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Online Course Platforms: Do I Use WordPress or a Third-Party Platform?

I read this really good article last week by Ilana Cohen out of Sidney, Australia and wanted to comment on it. It goes over the technical decision every online course builders must make. It's important because of what it means for your course offerings as you first launch and then later as you grow your program.

The decision is whether to:

  1. Build your online course as a self-hosted Wordpress website or
  2. Select a third-party online course platform.

Let's go over this in more detail.

There are plenty of third-party platforms for building your online courses. These solutions target less technical online course builders looking for something they themselves can use without having to hire a developer.  Among these are solutions like Thinktific, Teachable and Kajabi. We work with a lot of Keap users. CustomerHub is an option for them.

These platforms typically offer a low cost starter option with a reasonable monthly rate. You select the one that best fits your price and functional needs. You commit to learning the platform, which given the instructions and tutorials, is straightforward. If you have your content ready to go, these platforms can often get you up and running in a few days.

When describing the Wordpress self-hosted option, I like what Ilana writes, "Any half decent developer would choose a self-hosted solution over a third-party site any day of the week." As a developer myself, I 100% agree. Getting the site up and running for me and my team is easy and in the future we would be limited only by our imagination. Anything you can do with Wordpress, and that means so much, can be used to enhance your online course.

If an online course builder selects the self-hosted Wordpress approach, they must to have a good understanding of Wordpress or have the time needed to learn it and the plugins I mention above. This is doable if you are technically savvy, but it's not a walk in the park. Another option, and I recommend this, is to hire a Wordpress developer or team with experience working on the platform. We have starter packages that starts at $2,350. LearnDash license will cost you $199 a year and hosting is $15 to $30 a month depending on the hosting platform you use. With our solution, the advice that's included and some additional learning, you are on your way. This approach takes more upfront money, time and effort.

When you go with a third-party solution, and this depends on which one you select, you have monthly costs that tend to be higher over time than what you pay with a Wordpress solution. What happens with a number of third-party solutions is that the price goes up as you sell more courses. They have a model goes up as the number of students goes up. Self-hosted Wordpress solution costs stay flat over time even if you sell a lot of courses.

What course builders really need to understand is what are the limitations of going with a third-party solution. When you select a third-party platform, you get only what they have included in their platform. They are all built to address the needs of the majority of online course builders. Many of them are very feature rich. However, when you are first starting you don't know what your future needs are going to be. It's hard to predict until you have had your course up a while.

Like I said earlier, with your self-hosted solution, anything you can do with Wordpress is available. Wordpress is a mature website hosting solution with so many add-ons.  Let me give you an example.

Many online course site builders want to add community features. They want to allow members to talk to each other, exchange ideas and support each other as they learn. Wordpress has an add-on called BuddyBoss that we use a lot with our customers. It enables you to add discussion forums, member-to-member communication, and Facebook like news feeds. This is a very specific feature that can be useful. For third-party platforms that is not an option.

This is just one example, but as you make the call for your online course, you want to take this into consideration so you are NOT buying into a limited solution that is going to require a major change in the future to meet your needs.