of this series I’m going to examine the pros and cons of hosting your courses on your own website so you can see how they stack up – stay tuned!
What’s your favorite hosted course platform? Do you have a preference for one over another or have you had any issues with one in the past? I’d love to hear about them and get your opinion on the subject.