If you're reading this, you've probably decided to create an online course, or perhaps you already have your own online courses and are thinking about where the best place to host your own website is. You've weighed up the pros and cons of selling on a course marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare and are ready to set up your online course business.
There are a lot of options for course creators, even within the confines of the online course platform sub-market. Some would have you believe that they are all roughly the same, but there are crucial differences beneath the surface. Considering that in the long-run this is a decision on how you will spend thousands of dollars in platform fees, but also which will dictate your experience running your online course business, it's critical to understand these subtle differences. In this article, I will examine the differences between two of the largest players in the online course platform space: Teachable and Thinkific.
Both of these platforms have been around for a while, with Thinkific founded in 2012 and Teachable in 2014. Teachable is the market leader in terms of number of students.
Google Trends data (Teachable in blue, Thinkific in red)
- No. Instructors: ~100k
- Coaching product allows you to arrange one-on-one teaching with students to complement self-paced learning
- Teachable Payments (and EU VAT compliance)
- No. Instructors: ~60k
- Has free plan & no transaction fees on any plan
- Easier site design (templates)
At a glance, here is a comparison:
But we need to go into more detail before concluding which one is best, since it also depends on your specific needs and price sensitivity
We will evaluate the two platforms against the following areas:
- Pricing Plans
- Ease of Use
- Design and Customization
- Customer Support
- Payment Options
Both platforms offer the following features across all tiers:
- Unlimited students
- Unlimited video
Teachable recently removed its free pricing tier, meaning that Thinkific is the only one of the pair to offer a free plan. The Thinkific free plan allows up to 3 courses and unlimited students, which is undeniably better for new course creators who are unsure if their marketing efforts are going to succeed and justify the price of higher pricing tiers.
Moving on to the paid plans, the Teachable basic plan ($39/month) is $10 dollars cheaper than the Thinkific plan ($49/month) Features within this tier are almost identical (including unlimited courses)f with the following key exceptions:
- Student progress tracking is available in lower plans in Thinkific, but for Teachable you need to upgrade to the Pro ($119/month) plan for this feature
- Teachable charges 5% transaction fees on the lower tier, wheras Thinkific charges 0% transaction fees on the lower tier
The Thinkific Pro plan ($99/month) comes in $20 dollars cheaper than the Teachable equivalent ($119/month). With this plan, Teachable dispenses transaction fees, making the two plans equal in that regard. Both also offer exclusive communities for course instructors at this level.
Perhaps in response to Teachable's "coach" product, Thinkific have introduced a "Live Lessons with Zoom" feature, though that requires a separate Zoom account, which will likely incur an additional monthly cost unless lessons are always under the zoom 40 minute call free tier limit.
Teachable and Thinkific are bursting with features, and both do a decent job of layering the complexity so you're not overwhelmed upfront. In each case, this takes the form of sidebars with sub-drawers:
This is quite intuitive, although I would give a slight edge to Teachable here. Thinkific partially makes up for it with onboarding tooltips, but I've never been a fan of tooltips.
For uploading videos, each platform has the concept of a video library where you can bulk import videos to be selected. This includes integrations with:
- Google Drive
Both learning platforms generate responsive student websites which look good on mobile and tablets. Each student site comes with a slick video player (allowing for different viewing speeds for a tailored online learning experience). Lectures can be set as downloadable (including lesson notes in pdf). It's pretty user-friendly, and not much to distinguish the two in this area.
Teachable has an iOS app which students can use for a limited subset of the desktop site's functionality, notably:
- Pick up where they left off on another device
- Stream course videos
- View handouts, worksheets, and lecture content
- Take lecture quizzes and view their scores
- Complete lectures and sync their progress with other devices
Custom domains (with SSL certificates for security) are available on Teachable and Thinkific at the basic plan level - if you don't set these you can still publish your school at subdomains (e.g. joebloggsschool.teachable.com)
All the pages you will need for online course creation are covered by both platforms' page builder functionality:
- Landing pages & sales pages
- Checkout pages
- Sign in / Sign up
- Coming soon
- Certificates (pro and up)
Thinkific and Teachable both provide access to customizable HTML and CSS files, meaning that you can bring in someone familiar with those technologies to fully customize the look and feel of your course website.
Thinkific comes with preconfigured templates or "themes" and a site builder where you can create and customize your pages.
Teachable does not offer themes, and the ability to customize is not quite as granular (although this tends to be exaggerated in most teachable vs. thinkific articles). Both platforms offer side-by-side previews of your changes next to the editing fields.
If you are selling to customers in the EU, then you should ensure that you are charging and remitting EU VAT. A common misconception is that this is only required if you are a business based in the EU - this is not the case if you have customers in the EU, then you should be calculating VAT based on the location of that particular customer.
This can be quite a headache for course creators who just want to get on with making their content. Thinkific's answer to this has been to partner with Quaderno, a compliance SaaS platoform which automates the calculation and collection of EU VAT and integrates with payment gateways like Stripe. There is quite a landscape of SaaS payment companies which we cover in detail in this guide.
Then throw in the mix US Sales Tax and the concept of an economic nexus which has emerged after the Wayfair 2018 Supreme Court Case. Now in certain states if your sales exceed a certain dollar amount or transaction number, you are eligible for Sales tax.
Needless to say, this is a pain that course authors don't want to have to deal with. The only way to be compliant with Thinkific is to use Quaderno, which means that:
- You'll have to pay Quaderno's fees (at least $49 per month), which massively increases your fixed costs
- Even with Quaderno, you'll still have to remit the tax
If you find that you need to add additional taxes for your state, you may wish to add an average tax amount to the base purchasing price for the course, and then save that amount to pay your taxes. Overall, only Teachable offers any kind of built-in way of dealing the tax hassle. Thinkific relies on external integrations which have cost implications.
There are a few notable differences in the marketing tools available across the two course builder platforms. Teachable has email marketing built in on all plans. On the other hand Thinkific only offers bulk email capability on higher plans, instead offering integrations with email marketing services (MailChimp and Aweber). Both platforms offer the ability to drip course content, and bundle courses (which can be very useful for upsells).
In terms of affiliate marketing, both platforms offer affiliate reporting (setting up affiliate links and reports on comissions), but Thinkific offer an affiliate program this on the basic plan, wheras this requires a Pro subscription to Teachable. This is an important point if affiliates are a significant driver of course sales.
Teachable has a built-in blog, whereas Thinkific does not, instead suggesting that you use a dedicated blogging platform such as WordPress or Ghost. Whilst the teachable offering is hardly competitive with a mainstream blogging platform, it is servicable.
One of the key drawbacks of the Teachable basic plan is that you do not get access to "advanced reports". For this, you need to upgrade to the pro plans. This means that you just get basic completion rates, and new student enrollments. Only when you upgrade can you see how far students got into your course, and how far into certain lectures they got before abandoning a lecture. If you're coming from Udemy (which offers this functionality to all authors), the omission can come as a surprise.
On the other hand, Thinkific offers these advanced student reporting capabilities out of the box.
Both platforms offer extensive analytics integrations with 3rd party tools, with Google Analytics, and Facebook integrated on each. Historically, Teachable has offered more integrations than Thinkific, but Thinkific has closed the gap in this area in recent months, with both platforms offering integrations with Mixpanel, ConvertKit and Sumo.
Speaking from personal experience, Teachable can definitely drop the ball when it comes to customer support. I have been left waiting for longer than 6 weeks for a fix to a bug which left my monthly funds transfer blocked. This was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Teachable was experiencing a higher volume of support requests than normal, but I still found it very worrying. On the other hand, for simple requests (particular those where customer chat support agents can easily copy existing support links), you will get a response within 24 hours.
Both platforms offer integrations with major third-party payment gateways, notably Stripe and PayPal to collect your student payments via credit card. Teachable requiers you to be on the pro plan to integrate with your Stripe account, but I do think that their fundamental "we take care of it" approach - meaning that if you don't want to create Stripe account you can just give them a PayPal email address for a monthly transfer - is significantly easier.
Thinkific offers payment integrations with a Shopify store, whilst Teachable allows you to achieve the same integration using Zapier. The problem with any reliance on Zapier is that you only get 100 tasks for free, after which you need to upgrade to Zapier's $19.99/month plan
Teachable has a slight edge in that Google Pay and Apple Pay are supported
If your business plan assumes a membership or subscription model, both Teachable and Thinkific offer memberships. This is as opposed to the more typical one-time payments online course site approach. A membership site results in monthly recurring revenue (MRR), which can be a more sustainable business model and is attractive for more established authors with a larger library of courses. Both sites require a pro plan in order to unlock this feature.
If you opt-in to use "Teachable payments" (which uses Stripe Connect under the hood), then you become eligible for instant payouts. On the other hand, Thinkific offers instant access to your funds on all tiers, this is simply because they only offer the ability to directly integrate with Stripe/PayPal, meaning they are not acting as an intermediary (hence no delay).
If you want to get paid quickly: Thinkific
If you want the least hassle: Teachable
These two platforms are quite close in terms of what you get, there is no clear winner, rather the best platform choice depends on your circumstances:
If you want to pilot a course for free Choose Thinkific
gentle plug (2 of 2): CourseMaker is open-source and can be deployed for free
If you really care about having a lot of control over the site design Choose Thinkific
If you are worried about compliance Choose Teachable
If you don't want to pay for separate email marketing software Choose Teachable
If coaching is an important part of your value propostion Choose Teachable
Further Research: this video is an excellent comparison