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During your research for your online course you’ve probably run into mentions of ways you can host them on your own website. From plugins to hiring a developer – there are lots off ways you can exert complete control over your student’s experience.
There are many positives to running your courses through a platform of your own making but there are also some marked disadvantages. In this article I’ll go through both sides so you can make an informed decision for what’s best for you and your students.
What does it mean to host your own courses?
The basic concept of using a self hosted platform means being able to control every detail of your students’ experience and own all the data from your courses.
This is opposed to a hosted course platform where a third party course platform is behind the scenes or a marketplace where your course sits on a shelf amongst others. Going self-hosted means using your own website to deliver course content and manage your student’s learning experience.
If you’re using a CMS like WordPress (my favorite) then you have many options for plugins you can use to create your online school. Other options include having one custom built for you or purchasing a course platform to set up on your own server.
Do the differences really matter?
To your students, the difference comes down to the user experience you’ve crafted for them. It’s a great idea to focus on how other online schools or hosted platforms achieve this and try to mimic their user experience. If done well, the difference is minor but if done poorly, your students will have a poorer experience.
The biggest difference will be in your own experience. Since you’re the one managing it, it comes with a level of responsibility and daily activity which doesn’t exist on a hosted platform or marketplace. There isn’t much of a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality when you’re running it yourself.
When you’ve created your own course platform it’s exciting to know you’ll be able to manage your learners and course content within your own little piece of the internet. There are some definite pros of this setup so let’s take a look at them.
You own all your data
Even though owning your data and student list is a major selling point of platforms like Thinkific, there is always an inherit risk in storing your information on another platform. Data loss happens, backups get corrupted and accounts get cancelled.
Features and new courses are easy to add
Once you have an existing platform set up, it’s easy to create a new course or add new features to existing ones. The ability to tweak and make your courses and platform better for your learners can be attractive.
Fewer monthly or subscription fees
This is a bit misleading – you may pay fewer fees to a hosted course platform but it often comes with higher web server costs. The good thing is these are fixed costs rather than changing based on sales. When you’re self hosted you’ll pay the same if you sell 10 or 100 seats of your course.
Gives a better first impression
When you have a completely branded, self hosted course solution it holds more prestige for your learners. At every point of contact with your course they’re reinforced of your knowledge and commitment to being professional.
Hosting your online courses has its drawbacks, so lets examine a few of those here so you can be prepared to go the self hosted route for your online courses.
Is more expensive initially
Setting up a website capable of hosting an LMS (Learning Management System) and integrating it with other systems is a large up front expense. At the least you’ll need to buy software licenses, web hosting, domains, and an SSL certificate.
It’s also more work up front which translates to more time and money. Whether you’re setting up the site or you’re paying a developer, the costs need to be accounted for when you’re doing your initial budgeting.
You’re responsible for maintenance
When you run your own LMS, you’re the one in charge of ongoing maintenance. This can take the form of bug fixes, code updates, compatibility fixes and more. A hosted platform would take care of this for you and be covered in your monthly fee. But when you host your courses yourself it falls on you to make sure your site runs smoothly and is error-free.
You’re responsible for security
We take security for granted unless it’s a concern for our business – then it becomes a big deal indeed. When you run an LMS on your website you’re not only in charge of your student’s personal progress but their personal information as well.
You can mitigate some of the risk by using a secure third party to collect and store payment information. Keeping this information secure needs to be a top priority. Extra expenses like SSL certificates and security plugins or services are required and should be maintained and updated as needed.
Easy to get stale if not committed to
A self hosted online course delivery platform can go stale if you don’t devote a certain amount of daily or weekly time to it. This can take the form of checking on student progress, sending messages or updating content to reflect feedback.
It’s easy to think of online courses as a ‘create it and forget it’ stream of income but the best courses are ones which have an element of participation and feedback. These type of courses take their students further than just the content itself and have a higher success rate.
So which do you choose?
It’s up to you whether creating a self-hosted course platform is a good course of action for your situation. They can be more effort and expense up front but can pay off with prestige and stability in the long run.
If you think the responsibility of running your own online school is a bit much for you then you can scale back. Going the route of a hosted course platform or a marketplace is completely fine if you’re just starting out or need to validate your course idea.
This has been a great series of posts to write – if you missed the first two you can read The Pros & Cons of Using a Hosted Course Platform and The Pros & Cons of Using a Course Marketplace to help you make an informed decision about your online courses.
What’s your favourite course delivery method? Do you have a favourite plugin or setup you use to host courses on your own website? I’d love to hear about them and get your opinion on the subject.