67 minutes | Dec 29th 2020

161: What Online Course Platform I’m Moving To (Plus a Look at ALL The Top Online Course Platforms For 2021)

Today, on our 49th episode of 2020, it’s finally time: I’m ready to reveal exactly what platform I’m moving my piano course to! This has been a topic of much debate and it definitely took me some time to sort through my options. So many course platforms exist, old and new, and there are pros and cons to each. But I’m happy with my choice, and had a great time discussing this journey with David on our final episode of the year.

“It’s overwhelming, but I really wanted to find the best option for me and my students.”

– Jacques Hopkins

In This Episode, We Talked About:
    • (0:39) Setting the stage for today’s topic and looking back on another year of podcasting
    • (3:06) Why my platform switch is not a one-size-fits-all decision
    • (4:52) My history (and beef) with course platforms so far
    • (8:44) Talking pros and cons of ClickFunnels
    • (13:42) The three types of online course platforms
    • (17:04) Top features I was searching for
    • (20:05) A few disclaimers
    • (21:30) Some creative reveal ideas courtesy of David
    • (24:31) The top two contenders and why I chose one over the other
    • (29:29) Why I’m happy with my customization and community options for my new platform
    • (31:52) The announcement that tipped the scales for me
    • (33:54) Pros and cons of my choice
    • (37:48) Apps, Apple, and transition
    • (39:15) What I’ve said no to – and why
    • (47:00) Does price reflect features?
    • (48:08) Best choices for different categories
    • (54:23) Disclaimers and slogans
    • (1:02:15) Reviewing options and a recommendation
    • (1:05:31) Wrapping up

That’s all for now, folks! See you on the next episode of The Online Course Show.


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Jacques Hopkins  00:02

Regular people are taking their knowledge and content, packaging it up in an online course, and they're making a living doing. But not everyone is successful with online courses. There's a right way and there's a wrong way. And I'm here to help course creators actually succeed with online courses. Hi, I'm Jacques Hopkins, and this is the Online Course Show.


Jacques Hopkins  00:32

And off we go, welcome aboard. Glad you're with us. I'm your host, Jacques Hopkins, and we have our cohost, what's going on Dr.K.?


David Krohse  00:40

Oh, I'm sitting here, shivering in anticipation to find out which course platform you went with.


Jacques Hopkins  00:47

Well, that's what this is about. This is about which course platform that I've chosen. Plus, just an honest, hopefully honest, and unbiased review of a lot of the options out there because there's a reason there's so many options out there and no one is right for everybody. And that's what we're getting into today. This is also I don't know, if you're aware, the very last episode of 2020.


David Krohse  01:07



Jacques Hopkins  01:07

Episode 161 here. And I went back and looked, and it will be our 49th episode of the year.


David Krohse  01:15



Jacques Hopkins  01:15

So, we missed three. We missed three, but 49 is not bad. I was hoping to get to 52.


David Krohse  01:21

That's pretty great.


Jacques Hopkins  01:22

But there were three times throughout the year where we just could not get out a weekly episode, but I feel very good about going into 2021, compared to 2020. My business is just in such a better place. The team is much bigger and better than it ever has been, and I feel pretty good about that 52 episodes going into 2021.


David Krohse  01:45

Fun! But yeah, I think that I can speak for all the listeners that it's just fun to follow on your journey.


Jacques Hopkins  01:49

Man, I appreciate that so much. And among those episodes, there's been several where you kind of came to the table with some awesome information as well. So, it's been a lot of fun. In this particular episode, we are talking about online course platforms. So, here's the plan; and I know you didn't... I didn't share any of this with you ahead of time, so stop me at any point, ask questions, you be the voice of the audience throughout this presentation, throughout this discussion.


Jacques Hopkins  02:16

So, my plan is this: I want to talk about kind of my history as it goes with course platforms - where I started, where I've been, where I am now and why I've been considering changing which course platform I'm on. I'm going to talk about all the different options that are out there. I'll tell you what I've picked and why that is. I'm going to try to be as unbiased as possible as we go through this process, right? When I get a, you know, a kickback from ClickFunnels - when you sign up for ClickFunnels - that causes me to be a little unbiased, and I acknowledge that. So, I'm going to do my best to take out any bias, not skew these opinions based on how good somebody's affiliate program is or not, and so on. You can stop me if you feel like I'm being biased in any way.


Jacques Hopkins  03:08

Also want to mention that what platform you pick is not the most important thing here. This is not the be-all-end-all that's going to define your success. What's more important is the content that you put out there, the overall experience you're providing for your students, the hopefully transformative nature of what we're doing - I've talked about it many times, but transformation over information - and at the end of the day actual student results. To me, that's the most important thing. And I think no matter which platform I pick, because there's a lot of good ones out there, I could make my course and courses successful, my students successful. Is that a fair disclaimer?


David Krohse  03:50

That sounds great.


Jacques Hopkins  03:51

And then we're going to look into what platform might be... once I tell you which one mine is and go through some of the big ones out there, we'll go over which platform might be right for you, the listener out there, depending on your needs, and your students’ needs and so on, and then I kind of want to wrap it up; I want to look at the USP - Unique Selling Proposition - of each one. And I want to go through this exercise where we actually go to the website of each of these platforms that I looked into and see what's their pitch, what makes them different. You know, I really encourage listeners to read the book Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson, and one of the big messages in there is you want to give your audience and your students a "new" opportunity, not an "improvement" opportunity. So, with all these different course platforms out there, are any truly like unique and trying to do something that others are not, or they all just kind of the same thing? You know?


Jacques Hopkins  04:48

So that's my plan. Does that sound good?


David Krohse  04:50

That sounds great.


Jacques Hopkins  04:51

So, we'll start with my history with course platforms. So, I started Piano In 21 Days in 2013, and as you know, David, it wasn't all just rainbows and butterflies, there was a lot of obstacles, especially at first. It took me about eight months to go from idea to actual launch of my course. Most people heard my story by now I didn't actually make a sale that first day. Made one sale the next day and it was like one of the happiest moments of my life. Even though I only made one sale. It was like 100 bucks but for the first time, somebody had actually paid me money that wasn't like my paycheck for my job. It was amazing.


Jacques Hopkins  05:22

So, one of the biggest obstacles in 2013 was simply the course platform, like I could not figure out having content behind a kind of a paywall, and then having users have a username and password. And that sounds crazy in late 2020, because of all the platforms out there. I mean, there's hundreds...


David Krohse  05:45



Jacques Hopkins  05:45

There are hundreds of options out there. Whereas in 2013, there were very few options out there. And most of the ones we're going to talk about today didn't even exist in 2013. So that was a huge, huge, huge headache. I ended up using something called Sensei, which was a WordPress plugin. It was actually a WooCommerce plugin, which is like the number one E-commerce plugin for WordPress. And then they have this E-learning plugin as well called Sensei. It wasn't great. There were things I just at the end of the day couldn't figure out. And when I was going to launch, I realized that there was like, I don't remember specifically what it was, but there was something about it that just wasn't going to work. And so, I had to scramble at the last minute and find something else. I ended up using something called Optimize Press. And then their membership plugin, which is what allows you to have like, username, password, have certain pages that you can't get to unless you're logged in - that part of it was called Optimized Member. That's what I used for a couple of years, was Optimized press,   Optimized Member. That was pretty good. Pretty good. I think it's still around, but it's not near as popular as it was back then.


Jacques Hopkins  06:56

And then, in about 2016 a friend of mine was like, "Hey, have you read DotCom Secrets, this book, it's pretty awesome. It talks all about funnels and stuff." And I was like "No," but it was a guy that I trusted. In fact, I think his name is Dean Dwyer. I think the first person I ever interviewed on this podcast way back, I want to say like Episode 16, possibly. And so, I picked up the book and it was fascinating just learning about all these different types of funnels. And of course, I realized now like the book itself was a funnel and it makes you really want to sign up for ClickFunnels. So, that's when I switched over from Optimized Press to ClickFunnels. And it was great, because I could easily make funnels, I was making all these cool funnels, and it was a lot easier than in Optimized Press. And it was just a bonus that you could also host your membership, your course inside of ClickFunnels. So, this is 2016. And I moved everything over to ClickFunnels. And I liked it so much, I even moved my whole website over to there: my homepage, my about page, my FAQ, and like my whole business, other than emails was over in ClickFunnels for a couple of years. And I realized that email was not what ClickFunnels did best, so I pulled that out and put that on ActiveCampaign, which I absolutely love.


Jacques Hopkins  08:18

But ever since then, since 2016, my funnels and my course - my piano course - have been on ClickFunnels. Even today, we haven't fully moved over yet to this new platform yet. So that's where we stand now. And that's how I ended up on ClickFunnels. And it served me well and I think it's still a great option for beginners. It's probably the simplest course platform that exists.


Jacques Hopkins  08:45

I was talking to Nate Dotson yesterday, and I told him which platform I picked. And I was asking him if he, you know, maybe wanted to try that or some of these other options out there. And he's like, "Man, I just, I love the simplicity of my course in ClickFunnels." So, it's still viable. In fact, David, your course, it's in ClickFunnels, is it not?


David Krohse  09:11

It is, yes.


Jacques Hopkins  09:12

Thoughts? You like it there?


David Krohse  09:14

Well, yeah, I mean, it's fine for my audience. I mean, again, there's the whole, there's all these factors: there's user-friendliness, but also your audience. So, let's say you're making a course specifically for graphic designers, you know, serving that course in ClickFunnels would be kind of like serving SpaghettiOs in a fine dining restaurant, right? It's like the aesthetics are not there. I mean, you can try to fancy it up, but at the end of the day, it doesn't have the user experience and the design elements that somebody that's making a01 course for graphic designer's needs.


Jacques Hopkins  09:45

Well, to piggyback off that example, imagine a course for course creators, and I've definitely gotten complaints from people inside of my programs on The Online Course Guy side of my business it's like, "Dude, this is not a great looking course, like there's not many features," and I get that. Whereas my piano students have never complained about it. It gets the job done for the most part, but they're probably also not as aware of the possibilities, as well. So, with just right at 6000 students now, like I said, ClickFunnels, the membership site there has served me well, but it's time to move on.


Jacques Hopkins  10:25

So, here's the reason. Here's what I don't like about ClickFunnels as a course platform. It's limited in its features. And for some people that's a plus, right? We were talking about that. There's lessons, there's sections, there's lessons, and then within each lesson, you can put some text and some downloads and videos, like it's the bare bones, minimal, viable course software you could possibly have. And for me at this point, that is a con. For some people, it could be a pro.


Jacques Hopkins  10:56

This drives me crazy. For some reason, the password reset function almost never works. So, if my students go to try to log in, and they forgot their password, or whatever, there's a forgot your password link and it just like, less than half of the time actually works and their support is no help. And maybe other people don't have that problem but that drives me crazy because students' success and their experience and everything, that's my number one factor here and if they can't even log into the course, that's a huge problem.


Jacques Hopkins  11:29

Next that I don't like is that they don't seem to be actively developing the platform. It seems like they made it and it's like, "Okay, now we're going to put our whole development team on funnels," which is fine. They're good at funnels. That's what they do best. And so, I'm going to continue to use ClickFunnels for its sales funnels, and probably move to something else for the course, because they're not actively developing the course platform, at least from what I see.


Jacques Hopkins  12:01

They don't have video hosting. A lot of these platforms we'll discuss today, you can actually upload your videos right to the platform, and you don't have to use like a Wistia or Vimeo to host your videos. So ClickFunnels doesn't have that.


Jacques Hopkins  12:12

It is not mobile optimized. A lot of people access my course from a mobile device. Let me give an example of a problem there: They have this big navigation, there's this big navigation menu on the left, and then your course content appears on the right. But if you access it from a phone, then the navigation is so wide that it fillls the width of the phone. And if you click on a lesson, the lesson information actually pops up below the navigation instead of on the right. Well, when you do that, and the content appears below the navigation, if somebody doesn't realize they need to scroll down, they think it's just not working. That has caused so many problems. Fortunately, I had a coder on Upwork code it to where anytime you click on a lesson, the screen automatically will scroll to the top of that lesson. So, it hasn't been a problem. But that's kind of ridiculous that I have to go get some custom code put in to make something that silly work.


Jacques Hopkins  13:11

And then there's no, so this kind of ties into limited features, but there's no community element at all. And there's no events, like it's just information. So those are my, those are what I don't like about ClickFunnels. Did I miss anything? Is there anything you don't like about your course in ClickFunnels that I didn't hit?


David Krohse  13:28

No. I mean, there's workarounds and jerry-rigs that can be done. I mean, I think that you could add a Facebook conversation below your lessons. I mean, there's these workarounds, but they look like workarounds.


Jacques Hopkins  13:40

And they absolutely are workarounds. So earlier this year, I decided it was time to look around. Like, I'm sure there's better options for me out there. Let's figure out what's going to be best for me. And look, that's daunting, because there are so many options out there. You know, the Online Course Community - the Facebook group that we have for this audience - I remember polling them earlier this year, "Hey, which platform are you using?" and I left it so they could add their own options. And there were like 25 different, you know, I started like 10 and by the end of it, there were like 25 different things in there. And so, it's overwhelming but I also really wanted to find the best option for me and my business and my students.


Jacques Hopkins  14:28

So, I've really been going on a deep dive the past six months and looking at as many of them as possible. And it's not possible to look at every single one for sure but in my opinion, there's basically three categories of course platforms and some people will call them LMS - Learning Management Systems - that's kind of a technical term for this. And, Jason Dion and I talked about these three categories a little bit back in 154, which Jason's got a good perspective on this stuff. So, if you want to hear more details about like, kind of these categories, you can go back and listen to that episode. One category is these marketplaces like Udemy, Skillshare; the newest one that I've seen is Mastermind which is like Tony Robbins and Russell Brunson, where they do the marketing, and you provide the content. That's what these marketplaces do. So that's, that's one category. And, that's not for me, but it is for some people. 


Jacques Hopkins  15:28

The second category is what I'll call fully hosted SaaS. Okay, that's kind of what I'm calling it. SaaS stands for Software as a Service, meaning that they take care of any server hosting, like everything is on them. You use their software, their service, and you don't have to really worry about anything else from like a hosting and uptime and that type of thing perspective. So, these are your Kajabis, Thinkific, ClickFunnels, and so on. That makes sense?


Jacques Hopkins  16:02

Third category self-hosted SaaS. Typically, self-hosted SaaS is going to be some kind of WordPress plugin. There are others, Moodle has something, but in general your self-hosted stuff is going to be on WordPress. So, the most popular one out there is called LearnDash. There's also LifterLMS. There's a lot of WordPress plugins that you can use; I mentioned two earlier: Sensei, OptimizeMember, and so on. With these, there's a lot more like customization but there's a lot more potential headaches and problems too because you have to pay for the server you're hosting all this stuff on. And then the more users, the more bandwidth used, you got to have bigger and better servers, and so on. So, there's pros and cons, but those are the three categories: marketplaces, fully hosted SaaS, self-hosted SaaS.


David Krohse  17:01

Got it, I got it.


Jacques Hopkins  17:03

Alright, so for me, the most important features that I'm looking for are... Well, first of all, the ones that I mentioned about not liking about ClickFunnels, it'd be ideal if whatever I choose didn't have those problems, but then, in addition to that, there's three things: one is course and community in the same place. I'm trying to get off of Facebook with my communities. The reasons - there's a lot of reasons- one is distraction. There's ads on Facebook, there's notifications, you go there with the intention to get into the piano group and ask a question or see if you can help somebody else or see when the next live stream is and then you just get pulled into the latest fad that's being advertised to you, this and that, or, or some political debate you get roped into, and it's not necessarily serving you very well, in that way.


Jacques Hopkins  17:54

I do recognize it can work the other way around, meaning you jump on Facebook, like maybe to kill some time, and then you get pulled into the piano group. It's not all bad on Facebook, but I think the cons, it outweighs the pros at this point. And then there's privacy concerns and just overall contributing to bad habits and for that, man, have you watched The Social Dilemma yet?


David Krohse  18:19

No, I haven't.


Jacques Hopkins  18:22

Watch the Social Dilemma. It will make you want to get off of Facebook. I’ll just say that, as well. So that's a documentary on Netflix, highly recommended for anybody out there. But there are pros to being on Facebook, but like I said, I think the cons outweigh the pros. So, course and community in the same place. I've said this before, like, I could move to something like Circle, which is just a community, but I don't want users to have to go to one place for the course and another place for the community. I want it in the same place.


Jacques Hopkins  18:53

Two is I would like events and the ability to do live streams inside of the platform, because right now I do go live with my students once a week in Facebook. So, I need an alternative to that.


Jacques Hopkins  19:05

And three is I would like to be able to wrap all of this up and have it be in a branded mobile app, as well. I think that's especially important for my particular audience because piano apps are a thing - piano learning apps. And the demographic of my students also skews older, and older people typically prefer apps as well.


Jacques Hopkins  19:29

So those are kind of the three main things I'm looking for. Not as important, but something that I've been looking at as I evaluate things is it'd be nice to have video hosting, so I don't have to host it on Wistia or Vimeo. It would be nice to have some sort of gamification features, and so on. So, that's my list. Let me stop and give you the floor if you have any questions or comments and then we'll move forward.


David Krohse  19:59

No, I think I think that sounds great. I agree with all those lists. I think that'll greatly enhance the experience.


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