What’s the best service or tool for creating and hosting an online class by oneself?
A client asked me this question last week, and I really didn’t have a solid answer ready to hand, since most of my work to date has involved institutions. So I started asking around, bugging individuals and querying social media. The results fascinated me. They also appeared in different places, so I thought it might be useful to aggregate and share them here, in one spot.
A little background: the person asking me this is not affiliated with an educational institution at the moment, so they can’t relay on campus resources, nor use a .edu email address. They want to create a learning experience to introduce people to a topic they’re passionate about. There may be professional development angles to pursue, too.
So how would one do this, building and rolling out a class on your own? My instinct is to whip up a WordPress instance and go from there, but the client doesn’t necessarily have experience with that platform.
Here are the suggestions which rolled in via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, email, etc.
NB: this post is not meant as an endorsement of any product, nor have I received support from any of the providers below in writing it. This is research and a prompt for further conversation.
I’ve organized this list in simple alphabetical order, rather than by types of services:
Argos Education – this site vows to offer services for teachers, but seems to still be in development. “In January 2022, the first products will go live on Argos,” according to the front page, so… behind schedule, or in stealth mode?
Canopy – lets users create and host classes, apparently through a drag and drop interface. Would-be learners can explore course catalogs, too.
Canvas – a popular learning management system/virtual learning environment for institutions, there is also a Free-for-Teacher service which might do the trick.
edX – they publish open source code for building one’s class.
Google Classroom – this has the advantage of familiarity. I think people can use it without a .edu email address, but am not sure.
H5P – I still haven’t used this yet, but it seems like a GUI web authoring tool. If it offers web hosting, perhaps one could build a class here. Maybe as alternative to WordPress?
Kajabi – they offer a class creation service, among other things.
Learndash – their service helps you build code for a class, which you can then import into a WordPress instance. I think.
Learning Experience Canvas – a pdf worksheet which nicely guides you in course design. They also offer classes on how to create online classes.
Learn Worlds – they offer to set up users with their own school, not just a single class.
Maven – from what I can tell, they teach you how to make an online class, then host what you create.
Mighty Networks Courses – provides hosting and tools for creating online classes. Looks like a GUI interface.
Moodle – the popular LMS/VLE takes some backend skills to install and host, but can also be accessed from hosting services like MoodleCloud. Another option is to contract with an expert Moodler for support, as Hart Wilson recommends:
Sure. I also think it would be possible to find someone in the Moodle community who would help. There's lots of guides online, like our getting started guide, for instance: https://t.co/DkST5zTYdh. 😉
— Hart Wilson (@riverside_hart) May 17, 2022
Rise – this looks like it’ll host your class, which you can build there with GUI tools.
Sakai – this academic LMS also appears in at least one group’s paid hosting options. EDITED TO ADD: it does have a gradebook. (thanks to Linda Burns)
Talent LMS – they proclaim that users can use their service to “[c]reate new courses with a few simple clicks, add users, and go live by the end of the day.”
Teachable – will teach you how to build an online class, give you the web interface to make it, host it, and market it, I think.
Thinkific – the site emphasizes selling classes. It claims to be fully GUI in interface.
Udemy – the MOOC provider may let users create classes there.
UTeach – this is a web app hosted by AppSumo.
WordPress – the powerful and popular web authoring tool upon which this blog post was crafted can also be a tool for class creation, although there’s more to the process than dragging and dropping.
People suggested some ways of developing WordPress along these lines, including in concert with other services. Phil Vincent raised the idea of “WordPress with added LMS functionality, such as LearnDash plugin or WPLMS theme might work?” Perhaps one could use WP with an H5P plugin, as Sarah Frick suggests? Miguel Guhlin describes these other options:
WordPress with LMS Plugin of choice. Solutions to consider include WP Courseware ($99 a year), LearnDash ($159 a year), LearnPress (Free). You can add integration with payment registrations plugins. Researched them all today. 😂 I don’t recommend Moodle for a beginner.
— Miguel Guhlin 🇵🇦 🇺🇲 (@mguhlin) May 18, 2022
While people were volunteering and debating options, some also reflected on a strategic level.
For example, Neil Mosley carved this list into two groups:
Broadly speaking they have a choice between – plug & play platforms like Kajabi, Podia, Learnworlds etc, or marketplaces like SkillShare, Domestika etc or the LMS route i.e. Moodle, Canvas – those are just options, best fit really depends on more nuance and information
— Neil Mosley (@neilmosley5) May 17, 2022
Edward R. O’Neill asked us to think about the question in terms of prospective students:
From the marketing perspective, the question is: where are the students who want to take this course? Which really means: which platform already offers courses that are similar?
— Learning Technology (@learningtech) May 17, 2022
On a related note, Andy Jack advised us to gear up for thinking about marketing:
If they're a subject expert selling his expertise for the first time, then stick to the Kajabis, Podias, Learnworlds, Thinkific etc. Also consider Maven for cohort-based courses.
Word of warning – his challenge won't be the platform, or creating the course. It'll be marketing it
— Andy Jack (@andyjackcandle) May 17, 2022
Also, George Veletsianos has a good post on the topic.
Overall, a couple of thoughts. First, it looks like there is now a competitive marketplace for web-hosted classes, independent of academic institutions. There are multiple providers to choose from. Second, many are clearly commercial, not only charging for their services, but also serving as marketplaces for would-be teachers to sell classes to would-be students. Third, as Neal Mosley pointed out, there’s an interesting overlap with learning management systems.
Do you have any feedback on these services and tools? Any others to add to the list? If there’s interest, I can update this post as new ones appear.
(Thanks to Brianna Bannach, Curtiss Barnes, Bethany Bovard, Kate Bowles, Tara Bunag, Jennifer Clarke, cogdog, Karen Costa, Tony D’Angelo, Charity Davenport, Kristen Dellasala, Georges Detiveaux, Tabatha Dragonberry, Judith Dutill, Ella Epshteyn, Steve Foerster, Sarah Frick, Noah Geisel, Robert Gibson, Jim Groom, Miguel Guhlin, Josh Halpern, Lisa Hinchliffe, Anita Hughan, Ian the Big Bad Wolf, Andy Jack, Taylor Jadin, Harold Jarche, Michelle Kassorla, Ginger Lockhart, Jim Luke, Vahid Masrour, Dan McGuire, William Minton, Kate Mitchell, Neil Mosley, Tim Neubert Cristian Opazo, Michael Palmer, David Preston, Colin Simpson, Judith Tabron, Hans Tilstra, Trish, Fabiola Vacatoledo, George Veletsianos, Phil Vincent, Jessamyn West, Audrey Williams, Hart Wilson, Joshua Wilson, Mark Corbett Wilson, Candace Winslow)
Thanks, Bryan! I was ignorant to most of this world until I watched the (free on YouTube) opening keynote session of the recent ASU GSV Summit. This space certainly seems to be growing based on that information.
I’ve recently been invited to join the Facebook Classrooms pilot. Not exactly sure what it is or the terms but … I accepted the invite. More soon?
For those considering WordPress, we’ve had good luck with the LifterLMS plugin. They have a freemium model in which the core plugin is open source and there are a wide variety of add-ons one can buy. We’ve never needed anything more than the core plugin, and even though that means we’ve never paid them, they’re still responsive on their forum to support requests.
H5P is more of a plugin (and a fantastic one not tied to a single platform) for creating individual interactive activities like https://h5p.org/content-types-and-applications, not really a course authoring tool.
It’s something you might use in many of these options.
I’m an LMS admin, and have dabbled with a lot of them. H5P isn’t the best platform for a whole course, but is great for interactive content, and can run inside WordPress or Moodle, for example. WordPress is widely available, but many people will want to roll in added course specific functionality, which means you need the ability to install arbitrary plugins – not always an option if someone else is hosting it for you.
There really is a whole spectrum here. If you’ve got a bit of money to throw at it, there are lots of hosted options, and the one you pick depends on your experience and your needs. If you have tech chops and not much money, you can roll your own WordPress or Moodle some place like Digital Ocean for $5 a month. If you’ve neither money nor tech inclinations, you won’t have the luxury of choice, you’ll have to fit into someone’s free tier or adapt your offerings to the products that are readily available for free. Google Classroom is an option, but I’ve seen some offerings made with just the freely available WordPress at wordpress.com. You lose most of the management tools of an LMS, but you can still distribute content, and enable communication and learning. Pair it with other free tools like Google Forms, Kahoot, etc. and you can build a compelling experience. This may be the case of substituting time for money or time for technical expertise to assemble what you want to deliver.
I recommended Moodle on Twitter. Others have suggested WordPress which would also be a good option. Really, the place to start is by answering some questions –
What do you want to do?
Are you presenting information?
What do you want your ‘students’ to do?
What type of record or certification are you wanting?
What is your time frame?
Is the purpose for profit or nonprofit?
What type of artifacts will you or your students be creating?
Will the artifacts be openly licensed or not? Why?
Picking a tool before you know the details of the job your doing is the wrong way to go. If you choose a miter saw when you really need a drill and a screwdriver, you’ll have problems. The more specific about the hopes and dreams, the greater the chance of finding good advice and tools.
This is a solid list. However, one must ask what type of class is being offered. Is it a standalone course where an individual is work through content self-paced? Or is a cohort working through the class together? What tools will the class need, e.g., assessments, discussions, assignments, chat, etc? That will help to decide upon the proper course platform.
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I am late to the party…this post has been sitting in my inbox waiting for me to have time to read and respond as this is a topic I have thought about quite a bit over the last few years. In fact, I describe this idea as “indie teaching.” Like indie music or film, I think there is an opportunity for teachers/professors to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of who can teach in education institutions.
I have written about this on my web site: https://www.chrisdavisphd.com/p/indie-teaching.html
Everything on the site is free, and I do not collect emails or other information. I even offer free coaching. My goal is to help others.
I try to address instructional design, technology, and marketing as part of the Guide to Indie Teaching. There is a great deal of ineffective learning resources online, and I think higher education faculty could be a counter force to that. However, most academics do not want to engage in the business and marketing aspects of the activity.
This realization leads to the idea that higher education is a platform that connects students, faculty, and sometimes employers. That ideas is something on my list to write more about.