Which online course platform is right for you?Take a deep dive into two of the best options out there - LearnWorlds and Thinkific.
Choosing the right platform for your online course is essential if you’re going to create a great learning experience and create loyal paying customers. LearnWorlds and Thinkific are both great options, but how do you choose the right platform for your needs?
In our post “Should I develop an online course?”, we highlighted six factors to consider.
1. Platform user experience
2. Course experience
3. Marketing and website integration
5. Customer Support
In this article, we’re going to focus on our two favourite platforms – LearnWorlds and Thinkific and give you a detailed head to head breakdown of each one. We’ve built dozens of courses for clients in both these platforms so we know them inside out.
So without any more waffle let’s go head to head – which is best Thinkific or LearnWorlds?
You can of course jump straight to the deals and claim a free month’s access to either platform:
Get one free month of LearnWorlds
Get one month of Thinkific for free
1. Platform experience
What do we mean by platform experience? It’s all the interactions you and your students have on the platform outside of the actual courses.
- How easy is it to find and sign up for a course?
- How intuitive is the interface?
- How reliable is the platform?
- How easy is it to build a site?
The good news is that both platforms make it simple to design your site by choosing from a wide range of pre-formatted blocks. You can quickly include text, images and video, testimonials, upsells and countdown timers. Of course with so many options it’s essential to have a clear design in mind before you jump in. We recommend wire framing each page first. This approach gives you a clear blueprint to build from, otherwise you can be distracted by shiny features you don’t necessarily need.
Fresh or stale?
Thinkific uses a slightly clunky interface for the page builder. It’s ok when you get used to it, but it feels a little stale now and the pre-made designs are quite flat. It needs more zip! You can add this zip through CSS, but that requires skills that most course creators lack, or the money to pay for them!
LearnWorlds on the other hand is fresh and funky with dozens of modern templates to start from. The site builder works almost as well as a premium drag and drop WordPress theme like Divi. That’s high praise indeed. It’s so flexible and powerful that I actively encourage clients to consider ditching their existing websites and moving their whole operation to LearnWorlds. I never say the same about Thinkific.
What about reliability?
This is a dead heat. Both platforms are rock solid in my experience and they are both well-financed and growing, which means you can be confident to use them as the foundations of your online business. You’ll find many course platforms in places like AppSumo that appear to offer similar features for less. But you almost always get what you pay for. I’ve bought a few of those deals in the past and none of them has gone on to challenge the major players, and some of them have folded completely.
2. Learning experience
It’s not enough to just create content anymore. You have to design experiences. If you’re happy to create mediocre content that no one ever completes, you’re on the wrong site. We care deeply about learner experiences and you should too, because that’s what you’re selling.
The tools these platforms give you are critical in helping you do this. That’s why we focus on Thinkific and LearnWorlds – they provide the best learning experience in their class.
- How easy is it to build a course?
- What tools/features are there to present the content?
- How can you create chances for interaction and engagement?
- How can you communicate with your students to nudge them along and help them get value from the course they paid for?
Learning vs Marketing
We first started championing Thinkific over the likes of Teachable and Kajabi because it offered more in terms of the learning experience. There are two camps in this sector of the online learning market in our opinion – those that focus on marketing and those that care about learning. The truth is you need both, but you don’t need all the tools in one platform.
You can run great marketing with easy to access third party tools like Active Campaign. However, if you pick a platform that limits what you can create in terms of learning experience, you put a ceiling on the quality of what you can offer. Lower quality learning experiences result in fewer completions, less engagement, less value for clients which lead to fewer positive reviews and fewer renewals or repeat purchases.
So, let’s start by saying that both Thinkific and LearnWorlds make it really simple to build the standard online course structure. That’s a playlist of content down the left of the screen, split into chapters. It’s incredibly easy to create a mix of video, text and activities.
The Thinkific course builder is perhaps a little easier to use than LearnWorlds, but that’s because it has fewer options. If you’re building mainly video-based courses with some PDFs and some quizzes, then it’s a great option.
LearnWorlds steps things up quite a bit with several features not found in Thinkific.
Ok so these aren’t really e-books, but that’s not important. This feature lets you build visually rich web content with text, images and videos using a range of pre-defined blocks. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very simple and looks great. Thinkific has a text and code editor that allows you to achieve the same results, however, you will need someone to code it for you which is going to be slower and more expensive, even if you can code it yourself.
Both platforms let you upload content developed in commercial e-learning authoring tools like Capitvate, Evolve or Articulate.
Where they differ massively is that LearnWorlds lets you publish SCORM based content. Now that might not mean anything to you and if you’re selling to the general public it’s not that important. But, if you’re selling to businesses then SCORM is huge, especially if you are selling compliance content where tracking and completion are the most valued parts of the experience.
SCORM is the “language” that e-learning content uses to talk to the platform it’s hosted on. Usually this platform is called a Learning Management System. Most big companies have these systems. The fact that you can offer SCORM content to your clients gives you two big wins.
- You can look professional and offer something that small to medium size businesses might not be able to afford – a fully functioning LMS for under £2000 a year.
- Investing in producing high-quality SCORM based content has a double payoff. You can offer it direct to clients via your LearnWorlds site (and look like a boss because you’re content is pro-level) and you can sell it to larger companies who can host it on their own LMS. We have several clients who do this successfully.
One area that both tools do pretty well is assignments. Assignments are any kind of work that the learner does and submits for review and feedback by the tutor. You can set tasks for learners, they can then evidence that they have completed those tasks by uploading a file of some sort. It can be an image, video, PDF or Word/PowerPoint doc.
This kind of activity adds so much value to the learning experience. It personalises learning and gives the student direct contact with you the tutor. That direct contact with a tutor is something many learners are willing to pay more for. Of course it’s going to take time out of your day, so it needs to be paid for. It also means that you need the platform to make it as simple as possible for you to process those assignments and provide feedback.
So which platform does this best?
We spoke to some of our clients about this and they said that they find the Thinkific approach quite laborious as they weren’t able to see the comments they shared with each student. You basically click the assignment once it has been submitted, download and review it then send them an email via the system. That’s ok, but when you find yourself giving the same feedback time and again, it can be useful to go back and see what you wrote before. With LearnWorlds, it’s subtly different. You comment in the platform and your comments are attached to the assignment as far as the student is concerned. This also means there’s no risk of feedback emails ending up in the spam folder.
Another tick for LearnWorlds.
LearnWorlds offers a fully-fledged community forum that adds a true social dimension to your courses. Again this level of social interaction lifts your learning experiences above the crowd. You can have a dedicated comments section for each piece of content. So you can set questions for people to reflect on and share in the comments.
This enables social learning, which drives a feeling of community and makes people want to come back and carry on learning. Thinkific has a similar discussion tab feature, but like the assignments above it’s not quite as well executed.
In LearnWorlds you can access the comments outside of the course which is really helpful for you and for your learners. It also has a feature where you can provide collections of resources outside of the course. Again super useful.
You can create stand-alone communities in Thinkific as well, but the feature doesn’t have quite the same level of slickness.
The final learning experience feature is unique to LearnWorlds. It has a feature that lets you publish your school as an app to both the Apple and Google App stores. It costs extra, but it’s a unique feature that can drive student engagement and change the learning experience.
Of course, both platforms work well when used on a mobile browser, but having a dedicated app for your online school lifts you to another level in the eyes of your students and it lets you send push notifications which can help nudge people to keep learning.
3. Sales and marketing
“Build it and they will come” is a lie. Sorry. You can build the best learning experience in the world, but if your marketing sucks no one is going to buy your amazing course. So, yes experience comes first, but marketing is a close second. You need the tools to reach your audience and engage with them and move them through your funnel.
The big question here is do you go for a course platform that has lots of native marketing features, or do you use a third party platform and integrate with it?
So we need to ask…
- What native marketing tools does it offer?
- Which third-party tools can I integrate it with? Does this cost extra?
- Can you make your courses appear on a sub-domain of your website?
- Does it integrate with a reliable payment tool?
Both tools have a solid collection of tools to get sales. All of these features are now fairly standard in online course platforms and there’s really nothing between them in how they execute them in our experience. So rest assured that whichever tool you go for you can…
Set up affiliates
You can build a network of affiliates to drive traffic to your site in return for a commission. Both sites make this very simple and allow you to monitor how much revenue they bring in for you and pay them what they are owed.
Rather than a one-off purchase for every course, you can create subscription plans for recurring revenue. Both platforms offer this, however, Thinkific does this at a course level, while Learnworlds does it at a platform level. So Learnworlds has the edge here, by quite some way. Think about it, people don’t buy a subscription to Squid Game, Stranger Things or Tiger King – they buy a subscription to Netflix. So if you want to create a “Netflix for Learning” then only Learnworlds can offer that.
People love a bargain and bundles let you package up multiple courses into one purchase and offer a discount. It’s super easy to do on either platform.
This is one area that Thinkific has the edge over LearnWorlds. They have their own App Store [Thinkific App Store](https://apps.thinkific.com/)which means you can now integrate 45 different services to help you sell, track and improve the student experience. This is really cool and it can plug some of the gaps we’ve identified above. However, few, if any of these apps are free. So you need to take that into account. And like any app-based ecosystem, you can’t guarantee that everything will work seamlessly in the future.
By comparison, LearnWorlds has just under 30 different integrations that cover the same use cases as Thinkific.
Both platforms work with Zapier which is a cool tool that lets you connect different services and pass data around based on triggers. So even if you’re favourite tools are not available as direct integrations you can probably still use them via Zapier. But of course, Zapier is not entirely free either, so if you are likely to use a lot of “Zaps” you need to factor that into your budgeting.
Perhaps the most important integrations of all are your payment gateways. Both platforms work with Paypal, Stripe and Shopify, but Learnworlds also includes the Brazilian service Pagseguro.
One final potential clincher for Learnworlds is that you can generate legitimate invoices automatically from the platform without any other plugins. That can save you a lot of time and effort.
All of the things above generate data. You need to be able to access this data, analyse it, visualise it and take action on it. From simple things like how many people are landing on sales pages, to churn rates for paying students. There are dozens of important insights you can use to improve your learning experiences and your marketing chops. Not to mention, who owns the content and data you generate?
- Is my content secure behind a paywall?
- Who owns the data – you or the platform
- How can you monitor the success of your students and your marketing efforts?
- Your landing page conversion rate on course pages?
- How many people are completing your courses?
- If you have high drop-out rates – at what point are they giving up?
- What can I do with the data, what can I automate?
Protecting your IP
It stands to reason that if you are creating content to sell, it’s valuable. You need to have some level of assurance that it’s not going to be stolen and resold. So how do these platforms protect your investment in content production not to mention your IP?
First and foremost all your content is protected behind a paywall. Only paying customers can access the content, unless you make certain sections available for free.
Thinkific advises you to mix up the types of media and interaction which makes it harder to steal the overall experience and to add copyright messaging. Learnworlds goes further and actually gives you tools to add watermarks to your videos and PDFs.
In terms of the content you share with the platform, they are both very clear that they do not have any claim over your content. It’s yours and they will not and cannot re-use it anyway without your permission.
If you are selling courses in the EU you may also be wondering about GDPR. Learnworlds has got your back here too, as they have a GDPR compliance toolkit. They are, after all, based in Europe, unlike Thinkific, which is Canadian.
Ok so what can you do with the data you collect and what data can you see in the system? Managing the course experience relies on knowing where people are in each course, how much they are interacting, how long since they last visited, are they opening messages you send from the platform and so on.
This is where you have to make a choice on what you value. The higher cost subscriptions give you more detailed and powerful data. But you get more on the second tier in LearnWorlds than the equivalent price per month on Thinkific.
The LearnWorlds dashboards offer excellent visualisation of all the most important data for every course side by side. And if you go to the third tier on LearnWorlds you can even schedule reports.
Why is that useful? Because if you are selling compliance training to multiple clients, they are going to expect regular reports on how many of their staff are up to date and who needs chasing. If you can automate that you are going to save several hours a month.
Facebook and Google
Both tools let you integrate Facebook and Google plugins to monitor where traffic is coming from so you can monitor the performance of your advertising spend and SEO effectiveness.
Automations are another important thing to consider. Over time you want to build smart ways to automate nudges to your students when their engagement drops, or when they take out a free trial. You want to create funnels that keep nudging people back to the platform to either complete the course or buy another one.
This relies on the ability to recognise certain events and trigger consequences. Usually, you would do this with an email tool like Active Campaign. But you need to be able to have deep and reliable integrations with the course platform to make this work smoothly. Both tools do this really well when used with Active Campaign and other email automation tools.
5. Customer support
These platforms are powerful tools that allow you to build e-commerce websites, create interactive content, manage marketing activities and more. So it’s naive to think you are going to sail through everything you want to do without checking the help / how to guides or contacting customer support.
- How good are the resources for solving problems yourself?
- How big is the community of users?
- Are there established experts out there you can call for help?
- How responsive are the customer support teams?
The good news is there are many resources out there, both official and third party to help you solve all your problems. On top of that you can count on good customer service from both platforms, although you get more attention if you pay more per month.
Luckily there are also plenty of great online course designers out there to make the whole production and admin process much easier.
Last but by no means least, what is it going to cost you each month? There are always multiple plans and more often than not, you’ll like the look of some features you just can’t afford. So how do you decide which plan to go for and who offers the best value?
- What is the monthly/annual cost for each plan?
- Is there a cost per user?
- What is the cost per transaction? (this will usually be down to Paypal or Stripe)
- Are there any hidden costs?
With any online platform you need to create a feature wish list. What do you want and what do you need? Then of course, what are you willing to pay?
If you are starting from scratch you will need to factor in what other platforms do I need to make this work. You will almost certainly need an email tool like Active Campaign or Mailchimp and a payment platform like Stripe or Paypal. The payment platforms don’t charge a monthly fee but they will deduct a percentage form every transaction.
In this article we’ve been through all the key things to consider when choosing which platform and which tier you want. So now it’s over to you to decide what matters the most.
Find out more about the latest offers and pricing.
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