Later this month I'll be talking about all the choices you have when it comes to online courses. In that talk, I'll show you why you might want to use a WordPress plugin (like LearnDash), or when you might consider an online learning SaaS (like Kajabi). Today I'm not going to spoil that entire discussion. But I did think it might be helpful or useful to show you the recent work I've been doing to compare all the online learning SaaS products out there.
Online Learning SaaS Options
In this comparison, I didn't look at every single solution out there. But I did compare some of the biggest names, along withe some of the newest players stepping into the game.
The other day I was in a meeting where someone said there was no point trying to compete with a Thinkific, who is a leader in this space. Well apparently, no one told that to Podia or SamCart.
Here are the players I reviewed:
Some of these folks have been in the game for years and years. Others you may not of heard of until recently. And while many people know SamCart, it's mostly been for their cart features, not their new online courses feature.
If we were sitting down to chat, these are the five I would tell you are on my short list to consider.
The Comparison Criteria
As I've told you in the past – the most important part of a comparison is the criteria. If you and I don't agree on that criteria, my recommendation may not matter to you. So let's look at what I think is critical in today's market when it comes to the elearning SaaS game.
In a more comprehensive comparison, I would have launched the same course on all five solutions, monitored the hosting over 6 months and noted which hosts had downtime issues. But for now, let's just note that one of the most important dynamics is that hosting is included and robust enough that you don't have to think about it. In that case, all five checked the box.
But when we get to “blog” later, you'll note that Teachable has a full article on buying domain names, buying hosting, and setting up a website separately. That's exactly what you don't want when you've decided to build an online learning site on a SaaS platform? Right?
Email / Campaigns
I know you likely didn't think that this would be on my list, but it's high up here for one simple reason. You can't create and sell online courses without being able to do robust communication with people in your funnel and people in your courses.
Every one of the five options has the ability to integrate with your email solution for campaigns. Only two offer the integrated feature.
In the old days this used to be a problem. I guess eventually I can take this off my list. But even today, some of the SaaS products have free plans, and then you see the constraint again.
If you're choosing an online learning SaaS product, you expect to be able to create as many courses as you like. Thankfully, once you're on a paid plan, all of them support this.
Bulk Student Imports
Another factor that wasn't always available to everyone was the ability to do bulk imports. Thankfully, that's changed and eventually this will fall off my list as everyone supports it.
I'm happy to also let you know that these platforms can all tell me not only which lesson a student is currently at, but some can go further and tell me how much of each video has been watched.
At the simple level, every one of the five can check the box, but you'll discover some do a better job than others in getting you details. Or they may you start with the course instead of the person, to see the details.
Multiple Price Points / Bundles
I want to offer a course with multiple price points. Another way to think of it may be bundles. If you buy one version, you get A, and if you buy my more advanced version, you get A and B. Sometimes A and B are both courses. But other times they may be digital downloads or membership content (as you'll see below).
While everyone supports it, you have to step up into higher plans for some of these eLearning SaaS products.
Content is king. And that means that when you've finished creating a course, you'll also need to bring traffic to it. One of those ways is content marketing. So it would make sense to be able to regularly post content on the same course platform where you're hosting courses.
At least it makes sense to a couple of the players.
Good news again – all five are doing a decent job of showing me revenue – in all sorts of ways, from recurring, to one-time, to watching my subscriptions. This used to be a bigger issue and now that it's not, it may come off the list at some point.
What will never come off the list is the ability to market my course by inviting students and others to recommend my online course as an affiliate. So I think each online learning SaaS platform should support it. And by support I mean the registration, tracking, and payouts.
Funnels / Sales Pages
Some of the eLearning SaaS platforms do a better job than others of making it easy for you to create funnels or sales pages to help you with your online courses. But the good news is it's available for everyone on all of these options.
Purists will suggest that these last four features don't belong in the criteria for online learning SaaS products. But I will disagree. And anyone who has run an online course will take my side.
Because at the end of the day, we're trying to win over customers and deliver them value. And that sometimes comes in the form of a digital download. I want to include it in a bundle or in a course.
Today, some of the players only allow it in the context of a lesson in a course. That's ok, but not a great experience for users.
Some of the platforms support a membership feature as long as you use a page to publish protected content. Others have a much fuller picture of how to support a membership. But like digital downloads, protected content is and should be a first class citizen in this educational context.
Events / Webinars
Do you know one of the best ways to sell your course? Yes, it's a webinar. So of course you could use an external solution for your webinar and pitch your online course. But what's better than that? An integrated approach. And a couple of the players get it!
Messaging / Community
Lastly, cohorts, groups, and the ability for students to connect with each other is key to engagement and completing a course. Again, some of these get it. Others have tight integrations with other solutions. And some just plain ignore it.
The Comparison Chart
Now that you know which features I was comparing for these online SaaS solutions, here's how it breaks down.
|Email / Campaigns||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Price Points / Bundles||Yes||Yes||Yes ($)||Yes ($)||Yes ($)|
|Affiliate Features||Yes||Yes ($)||Tracking Only||Yes ($)||Yes ($)|
|Funnel / Sales Pages||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Memberships||Yes||Yes||Custom Pages||Course Bundles||Yes|
|Events / Webinars||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Messaging / Community||Yes||Yes||Yes ($)||No||No|
If you and I were sitting down at coffee to talk about online SaaS platforms for online learning, I'd really only start with Kajabi and Podia. As crazy as it sounds to all my hard core friends who would put Thinkific at the top, I just wouldn't go there.
Don't get me wrong, I used Thinkific for a couple of years. I've had accounts with everyone on this list.
The problem isn't the platform. For any of these folks. The problem is the changing dynamic of the definition of online learning.
Today's folks who are looking to sell their knowledge aren't constrained in their thinking to only a specific format for learning. And because of that, what Kajabi and Podia bring to the table are richer expressions that meet their needs.
But that's only if I didn't want to start and leverage WordPress.
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