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What is an LMS?

  Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I am embarking on a series of articles about the technology, companies and organisations I partner with.  Each technology in this series has been tried and tested by me and selected from its sector to work with more closely.  This doesn’t mean any of the others discussed don’t deliver value, they do, and I will be explaining why we have chosen these specific providers to be preferred partners.

First up are LMS or Learning Management Systems.  Online learning has seen an explosion in popularity recently.  Not only in traditional and corporate learning environments but also in special interest and entrepreneurial channels.  Rarely a day goes by that someone isn’t advertising a course to me on social media and these are delivered through either automated emails or more professionally via an LMS.

It is of course entirely possible to sell a training course without your own LMS.  You could sell it as a digital product download on Amazon for example, or in a learning marketplace such as Udemy.  You could even build your own platform using WordPress but most serious course producers tend to use one of the various LMS platforms now available.

So what’s the difference?


With a marketplace course sales and delivery model you are essentially not owning that customer, the marketplace is.  You must pay the marketplace a commission on sales and, depending on the platform, possibly a flat rate membership towards the sales space you are renting to sell your course(s).  With most courses on Udemy selling for £10.99 each, you will need to attract a lot of customers to make it worth your while.  Udemy, for example, has those customers, about 12 million of them and counting but your course is up against 65,000 others for attention with over 20,000 fellow instructors.  So they have a great market, but it is a cheap one so how much value are you going to want to put into a £10.99 course?  However, this model can be deployed to your advantage and I will come back to this later.

Other options, each with their own focus and models, worth taking a look at if you are interested in this way of selling your course are SkillshareAcademy of MineWizIQRuzuku and Educadium.

The DIY Option

You can go the complete DIY and build your own LMS.  It’s not overly tricky to achieve using say WordPress with LearnPress for example but you are on your own.  You will need to manage not only your online academy or school administration but also everything that goes with managing a website.  Setup costs for this option will be higher than the other options, but once it’s done, it should be done other than annual renewals and usual maintenance overheads.

However, this is where the LMS option compared to a Udemy-like model begins to look very different – there is no marketing provided.  You must do this all yourself so you are going to need landing pages for advertisements to link to, an advertising strategy and budget, strong branding and everything that goes along with promoting any type of product online.  The upside is – you’re not paying any commission – it’s your course on your website and although you have your marketing time and money to account for, you are completely in control and not paying commissions.  You really wouldn’t expect to with the amount of time and financial investment required to make a success of this option.

The LMS Option

Somewhere in between the Udemy and Self Build option lie LMS systems.  These are hosted services designed specifically for the delivery of learning materials, courses and membership information-based environments.  You still own and market your course but all the tools, support and more are provided to manage everything for your school or academy from users and memberships and their payments through to the courses themselves, their content and delivery.

And this is where Thinkific comes in.  When I was making the decision which LMS I should focus my attention on I looked at the entire market and came up with three that warranted further attention.  These were TeachableLearnWorlds and Thinkific.

Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

In the end, the highest ranking deciding factor to go with Thinkific was the cost to entry as they offer a free forever option that allows individuals and businesses to get started on creating and working on their course, content and structure immediately.  Teachable and LearnWorlds do both offer 30 day free trials but I really don’t believe 30 days is sufficient time for most businesses to go from nothing to a ready to ship and sign up course. I was concerned about the likely quality and marketability of a course that had been constructed in a rush towards that 30 day deadline.  It’s easy enough to set up, but the content, at least for the beginning of the course, does need to be there, to start marketing the course and making sales.  There is a considerable sector of the online training course community who feel that getting the just start of your course finished and up for sale is OK – so you can get students on board (make sales) whilst you create the rest of it.  My risk-averse alarm bell does start ringing at this approach.  Could it be too tempting to take the money and not put quite so much value and effort into the rest of the course? What happens if you are unable to continue development at the required speed? I try to encourage clients developing courses to have at least half of the course plus some bonuses ready to deliver.  This way, if something does go wrong, you have some space and time before your students hit a content wall, and if that does ever happen, you have some bonuses to give them.  In any event, the ‘sell now, ship later’ approach only works if you are ‘drip feeding’ your course content to students over time, say once a week.

Once your course is built and ready to market the ongoing costs for each LMS provider are very similar, as to do it properly with your own branding, URL and integrations, a premium subscription is needed at between $79-$99 per month.  Lower level plans are available on LearnWorlds and Teachable at $24 and $39 per month respectively, plus a 5% commission on any sales*.  I’m guessing if you are considering selling a course this way, you are not going to be selling it for £10.99 or you’d be going to Udemy, so for high-ticket courses, those commission rates can rack up.

Other than the pricing structure, I found Thinkific and Teachable to be the most stable. LearnWorlds has some very nice features including an integrated social media platform for students and tools for creating marketing and course landing pages.  However LearnWorlds is newer to the market and, I felt, was a bit behind instability and real-life course delivery requirements covered by the other two.

Another recent development that tipped the balance was the release of the Thinkific Site Builder which makes it easier than ever to build everything needed to market and deliver your courses. You can see an introduction here:

From a students point of view, I believe an LMS is the most comfortable to use, especially for high ticket, high value, professional courses.  I have taken courses in both Thinkific and Teachable environments myself, as well as some DIY solutions and I believe Thinkific has been the easiest to navigate, use and record progress in.

Bridging the Gap

The point I said I would come back to about how learning market places can be used to your advantage.  Due to their huge audience reach and marketing power, but low sale prices – these platforms can be used for introduction and mini-courses selling cheaply but with an up-sell to your main high-ticket course and academy enrollment.  If you can demonstrate leadership and deliver real value here, and really you need to, it can be used to build feedback, reviews and a following of students.  The market place becomes another sales channel, not the only one.

Thinkific & CJ Strand Cyber Hype

Through a partnership with Thinkific, we are proud to offer Thinkific services and support to clients to help them in the fastest to market, most professional and stable way possible.  Clients can grow their business with ease of keeping their courses up to date, managing their users and marketing the benefits whilst maintaining control and retaining the maximum amount of revenue.

To find out more and see if there are any current deals or discounts available please visit Thinkific via my affiliate link here +

To find out more about how we could help your business increase revenue through knowledge and training please contact me for more information.

*Prices correct at time of writing, subject to change

+This is an affiliate link, we will be financially compensated by Thinkific should you make a purchase

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