If you are aspiring online course creator, you probably are facing technology overload: keeping track of all the moving parts in email systems, websites, social media, and video and audio production technologies.
Delivering your course to students can be one of the biggest tech hurdles for newcomers. The range of options are overwhelming, and many of these options can require sophisticated computer skills.
If you are looking for a solution that requires little technical know-how, is fast to set up, is low cost, and helps your business to scale at your own pace, a “delivery platform system” is the best way to go.
That is a fancy way of saying that you pay a monthly fee to use a web-based app to deliver and sell your online course.
Once you make the choice to use a platform system, you might think you’ve narrowed down the options significantly. In one sense, you have. However, there are a gazillion companies out there with tons of features. The good news is that competition is driving the costs down and the innovation up.
The bad news is that you could be overwhelmed again.
In this review, I go into great detail about the pros and cons of 3 systems (Teachable, Thinkific and Coach) to help you figure out which is best for you. To keep the review as simple as possible, I only focus on the features that most beginning online course creators would use.
Before I jump into the specifics of each, rest assured that any one of them will serve a small online teaching business well. If you really can’t deal with thinking about it, have no idea what you need for your course delivery, or feel stupid when you go to their websites because it all sounds like gobbledygook, please stop fretting and take action: just pick one. Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.
Seriously, anyone of them will work and none of them is perfect.
Don’t let technology worries stop you from putting your course out into the world – where it belongs!
Ankur Nagpal built the first version of Teachable out of desperation. At the time, infopreneurs who wanted to incorporate marketing and payment into an online school had to cobble it together with WordPress plug ins. (There is a single plugin now if you are a WordPress diehard). That desperation led to a beautiful app with amazing functionality. As an industry innovator, Teachable is what every other web-based online course program is compared against.
User Experience: Grade B
Teachable allows you to chunk lessons into Sections and Lectures.
You can add many types of files to a lecture. When instructors use video files, however, Teachable puts it front-and-center as the primary content. For many course creators, this feature draws them to using Teachable. For me, the heightened focus on video content is the main limiting factor for Teachable. Videos are important to use in online courses, but course creators often mistake a course for a bunch of videos instead of an array of teaching methods that help get students the results they want. Teaching is not just talking at people who passively who receive information.
Teachable does make it easy to upload content in just about any type of file and store all your files on their site.
You can add text directly to the page.
I use this feature to provide introductions to lessons, explain the learning objectives and provide students with a road map for navigating through the lesson. In Teachable the text editor is simple, but gets the job done
Navigating through the course is not as intuitive as it could be.
Each lesson in the course page is usually dominated by the video. If the lesson contains additional material, the student has to scroll down past the large video display to find the links. As a student in Teachable courses, I sometimes have missed part of a lesson because it isn’t clear that there’s anything is below the video. The work around for this is for the teacher mentions in the video to scroll down for the additional material.
In Teachable you build a school site and then create individual courses inside that school.
By default, students to have to register in the school before enrolling in any courses. However, this can be overridden so students can enroll in a course with just one step. For me, this one step enrollment is vital because it makes the student experience exceptional from the start. When students have to register for the school and then enroll in the course, it can lead to confusion and frustration. You don’t want students beginning your course with a negative taste in their mouth from the enrollment process.
Support for quality online teaching: Grade B
Since you can use just about any file type, in theory, Teachable allows you to choose the best method to teach the specific content. However, as I mentioned above the layout of the lesson highlights the videos at the detriment of other files or experiences.
There is both a quiz function and a comment function which can really add to the learning experience.
I encourage the use of quizzes as a way of reinforcing concepts by providing additional examples and problems that students have to work through. However, in Teachable, they are not easy to find, and like other non-video content, you will have to point the way to the students.
The comment function is focused on the video, but if you structure it correctly, you could use it as a discussion forum about anything in the lesson, not just the video.
A Drip function helps students pace their learning by releasing subsequent lessons periodically.
Most times, course creators who use drip will release a new module each week. Teachable’s drip only allows you to set release dates based on when a student enrolls, so it is only useful if you have a truly “evergreen” product rather than a course that has a cohort start date.
Marketing Strategies: Grade A
Since Teachable was the first app designed specifically to integrate sales and course content into one platform, they have a full suite of marketing functions.
While there’s only one theme for the school site, it is bright, bold and modern, making it eye-catching and engaging. It has everything you need: a place to add a logo, ability to select from a list of fonts, and to fully customize colors.
Unfortunately, there is also only one theme for the Landing/Sales page for each individual course. It offers just the basics. I wouldn’t suggest using it as your primary sales page. There is no sales widget or option to embed the sales page into a website. Depending on the course length and price, you are probably will need a separate sales page.
Teachable allows you to create bundles of courses. This is a great feature for increasing your sales revenue. In Teachable, creating the bundles is, unfortunately, a two-step process. Once a bundle is set up, however, buying it is an easy process.
An upsell is when you offer an additional product to a customer, usually directly following the purchase of the original item. There is no upsell function built into the Teachable checkout process, so if upselling is an important part of your business plan, you would need to do it via email as a follow-up.
Integrations with Email
In addition to making the management of your course easier, integrating your online school platform with your email system, you can really target your marketing efforts. Teachable has direct one-step integration with Mailchimp and Convertkit. If you use other email systems, integration must be through Zapier, which means you’d need to learn another program.
Another method of expanding sales is to use affiliates, who promote your course to their contacts and receive a percentage of the revenue for each person they get to enroll. Teachable makes this very easy to set up, but funds are only distributed to you and your affiliates on the first of each month for all sales made over 30 days prior. This pay structure accommodates Teachable’s 30-day refund policy but also means you or your affiliates don’t get your money immediately.
With custom domains, you can get rid of the “Teachable” part of the web address and completely customize your school. This feature is only available for the higher priced memberships. It isn’t really necessary when you are first starting out, but it’s great to have as you scale up.
Price/Value: Grade B
Teachable has a few extra fee that can make it a bit pricey.
Starting prices are very reasonable at $39/month, giving you everything you need to get up and running. At this Basic Level price, however, Teachable also keeps 5% of all revenue plus a transaction fee for credit cards. Those fees do add up, so you will probably want to upgrade to the Professional Level ($99/month) as soon as you can justify it. Since the second tier is 150% more per month than the base price, you will have to scale up significantly to make the numbers work. The step up can pay off because at this level, there is no percentage revenue fee and if you use PayPal or Stripe, there are no additional fees.
Customer Service: N/A
I have not sold any courses with Teachable, so I don’t really know the extent of their customer service. While I’ve been tinkering with course creation on their site, their help chat function pops up, but I haven’t used it so I don’t know how helpful or speedy they are with responses. Their documentation is extensive and very easy to follow. Plus, Teachable has lots of blog content and other resources to help you build and sell your course.
The Bottom Line: Grade B
Teachable is the industry trend-setter. They are established and know the industry really well. The platform has a vast range of easy-to-use functionality. I am not a fan of the emphasis that the video takes in the lesson, as I think this limits the learning experience. But for some, this is one of the main appeals of Teachable. Keep in mind, too, that the two fees for the entrance level pricing can cut into your profit margins when you are starting out.
Thinkific is built first and foremost as a teaching platform. They have built an array of function for marketing as well, but they have always emphasized teaching from the start. That is what attracted me to them in the first place. Thinkific’s interface is highly intuitive so you can get your course built and start selling it in no time with almost no learning curve.
User Experience: Grade B+
One of the best parts of the Thinkific is it’s “School site” approach that gives you lots of flexibility while at the same time is very easy to use. Course content is organized by Chapters that makes for a easy to follow flow for the course.
The text editor in Thinkific is a little funky, so sometimes formats get messed up and need some extra attention.
It can be a little frustrating and add to your course build time. It might be more of a problem for me than others because, as I mentioned, I use the text function often, as do most of my clients, for introductions to each lesson that explain the learning objectives and give a “Road Map” through the lesson. I think it helps orient the student and keep them focused.
Thinkific has a two-step process for first-time students to enroll in a course.
If a student has never enrolled in one of your courses, s/he must first register with your school, and then enroll in the course. For returning students, this is no big deal since they are already registered with your school. But when you get a new student on your Thinkific school site, the two-step process might lead to people dropping out before completing their enrollment and payment. There are work-arounds, but they all cost more money. I tried integrating with SamCart for one of my launches with Thinkific. This was an added cost and added technology to learn, test and trouble shoot – not something I suggest you do right out of the gate. If you sell your course on a webinar, you can explain the process (with screen shots of the actual pages) to keep the confusion to a minimum.
Thinkific has lots of functionality, so you get a highly robust system.
The extent of the platform does mean you have to spend a little time learning how to find and use everything.
Thinkific has some customization for your school site, but these are limited if you do not code.
For most people starting out, the non-coding customization is perfectly adequate. Also, they have built more and more options into the platform over time. For example, there are many more landing page themes now than even just a year ago.
They are also always improving.
For example, until recently you could not search enrollments by a particular course to export the list. It drove me nuts! But I suppose they heard from enough people that they added this search option.
Once a student is enrolled in your Thinkific course, the curriculum is easy to follow and use.
Students automatically get the course outline on the left navigation bar, so they can see each step. The system also gives them progress reports and checks off the sections they have completed, so they always know where they are and what they still have to complete. In the many courses that I have taught on Thinkific, I have never received an email from a student asking “where do I find X?” It might seem like a small thing, but it is a massive time saver (or money saver if you use a virtual assistant to handle those sorts of things).
As I mentioned in the teacher section above, the two-step enrollment process can be difficult.
Some students get frustrated and confused. There’s no doubt that it can cost you sales or leave an enrolled student with a bad taste.
Support for quality online teaching: Grade A
The biggest strength of Thinkific is that it was built with teaching as the focus.
First, they understand that effective online teaching is more than talking videos, so the system allows for all sorts of file types without emphasizing one more than another. Unlike Teachable, the text, audio, pdf, and other files that can be vital to the successful learning are not relegated to second class citizens in favor of videos.
Thinkific allows you to create a rich lesson with an easy to follow organizational structure .
They also have a full suite of teaching tools available, including discussions and quizzes. If your courses and business plan fit well with a membership model, it is very easy to do with Thinkific.
The structure of the Drip feature is terrific.
Not only can you drip out content based on the number of days after a student enrolled, but you can also drip based on a set date. This allows you to use the drip feature even if you have a cohort structure with a start and end date for your course. Since this is my preferred approach, I love this feature in Thinkific.
Marketing Strategies: Grade A-
Even though Thinkific is built as a teaching platform their marketing and selling tools are also robust.
Thinkific offers only one theme for the school site, as does Teachable. While in theory you could function without a separate website, I don’t suggest it. There is a bit more customization available including options for a header image and tagline, in addition to logo, fonts and colors. Also, I happen to like the look and feel of the school site on Thinkific more than on Teachable. If you can code (or can hire someone who can), Thinkific gives you very easy access to the theme code, so you could do lots more customization.
Thinkific has several themes to choose from for sales pages, and are adding more and more regularly. If you want to use a video to do the heavy lifting on the sales page, one of Thinkific’s video-based themes might be all you need for a sales page. Like all the other pages on Thinkific, you can get easy access to the code, so unlimited customization is possible if you have those skills or can hire someone. Despite the fact that Thinkific offers solid landing pages, I still use a dedicated sales page on my website: I want customization without coding and I don’t use videos yet to sell.
Like Teachable, Thinkific makes this feature simple and straightforward for when you scale up and upgrade to one of the higher priced options.
Upsells and Bundles
Ask anyone in online marketing and they will tell you that the money is in the upsells and bundles. Thinkific makes using both of these proven sales techniques super easy. You can start using upsells at the free level and you can offer bundles at their lowest priced option.
Integration with email systems
Integration with emails is exactly the same as Teachable: MailChimp and ConvertKit are direct while others must go through Zapier.
The big advantage of the Thinkific affiliate system is that you can pay your affiliate commissions on your schedule. So, if you want to send funds immediately, you can do that. If you prefer to choose a schedule for releasing commissions, it is easy to set it up that way, also.
Price/Value: Grade B+
Thinkific used to have a free option which made it perfect for newcomers to online course creation. But, no more.
I loved this because you could play around to see how things work and use their extensive video tutorial library to determine if it is going to work for your business. They have scrapped that option, and their entry level price is $49/month with a 5% fee for each enrollment. Like Teachable, you have to be at the $99 level to get rid of the fee.
Customer Service: Grade A
The customer service is absolutely fabulous.
They are quick to reply to every question. And the response is always friendly and helpful. Their business model includes investing significant resources into helping their customers succeed in selling courses. They have really helpful blogs, highlights of successful courses, and a very active Facebook group for teachers. The company has a very generous feel and gives a lot.
The Bottom Line: Grade A-
Thinkific has found a great balance of feature-rich yet easy to access and use platform. If you are really a techno-phobe, set up might feel a bit overwhelming at first. Because there are oodles of features, you can sometimes forget where to find something or how to use it. Like all programs, the more you use it, the easier it gets.
Coach is the new kid on the block. Their unique approach allows you to offer either online courses or digital downloads. So, you can keep and manage all your information products in one place.
User Experience – Grade A
The main difference between an online course and digital product is the level of organization available. An online course can be chunked into sections that can be managed separately. Digital downloads have the content in one section.
The option for the two types of content does change how you think about your online teaching business.
Plus, if you have a freebie as an opt-in, it can be hosted on your Coach site. Not only is it easier to manage everything with all your products in one place. When a new student signs up for the freebie and is redirected to your Coach site, s/he can see all the products you have for sale.
If you are not very tech-savvy, Coach is the choice for you.
Coach’s interface is the most intuitive and straight-forward of all three platforms in this review. They have gone out of their way to make the entire process very simple. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, however, Coach is a powerful tool for your business.
The only down side for me to their quest for simplicity is that uploading is only available via drag and drop. Maybe it’s because I’m old, but I prefer to choose the file from a window and upload it. I muddle through this small annoyance because Coach is really effortless to learn and use.
The text editor is very, very basic.
But unlike Thinkific, nothing funky happens, so creating text content runs very smoothly. As I’ve said, I use text more than the average person and even though Coach has very few options for formatting, it hasn’t detracted from my courses.
At Coach, your primary site this a Storefront, not a school like Thinkific or Teachable.
I was initially put off by the focus on commercial over educational, but as I began to use Coach, I found that the nomenclature really doesn’t matter.
Limited customized branding is possible.
As far as I know, there are no easy ways to create your own code, so you basically have to live with their structure. The tradeoff of using a straight-forward platform makes the limitations worth it. I still get my colors, logo and tagline, which is enough for me.
The one-step enrollment process means there will be almost no loss of sales due to frustration or confusion. A major plus for Coach, in my book.
Coach’s set-up is basic, so there are fewer bells and whistles than with the Thinkific or Teachable.
There’s only one template for the sales page, for example, and no way to access the code to build your own. But it does the job. Also, I build a sales page on my website that does the heavy lifting for converting. The button goes to my Coach landing page where students can enroll.
The very easy signup and checkout means that your students are starting their learning experience on a positive note.
Students can navigate the course in two different ways.
The first method is to scroll down the course page where the content is listed with hyperlinks. The second method requires students to open the Table of Contents on the top left of the course page. That will give a navigation bar on the left side of the screen. This is my preferred way of working through a course, but since it doesn’t pop up automatically and there is no cue except for a small icon that is not exactly clear, students may not know about this option unless you tell them in a welcome email.
Support for quality online teaching: Grade A-
Coach supports virtually any file type with a drag and drop function (Since I would prefer to also have the option of choosing a file to upload, I think that means I am an old fuddy duddy.)
I’d like to see two additional teaching features.
First, they don’t have a quiz function yet. I use quizzes to help students work through examples and reinforce concepts. I am told by Coach that a Quiz function is in the pipeline. In the meantime, I use a work-around of linking to a quiz I build in Google Forms. The other missing piece is Discussion. While many people prefer to use Facebook groups (and I do that, too), having the option for discussion internal to the course would be a nice feature. That, too, is in the works.
The drip function works like Teachable and only allowing for release based on date of enrollment, not based on a specific date.
Marketing Strategies: Grade A-
Since Coach is built around the concept of a “Storefront,” marketing is at the heart of the entire concept. You could operate solely from the Storefont without a website if you want, just like Teachable and Thinkific, but I don’t suggest it. As with all the features in Coach, customization of the Storefront has limitations but you can add a logo, header image, school name, tagline, colors and fonts.
There is only one template for sales pages, but it is adequate and does the job. As I use a separate sales page on my own website, I don’t worry too much about it. They have incorporated two innovative features for landing pages that ratchet up the marketing potential. First, you can capture emails right on the sales page. Second, you can easily embed the sales page right onto your website.
Once a student buys your product, you only have the option for a video “Thank You” and a video “Welcome.” I’m not sure why they can’t easily give the choice for text options.
Custom domains are a must if you want to move from beginner to pro. Not only is this simple to do in Coach, but their simple pricing structure, means you don’t need to spend lots of money for this option.
Integration with email systems
If you use ConvertKit, this is the simplest integration possible. Like everything else in Coach, they trade-off simple for fewer options. For other email systems, you must use Zapier. Setting up Zaps can be a pain, so keep that in mind (or switch to ConvertKit!)
Coach is building a membership function, and it is very exciting. Teachable and Thinkific already have this capability but since the whole concept of Coach is to make everything techno-idiot proof, I can’t wait to see how easy the membership feature is to set up and use.
Upsells and Bundles
These are also in the pipeline, coming right after Memberships are finalized. Lots of stuff happening over at Coach.
Like all the features in Coach, setting up Affiliates for your courses is a simple process. Plus, you can pay them immediately or at whatever time frame you want with just one click. Nice!
Price/Value: Grade A
The simple structure of Coach informs their pricing, also.
There are just two tiers: You can start out with basics at $32/mo or get everything they have for $65/mo. Best of all, neither option has additional fees. You’ll probably outgrow the lower level fast, so you should think of this as a $65/month expense. This is a bit more than the other two, but if technology gives you a headache, the ease of use might be worth the extra 30 bucks. Coach is now advertising a third tier for their future plans of building more features, but the price has not been set. I expect it might be a bit more than the others, but could be worth the peace of mind knowing that everything is so easy to set up.
Customer Service: Grade A
To put it bluntly, I was basically blown away by the Customer Service.
The response speed to their onscreen chat means that you can be in touch with a knowledgeable person almost instantly.
The online documentation is slim, but since everything is really simple to use, you don’t need elaborate explanations. They also provide training videos that are useful, if sometimes a bit difficult to see (should use a bigger cursor on the screen capture software)
When I switched from Thinkific, I chose the higher priced package and received a full transfer of all my Thinkific courses and student information into my new Coach account. I did absolutely no work to get my course ready in Coach. Now that is service!
The Bottom Line: Grade A
The concept of Coach is to simplify the entire system needed to build and sell online products. And they have succeeded in this mission. The trade-off is that some customization is not possible. In addition, since they are the new kid on the block, they are building out features so as of this writing you ca not get every functionality in Coach that you can in Thinkific or Teachable. But they are moving fast so it won’t be long until their feature list is as long as the others.
A summary of my experience using the 3 programs
I have never used Teachable to sell a course because as a student in many Teachable courses, I found it difficult to follow the curriculum. Since I took courses from several different teachers, I attributed it to the structure of the platform and not to the course creator. I should add that I know many who swear by Teachable.
I have used Thinkific, and have recommended it to many clients. Despite my frustration with the text editor and the two-step registration process, I was very happy with the structure that made it easy for students to follow and for teachers to build.
I wasn’t looking for another platform, but when a colleague told me about the new kid on the block, Coach, I had to check it out. Immediately, I knew that it was something very special: intuitive, simple, yet a powerful way to build and sell online information products. At the time, they were running a special for people to switch, so I jumped on that like flies on shit.
The primary take-away is that you can’t go wrong using any of these options. They each offer strengths and each has some limitations. Decide what set of functions is most important to you and your business. Then, choose the app that works best for those areas.
If that seems like too much for you, then just pick one and use it to teach and change the world.