Of Apples, Oranges, and Learning Management Systems with Jenny Alton - The Content Experiment
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Of Apples, Oranges, and Learning Management Systems with Jenny Alton

Of Apples, Oranges, and Learning Management Systems

The following is a guest post written by Jenny Alton. Thanks, Jenny!

You’re a person who knows a lot. You’ve mastered skills, and you have things to share with the world. One way to do that is to take a step into the wide world of online courses.

Today, there is a large number of options for teaching online. And by “a large number,” we mean a confusing and somewhat dizzying array. Let’s look at a few of these options and, hopefully, make your online course creation decisions a little easier.

The Fruits of Knowledge

First, let’s talk a little fruit. Comparing all of the software and services that enable you to teach online is not like comparing apples to apples. It’s not even like comparing apples to oranges. There is an entire produce section of Learning Management Systems (LMS) that address all sorts of groups and needs. We’re going to focus on some options that are best suited for individual entrepreneurs and small businesses. This will include both ones that host all of the content for you and ones where you can host your content yourself.

Apples: Online Courses

We’ll start with LMS platforms that host content for you. Teachable and Thinkific are two popular and well-known services of this kind that let you quickly and easily get set up to share courses online. In the LMS produce section, we’ll call these the apples.

Both Teachable and Thinkific let you set up sites, create curriculums to appear on those sites, track student progress, and charge for your courses. Neither service is a marketplace, though, so you’ll need to market and drive customers to your courses yourself. Basically, you do the creative and marketing work and these services handle the payment, delivery, and hosting.

Teachable and Thinkific each have different plans and transaction fees. You can always offer a free course at no charge with both services, and there is no fee or credit card number required to sign up. They even have pricing options where you can have the service take a percentage of your course sales rather than pay the service’s monthly fee. This is a great way to sample the online course world without a big commitment. One difference to note, though, is that Thinkific pays you as soon as someone signs up for your course while Teachable, at the lower plan levels, only pays monthly. You can check out Teachable’s pricing here and Thinkific’s pricing here.

These are both great ways to add an online courseware business or a courseware extension to your current business. Both are easy to use and have similar options for creating and importing content, managing students, and selling courses.

Pears: … And Now With Friends

Next, we have the pear of the LMS systems at which we are looking: Ruzuku. Like the apples mentioned above, Ruzuku hosts your content, lets you manage students, and has an array of paid plans. What makes Ruzuku different is its focus on interaction and community. With Teachable and Thinkific, you can build and sell courses. With Ruzuku you can conduct classes.

By accentuating the social nature of instruction and providing the tools for collaboration and communication, Ruzuku has a different flavor than either Teachable or Thinkific. You can also conduct webinars with Ruzuku, schedule lessons, and message students as a group.

Ruzuku doesn’t charge any transaction fees, but has higher plan costs than Teachable and Thinkific (see them here). And while Ruzuku doesn’t offer a free plan, they do have a 14-day free trial.

So if you are looking for more of a group class environment for your online teaching, Ruzuku may be the way to go.

Watermelon: Educational Videos

Also in the group of LMS systems that host content for you is Udemy. Udemy, following our metaphor, is like a watermelon: Big with a lot of stuff in it. It’s heavily focused on video instruction and provides its own marketplace. This means they do marketing work for you and your course will be listed in their service along with everyone else’s.

With Udemy, you can create a video course for free, but you need at least five modules in your course and a minimum of thirty minutes of video. There are options for adding other kinds of content like text, downloadables, etc., but these are meant to be additions to the main video content.

Udemy also has a different cost structure than the other LMS systems we’ve looked at. It has a unique sales model that pays you a different amount based on how a student comes to your course.  Basically, if you bring a student to your course yourself, you keep a much greater percentage of the profits than if Udemy directs the student to you. For details on this model, go here.

Udemy is another great option for building an online instruction business. But, you do have to learn and play by their rules and be okay with being one of many available course options in their marketplace.

Oranges: LMS Plugins and Themes

The LMS options we’ve discussed so far all host your content, handle fees and payments for you, and allow you to create online courses in their ecosystem of service. But they also require you to work within their framework, possibly pay monthly subscription fees, and rely on their servers.

Instead of going with a service to host your online courses, it is possible to host your material on your own website. We’re in another different category of fruit now, so we’ll call these options the oranges.  Oranges include WordPress plugins like WP Courseware and LearnDash, and even certain themes, like Envato’s LMS WordPress theme, that make it easy to create courses that integrate with a WordPress website.

When we say “easy,” of course, what we really mean is “easier than it would otherwise”. The use of plugins or themes isn’t nearly as simple as using a third-party service like Teachable or Thinkific. But if you have a competitive advantage to gain from integrating your website with an LMS, these types of offerings can help you do it well.

This option is not for the faint of heart. You’ll need to make sure you have sufficient time and tech know-how to accomplish an LMS integration with your website and other plugins. Or you may need to hire someone to do this for you. You’ll also have to check that your hosting plan will accommodate the additional materials on your site. Before going down this road, make sure that one of the solutions above doesn’t meet your needs. For many individual entrepreneurs and small businesses, the cost and simplicity of a hosted LMS may be worth it compared to the value of your time, or the paid time of whomever you hire to do the work for you.

An apple a day…

In summary, there is no shortage of ways to create an online instructional presence and make money from it. Teachable and Thinkific offer options that can be started for a low investment and are easy to use. Ruzuku, while also simple to use, is well-suited for managing groups of people. Udemy is great if you are ready to make a lot of instructional videos and join their marketplace. And there are many options for hosting and integrating an LMS with your website if that’s what you need.

Which one is best for you? Use our Online Course Creation Decision (Fruity) Flowchart to help you decide:

Jenny Alton is the flannel-y, bespectacled proprietor of Owl 10 Creative Studios (formerly Flannel Creative), a hirable creative tech for solopreneurs, small businesses, community groups, and nonprofits. In addition to helping people make online courses, she also offers services in brand creation, websites, online presence tools, and online publishing.  See what Jenny Alton is up to at Owl 10, or on Facebook and Pinterest.

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